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Chief of Beverly Hills Schools Sees 'No Way Out' of New Tax

January 16, 1986|MATHIS CHAZANOV | Times Staff Writer

The president of the Beverly Hills school board said Wednesday that residents will be asked to approve a new yearly tax to avoid massive cutbacks in the city's educational system.

"I don't see any way out of it," said Frank M. Fenton, who was named to head the board last month.

Although it has a reserve of $3.5 million, Beverly Hills' vaunted school system faces a deficit of nearly that much in September, Fenton told a Chamber of Commerce and Civic Assn. meeting on the state of the city

"We will need the support of every organization and every group in the city of Beverly Hills," he said later, arguing that a tax on every parcel of land in the city is unavoidable.

Property Values Affected

"Taxes aren't popular anywhere," he said. "But I can tell you that the one thing that is popular is our school system. Not only for the education it provides for the children, but it has been a major reason why the value of property is so high in this town."

But Fenton said that Beverly Hills has been hard-pressed to maintain the system's high level because of court decisions limiting state funding for affluent school districts and because of Proposition 13's limit on property tax increases.

Additionally, teachers are asking for pay raises in negotiations that have dragged on for more than eight months.

The district hopes for some help from the new state lottery and from the proposed expansion of drilling at an oil field on the campus of Beverly Hills High School, Fenton said.

The possibility of selling the city's name for T-shirts and other promotional items is also being explored, he said, and some small properties might be offered for commercial development.

Additionally, layoffs of teachers and other staff will be proposed at the school board meeting next week as part of an effort to trim as much as $2 million from the district's $26-million budget, he said. Salaries make up 85% of the district's budget.

Amount Unknown

But "in order to preserve the kind of schools this community has always wanted, the community is going to have to come forth with some sort of school support tax," Fenton said.

The amount of the tax has not been decided, but Fenton said he expects it to exceed the $58 per parcel that was approved by Santa Monica voters in 1984.

Such a parcel tax is permissible despite Proposition 13 if approved by two-thirds of the electorate.

The board has decided to wait until November, 1986, or April, 1987, before putting the tax on the ballot, when officials will have a better idea of how much will be needed, Fenton said. Mayor Edward I. Brown said it was too early to say whether he or other members of the City Council would support the proposed tax increase.

"It's very difficult at this time, until we know what they're talking about, to make any recommendation or commitment," he said.

The city is paying the school district about $1.2 million for the use of playgrounds and other facilities for municipal programs, Brown said.

In his own address to the chamber, Brown announced that the City Council has received the final version of an agreement under which the Fredrick R. Weisman Foundation will install a multimillion-dollar art collection in the Greystone mansion, a city-owned facility at the northern end of Doheny Drive.

The agreement provides for the Weisman Foundation to spend about $5 million to refurbish the sprawling building, while the city will contribute $3 million to bring it up to the level of earthquake safety and handicapped access required by law.

The agreement will come up for a vote at the council's Tuesday meeting.

Despite an uncertain economy, Beverly Hills remains "a healthy, vibrant and flourishing city," Brown said.

In her address, council President Bernice H. Hutter said that despite its worldwide reputation, the city is facing "formidable competition" for business from newer rivals such as the Beverly Center and Westside Pavilion. She hailed a decision to grant two hours of free parking at city lots but urged that new parking structures be opened as soon as possible.

She also suggested that monthly parkers be moved away from lots in the center of the business district to make more spaces available for shoppers.

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