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School board votes to place parcel tax measure on ballot

By JAMES R. RIFFEL

City News Service

The San Diego Unified School District Board of Education voted tonight to place a parcel tax on the November ballot to replace funds no longer being provided by the state of California.

If approved by two-thirds of the voters within district boundaries, a $98 annual assessment will be imposed on single-family homes, $60 per unit of multi-family housing and $450 on commercial and industrial properties.

There would be exceptions for low-income seniors.

District officials project the parcel tax would raise $50 million annually, an amount far lower than a projected $127 million shortfall projected for the 2011-12 budget.

The proposal to place the measure on the ballot passed 4-0 after board member Shelia Jackson left in the middle of the meeting without explanation.

The district has had to cut its budget for years, board member Katherine Nakamura said.

“Now the time has come where we have to ask for help,” Nakamura said.

California has reduced per-student funding to the district by 14 percent in the past four years, and board members expect the cutbacks will continue in the future.

“The next couple of years are very, very dark,” board member John Lee Evans said.

The parcel tax money will provide $150 per student to be spent at the individual school level, funding to maintain K-3 class size at 24 to 1 or less, afford science and technology programs and improve classroom technology, according to Bernie Rhinerson, the district relations officer.

Most speakers supported placing the measure on the ballot, and passing it as a way to gain an avenue of local funding of education.

Opponents accused district officials of squandering the money it already had, pointing at a 7 percent future pay raise promised to teachers and a union-backed Project Labor Agreement placed on construction bond projects, after the Proposition S bond measure had already passed.

“This district has not been good stewards of the taxpayer money it has already been given,” Edith Smith said. “We have a great public trust issue.”

Eric Christen, who represents non-union construction firms, said the district doesn’t deserve “another dime of taxpayer money” until a new board is elected.

“I can guarantee you, you will lose and then taxpayers will see a new board is needed,” Christen said.