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Apr 28 / Jonathan

CUSD Measure S Parcel Tax

The Cabrillo Unified School District is asking for a $175 parcel tax on the upcoming June ballot. Measure S is the district’s fifth attempt at a parcel tax in recent memory; the preceding four all failed, more or less narrowly, to achieve the 2/3 vote required in California since Prop 13 for such taxes.

In this post, I’ll look at the provisions of Measure S itself. In subsequent posts, I’ll take a close look at the ballot arguments for and against the measure.

First, the ballot question.

To further student academic achievement by retaining and recruiting highly qualified teachers, supporting their ability to focus on individual student needs through lower class sizes and providing academic resources at all grade levels, shall the Cabrillo Unified School District levy an annual tax for 5 years of $175 on improved parcels, $30 a year on unimproved parcels, with senior citizen exemptions and annual audits?

The full text of the measure continues:

Pursuant section 50075.1(a) of the Government Code, the proceeds of the special tax shall be spent to provide and maintain academic achievement priorities through the following:

1. A highly qualified and well-trained teaching staff;
2. Small classes in kindergarten through third grade;
3. Lower class sizes at the middle school and the high school;
4. An increased range of academic programs at the high school level;
5. Academic programs including, but not limited to, honors classes, science, math and technology courses, literacy programs, extracurricular programs, materials and supplies, and staff development time to promote coordination of teaching efforts.

Basis of Tax

The special tax shall be levied on all parcels of taxable real property in the District, as defined below, for 5 years starting with the 2006-2007 property tax year, at a rate of $175 on improved parcels and $30 on unimproved parcels.

“Parcel of Taxable Real Property” shall be defined as any unit of real property in the District that receives a separate tax bill for ad valorem property taxes from the County Tax Collector’s Office. All property that is otherwise exempt from or upon which are levied no ad valorem property taxes in any year shall also not be subject to the special tax in such year.

An exemption shall be granted on any parcel owned by one or more persons aged 65 years or older as of July 1 of any applicable tax year who occupies said parcel as a principal residence, upon annual application for exemption.

Any such parcels which are contiguous, used solely for owneroccupied single family residential purposes and held under identical ownership, shall, upon approval of an annual application of the owners of such parcel, be treated as a single parcel for purposes of this special tax.

If a parcel of taxable real property has an assessment for improvement(s) on the property, such parcel shall be considered an improved parcel for purposes of this special tax. If a parcel of taxable real property has no assessment for improvement(s), or an assessment only for personal property (such as a manufactured or mobile home), such property shall be considered an unimproved parcel for purposes of this special tax.

With respect to all general property tax matters within its jurisdiction, the County Tax Assessor shall make all final determinations of tax exemption or relief for any reason, and that decision shall be final and binding. With respect to matters specific to the levy of the special tax, including the Senior Citizen Exemption and the classification of property for purposes of calculating the tax, the decisions of a District administrative review panel shall be final and binding.

Pursuant to California Constitution article XIIIB and applicable laws, the appropriations limit for the District will be adjusted periodically by the aggregate sum collected by levy of this special tax.

Accountability Measures

The proceeds of the special tax shall be applied only to the specific purposes identified above. The proceeds of the special tax shall be deposited into a fund, which shall be kept separate and apart from other funds of the District. No later than January 1 of each year while the tax is in effect, the District shall prepare and file with the Board of Education a report/audit detailing the amount of funds collected and expended, and the status of any project authorized to be funded by this measure.

Severability

The Board of Education hereby declares, and the voters by approving this measure concur, that every section and part of this measure has independent value, and the Board of Education and the voters would have adopted each provision hereof regardless of every other provision hereof.

Upon approval of this measure by the voters, should any part of the measure or taxing formula be found by a court of competent jurisdiction to be invalid for any reason, all remaining parts of the measure or taxing formula hereof shall remain in full force and effect to the fullest extent allowed by law.

The general provisions are unremarkable. $175 strikes a middle ground in the range of taxes the district has unsuccessfully requested in the past. The $30 tax on unimproved parcels is new, and tries to strike a compromise between taxing these parcels at the full $175 rate and not taxing them at all. It would raise about 10% of the total proceeds of the tax.

If passed, Measure S is expected by the district generate about $1.3 million for five years, a 5% revenue increase over the district’s current budget of approximately $25 million.

The senior and contiguous parcel provisions are routine. Taxpayers will need to apply annually for the exemptions.

With two exceptions, the proposed uses for the tax proceeds are self-explanatory. The first exception is use #1, “A highly qualified and well-trained teaching staff”. This might mean additional training for the existing staff, or higher salaries for the existing staff (in order to attract and retain such teachers), or some combination of both.

Use #2, “Small classes in kindergarten through third grade”, is more difficult to understand. The district already implements K-3 class size reduction (CSR), funded by a combination of categorical CSR funds from the state, with the district making up the balance with about $540,000 from its general fund and other categorical programs. This funding is already in the budget, and (unlike prior years) is in no real danger of going unfunded. If the $540,000 is funded from the parcel tax, it effectively frees up $540,000 in mostly unrestricted funds to be spent on items not listed as parcel tax uses. This should be clarified by the district.

My analysis of the ballot argument for Measure S, and its rebuttal, is here.

My analysis of the ballot argument against Measure S, and its rebuttal, is here.

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