Survey Supports Parcel Tax Extension, LCUSD Board Is Told

The La Cañada Unified School District Governing Board received resounding support this week to forge ahead with a parcel tax measure renewal vote on the March 2020 ballot. The possible measure, which would be in effect until voters terminated it, would extend the tax that was passed in 2014 and is set to expire in June 2021.
Consultants recommended that the tax renewal be offered at the same rate, $450 per parcel per year, with adjustments for the annual consumer price index to help the district offset future inflation and with no sunset duration, meaning residents would have to vote to end the tax.
At a special meeting on Monday night to assess the feasibility of another successful parcel tax measure, board members heard from the San Francisco-based consulting firm TBWB Strategies, which the board hired in July to conduct a survey along with True North Research. After questioning some 482 voters likely to participate in elections in March and November 2020, TBWB and True North concluded there is “strong natural support” — about 73% — to extend the tax measure at its current rate.
The board heard several key findings by consultants Charles Heath and Tim McLarney, whose companies carried out the survey between July 18 and July 29 by phone and email. The purpose was to identify not only whether a tax renewal to continue funding for local schools is feasible, but how to create a measure consistent with community priorities and to gather information needed for communications and outreach before the measure goes to a vote.
McLarney said he feels confident in the nearly three-quarters approval rating among those surveyed, although he emphasized that “a poll is not a crystal ball into election day, it’s just a snapshot in time.” He also noted the companies estimate an overall margin of error of 4.4% in the survey findings.
In March 2014, more than 68% of those who voted approved the parcel tax measure.
In the survey this summer, supporters said they would “Definitely yes” (41.7%) or “Probably yes” (31.2%) support a measure to renew the expiring tax at the current rate of $450 per parcel, continuing $2.5 million in annual school funding until ended by voters, with annual inflation adjustments, senior exemptions, and all money staying local. If the tax were to expire, the district would lose that critical revenue.
Board President Brent Kuszyk wondered just how sure the consultants are that their findings will be valid in 2020, asking, “Just how possible is it that [voter] opinion changes by then?”
McLarney noted that public opinion might be swayed in a worst-case scenario, such as if the economy were to tank, but emphasized that 91% of the La Cañada Flintridge residents who were surveyed support “maintaining the quality of education in our public schools.” That finding, along with wide approval for improving public safety and security (77%), maintaining local streets and roads (76%) and maintaining local property values (75%), combined with the district’s previous tax measure approval, “lends a lot of confidence” in the results, he said.
“This is a community that has shown multiple times in the past that they are supportive of local schools. … If this was the first time they’d done this, I might have some more uncertainty about the results, but the fact that they’ve got a proven track record of support outweighs the possibility of any event that could change this,” he added.
Initially, the consultants presented different options on when to hold the tax renewal vote, with the recommended date coinciding with the City Council’s next municipal election in March 2020. Another possibility, the next Governing Board election in November 2020, remains an option if the March date appears to be too premature.
The board also considered tax duration, with the possibility of putting another seven-year sunset on the tax, but the poll found there was no significant difference in support for a seven-year period versus no set duration. A duration-free tax would also save the district from having to revisit the funding in another seven years, and spending money to again put the measure up to a vote, board members pointed out.
“I don’t see any evidence to suggest you should shoot for anything less than seven years,” or even “no sunset period,” McLarney said.
Among the highest priorities for voters, not increasing the parcel tax amount over its current rate proved to be more important than the duration of the tax, he added.
Heath and McLarney also offered the board some steps on which to focus next, including expanding communications within the district to build awareness and consensus on support for the tax, which will focus on priorities to attract/retain high quality teachers, advanced STEM and robotics, safe and well-maintained schools, manageable class sizes and preparation of students for top-ranked colleges and careers.
Board members ultimately decided to set the final decision on the parcel tax measure — and when the vote might take place — as an agenda item, likely at its next scheduled meeting, set for Tuesday, Sept. 10, at 7 p.m.

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