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La Canada Tax Fails; School Layoffs Seen

March 07, 1985|THERESA WALKER | Times Staff Writer

The defeat Tuesday of a proposed property tax that would have aided the La Canada Unified School District will cause extensive layoffs of school employees, the district's superintendent predicted.

Measure A, which would have authorized the tax, was approved by 56.8% of the voters, but a two-thirds majority was required to put the measure into effect.

"There's no money. There's no choice," Supt. Donald Ziehl said about layoffs, which he said were "definitely going to happen." He declined to speculate on the number of layoffs, but said they would be "extensive."

The school board has scheduled a special meeting for Tuesday to take action on notifying certificated employees--teachers, school counselors and the district's one librarian--that they may be unemployed next year. The district is required by law to make such notification by March 15.

Board officials tentatively scheduled the meeting at La Canada Elementary School, 4540 Encinas Drive, at 7:30 p.m.

Eliminating Programs

Ziehl said the district would have to consider cutbacks in its educational program, which could include elimination of reading and writing-skills programs and reductions in library services.

"That wasn't just blowing smoke," he said of the predicted cutbacks. "Those are actual, realistic reductions that will occur." Class sizes will have to be increased, Ziehl said.

The school board called for the special tax election in November after district officials predicted a deficit of $600,000 for the next school year.

The measure, which would have gone into effect July 1, would have assessed an annual tax of $150 on about 7,000 land parcels for a period of five years.

The district had estimated that the tax would generate $900,000 to $1 million annually for La Canada schools, which school officials say are suffering from declining enrollment and corresponding reductions in state funding.

Only Issue on Ballot

In Tuesday's election, 2,706 voted for the tax and 2,061 voted against it. Measure A was the only issue on the ballot.

The 38.6% voter turnout, although higher than the average 20% turnout for school board elections, was an indication that "public education in upper-middle-class America doesn't seem to be a front-burner issue," Ziehl said.

School board President Irene Mendon said she was disappointed that the measure did not pass.

"One of the difficulties that we had was to try to overcome the perception that (Gov. George Deukmejian) in his budget priorities and the state lottery were somehow going to solve the problem of school financing in California," Mendon said.

"This is not the case. We are not the only district that has been turning to its community for special help."

4th District to Ask Tax

The La Canada school district, with an enrollment of 3,200 students, was the fourth school district in Los Angeles County to seek financial aid through a parcel-tax election. Only one, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, has been successful.

Mendon said the Beverly Hills Unified School District is considering a parcel-tax election.

The La Canada district has been consulting with a school finance expert who has advised school officials not to expect any money from the upcoming state lottery until the final quarter of the current school year, Mendon said.

The district also was told not to budget any lottery money for such recurring costs as teacher salaries in case the money is not received, Mendon said.

She said voter resistance to increased property taxes was a carry-over of the support La Canada voters gave to the 1978 tax-cutting Proposition 13 and to November's ill-fated Proposition 36, the Howard Jarvis-sponsored initiative that would have restricted the power of local governmental agencies to raise taxes and fees.

Supported Proposition 36

La Canada Flintridge residents supported Proposition 36 by a 52% majority in November; the measure lost statewide.

In the months before Tuesday's election, a pro-tax committee of volunteers, which included two school board members, launched an extensive "Yes on A" campaign to overcome voter disposition against new or increased property taxes.

The group mailed out brochures, canvassed neighborhoods, placed ads in a local newspaper and met with community groups.

"The key point is that there was a massive community effort and every home was contacted in some manner. It wasn't enough," Ziehl said.

Interviewed just after he voted, one longtime La Canada resident, who asked that his name be withheld, said he voted against the tax because he "wasn't convinced that they need more money."

'Expensive Programs'

The man, who said he went through the school system from grade school to high school, called himself a "get-back-to-basics" person who didn't think the district needed "a lot of the expensive programs."

The ballot listed a number of school budget items to be funded by the tax measure. They included six periods of instruction for grades 7-12; adequate class sizes and salary standards; replacement of obsolete equipment and textbooks, and upgrading of facilities.

Programs in reading, writing, mathematics, science, computer science, art and music were also designated for funding.

The school district paid the $13,500 cost of the election.

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