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4-Year School Tax Is Back on Ballot

Las Virgenes Unified officials hope that voters this time approve the levy. Funds would help maintain class sizes and elective course offerings.

February 28, 2004|Karima A. Haynes | Times Staff Writer

Responding to California's fiscal crisis, the Las Virgenes Unified School District has placed an $8-million tax measure on Tuesday's ballot to preserve current class sizes, electives and staff in the district's 13 schools.

Under Measure E, all parcels would be levied $98 annually for four years, raising about $1.9 million a year for the district that serves Calabasas, Agoura Hills and Westlake Village.

Proponents said revenue would be used to preserve advanced placement and foreign language classes; maintain libraries; keep librarians, guidance counselors and elementary reading specialists; restore music and art programs; and purchase new textbooks and classroom supplies.

Without the parcel tax, district officials would have to make $3 million in cuts to core academic programs to make up for a lack of state funding, supporters said.

"Sadly, this parcel tax is basically for survival," said district Deputy Supt. Donald Zimring. "Without it, the quality of programs we offer our students would deteriorate rapidly."

The measure needs a two-thirds majority to pass and cannot be renewed without another vote.

There were no objections to the measure in an election guide sent to district voters.

Still, some taxpayers complained in letters to local newspapers that school officials should rely on voluntary donations or cut spending to make up for the shortfall.

In recent years, parcel tax proponents have faced strong opposition from property owners who have refused to tax themselves.

In 1991, a measure that would have raised $12 million to fund extra classes and reductions in class size was 270 votes short of the necessary two-thirds majority.

The measure was revived two years later, but fell 2% shy of a two-thirds majority. That initiative would have assessed $150 annually for four years on parcels in the district.

Proponents of the current measure are counting on three selling points to win over voters: a smaller levy, local control over the funds and a four-year expiration date.

"We have gone to great lengths to answer questions about the measure and about district finances," said Dave Moorman, co-chair of Citizens for Preserving Quality Education, a volunteer group that supports the initiative.

"We found that most people who may initially have an issue with this come around to believing it's a good thing after we discuss the merits and logic behind it," said Moorman, who has two children in district schools.

Proponents have made a concerted effort to appeal to district property owners 65 years and older.

Under Measure E, seniors can vote against the measure and seek an exemption; can vote for the measure and pay the tax; or can vote for the measure and not pay the assessment.

The school board included the exemption to avoid placing an undue financial burden on those likely to be on a fixed income. In addition, contiguous residential parcels under one owner would be taxed as a single lot.

"The seniors we have talked to have been very supportive," said Red Godfrey, who co-chairs the citizens' volunteer group. "They want to feel as though they are making a contribution."

This weekend, Godfrey said supporters plan to call and visit residents to remind them to go to the polls on Tuesday and vote to keep existing academic programs and resources in place.

As a mother of three children in district schools, Godfrey said she wanted to maintain the district's reputation for quality public schools.

"Our entire goal is to make sure that what we have today is guaranteed for tomorrow," she said.

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