SAN LEANDRO -- Hopes the San Leandro schools will ever see the $12 million in parcel tax revenue approved by voters in November dimmed last week, prompting school officials to rethink their budget plans and legal options.
The school board will discuss their monetary and legal options at a special meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday following news the California Supreme Court declined to review a lower court's ruling that a similar parcel tax benefiting Alameda schools was illegal for taxing property owners at varied rates.
Walnut Creek attorney David Brillant, who led the charge on behalf of business property owners in that case, also filed lawsuits against San Leandro Unified and West Contra Costa Unified earlier this year, and six other districts alleging their parcel tax measures were also illegal for not applying the tax "uniformly to all taxpayers or all real property within the district," as state law requires.
As Alameda Unified grapples with the prospect of refunding taxpayers some of the $13.6 million it collected from 2008 to 2011, San Leandro will attempt to chart a plan of action before meeting with Brillant for a conference hearing this summer, said retiring Superintendent Cindy Cathey.
"We are very disappointed," Cathey said. The Alameda case, "is likely to be applicable to us. Although they are different, there are similarities, and that is what is being evaluated."
The board will discuss whether to still levy the tax in December as planned and whether to keep any parcel tax revenue in the adopted budgets for the next two school years. Song Chin-Bendib, assistant superintendent of business and operations, said the budgets currently include $771,000 annually, less than the estimated $2.4 million approved by voters for each of the next five years.
As approved, Measure L would have taxed multifamily lots with five or more units $19 per year, vacant and unimproved parcels $39 per year, and businesses 2 cents per square foot of lot size.
"We got more than two-thirds approval and it's very sad. At the end of the day, it's for the students," Chin-Bendib said.
A bill introduced by Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Alameda) in January that seeks to make varied-rate school district parcel taxes legal, as long as "rational classifications" of different types of parcels are used, has not left the Assembly's revenue and taxation committee. No hearings are currently scheduled.
Ashly McGlone covers San Leandro, San Lorenzo, San Ramon and the Washington Township Health Care District. Contact her at 510-293-2463. Follow her at Twitter.com/AshlyReports.