New ballot measure awaits City Hall

A new Hermosa school board signaled that voters probably will not be asked for more money unless City Hall signs on as a partner for a fresh ballot measure.

For years the school district has sought new funding sources, while the state continues to cut funding. Volunteer donations cover at least 10 percent of the schools’ operating budget. The district has twice tried to raise money through ballot measures, but those measures, which required a two-thirds majority for passage, were rejected at the polls.

In July 2009 the School Board began considering a different kind of ballot measure, one that would not require a two-thirds majority for passage. The measure would add a new assessment for Hermosa land owners, and by law the money could be used only to maintain playgrounds and a controversial gymnasium that was built at Hermosa Valley School, and to buy new playground equipment.

At the time, the School Board tabled discussion of the possible new ballot measure, saying the matter should wait until after the November 2009 election, when voters chose a new School Board majority.

Last week, members of the new School Board said they would wait a little longer, to see whether City Hall will join in supporting a joint ballot measure, using some of the money to maintain city parks.

The matter is expected to be discussed at a joint meeting of the School Board and the City Council 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 28 in the council chambers, on the corner of Valley Drive and Pier Avenue.

New school board member Jack Burns showed little love for a new ballot measure at the board’s regular meeting last Wednesday.

“I didn’t like it before, I don’t like it still,” he said.

Burns also cautioned against launching a study – which would cost $6,000 – to gauge whether voters would approve a ballot measure.

“I think the pulse of the community would not be very favorable, especially given the economic climate,” he said.

Burns said the matter could be discussed further after the Jan. 28 city-school meeting.

Burns also called for an overall review of the school district’s funding needs.

“We need to assess what our real needs are financially. We need to look at this year and next year and see what our needs are,” he said.

“Sure we need playground equipment and some other things, but [let’s ask] what are our core needs for our education here, and then go out to the community and say, this is what we need, whether it is a parcel tax or something else, or we’re okay because the state’s funding properly,” Burns said.

He noted that money from the possible ballot measure would be restricted to playground and gym maintenance, and cautioned that a hasty ballot measure might make voters less likely to consider other funding requests down the line.

“We’re only going to have so many bites from the apple,” he said.

New school board member Carleen Beste also spoke coolly of the notion of a fresh ballot measure.

“I don’t think that there’s an appetite for the funding for this,” she said.

Burns and Beste turned their attention instead to fees charged for recreational sports leagues that use the fields and gym after school and on weekends.

School district Business Director Angela Jones told the board that fees are charged for scheduled uses of school facilities, but no fees are charged to people who informally use the facilities on a first-come, first-served basis.

Cathy McCurdy – who retired from the board after 16 years and then was appointed to replace Barbara Zondiros, who resigned because of an illness in her family – said she wants to wait to see whether city officials will back a new ballot measure, and joined Burns in seeking a long-term funding plan.

New board member Ray Waters was the only one to speak warmly of a new ballot measure.

“The whole community benefits by these things,” he said of the playfields and gym. “We are a community and we do need to work together.”

Waters also said that raising user fees would make the facilities “more exclusive.”

“We might as well just privatize the whole thing,” Waters said. “These are public goods, and we should make them available to the public, and the public will have to pay for them.”
Waters said a new ballot measure would result in only small assessments to Hermosa property owners.

“These are miniscule amounts anyway. What are they talking about, maybe $30 or $40 a year for a parcel?” he said.
Resident Jackie Tagliaferro addressed the board and took Waters to task.

“Mr. Waters, I know you said it’s a miniscule amount on each parcel, but it’s not up to you to decide. It really is for the community. Right now I don’t support it,” she said.

“Previous measures were strongly voted down, and I would prefer the money and the efforts to be spent on education rather than trying to raise additional taxes,” Tagliaferro said.

Board President Lisa Claypoole, who has been serving since before the last election, said that “a lot of people feel the way Mrs. Tagliaferro feels, that this is just a parcel tax by another name.”

Claypoole also said she wants to wait to see what happens at the city-school meeting.

“We do need to make a decision,” she said.

The school board in 2008 tried to raise money through a parcel tax, which would have required a two-thirds majority of Hermosa voters for passage. The ballot measure fell 20 percentage points short. Two years before, city voters rejected a school bond measure as well.

The new proposed ballot measure would be created by a vote of property owners, with a simple majority sufficient for passage.

The votes would be weighted, with more votes going to property owners closest to the school-owned recreational facilities. Those property owners also would pay larger assessments.

Such assessments are authorized under the state’s Landscaping and Lighting Act of 1972. ER


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