Education

Ready for a parcel tax? Fresno Unified might ask what you think

Fresno Unified Superintendent Bob Nelson
Fresno Unified Superintendent Bob Nelson Fresno Bee file

Fresno Unified might poll the community on a new parcel tax, a board agenda item indicates.

Next week’s agenda includes a vote to approve a survey that would gauge support for a parcel tax, asking questions on tax amounts, timing and usage.

A potential parcel tax was part of the agreement Fresno Unified struck with the Fresno Teachers Association in January in order to subvert a strike and end more than a year of contract negotiations.

The money would be used to reduce class sizes and improve student achievement, according to a side letter in the contract.

“But when the FTA agreement was approved, the majority of the board clearly said that we are not ready for a new parcel tax and we would not support anything coming before our board so soon without looking at other options.” Trustee Claudia Cazares told The Bee in an email Tuesday. “I'm not sure why it's on the agenda.”

Trustee Brooke Ashjian was the lone vote against the FTA agreement in February, calling the parcel tax agreement added at the end “unfair.”

However, Cazares, plus Trustees Carol Mills and Christopher De La Cerda, also voiced their opposition to a new tax, indicating that money for smaller class sizes could be found in the budget.

Mills said Tuesday that she doesn't have a problem with the board considering hiring a company to conduct a poll.

"There is a commitment in the FTA agreement to explore the option," she said. "I don't know, however, that I would support a parcel tax."

A parcel tax is a flat tax requiring two-thirds voter approval in California. Only a handful have ever passed, mostly in districts in the Bay Area, according to a report by EdSource. They've ranged from less than $100 to more than $200 per parcel per year.

Parcel taxes are a byproduct of Proposition 13, which limited property taxes based on value in California, but left schools with the option to raise funds via flat taxes. Parcel taxes have been criticized for placing the burden on poorer property owners, who pay the same amount as owners of larger and commercial properties.

An attempt to make the owners of commercial properties pay more was shot down in 2013 in Alameda County.

The Fresno Unified agenda states that Superintendent Bob Nelson recommends approving the community survey. It's part of the board’s consent agenda, which contains items “considered to be routine by the Board of Education” that are not discussed unless a board member requests it.

The superintendent's office also noted that approving the survey does not commit the board to moving forward with the tax itself.

The survey would be administered by Los Angeles-based research firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates and cost the district $41,750 from the general fund to conduct.

Aleksandra Appleton, 559-341-3747, aappleton@fresnobee.com
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