Manhattan Beach has long asked landowners for money to supplement funding for its high-performing public schools.
And voters in the wealthy community have always said yes.
Since 1995, voters have opposed a parcel tax increase only once — a failed 2003 initiative for $108 per package for five years.
But in the June 7 election, Manhattan Beach homeowners’ commitment to education, and thereby rising home prices, will be tested like never before.
Measure A is a resident-led initiative asking for an annual fee of $1,095 per year for 12 years. It’s the largest request in the history of the Manhattan Beach Unified School District, which has 5,800 students.
If the measure passes, the $12 million a year the tax is expected to raise could be used for teacher salaries and operating expenses for the district’s eight schools. The bonds, which some Manhattan Beach property owners are still repaying previously approved measures — most recently passed in 2016 — can only be used to build new facilities or upgrade old ones.
Earlier this year, the Manhattan Beach Unified School Board considered asking voters for a much smaller package tax surcharge, but waited after a local group’s initiative got elected.
Since Measure A was the result of a resident-led process, the city, not the school district, would maintain the fund and transfer the money to MBUSD, submit an annual report, and establish an oversight committee.
Another byproduct of the measure coming from residents is that it circumvents the state’s requirement of a two-thirds supermajority for passage. Instead, Measure A can pass with a simple majority vote.
Proponents of Measure A argue that the funds are needed to fill the shortfall in state funding for the Manhattan Beach Unified School District and to protect real estate values by ensuring high-performing scholars.
Opponents argue that the tax burden is too heavy, especially with the potential for rising inflation. They also say that how the funds will be spent is not detailed.
The Facts About Measure A
If approved, Measure A would increase MBUSD’s budget by $12 million per year by taxing landowners $1,095 per plot each year for 12 years, beginning July 1.
The new tax would overlap the current property assessment approved by voters in 2018 by 18 months. This smaller tax of $225 per parcel – which brings in $2.6 million a year – ends in 2024.
The new tax, if approved, will:
- Be subject to annual increases in inflation based on the consumer price index, with a cap of 5%.
- Be deposited in a special local fund that would be managed by an oversight committee chosen by the city.
- Provide an exemption for owners aged 65 and over.
- Provide an exemption for people of any age who receive Supplemental Security Income due to a disability.
A person who qualifies for an exemption would only need to submit one application. The school district and Manhattan Beach would work together to provide a list of exempt packages to Los Angeles County each year, according to a memorandum of understanding the city council approved 3-2 on Tuesday, May 3.
But if an exempt owner sells during the 12-year period, the plot tax liability would pass to the new owner.
Why vote yes?
Proponents of Measure A say the request for $12 million a year is the only way for the district to gain local control of its high-performing schools.
MBUSD, supporters say, receives about $2,000 less per student than the state average.
So it makes sense to ask taxpayers to make up the difference, said Michael Sinclair, a local lawyer who drafted Measure A.
“A parcel tax is the last and best opportunity to bring funds to schools,” Sinclair said. “The system in California is just broken and it certainly hasn’t changed in almost half a century.”
Sinclair, the father of two MBUSD students, said there is a direct correlation between property values and education in the city.
Manhattan Beach, he said, prioritizes quality education, and most landlords understand that higher real estate values in the city are due to the well-functioning school system.
Moreover, Sinclair said, “strong schools make a strong community.”
But why ask for a 12-year commitment?
The decision to extend the package tax for more than a decade, Sinclair said, was intended to ensure that a kindergartener entering school next fall would benefit throughout high school. But most importantly, he said, landowners need a long-term commitment to ensure that MBUSD becomes a “grassroots relief district”.
A basic aid district, according to EdSourceno longer dependent on California funding, as local property tax revenues exceed what the district would receive under state and federal programs.
Current projections show that after 12 years, with the additional $12 million per year, MBUSD could qualify to be self-sufficient, Sinclair said.
Basic aid districts tend to be either smaller rural districts or districts in affluent communities such as Palo Alto, Newport Beach and Santa Clara, according to EdSource.
“Measure A is the bridge to basic help,” Sinclair said.
Manhattan Beach Education Foundation Grants help the school district close the funding gap each year.
In 2019-20, in fact, the foundation awarded its highest amount in history, $7.5 million, MBEF executive director Hilary Mahan said. But with the pandemic, donations dwindled the following year, with the district receiving $5.3 million.
Measure A is important, Mahan said, because it will allow MBEF to return to its core mission: funding enrichment programs (STEM programs, music, art). Instead, the nonprofit had to fund teachers’ salaries to avoid layoffs and reduce class sizes.
And if voters pass the package tax initiative, Mahan said, it’s possible the MBEF board will cut the $2,000 per student donation it asks for from school families.
Sinclair said he wanted to make sure voters understand the city is acting as the administrator of Measure A because it grew out of the initiative process. He sees the city’s involvement as a good thing, Sinclair said.
“(The city’s involvement) creates more engagement and more transparency,” Sinclair said. “The worst thing that can happen in our community is apathy.”
While costs continue to rise, he added, funding for schools has remained static. And while extra money from other sources, such as MBEF and PTA funds, is great support, it’s not “basic income” on which the district can plan to build a future.
“Yet,” Sinclair said, “it’s not a disaster campaign. It’s really about empowering people. It’s about local control over our schools and the health of our community.
Why vote no?
Opponents of Measure A agree that the public school funding system is flawed and that MBUSD needs money from other sources.
But they also say the demand of $12 million a year is just too much.
Excluding the annual increases in inflation to which the tax is subject, the total amount collected over the 12 years could approach $150 million.
As enrollment has declined overall at MBUSD, in part due to the pandemic, it remains unclear whether students will return, which would increase total per-student funding and eliminate some of the need, the Manhattan City Councilman said. Beach, Joe Franklin.
“The more I learned about (Measure A), the more uneasy I felt,” Franklin said. “It just seems like what he’s asking for is excessive and the need hasn’t been fully fleshed out.”
Franklin, who said he lobbied for all other tax and duty measures on MBUSD packages as his two children grew up in the district, said he opposes the measure. A because its duration lasts twice as long as other parcel taxes.
Adjusting for inflation each year is also an issue, Franklin said, and even with a 5% cap, the tax could become costly. The decision to oppose the tax is a difficult one, he added.
“I’m sure it’s hard for people to speak out because nobody wants to be against schools,” Franklin said.
Measure Ahe added, has “an absence of detail” and does not provide forecasts of exactly how the money will be spent.
The text of the measure presents only eight elements, Franklin said, and they are vague in relation to the size of the money requested. Keeping class sizes low, increasing staffing and providing professional development for teachers are all valiant goals, he said, but how much of the $12 million raised each year would go to which category? ?
MBUSD, Franklin said, always needs the money, and he agreed that high-performing schools are part of what keeps real estate values high. But, he said, he believes parental support will continue without a new parcel tax charge.
“So you’ll see monetary support as well as volunteer support for parents,” Franklin said. “It’s a very motivated community.
Bob Sievers, one of the authors of the argument against Measure A on the ballot, agreed that a voluntary solution was preferable to imposing another tax on parcels. Sievers also said he trusts the funds raised through the MBEF to be better tracked.
“We don’t need more money, we need more thoughtful use of money,” Sievers said via email. “Private money is always better spent, more transparent.”
Opponents are also skeptical about the timing of the measure. Placing him on the June primary ballot when turnout is low is problematic, Franklin said. And, he said, the fact that the voting threshold was lower was also a problem.
“Why are we rushing? Franklin asked.