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School district needs transparency

September 14, 2011|By Ron Dietel

As reported in last week’s Valley Sun, the La Cañada Unified School District Governing Board voted 3-1 to spend $6,500 per month to survey community support for a second parcel tax. The new tax would be in addition to an existing school parcel tax of $150 per year per parcel, with approximately three remaining years.

Disregarding my strong recommendation at the Aug.16 board meeting, competitive survey bids were not solicited. Instead, the contract was solely sourced to TBWB Strategies, a company that would further benefit from a positive survey result because the contract specifies TBWB as the parcel tax marketing company. Despite board member Cindy Wilcox’s request, the district did not share TBWB’s draft parcel tax survey with the public, even though it was presented at a public meeting. The board also voted to make the contract retroactive to July 12, unnecessarily giving away thousands of our school district’s dollars to TBWB.

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The parcel tax survey follows four cut days of school to students, producing a cumulative 10 pupil-free days this year. More than 5% of all paid staff days will be without students. The cut days were not due to district funding shortfalls, but to increase pupil-free teacher workdays by 80%.

Although out-of-district students have risen to approximately 15% of all students, their parents do not pay the existing parcel tax or bond measures to upgrade school facilities. They cannot be forced to pay future parcel taxes or bond measures, either. There is no cap on the total number of out-of-district students.

Every parcel tax has an expiration date, frequently five or six years after it is instituted. After a parcel tax expires, another campaign is run to pass a new parcel tax, oftentimes higher than the previous tax. Because the district becomes heavily dependent on parcel tax money, voters are under enormous pressure to vote yes on parcel taxes virtually forever.

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