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December 16, 2009 > School district budget projections inspire parcel tax initiative

School district budget projections inspire parcel tax initiative

By Dustin Findley

Milpitas Unified School District (MUSD) projects it will need $1.7M to balance its fiscal year (FY) 2011-12 budget. To mitigate projected and unexpected budget shortfalls, the Milpitas Board of education is investigating the feasibility of a parcel tax.

"We're still short nearly $2M in two years. That's really our problem. Hence, the discussion about a parcel tax. We're still short and we've exhausted our reserves," said Superintendent Karl Black at the December 8 school Board meeting.

Interim budget analysis and projections are based on certain assumptions, such as the State of California will not make any mid-year budget cuts.

According to Phuong Le, Assistant Superintendent of Business Services, experts estimate the State will have a $7 billion budget deficit in FY 2009-10 and a $20 billion shortfall in FY 2010-11.

The Board discussed the first draft of the language of a parcel tax measure that might appear on the ballot. Black will bring back a second draft to the January 12, 2010 meeting when the Board will decide whether or not to continue the parcel tax initiative. If the Board decides to proceed, staff will bring a resolution to the next Board meeting and give notice of a public hearing for January 26. A campaign committee can be assembled once the resolution passes.

The first draft of the ballot language is as follows:

"The Milpitas Unified School District High Quality of Education and Local Control Measure.

To help protect local schools from State budget cuts, Provide revenue to stabilize local school funding, Maintain existing math, science, engineering, athletics, arts and music programs, Maintain smaller class sizes And prevent reduction in days of classroom instruction

Shall the Milpitas Unified School District assess an annual parcel tax of $84 for 5 years with annual audits, exemptions for senior citizens, no money for administrators and a citizen oversight committee.

This measure would result in approximately $1.26M per year based on (an estimated) 15,000 parcels."

The language of the first draft is based on the school district's survey of potential voters, identifying and focusing on subjects favored by those polled, such as math, science and engineering.

The ballot language emphasizes "maintain," as the school district will not reinstate anything already cut. An annual parcel tax of $84 equates to $7 per month and will expire after five years.

The school district aims to place this initiative on the June 2010 ballot to collect revenues by the end of 2010.

Many MUSD schools are California Distinguished Schools with high API scores. The parcel tax revenue will lead to fewer cuts, protect and maintain the quality of education and support continued achievement.

The school district wants its students to continue have choice in subjects such as math. Advanced Placement (AP) programs, where high-school students take college-level classes in math and other subjects are options that must be funded.

Black and the Board agree the estimated $1.2M parcel-tax proceeds will be insufficient to maintain the status quo of everything mentioned in the ballot language.

"Even with the parcel tax, we still face cuts," said Board member William Foulk. "They won't be as deep as they might have been."

If the State reduces its budget, could MUSD adjust or reduce the programs mentioned in the ballot language? Black will investigate the options available. If MUSD cannot do so, such programs will be omitted from the ballot language. Mentioning fewer programs will increase flexibility in re-budgeting.

Black believes more voters will support the parcel tax measure if the ballot language includes more academic subjects that the school district wants to maintain.

Board Vice-President Michael Mendizabal feels senior citizens might not support the parcel tax measure because of the inconvenience or fear of completing paperwork to qualify for exemption. A solution might be to sponsor an "Exemption Paperwork Fill-out Day" to assist them.

The question for Milpitas voters, to be answered by supporters of the parcel tax, is "What am I paying for with this parcel tax?"

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