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It's Back: School Parcel Tax Discussion Returns

Sep 10, 2023 09:42PM ● By Jeanne Fratello

The Manhattan Beach Unified School District's headquarters building.

The parcel tax discussion is back. 

With the current parcel tax for Manhattan Beach schools set to expire in June 2024, the school district and residents are looking at an effort to pass a measure that would renew the existing $225-per-year tax - which currently brings about $2.5 million to the district annually.

A citizen-led effort to make a dramatic increase in the parcel tax over 12 years, known as Measure A, failed in 2022

This year, proponents are hoping that large-scale cooperation on the parcel tax effort will yield different results.

MBUSD has organized a "Superintendent's Parcel Tax Committee" that consists of current and former MBUSD parents, parents of children in private schools, city leadership, and a collection of both supporters and opponents of 2022's Measure A. 

Through research done by consultants hired by the school district, and through discussions on the committee, a consensus has begun to emerge that the most likely - and most palatable - option is a simple renewal of Measure MB, meaning a 6-year parcel tax of $225 per year, with no cost of living adjustment. 

"Last year Measure A didn’t necessarily follow the survey results; the survey results showed that a lesser amount would be palatable to our residents," said MBUSD Board President Cathey Graves at last week's school board meeting. "And kudos to those that spent all that time and effort to try to get us more of 'what we need' versus 'what the community will bear' - but we know that isn’t realistic."

Graves continued: "After Measure A, we had meetings with community members pro and con, and what we heard consistently was it was too much. Many people supported it but voted against it because it was too much."

Addressing Superintendent John Bowes, Graves added: "I appreciate you listening to [Measure A opponents] and incorporating them into this process, because that is what will drive us to success."

In fact, one outspoken opponent of Measure A, Tiffany Barbara, came to the board meeting to express support for renewing the existing parcel tax.

"We are a community that looks out for one another, and a significant reason for that is because our local children attend public schools locally, and as a result their parents are very involved," Barbara told the board. "It’s the sense of community here in Manhattan Beach that is of the most value to us. We need to renew the parcel tax to provide the necessary revenue to stay competitive, attract more local students, and keep our small town community intact."

Barbara added, "Many have been skeptical of even a renewal of our parcel tax. To successfully pass this parcel tax, we need to widen the circle like Dr. Bowes did and include those who felt disenfranchised from the district...To pass a parcel tax we need to come together as a community."

Consultants Say $225 Parcel Tax Most Palatable

At its meeting, the school board heard a report from FM3 Research that surveyed 600 likely Manhattan Beach voters.

The survey found that voters generally have a positive feeling about Manhattan Beach schools.

Furthermore, the survey found that a parcel tax campaign could be successful with a strong and sustained effort that does not face organized opposition.

However, researchers discovered that any proposed tax rate increase beyond the $225 would likely fail to reach the two-thirds threshold required for passage.

The consultants therefore recommended putting a measure on the March 2024 ballot that would renew the parcel tax at the current $225 level, with no cost of living increase, for six years, while maintaining the current exemptions (for senior citizens and for those on disability).

The next step would be for the consultants to draft a parcel tax resolution for consideration by the school board, to be approved by December 8, 2023 for the March 5, 2024 election.

Once the measure is on the ballot, an independent committee made up of residents would need to take over and run the campaign (because the school district is not allowed to campaign).

Existing Measure MB Will Expire in 2024

The existing parcel tax, Measure MB, was approved by Manhattan Beach voters in June 2018 with 69.25% of the vote. It taxes homeowners at $225 per year, per parcel (with exemptions for senior citizens and low-income residents with disabilities).

The 2023-2024 assessment for Manhattan Beach includes 13,124 parcels, of which 2,113 have qualified for exemptions (1,914 exemptions for senior citizens, one exemption for SSI/SSDI recipients, and 198 for government, low/no tax value, possessory interest, and utility properties), creating a 16.08% exemption rate. The remaining parcels are anticipated to result in $2,475,225 in revenue to the MBUSD, assuming a 100% rate of payment.

The money stays in the district and is used to attract and retain teachers; maintain manageable class sizes; and protect quality math, science, reading, art and music programs. Currently the funding pays for nearly two dozen teachers.

It is set to expire on June 30, 2024.

In March 2023, the MBUSD school board approved a contract estimated at $91,000 to retain consultants TeamCivX for a feasibility assessment and ballot measure development for a potential future parcel tax measure.

"There’s so much uncertainty in the [state] budget," said MBUSD board member Jen Fenton at the time. "If we can have that stable local revenue stream and continue it - whether it’s for six years or in perpetuity - we’d be foolish not to invest the time and some of our resources into getting that done."

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