Dear Editor – Successful School Districts Have Parcel Taxes

Dear Editor,

This letter is in support of Measure K, on the November 6 ballot.

By any reasonable standard, our schools are under-funded. Whether you blame state or county government, bureaucracy, politicians, or something else, it’s undeniable that the amount of money which CCUSD receives is much less per student than most school districts across the country, even though this is a more expensive place to live.

The state of California controls CCUSD’s budget, and state law doesn’t give school districts much leeway for raising additional money for education. A parcel tax is essentially the only way we can raise money locally for CCUSD’s general fund. (We did pass a bond a few years ago, but by law that money can only be spent on facilities, not people, programs or maintenance.) If you look around the state, the most successful school districts all have parcel taxes, most of them more expensive than Measure K’s $189 per parcel per year. Communities that support their schools get better schools. It’s that simple.

As a member of the school board, I can tell you that we are continually looking for ways to save money, to do the best job we can as efficiently as possible, but no one has yet proposed anything which will save enough to avoid cuts with real classroom impact if the parcel tax doesn’t pass. Our schools are doing really well, and have been steadily improving, but those improvements cost money. If Measure K passes, it will provide a small percentage increase, but one which the state can’t change. If Measure K doesn’t pass, we’ll have to make cuts, and move backward instead of forward.

For property owners who think 52 cents per day is too much to pay, please consider that real estate professionals agree Culver City schools are a major reason why people move here. So if the $189 per parcel per year results in even a tiny improvement in the schools, then everyone paying the tax will see their property value go up by more than they paid. Think of it as an investment in our children, which will also pay off in the value of your home.

Thanks for your consideration.

-Steve Levin

www.culvercitysymphony.org

7 Comments

  1. Most other successful districts don’t have boards who have spent their districts into a $7,000,000 structural deficit.

  2. Hi George!
    It’s not $7M, and it’s not structural, but you’re correct that the board and then-superintendent increased expenditures for teacher salaries and programs a few years ago. I was part of that board, and our decision was unanimous. Funding from the state varies, and required expenditures vary, but it’s true that we knew a deficit of 2 or 3% was likely eventually. We had a significant reserve (“money in the bank”) at that time, and we wanted that money to benefit the students. We knew that a few years later we would likely either have to ask the community to pay to continue those programs, or we would have to cut back. (I said so publicly at the time, and you have pointed it out a few times at board meetings as well.) That time has arrived. I believe it’s very clear that the improvements we’ve made in the schools over the last few years are worth the money, but if the community disagrees and doesn’t pass Measure K, then we will cut back, negating many of the improvements we’ve made over the last few years. In my opinion, that would be a bad result, but not as bad as if we had never made the improvements in the first place.
    -Steve

  3. George, I would really love to hear what specific cutbacks you suggest the school board make. Bigger class sizes? Furlough days? Close the school libraries? Fire some teachers? What should I tell my two children (a Lin Howe student and a CCMS student) that George Laase envisions for their educational experience going forward?

  4. To quickly answer Patrick: Those are questions for our elected officials that put us in this hole to ponder because they are the only ones who spent our district into this fiscal mess in the first place. I was only one of many who advised them against doing their spending plan.
    To address Steve’s responses: So, let me get this straight: While the board was purposely deficit spending down our district reserves down, board members were already counting on hitting the community up to pass a multi-million dollar, multi-year parcel tax, to help fill their financial hole. Is this the kind of risky spending we elected these members to do? I thought they were supposed to watch over the district and keep it on a strong, financial footing, not risking it with deficit spending on a grand scale.
    Let’s see, Steve, you wrote that the board wanted to spend the one-time reserve funds to benefit the students. But, where did most of that funding go? It went to on-going district-wide salary increases. Increases that ended up well beyond the board’s 5- year plan of unknown cost, raising veteran teacher salaries to well-beyond (2.4%) the LA Co’s median salary.
    These raises, ranging from over 25% for most veteran teachers to just under 40% for younger teachers in the early Step & Column program, play on the common misconception parents are lead to believe, that the more you pay a teacher, the more their students will learn. But, the facts don’t back this up.

    In general, how much teachers earn, has never corresponded with what students learn!!

    Now, about that 2 or 3% deficit figure Steve mentioned. According to the annual Unaudited Actuals: The board’s deficit spending in 2015-16 was 4%, in 2016-17 it rose to 6.95% and last year, in 2017-18, it rose to almost 10% (9.77%). These are actual district spending figures!
    State Funding does vary from year to year. But while the board was deficit spending our savings down, CCUSD’s State funding increased by almost 25,000,000 million dollars from fiscal years 2011-12 to this year, 2018-19.
    Now, about whether the deficit is structural, or not. The district’s Assistant Superintendent of Business Services, Robert Quinn, publicly described the district’s growing deficit as being structural. So, I guess, Steve will have to check with the board’s chief financial officer about the definition. But, most economists agree that if a deficit is not cyclical, then, it is structural!

  5. “To quickly answer Patrick: Those are questions for our elected officials that put us in this hole to ponder because they are the only ones who spent our district into this fiscal mess in the first place.”

    George, our elected officials have amply described their preferred route out of this fiscal mess: Pass Measure K. Restoring the school district’s sunsetted parcel tax (they say) is the only way we can balance the district’s budget, maintain our current high educational outcomes, and avert harsh cutbacks. Speaking as a Culver City parent and homeowner, their argument certainly sounds persuasive to me. But for sake of fairness I’m willing to give consideration to your alternative recommendation: that we reject Measure K and force the district to impose harsh cutbacks. So please, help me out, George: which specific harsh cutbacks do you have in mind, and how can we impose them without negatively impacting the education that my children (and all of CCUSD’s children) would otherwise receive?

    Given your great ardor for CCUSD budget cutbacks, George, can it really be that you have *no* ideas as to *what* those cutbacks should actually entail? It’s hard for me to believe that could be so.

  6. Here is one place to start. Excessive administrative salaries and a school board that just won’t say no to self dealing insiders. Take a look on transparent california and you will see the all of the CCUSD expenditures for administrative salaries. The top ten earners, none of whom are in the classroom by the way, cost the district over $1.8 million — nearly enough to close the annual deficit that the board created.

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