Rowland Unified joins other districts looking for money from residents
ROWLAND HEIGHTS - Come June, the Rowland Unified School District will ask the community to help minimize its $9 million budget deficit by paying additional taxes, officials said.
The school board on a 4-1 vote approved a measure for the June ballot that, if passed, would assess an annual parcel tax of $120 per home in the district for the next five years.
Rowland is not alone in its quest for a parcel tax.
San Marino, South Pasadena and La Cañada unified school districts all have upcoming parcel tax elections, according to Kenneth Shelton, assistant superintendent of business services for the Los Angeles County Office of Education.
Shelton predicts more districts will look to parcel taxes, depending on the amount of federal stimulus money they receive.
"School districts are looking at how to generate revenue when the state is taking it away," Shelton said. "A parcel tax is one of the few legal options that are made available to school districts to do that."
The Rowland vote came at Tuesday's meeting.
"It's so hard for community members to see the devastation of these (budget) cuts," said Superintendent Maria Ott. "This gives them an opportunity to have a voice in this. It is important for the community to know we would never want to go and ask for money, but it is the only way to raise program money."
The tax would show up on residents' property tax bills and would be expected to generate $2.5 million annually, district officials said.
There are about 25,690 parcels or single-family homes within district boundaries, according to the California Municipal Statistics Inc. Seniors 65 and older would be exempt from the tax.
The parcel tax needs approval from two-thirds of voters in order to pass. If approved, it will require monitoring from an oversight committee.
District wide-choral concert
"This is the only opportunity we have to get any type of revenue enhancement just to maintain some of the current programs that we have," School Board President Robert Hidalgo said. "It will ease some of the impacts, but it won't fix everything."
Officials need to trim $9 million from the district's $150 million budget as a result of education cuts imposed by state lawmakers.
The district will be handing out 88 layoff notices to teachers and administrators. Six of those notices will go to choral directors, who put on a district-wide concert on Friday.
"This a real crisis for our program," said Bryant Aquino, choir director at Nogales High School.
But positions could potentially be saved with the approval of the tax in June.
"There is an urgency for us to get this in before the end of this year," Ott said. "We will be making final decisions about employees and on programs that are in a sense sacred to our community."
If approved, the parcel tax could prevent cuts to high school counselors; instructional supplies and classroom technology; keep school libraries open; protect small class sizes; protect music and art programs, and retain qualified teachers.
But not all district officials are in agreement about the tax. School Board Member Heidi L. Gallegos was the lone dissenting vote.
"The concern for me is the timing; I am not sure the timing is right," Gallegos said Friday. "Given the current economic climate I respectfully disapprove of putting additional taxes on our families."
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