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Barrera, San Diego Nonprofits Eye Commercial Property Taxes To Boost Schools

The San Diego Unified School District Board of Education building is shown in...

Photo by Milan Kovacevic

Above: The San Diego Unified School District Board of Education building is shown in this photo, Sept. 15, 2017.

Earlier this year, San Diego Unified School Board President Richard Barrera hinted there might be a 2018 ballot initiative on school funding. He gave more details Tuesday on at least one future measure.

At this week’s board meeting, Barrera applauded several San Diego nonprofits that are mobilizing around a campaign to end the commercial property tax “loophole.”

Under Proposition 13, property taxes are tied to the property value assessed at the time of purchase, for residential and commercial properties alike. Advocates say that means many large commercial businesses are paying very little into state coffers.

“The upshot of that is that it costs about $10 billion a year that could be going into our schools and into community services,” Barrera said.

The change has long been eyed as a shot in the arm for school and social service budgets, but competition for large job makers and support from taxpayer advocates have made it a non-starter.

Trustee John Lee Evans recently broke down San Diego Unified’s budget woes.

“It’s a $59 million shortfall to maintain the status quo (next year),” he said. “But we already calculated a few years ago it’s a $350 million shortfall if we actually had the adequate number of teachers, counselors, nurses, librarians and all the programs that we need.”

Evans may have been referring to a district study that, according to Barrera, found it would cost an additional $3,500 per student to bring all known best practices in the district to scale.

Last year the district had to cut $124 million from its budget due, in part, to rising pension costs. The $59 million is what’s needed to deal with pension increases and contractual salary increases next year, Evans said.

The local organizations, including Alliance San Diego, the Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans and San Diego Education Association, are part of a grassroots effort called “Make It Fair” to bring the matter to the ballot.

Campaign spokesman Mac Zilber said the effort is still building capacity and hasn’t yet decided in which election it will seek voter approval. It depends on “whether we see voters clamoring for change and whether we see that support is there,” he said.

“We are keeping all options open, but we are thrilled by the momentum that we have seen so far behind the movement,” Zilber said.

He said, if the measure received a simple majority to pass, about half of the new revenue would go toward K-12 and community college education. The other half would go toward public health and social services.

A rough calculation suggests the money that would flow into San Diego Unified would likely cover less than a third of the $350 million Evans discussed.

There is no word yet on whether any local school funding measures are headed to the ballot.

Next year, San Diego Unified is expected to face a $59 million shortfall due to rising pension costs — that after $124 million in cuts this year. Now, San Diego nonprofits are joining an effort to get a ballot initiative that would change the rules for taxes that fund schools.

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