By Maysen Marolda
The Manhattan Beach Unified School District will likely face a budget shortfall of more than $5 million for the next two years, MBUSD superintendent Dr. Michael Matthews said. As a result, MBUSD may ask landowners in Manhattan Beach to weigh in on a property tax used in California to fund kindergarten through twelfth grade public education. The tax would benefit the school district by easing the effects of budget cuts, as more money will be necessary to ensure that MBUSD schools continue to perform at the highest level and are able to maintain facilities that contribute to the success.
The amount of money the state of California gives to MBUSD from property taxes has decreased each year, while direct expenses, such as pension costs, continue to increase, Matthews said. In order to identify a solution for this detrimental problem, the district is expected to hire a consultant to analyze how much money the parcel tax would generate and whether residents would be willing to take part in such a tax, Matthews said. A decision as to whether or not a parcel tax will solve the conflict will be made by January, and the implementation of the tax could reach the ballot in June or November of next year, Matthews said.
The last time the district proposed a parcel tax was in 2003 and it was defeated by voters, Matthews said. In order to try and pass the tax this time, the discussion of different conditions has begun to take place. For example, although the details of the parcel tax are still largely undecided, it is likely that there will be a senior exemption that excludes property owners over the age of 65 from the duty to participate in the tax.
According to a presentation from Dr. Dawnalyn Murakawa-Leopard, MBUSD is already the fourth lowest funded district in the state, based on several factors. One factor that has contributed to MBUSD’s low funding is that the district does not receive a sufficent amount of additional funding for students who are on free or reduced lunches, are English learners or are in foster care, as only a small percentage of Costa meets the criteria. Therefore, the district needs an alternative source of funding to make up for the deficit of $5 million in the next two years, and a parcel tax is necessary in order to regain the lost money.
In years past, MBUSD has relied on the Manhattan Beach Education Foundation to account for budget deficits, according to MBEF Executive Director Farnaz Golshani Flechner. However, even with contributions from MBEF, the district could face up to 50 teacher layoffs over the next two years as a result of its expected budget shortfall, Flechner said. Thus, it seems that the district can no longer continue to rely solely on MBEF for economic support because MBEF’s contributions will not be enough to subsidize the entirety of MBUSD’s faculty.
If MBUSD were to enact teacher layoffs over the next few years, more families may feel inclined to enroll their children in private schools, which would shift even more resources away from the district, Flechner said. In order to preserve the outstanding quality of MBUSD schools, a parcel tax is imperative to ensure that families do not feel the need to send their children to private schools and continue to donate to the district.
Compared to similar school districts, such as Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, MBUSD is rare in the fact that it does not have a parcel tax, Matthews said. In an analysis, MBEF found that a parcel tax in a similar district is $336 per parcel, which generates eight percent of that district’s funding. Therefore, the adoption of these parcel taxes are integral to more affluent districts who are not able to rely on outside funding sources, such as funding for students in foster care.
With a likely budget shortfall of $5 million in the next two years, it is necessary that MBUSD enacts a parcel tax in order to ensure that MBUSD schools receive the funding that is imperative for a high performing district to be able to continue to access the same resources. Without supplemental funding, MBUSD does not have the means to continue to pay for all of its staff members, which may cause families to enroll their children in private school.