Acting at the urging of parents who offered to open their pocketbooks to pay for a neighborhood school, Newhall School District trustees on Tuesday night took the first step toward holding a special election to raise property taxes by $12 million.
The proposal was described by school officials as an unusual and perhaps unprecedented partnership between parents and school officials that could serve as a model for other school systems struggling to absorb skyrocketing enrollments.
"If this is successful, perhaps other neighborhoods will want to try it," Supt. J. Michael McGrath said. The tax is unusual, he said, because it was proposed by taxpayers, not school officials.
On Tuesday night the Newhall trustees announced their intention to create boundaries for the special tax district. They must hold a public hearing in October before formally setting an election date, perhaps for February.
The tax, which needs approval from two-thirds of the voters to pass, would apply only to about 1,700 households in the Summit, an upscale Valencia housing development where homes typically command prices of $300,000 to more than $600,000.
The assessments to pay off construction bonds would last for 25 years and would vary from $250 to $950 per year, depending on the size of the property, McGrath said.
The tax would pay for the site and construction of a 600-student school near College of the Canyons. It would also pay for a foot bridge for students to cross Rockwell Canyon Road.
Assessment districts, typical devices to fund new schools, usually are proposed by developers or school officials. The nearby Sulphur Springs Union School District is asking voters to approve a bond measure in November and the William S. Hart Union High School District is considering a tax increase as well.
McGrath said the district's attorneys, considered experts in assessment districts statewide, have said they have never heard of parents calling for a property tax themselves. Parents even submitted petitions, with 300 signatures, asking the trustees to consider the tax election.
"It really is the wish of the citizens," McGrath said at the meeting Tuesday night.
Parents in the Summit proposed the tax after Newhall trustees redrew school attendance lines in October, 1988, to balance enrollments at the district's six crowded campuses.
The new lines split children in the Summit between two schools, and parents bitterly complained that the trustees had divided a close-knit community.
"This seemed to be one way to get all our kids back together again and do something for the whole community," Summit resident Doug Hansen said of the proposed tax.
School officials and Summit parents predicted that some district residents will label the tax plan a snobbish instrument to keep their children from mingling with those from other neighborhoods. "There will be criticism that this will be elitist," McGrath said.
But Hansen, who helped organize the proposal, said: "They have the misunderstanding that it's going to be a private school. But it's not; it's a public school."
There are only about 200 schoolchildren in the Summit so the majority of the students would come from other parts of the district.
"If we really wanted our own school, we'd start a private school," Hansen said.
The tax was proposed by a group of 50 parents who worked on the proposal with district officials for more than a year. Hansen said the parents collected $8,000 to help the district redraw legal maps needed to create the assessment district.