EDUCATION: MBUSD to seek another $225 parcel tax
by Mark McDermott
The Manhattan Beach Unified School District Board of Education will likely pursue a new ballot measure extending the $225 parcel tax approved by voters in 2018.
That parcel tax, approved by 69 percent of voters and known as Measure MB, generates $2.5 million annually and expires next June. The new parcel tax, as yet not officially named, would appear on the presidential primary ballot next March 5.
Voters last year rejected a $1,195 parcel tax, a citizen-led effort called Measure A, at the same rate, 69 percent, that they had approved Measure MB. Survey results presented to the school board at its September 6 meeting indicated residents would support a $225 parcel tax again, but were less likely to support any increase.
Charles Heath, a strategy and polling consultant who has worked with the district on previous bond measures and Measure MB, recommended the board simply seek to extend the $225 tax, without even an inflation increase.
“We tested a bunch of different options here,” Heath said. “Unfortunately, the options that increase the tax rate just aren’t getting close to the two-thirds [voter approval] threshold required. So we think, given that the expiration of Measure MB is approaching and we have a limited number of elections coming up, that the most prudent thing to do is to place a measure before voters that simply renews the existing tax rate of $225.”
Board trustee Bruce Greenberg agreed.
“I think that’s the right approach here,” Greenberg said. “You can always go back to the ballot earlier if something comes up and you have additional needs. You’re not locked into six years — that’s just the maximum amount of time the parcel tax will exist. But if something comes up in four years, you have the option to go back to voters.”
The recommendation was also supported by a parcel tax advisory committee formed by Superintendent John Bowes and comprised of 25 community members, including parents of current and former MBUSD students and supporters and opponents of Measure A.
“We wanted to form a committee that was representative of the diversity of viewpoints across Manhattan Beach,” he said.
Tiffany Barbera, a parent, Measure A opponent and member of the committee, praised the superintendent’s inclusion of voices with differing opinions. She spoke in favor of the recommendation.
“We are projected to have a $5 million deficit this year without the renewal of the parcel tax, even after over a million dollars in cuts to goods and services,” Barbera said. “We’ve had a $4 million ongoing increase in salary expenses and a $2 million one-time increase in compensation. These increases have been critical to retaining and recruiting talented teachers. But these teachers are important to our success and increasing enrollment. After the Measure A fiasco, many have been skeptical of even a renewal of our parcel tax. And yes, I’m going to talk about the elephant in the room — to successfully pass this parcel tax, we need to widen the circle like Dr. Bose did with the committee, and meet those voters who have felt disenfranchised from the district.”
Madeline Kaplan, a parent, Measure A supporter, and member of the committee, likewise praised the inclusiveness of the committee. She also supported the recommendation.
“We listened to the feedback from the community polls, and we concluded that a renewal of the existing parcel tax with no changes is the best possible path forward,” she said. “And to be clear, this proposal is exactly the same parcel tax we have now, no changes, just continuing the crucial funding for our schools that helps our children excel and achieve as they work toward their college, career and life goals.”
Bowes said the advisory committee will meet again this week to begin working on informational materials regarding the parcel tax that will be sent to the community. The board will formally consider a ballot measure in November but a majority at last week’s meeting expressed support for the recommended $225 tax extension.
Board President Cathey Graves said that whenever the district has followed survey results, in both bond measures and proposed parcel taxes, they have been successful. She applauded the ambition of Measure A and its supporters but noted that it veered from the precedent of success represented by other efforts.
“It didn’t follow, necessarily, the survey results,” Graves said. “The survey results showed a lesser amount would be palatable to our residents. Kudos to those that spent all that time and effort to go out and try to get us more of what we need versus what we think the community will bear, but we know that that isn’t realistic.”
Graves said the survey showed the board the right direction to go, which was a renewal of the existing parcel tax.
“I support the recommendation that is being made tonight,” she said.
Heath, the consultant, said that support for both MBUSD and the $225 amount has remained remarkably consistent over the last five to six years.
“It’s pretty interesting that despite all the things that have changed in the world and the community since 2018,” Heath said, “the perceptions of the district and what voters are willing to support here in Manhattan Beach are remarkably consistent.”
Trustee Jen Fenton said that the survey and its accompanying report, because it was conducted and prepared by the same consultants whom the district has worked with on previous measures, offered the broadest set of data district leaders have thus far had in making such a decision.
“It is the most comprehensive survey that we’ve seen of all the measures, between the parcel taxes and the various bonds, because we do have that comparison point,” she said. “We’ve known that the parcel tax was going to expire. This is not a shock. We’ve talked about it at several board meetings this year, last year, two years ago. So to be able to really pull upon this data ….I think proves, $225, six years — let’s do it again.”