MORAGA -- Citing an exhausted parcel tax reserve and a growing budget deficit, Moraga School District officials are once again turning to residents to help fund the district's four schools.

District leaders last week approved placing a $192 per-parcel tax measure on the November ballot whose proceeds, officials say, will preserve a number of existing curriculums, keep class sizes "manageable" and school libraries open, among other benefits.

If approved, the tax would go into effect in July and generate approximately $1.084 million annually or $6.507 million during its six-year life span.

District officials say the tax will also address ongoing deficits of at least $700,000 projected to begin during the 2014-2015 school year as reserve funds run out.

Superintendent Bruce Burns said the district continues to deal with the same conditions it faced last year, including "ongoing and growing" budget deficits resulting from state funding cuts.

Operating costs are also increasing about $200,000 annually, and surplus funds from the current $325 per parcel tax -- which has generated about $1.8 million annually since 2004 and does not sunset -- have dwindled.

"This year we no longer have parcel tax reserves to rely on," Burns said.

The bad news, however doesn't end there. According to the district, a new state funding formula resulting from the November passage of Prop. 30 is not expected to restore funding to pre-Recession levels until it is fully implemented in 2020-2021.


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"Our calculations at this point indicate that either no additional funding or possible less funding" will result from the new formula, Burns said.

The board approval comes a little more than a year after a similar parcel tax snagged 64.97 voter support but failed to get the two-thirds majority needed for passage. That measure asked property owners to give $225 annually, and did not sunset.

However, a June survey revealed that voters are still willing to fund the district, although at a slightly lower contribution rate. And while survey respondents are more willing to support a $174 tax, officials say they feel confident that an improved ecomony and housing numbers means voters can tolerate a slightly higher tax.

"The polls show the overall community is very supportive of a price point of $192," said board president Charles MacNulty. "We thought that the $192 ... accomplished what we wanted to accomplish to get the school district back into the black and continue providing the level of education we're providing to students right now."

If voters reject the tax, district leaders say they will have to continue cost-cutting measures that have included diminishing technology services and custodial support. Officials say that during the past several years, budget cuts have forced the elimination of several other positions and resulted in staff furlough days. Enrichment programs and library service have also been reduced.

Should voters embrace the tax, MacNulty said the board would move to restore what it could.

"We would see what programs are valued most by the community and put those back in place," he said.

Like the current tax, the new parcel tax includes an exemption for low-income seniors 65 years or older. The district says the annual range of property owners applying for the exemption ranges from 25-40 individuals.

Tax proceeds would also not be used for any settlements or legal fees. officials said. The district settled a lawsuit earlier this year with former student Kristen Cunnane and is working to settle lawsuits with three other former students against former district administrators who failed in the 1990s to report suspected child abuse.

"There are not state or local funds that the district receives that have been used to pay out settlements or legal fees," Superintendent Burns said. "That's completely covered by the insurance companies."

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