Saying it has no other choice if the area is to maintain a superior school system, the Palos Verdes Peninsula school board has decided to ask voters for authority to impose a $100-a-year flat-fee tax for five years on property in the four cities served by the district.
The measure, if approved by at least two-thirds of the voters who cast ballots on the proposal in the March elections, would raise about $12 million. That is twice the deficit projected by the district over the next five years if it does not find new revenue sources or make more cuts in educational programs.
The additional $2.4 million a year in a budget of about $35 million would be enough to fund some improvements in programs and facilities, trustees said, but it would not avert more school closures. In recent years, the district has closed five elementary schools and one intermediate school.
Under a five-year master plan drafted by a citizens committee, the district would shut down two or more additional campuses, including one of the three Peninsula high schools, to help cut costs.
10,000 Students Remain
Those measures and others, on top of the parcel tax, will still be necessary to fashion a district that can efficiently serve the 10,000 students remaining after a 42% loss in enrollment over the past decade, the committee concluded.
The committee's recommendations, along with counterproposals offered by community groups concerned about possible school closures in their neighborhoods, are being reviewed by the board at a series of public hearings.
Several trustees said the outcome of the March vote on the tax proposal will amount to a public referendum on how to deal with the financial shortages that have plagued the district in recent years.
The vote, said Trustee Jeffrey N. Younggren at the board meeting Monday night, "will give the community an opportunity to state whether it wants to support a school system such as we have now," or whether it wants the governing board to "to continue slicing and cutting programs and facilities" until costs are brought into line with available resources--mostly state aid based on average daily student attendance.
24,000 Parcels Involved
The 50-member citizens committee had recommended a special tax of at least $100 on about 24,000 parcels in Rancho Palos Verdes, Palos Verdes Estates, Rolling Hills Estates and Rolling Hills. But it left it to the board to decide whether the tax should run for three, four or five years.
The trustees toyed with the idea of a higher fee over a shorter period but finally decided unanimously that $100 over five years would be the most "saleable" formula to the community, while giving the district an extra margin of income for some school improvements.
"We have cut and cut and cut and it would be so nice to reinstate some programs for a change," Trustee Sally Burrage said.
She acknowledged that the district faces an uphill battle in winning approval for the tax from a community in which 80% of the voters backed the tax-cutting Proposition 13 in 1978. The fact that only 18% of Peninsula households send children to the public schools was viewed by the board as another major obstacle to overcome.
"But we just have to let this community know that their property values are in direct relation to how good our schools are," Burrage said. "If the tax doesn't pass, I have no idea where we're going to get the money to continue operating the kind of schools we have now."
Spending Plans Explained
Trustee Martin C. Dodell said other districts that have won approval for special taxes--seven out of 24 that have held elections on such issues so far--went to great pains to tell their communities what they planned to do with the money.
To emulate the example, the board adopted a list of priorities for spending part of the $12 million. It includes reducing the size of selected classes, restoring the seventh period at the intermediate level and the sixth in the high schools, more staff training, additional supplies and more up-to-date instructional equipment, and major maintenance work to help assure the "health and safety of students and staff."
The board plans to launch a $30,000 public relations campaign in November to promote the parcel tax in the election. The board will decide at a special 7 a.m. meeting next Thursday on details and financing of the campaign.
It also will seek a legal opinion on a novel proposal to raise taxes on school grounds that also serve as public parks and recreational areas. Michael Gray, a Peninsula resident who served on the district's citizens committee, raised the proposal, contending that an obscure 1972 law could be interpreted to allow the school system to levy taxes without voter approval to help pay the costs of lighting and maintaining such areas.
Campuses Heavily Used
Gray said he did not know of any other schools that have used what he termed a "loophole" in Proposition 13, but said certain Peninsula campuses might qualify because they are open, deed-restricted and are extensively used by the public.
Public hearings on the advisory committee's master plan, which includes proposals for more school closures, continued Wednesday night in the Rolling Hills High School gym. The next hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday in Palos Verdes High School, followed by board discussion and public comment at a 7:30 p.m. meeting on Nov. 3 at district headquarters.
The final session on Nov. 17, when the board will adopt its version of the plan, will be broadcast live on cable Channel 3 from Hesse Park in Rancho Palos Verdes, starting at 7:30.