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School Board Favors Making School Parcel Tax Permanent

A proposal to be submitted to voters next spring is likely to include a permanent school support tax, an exemption for very low income Piedmont property owners and — if Prop. 30 fails — a supplemental tax.

When Piedmont residents decide on a school support tax (parcel tax) next spring, they are likely to be voting for more than the traditional four-year extension.

Board of Education members Wednesday night asked Piedmont Unified School District staff to prepare a proposal that would make the tax permanent, at 2013-2014 rates. Still to be decided: whether the tax would be a permanent flat rate or allow for increases of up to 2 percent a year to offset inflation.

The proposal will likely also include an exemption for low-income Piedmont property owners, based on the limits of the federal SSI (Supplemental Security Income) program, but no exemption specifically for senior citizens.

If Proposition 30, a statewide school funding measure on the Nov. 6, 2012, ballot fails, then the PUSD proposal may also include a second, supplemental tax, similar to Measure E, the now-expired emergency school funding tax approved a few years ago.

A citizens' oversight committee, with members drawn from the district's Budget Advisory Committee, will also be part of the proposal.

The board is scheduled to make its decisions about the ballot measure at its Nov. 14 meeting, with final approval at a special board meeting on Nov. 28. Piedmont residents will most likely vote on the measure, or measures, in a special election on March 5, 2013. If approved, the measure woud apply to the 2012-15 fiscal year and beyond.

The proposal as worked out Wednesday night is a compromise among board members. Although all five members favored a longer term for a school support tax than the four years that's been used in the past, some initially suggested a six or eight-year term rather than a permanent tax. 

Board members didn't reach consensus Wednesday on whether a permanent tax should allow for annual increases, although they agreed that any increases should be less than the current allowable 5 percent. The proposal to be presented next month will include options between 0 and 2 percent.

Although several members of the public who spoke at Wednesday's meeting urged a full or partial exemption from the tax for senior citizens, board members rejected that idea. Some said that California's Proposition 13, which limits property tax increase for long-time homeowners, already operates as a senior citizen exemption and that a senior exemption would significantly decrease the amount of money raised by the school support tax. 

Board President Rick Raushenbush said that according to U.S. Census data, over 23 percent of the households in Piedmont include someone 65 years of age or older. 

"The only reason there's a senior exemption [in other cities] is to get votes," he said.

A proposed exemption for low-income residents met with more success.

PUSD Superintendent Constance Hubbard said that a low-income exemption based on the federal government's income limits for SSI, a program that provides payments for peope with disabilities, would likely meet legal requirements. For 2013, payments for SSI will top out at about $710 for an individual and $1,066 for a couple, although there are cost-of-living adjustments and small exclusions for earned and unearned income.

PUSD, like other California school districts, has turned increasingly to local sources to pay the bills as state funding for public schools has fallen. The existing school parcel tax funds about 31 percent of the PUSD budget.

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