Parents and teachers gathered with Mammoth Unified School Superintendent (MUSD) Superintendent Rich Boccia Tuesday afternoon in the Mammoth Lakes library for the “first thin slice” of a meeting regarding the 2012 Parcel Tax. The current Parcel Tax collects $59 per parcel per year, irrespective of property value, to generate a fund of $660,000 for the MUSD. But the tax is set to sunset this year, and the group aims to ensure a duplicate tax measure makes it back onto the ballot.
The new tax won’t raise the old rate by one penny. “We have considered increasing the flat rate of $59 per parcel per year,” said Superintendent Boccia, “but with these tough economic times and the fact that this has been an ongoing tax to support our quest for continued excellence in our public schools, we thought it best to leave what works alone.”
The Parcel Tax has been going strong for eight years now, generating $660,000 per year, for a total of about $5.28 million over the course of its two four-year cycles. The revenue raised by the Parcel Tax used to be more of a supplementary fund for MUSD. Recently, however, it has become an integral part of the budget. Boccia made note of state and town budget cuts, saying, “These are scary days in public education; scary days in our country. But we’ve got to roll up our sleeves and take back our house.”
Currently MUSD is a Basic Aid district, which means that local property taxes generate more revenue per student than the state’s revenue limit mandate (we live in a wealthy place). Mammoth’s property taxes generate about $1,000 more per student, and MUSD keeps the overage. MUSD does receive some state money for items like home to school transportation and class size reduction.
But these days, public education is a target for state budget cuts. As Boccia noted, California has reduced funding to public education by $18 billion over the past three years. In 2007-2008 California ranked 43rd in per pupil spending based on adjusted wage index, at about $1,444 below the national average. And because of the ongoing state budget crisis, Mammoth Unified had to reduce its 2011-12 operating budget by $760,000 at last Thursday’s school board meeting.
Boccia explained that the state requires each district to submit a three year budget projection that meets the state mandate of a 3% reserve. The Parcel Tax allows the district to exceed that reserve for economic uncertainty. That excess is particularly important now, as MUSD, funded primarily through property taxes, has seen County property tax revenue drop 6% this past year. Add to that the economic uncertainty in the Town of Mammoth, and you have a recipe for a seriously underfunded district.
The group got right to it on Tuesday afternoon, discussing ideas and opinions about how best to raise support for the new Parcel Tax. They hope to confirm the Parcel Tax, formerly Measure S, for the ballot on November 8. Parent Gwen Davis opined that the first step ought to be crafting the ballot language, and after that, seeking endorsements. “And we need to start looking at getting volunteers ready for a real grassroots effort,” added Boccia.
Assuming the Measure makes it onto the ballot, Campaign Committee Treasurer Terri Wolfe suggested that, “Given the influx of people in the last four years,” the group focus on “making sure everyone is registered to vote.” She added, “We also need to make sure second homeowners registered here are aware to vote absentee.”
The money generated by the Parcel Tax has funded class size reduction, technology (both hardware and software), books for the libraries, much of the newly remodeled computer lab at the high school, academic staffing, and textbooks and materials in the areas of science, music and library. And Boccia pointed out that, if you break the $59 dollars down, you get a cost to residents of only about $1.13 per week.
“One of the best things about the Parcel Tax is it’s money generated locally,” said Gwen Davis. “The State can’t touch it.” Given the budget crisis faced by the state and town, said Boccia, “We need to be self-sustaining. We need to be able to protect and take care of ourselves.”