Nov 12 2012

OPINION: Concerns Raised by a Permanent School Tax

A member of the School District Citizens’ Advisory Committee comments on the proposal for a “permanent” school parcel tax –

Outlined herewith are my serious concerns regarding this proposed new parcel tax:

  • First, I am distressed and appalled by the prospect of making the parcel tax permanent.
    • Without a doubt, future Boards and administrations will become so accustomed to such a permanent tax that it will simply fade into the basic tax structure that will no longer have the special importance as it does today.  It will be treated in the same manner as the advalorem tax is today.
    • Once the “permanent” tax is no longer sufficient to satisfy the ever growing needs of the District, there will, without question, bring forth appeals for more “special” or “emergency” parcel taxes to heap on the taxpayers of Piedmont.  Just look no further than the so-called “emergency” tax proposed with this round of measures if State Proposition 30 had not been approved. There’s no doubt in my mind that this will happen once the state politicians figure out how to redirect any $$$$$ from Prop. 30 receipts to other priorities in a year or so!
    • The only part of this proposed measure that I can support is the limitation of the annual escalator to 2%, mirroring the Prop. 13 limitation on assessed value growth.
  • As to the so-called “Low Income Exemption for SSI Recipients”, I see this as very close to meaningless.  How many, if any, Piedmont property owners fall within these circumstances?  Few I wager!  A more realistic “senior citizen” or “lower income” provision should be incorporated into the measure.
  • In relation to the proposed abolishment of the Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC), I see this as an unfortunate loss of the public’s ability to view the activities and results of the use of the taxpayers’ money.  The current CAC is obliged to provide an independent report of its findings annually.  The proposal to fold the CAC duties into the Budget Advisory Committee is unlikely to provide such clarity.
  • Based on my concerns indicated above, I must strongly urge that the Board reconsider the measure described.  If not, I will find it necessary to strongly and actively oppose the adoption of this parcel tax.  We must retain the ability to have the voters review the performance of the District and this Board at least every 4 years.
    • And to the likely argument that the voters could, by initiative, reverse the proposed measure in the future, I would counter with my view that any such effort would be unlikely to muster an effective campaign.  Reversing a law, no matter how unpopular, is seldom, if ever, possible to accomplish.

George Childs

Piedmont Resident and member of the School District Citizens Advisory Committee

Editors’ Note:  The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Piedmont Civic Association.

4 Responses to “OPINION: Concerns Raised by a Permanent School Tax”

  1. The SSI exemption is “window dressing” that will help (virtually) no one in Piedmont.

    I would add to George’s fine letter that the Board should consider the San Marino and La Canada models of taxation; both these districts ranking above Piedmont and number one and two in the State. San Marino has a fixed flat rate tax of $1,169 and La Canada’s tax is $150 and both districts have a 100% senior exemption, as do virtually all other school districts in the state with a school support tax. The Piedmont tax is literally 181% to 2,493% higher than the seven other highest ranked state districts.

    The argument that San Marino, a 13,500 affluent bedroom community in Los Angeles very similar to Piedmont, is not a good comparable because of lower salaries in Southern California is simply not true. The Sacrament Bee has school district average salaries. San Marino average teacher salary in 2011 is $70,527; La Canada $70,964; Piedmont $71,437; Piedmont is barely half to one percent higher so salaries are quite comparable.

    The same source has Superintendent salaries for the three districts as La Canada – $172,540; San Marino – $180,000; Piedmont – $191,437. 2012 enrollment in Piedmont – 1,967; San Marino – 2,501; La Canada – 3,213.

  2. I do NOT support an “Evergreen” tax. I was Board President when the first tax was passed. It was a real challenge but it brought the community together. Yes, financial information is available on the district website but that isn’t the same as public discussion. Things change… number of students, priority programs, state funding. More than four years for planning purposes could work just NOT a tax with no sunset or oversight.

    Tamra C. Hege

  3. I think the School Tax should NOT be permanent; voters should have the option of renewing or not.

    I think there should be an independent oversight committee that is NOT appointed by the School Board for obvious conflict-of-interest reasons.

    I think the school tax should be proportionate to the size of Piedmont owners’ parcels, not a “flat” tax. Generally, the tax rate should be approximately the same on a per-square-foot basis.

  4. Bruce Joffe’s 3rd suggestion, a per square foot basis, is used in other districts and would be the most equitable. There is a question whether this would be by lot size or building size; School Measure “G” in W. Contra Costa is by building size. Our School board states there are legal problems with using this square footage method but other districts do it.

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