In a special election Tuesday, voters in four Palos Verdes Peninsula cities will be asked to approve a $100-per-parcel property tax that would raise up to $2.4 million in each of the next five years to help finance the Peninsula's public school system.
Although there is no organized opposition to the proposal, some residents have questioned whether the tax is necessary, and supporters fear that anti-tax sentiment and a low voter turnout could defeat the measure.
Supporters of the measure, who have been waging an aggressive door-to-door campaign since the first of the year, say the supplemental income would be used to offset projected budget deficits of more than $1 million annually, maintain aging school facilities, replace outmoded equipment, reduce class size in some subjects and reinstate instructional periods that were cut at the intermediate and high school levels in previous efforts to balance the budget.
Rejection of the measure--which would add up to $100 a year to the tax bills of an estimated 24,000 parcels in Rancho Palos Verdes, Palos Verdes Estates, Rolling Hills Estates and Rolling Hills--would mean ruin for an educational system that has consistently scored in the top 10% in statewide achievement tests, school officials and community supporters said.
'Voters Must Decide'
"What's at stake is the future of young people on this Peninsula," said Jack Price, superintendent of the 10,000-student Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District. "The voters must decide whether it is worth a $100 a year to them to continue giving our youths a quality education."
School board President Sally Burrage said failure of the measure Tuesday would bring "a lot more school closures and cuts in programs. We cannot maintain quality education on the money we're getting from the state."
The district lost 41% of its enrollment over the last decade as rising property values dissuaded families with children from settling on the Peninsula. It has closed seven of its 19 campuses and sharply reduced personnel and services.
Burrage predicted that the tax proposal will "pass with flying colors, if only we can overcome public apathy and get enough people to the polls."
Under Proposition 13, at least two-thirds of the voters who cast ballots Tuesday must vote in favor of the proposal for it to be approved.
Outcome in Doubt
That hurdle, along with a strong anti-tax sentiment and the fact that only 18% of Peninsula households send children to public schools, apparently leaves the outcome of Tuesday's vote in doubt, despite the lack of organized opposition. Some residents also say they are not convinced by the district's argument that it has done everything it can to cut costs.
"I feel that the district has not yet faced the simple fact that if its income falls below its expenditures, then it must find ways to reduce its expenses without going back to the taxpayers for more money," Janet Kent of Rancho Palos Verdes said in an interview. She has sent local newspapers letters opposing the measure.
Jim Benfer, of Rolling Hills Estates, said the district can maintain an educational system "second to none" and still live within its budget. In a letter to the school board, he called for more time to "thoroughly explore the reasons why a financial crisis exists" and to establish "good business practices to eliminate all fat and unnecessary expenditures."
Last year, a committee of residents set up by the school board recommended a four-point program to resolve the district's financial problems. It suggested more school closures, more aggressive efforts to sell or lease surplus campuses, solicitation of more gifts from the community and a parcel tax.
Closed Dapplegray School
The board subsequently voted to close the Dapplegray Intermediate School and call a special election to seek approval for a parcel tax. School officials said they are accelerating efforts to dispose of surplus property, but pointed out that the proceeds must be used for capital expenditures, and only the interest can be added to the district's $35-million budget. In addition, deeds restrict what can be done with much of the surplus property.
Officials said the district's share of California Lottery money has helped, but still amounts to only 3% of the budget.