LAUSD’s many taxing troubles
Supt. Austin Beutner and Monica Garcia, president of the LAUSD School Board, talk to each other during Tuesday’s school board meeting in Los Angeles on, January 8, 2019. Parents opposed the boards vote to simplify the process for volunteering by rolling back background checks saying the board approved it to help with the possible teachers strike. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)
In a situation being watched throughout California, the Los Angeles Unified School District is aggressively pushing a heavy parcel tax on all property owners within its jurisdiction. For taxpayers, this raises a fundamental question: Why does the state need more money when California is already near the top in tax collections among all states?
LAUSD is faced with many problems. Impossible promises made to its unions, failure to economize spending, abject failure to implement long-needed reforms and declining enrollment are compounding the district’s woes. However, lack of revenue is not one of them.
The district’s response to its own mistakes makes the Keystone Kops look like paragons of competence, especially considering how the parcel tax proposal was placed on the ballot.
The LAUSD board approved the tax at its Feb. 28, 2019 board meeting by passing a resolution that incorporated the “full text” of the tax. During that meeting, board members asked district staff and the district’s legal counsel if any changes to the resolution could be made after receiving board approval. The LAUSD board was correctly informed that any change to the resolution would require further board action — in a public meeting — and all changes would have to be made by March 13, 2019. If changes were not approved, the tax proposal would be legally defective.
Despite this, on March 11, 2019, Superintendent Austin Beutner sent a letter to Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters, Dean Logan, asking him to significantly alter the board-approved language. But as the board itself was first advised, moving forward with ballot language that was never approved by the LAUSD board violates both the Brown Act and the Elections Code.
Moreover, the difference between what was approved by the LAUSD board and the language presented to voters is far more than some typographical error. The resolution refers to the tax being imposed on “habitable” square footage but the language presented to voters imposes the tax on all “improved property.” For homeowners, the difference is huge because, according to the new language, garages and storage spaces would also be subject to the tax.
The policies behind both the Elections Code and the Brown Act are founded on transparency. Voters have a right to know what they are voting on and, if it is a tax measure, the extent to which they are taxed.
Because of the clear violations of law, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Unified School District last week contesting the legality of Measure EE. In a preliminary hearing, the judge recognized the urgency of the issue and scheduled a hearing on the merits for June 6, two days after the June 4 election. To be determined is whether, given the violations of law, the Registrar of Voters can be prohibited from certifying the election results.
LAUSD’s violations of the Elections Code and Brown Act are not the only hurdles it now faces. Voters are also suspect of many other aspects of the Measure EE election. First, the district chose to seek the additional taxing authority at a special election, costing $12 million more than if it had waited for a general election. Clearly, the intention was to keep voter turnout very low at a significant cost to taxpayers. Other issues include transparent shakedowns of several segments of L.A.’s business community and millions of taxpayer dollars being spent on “informing” the public. Despite the fact that the Yes on EE special interests will outspend the opponents, we suspect district voters will be compelled to draw the line on this ill-conceived, punishing tax increase.
This OpEd was originally published online at LA Daily News by Jon Coupal