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San Marino School Board to Seek Tax

February 03, 1991|HOWARD BLUME | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN MARINO — Saying that the quality of education in the district is at stake, San Marino Unified School District board members voted unanimously last week to place a property tax increase on the June ballot.

The so-called parcel tax would levy $100 per property and raise about $500,000 a year for four years, beginning in 1991. Those over 65 could apply for an exemption for their homes.

Although students in affluent San Marino generally rank among the best academically, the district's buildings average 52 years in age and have fallen into disrepair. Beginning in 1988, portable classrooms replaced 10 Huntington Intermediate School classrooms that did not meet earthquake safety standards.

In addition, teachers and administrators take home the lowest salaries in the county, said board President Mary Snaer.

"If we don't pass this, we can't keep this school district No. 1 on the backs of the people we pay to do this," Snaer said.

Board member Selma Sax said: "We can't go to the teachers and say, 'No more money, no raises.' "

The district's last successful levy was a $1.8-million bond issue passed in 1968 to build a district resource center, said Assistant Supt. Robert Thompson. In 1985 and 1986, the district lost parcel-tax bids of $145 a year, falling just short of the needed two-thirds majority.

The four-school, 2,790-student district depends heavily on community help. Volunteers worked 85,000 hours last year, Snaer said. A private fund-raising foundation contributed $500,000 last year--5% of the district's $10.4-million budget.

At the specially called meeting Wednesday night, about half a dozen speakers, mostly district parents, argued passionately for a tax higher than $100.

"If you aren't passing something that's worthwhile for our schools, it's niggardly," said Bill Steele. "I'd go along with $500 myself.

"Whatever the amount that's sufficient to do the job, that's what we ought to ask for," he said.

Resident Richard Giss agreed, saying that property values would decline soon after the schools did. "I moved here without children because of the schools," he said.

Board members opted for a $100 tax because that was the upper limit recommended by Price Research, a San Francisco area company that surveyed voter support.

"One hundred percent of the districts that have gone over their recommendation have gone down in flames," Snaer said.

"When we went in 1986 to this community and asked for $12 a month to support our local schools, we lost," Sax said. "We lost that . . . election by 145 swing votes, and believe me, those people are still out there."

About 70% of district voters no longer have children in school. Some longtime residents oppose any school tax because their grandchildren's families could never afford to live in San Marino and get the benefit of the schools, Snaer said.

Without an infusion of money, she added, the district may have to shut down basic programs, such as advanced placement classes and sports. Such cutbacks could prompt many parents to switch to private schools, costing the district even more state aid.

If the parcel tax fails, said board member Frederick Seares, "we're really in deep yogurt."

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