The LAUSD Board voted unanimously Thursday to put a parcel tax measure on the June 4 ballot. If it gets the support of two-thirds of voters, it will bring in an estimated $500 million annually in additional funding for both traditional district schools and independent charter schools in Los Angeles. Schools would begin seeing these funds in January.
The ballot measure calls for a tax of 16 cents per square foot for real estate parcels within district boundaries. Senior citizens 65 and older who occupy a property as their primary residence may apply for an exemption, as can those receiving certain types of Social Security benefits, regardless of age.
The idea of a parcel tax was first floated last year, but internal LAUSD polling showed that there was not enough public support to pass it last November. The six-day teachers strike in January, however, raised public awareness about LAUSD’s financial crisis and increased support for public education. The Board decided the best time to act is now.
“There has probably never been greater public momentum for increasing public school funding, thanks to the heightened awareness about California’s dismal 44th in the nation status on per pupil funding,” said Katie Braude, Executive Director of Speak UP, in her testimony before the board. Braude was one of about 20 advocates who spoke in favor of the resolution, though not without conditions.
“We cannot expect taxpayers to put more money into a system that has failed to close the achievement gap for our most vulnerable kids for decades, without also assuring them that there is independent oversight on how the money is spent,” Braude added. She also called for an independent citizens’ committee "to annually audit the expenditures and require that the district demonstrate how they are being used to close the achievement gap.”
The amended version of the resolution that the Board passed on Thursday did include several changes adopted in response to community feedback. The tax now has a sunset period of 12 rather than 10 years. Pedro Salcedo, senior executive director of finance and policy for the district, said this change was made to reflect the span of 1st through 12th grade, with kindergarten technically being optional.
The resolution was also amended to add legal settlements to the list of items that funding from the measure may not be used for. The amended language, however, now allows the funds to be used for pensions and retiree healthcare liabilities. And it now calls for “a structure and mechanism for independent oversight” rather than internal oversight by LAUSD.
Among the things the money can be used for: “To retain/attract quality teachers; reduce class sizes; provide counseling/nursing/library services, arts, music, science, math, preschool, vocational/career education, safe/well-maintained schools, adequate instructional materials/supplies; support disadvantaged/homeless students.”
Board members expressed questions and concerns but ultimately remained enthusiastic. “This isn’t perfect but I believe the benefits of a parcel tax far outweigh the costs,” said Kelly Gonez (BD6). “I have schools in the Sepulveda corridor, one of them tied for the highest rate of homelessness in L.A. Unified. And they have been growing by 10 percentage points in ELA and math multiple years, and there’s a reason that happens. But imagine how we could accelerate that impact with more resources… This is our chance to act.”
Board Vice President Nick Melvoin (BD4), along with several of his colleagues, spoke about the rushed nature of the process. “It could have been a more collaborative, longer, drawn-out process,” he said. “This can’t just be about supporting the status quo…30 percent proficiency in math, 40 percent in English, 47 percent A-G completion -- that’s not worth investing in. It’s worth investing in the improvement and the accelerated improvement of our students.”
Melvoin also urged continued advocacy for better funding at both the state and federal level. “I hope that we will make history with this,” Melvoin concluded. “We can’t do it alone. It’s going to require our labor partners, who are going to be with us on this. It’s going to require the mayor’s support. We appreciate his leadership and his commitment to help get this passed. But it’s also not about just the people in this room or with a direct tie to L.A. Unified. It’s about convincing all Angelenos that we have a stake in the future of this city and its children, that our fates are inextricably linked whether or not you have kids in this system, and that we all benefit when our kids benefit because they’re all our kids.”