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Special Property Tax Urged to Aid Peninsula Schools

January 26, 1986|BOB WILLIAMS | Times Staff Writer

A citizens committee has recommended that a flat property tax proposal be placed on the June ballot in an effort to raise money for the financially ailing Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District.

But some committee members say the tax would be merely a stopgap measure, not a long-range solution to the district's financial problems.

The proposal, if adopted by the school board and approved by two-thirds of the voters who turn out for the election, would raise about $2 million annually by imposing a tax of $84 a year on each of about 24,000 parcels of property in Rancho Palos Verdes, Palos Verdes Estates, Rolling Hills Estates and Rolling Hills--the four cities served by the school district.

The tax would be assessed for three years against the parcels, or units of property defined for tax purposes by the county assessor, and then expire. Only government and church properties would be exempted.

In setting up the 30-member committee shortly before Christmas, school officials said the district's $30-million budget must be supplemented with about $2 million for several years to cover deficits and to maintain a high-quality educational program.

Falling Enrollment

The 10,500-student district has lost 42% of its enrollment over the past decade, a trend accompanied by declining state revenues based on average daily attendance.

Administrators, who have warned that the Peninsula's school system faces a "catastrophic collapse" if the parcel tax is not enacted, project a deficit of $1.1 million in next year's budget and a shortfall of about $400,000 in current revenues.

The school board is expected to act on the tax proposal at a public hearing at 7:30 p.m. Monday in the Valmonte Administration Center, 3801 Via la Selva, Palos Verdes Estates.

The trustees must act this week on the committee's proposal, or their own version of the plan, in order to meet the filing deadline for adding measures to the June ballot. School officials estimate the cost of the election at about $25,000.

Stopgap Measure

In voting for the parcel tax at a committee meeting Thursday night, several members said they viewed it as a stopgap measure.

"I think the parcel tax is a temporary bridge to help the district overcome its deficits and gain time to find a permanent solution," said Victor Bennett, a Peninsula banker who headed a subcommittee studying the district's budget.

Bennett said his group of "hard-boiled business types" did not have time for a thorough analysis of the budget but generally concluded that "if the district does not have enough money, it must change the way it operates."

Bennett noted that the school board had already committed lottery money, estimated at $400,000, to bonuses for teachers and other employees in lieu of a salary increase this year. And he said he understood that income from the sale of surplus school sites--another income source widely viewed as a partial solution to the district's financial problems--also would go for salaries.

One Member Dissented

That, he said, apparently leaves the parcel tax as the only way to handle immediate deficits and improve district programs and facilities.

Steven Kuykendall, the only committee member who publicly disputed the district's need for a parcel tax, said the measure will only defer the time when the district must come to grips with its enrollment and financial problems.

He said the district has dallied in disposing of surplus schools and in closing more campuses to bring the operation in line with "realities."

Among those realities, he said, are that under-utilized facilities cannot be operated efficiently and that only 18% of Peninsula families send children to the public schools--a factor that he said limits support for the system.

"We should do away with the neighborhood school concept and go to the most efficient operation," Kuykendall said. "What we have now is too scattered and too expensive."

Must Educate Public

Committee member David Moyers, a Rancho Palos Verdes real estate agent, said the fate of the tax, if the trustees decide to put it on the ballot, will hinge on a strong effort to educate the public on the issue.

He recalled getting a cold reception to the idea at a recent meeting of real estate dealers, until he reminded them that Peninsula property values are tied to the the district's image as an outstanding school system. After his presentation, he said, 80% of the group indicated that they would back the parcel tax.

However, another subcommittee's informal survey of potential voters, mostly taken at shopping centers, failed to turn up a two-thirds sentiment for the tax. Naomi Phillips, a Rancho Palos Verdes parent, said her subcommittee recorded 174 votes in favor, or 56%, among 313 people surveyed.

Phillips was among five committee members, out of 20 who attended last week's session, who said they doubted that voters would approve the parcel tax.

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