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Debating Irvine Unified Assessment Proposal

March 02, 2003

Re "Irvine Unified Seeks a New Fee," Feb. 20:

Reference was made in this article to my position on the issue of local school districts considering parcel taxes and maintenance assessment districts as a part of bailing out the state's fiscal crisis. The referenced article reported that the Irvine Unified School District will be seeking voter approval for a maintenance assessment district as a means of raising money to offset a portion of that district's devastating revenue shortfall from the state.

All California school districts are facing severe financial difficulties. Each of us in our own ways will have to find ways to increase revenue and, unfortunately, to curtail expenditures. What will work in one district may not work in another. Irvine Unified happens to have a set of circumstances wherein property owners may well support this important revenue source for the district. I wish them well and sincerely hope voters within Irvine Unified make the maintenance of their district's exemplary educational program a community priority, notwithstanding the state having let all of us down.

James A. Fleming

Superintendent, Capistrano

Unified School District

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Assessment districts are the latest fad for schools seeking extra easy money. There's a big problem: legality. Proposition 218 prohibits the imposition of majority-vote for general purposes. It must be a two-thirds vote.

Irvine Unified has voted itself into this bind. Voters defeated Irvine's parcel tax four times. Now the district is after assessment money, admitting at its board meeting Feb. 18 that the plan is to switch assessed money from recreation to education, which is illegal.

The district's problem, which other school districts have avoided, is scheduling unaffordable special classes.

Assessments are not one-vote-one-person elections. Ballots are assigned by amount of property owned. Voting is not at the polls. Ballots are mailed to property owners in nondescript envelopes that look like junk mail. It is crucial that every voter watch for their ballot, vote "no" and mail the ballot back. Ballots will not be counted electronically, but by hand -- and not by taxpayers' hands.

School districts depend on voter apathy to pass assessments, planning a process as quick and secretive as possible. The law requires that an assessment must (1) provide a special benefit to property owners above that to the public at large, (2) the benefit must be to property owners' property and not to people, (3) cannot be based on potential or future use, (4) must be limited to community facilities that the school provides, (5) cannot be transferred to other uses nor (6) exceed the reasonable cost of the proportional benefit conferred on the parcel, and (7) the burden is on the school district to prove that the assessment is legal.

Eunice Cluck

President, Irvine Taxpayers

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