Education advocates push to make parcel taxes easier to approve

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Several school districts are holding elections this month on whether to let voters approve taxes on parcels of land to fund public schools. KPCC’s Adolfo Guzman-Lopez says education advocates are pushing changes in Sacramento to make it easier for these kinds of measures to pass.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: Bay Area Assemblyman Tom Torlakson is behind a school funding bill that’s already cleared the state assembly. It would allow three or more school districts to draft a parcel tax that he says would generate lots of money statewide every year for public education.

Tom Torlakson: I believe you can get upwards of a billion dollars of backfill to the cuts but really customized to the local school districts' need.

Guzman-Lopez: Parcel taxes need two-thirds voter approval to pass. A companion proposal to Torlakson’s bill would change the state constitution and would lower that requirement to a simple majority. Statewide taxpayer organizations and the California Association of Realtors argue that the change is a bad idea. Redondo Beach real estate agent Skip Zeleny is a director of the state realtors association.

Skip Zeleny: When the voters feel something truly has merit and truly should happen it will pass by the super majority.

Guzman-Lopez: Parcel taxes levy a set amount for each parcel of land, unlike property taxes that change with a property’s assessed value. Former L.A. Unified board member David Tokofsky advocates the parcel tax change in his new job with the school district’s administrators’ union. He says poorer, urban school districts would benefit because most parcel taxes show up now in affluent districts.

David Tokofsky: Palos Verdes Peninsula school district has Measure P which is in the mail. They’ve done a vote by mail. It’s due June 23rd. This is to continue funding quality programs, small class sizes, retain their qualified teachers, provide up-to-date textbooks, instructional materials.

Guzman-Lopez: Voters in the La Cañada, South Pasadena, and Rowland Heights school districts are also voting on parcel taxes. Tokofsky believes the simple majority change for the parcel tax won’t get any Republican support and will fail.

It’s more likely that lawmakers would accept adjusting the vote threshold to 55 or 60 percent. Other educators worry that change at the local level would excuse the state from its responsibility to help pay for public education.