SAN MARINO — Undaunted by a narrow defeat just over a month ago, school officials in San Marino may try again to persuade voters to approve a special school tax.
Ben Austin, who led the successful effort Nov. 5 to defeat the measure that would have taxed property owners up to $145 a year, assured school board members last week that opponents will win again.
"Last month the people voted on this," Austin said. "Even a widow, after her husband dies, waits a respectable amount of time. You're not waiting a respectable amount of time."
Austin's comments came last week at a stormy meeting of the Board of Education of San Marino Unified School District. Three newly elected board members joined with two holdover members to approve a resolution to put the measure on the April ballot.
"The vote is definitely there for us to win," said Suzanne Crowell, a leader of tax proponents in the November election. "A lot of our supporters didn't get to the polls. I don't think there will be any complacency next time around."
Measure H, which would have levied a parcel tax of up to $145 for four years, was approved by 60.5% of the voters, but it needed 66.7% for passage. There was a 60% voter turnout with 2,894 votes cast for the measure and 1,889 against.
School board President Mary Snaer said the measure may not be put on the April ballot, but the resolution was necessary to beat a Dec. 5 deadline for letting the county registrar-recorder know what might be put on the ballot. Snaer said the board has until Jan. 8 to withdraw the measure if it chooses.
"We're buying time with this," Snaer said. "In the meantime, we're doing a lot of studying. The next option after April is the statewide primary election June 3. Or we could wait until the Nov. 4 general election. Or we could decide to not do it at all.
"But we've found there is a large groundswell of pressure to bring this measure back. The people who worked very hard for it believe they can do it better."
But Austin, who occasionally mails a newsletter to San Marino residents, said the board is "forcing me to make my (anti-tax) organization permanent. I'm going to rake them over the coals again and again."
The school board, City Council, PTA and Chamber of Commerce supported Measure H, which would have provided up to $700,000 a year.
School officials said the money is needed next year to prevent cutting several school programs. They claim that San Marino, with its high-income population, suffers financially because it does not receive government compensatory funds that go to other school districts where there are more minority and low-income students. Tax proponents also claim that maintaining good schools enhances property values in San Marino.
Opponents have argued that the district should adjust its expenses to meet its $8.8-million budget. They say that because enrollment has been slowly declining for several years, programs should be cut accordingly. School officials have not said where cuts would be made if the tax is not approved. Present enrollment is 2,740.
The district is asking the public to suggest ways to produce revenue and cut costs and has placed forms for written suggestions at all the schools and at district headquarters. Dena Graves, assistant superintendent for business, said that during Christmas vacation school administrators will review the ideas and will present them to the school board at its Jan. 28 meeting.
Meanwhile, the school board is trying to sell Rotary Park, a small property of about 10,000 square feet adjoining San Marino High School. Snaer said an ad hoc committee last year recommended selling the park, which is in a residential area. She estimated its value at about $150,000, but she said money from the sale of properties could be used only for capital expenses and not for instructional programs.
Last month the board received inquiries from real estate agents indicating that developers are interested in buying two other school properties.
Supt. David Brown said a buyer has made an informal offer of $1.4 million for Del Mar field, a small athletic field near the high school. He said another developer has suggested paying $2.7 million for part of the Carver Elementary School campus.
"I'm not sure either offer has any validity at all," Snaer said. "It has never occurred to us to sell either property, but I think this is something the board has to look into."