LAFAYETTE -- It's parcel tax season in Lafayette again.
Ballots in the all-mail election will be sent out next week, and the debate between supporters and opponents is already under way.
Without new revenue to make up for continued state funding cuts, proponents say, the district will be forced to cut cherished core programs.
Opponents counter the district should trim its own expenses before asking voters for more money, and also argue the parcel tax measure is structured unfairly.
If approved, Measure B would levy a $176-per-parcel tax on most Lafayette properties for four years, bringing the district about $1.5 million in additional revenue annually.
As with the district's current $332 parcel tax, property owners over 65 would be exempt from paying.
That's something with which Larry Pines, a spokesman for Measure B opponent group Lafayette Citizens for Fair Taxes, takes issue.
Seniors are among the wealthiest residents of Lafayette, he said, and many live in homes bought decades ago for which property taxes are already extremely low.
"The result would be so much more just if we exempt people with blue eye color because it would at least be arbitrary, whereas a senior exemption targets the wealthiest class to get them to step forward and not support a school district while we have to increase the burden on young working families to pay the difference," Pines said.
Adding to the inequity, he said, is the fact that single-family homeowners will be charged the same as those who own larger parcels like apartment buildings or commercial properties.
Pines points to the John Swett school district in West County, where Measure J calls for a parcel tax of $60 for residential properties but $0.0085 per square foot for industrial and commercial parcels.
That measure has run into opposition from Rodeo-based refinery ConocoPhillips, which would pay about $400,000 annually under the tax.
Measure B was structured similarly to the district's current parcel tax, and both will sunset at the same time, said Juleen Lapporte, co-chair of the Measure B campaign. When they expire, she said, the district can re-evaluate its needs.
"The reality is there's no tax out there that everyone's going to say, 'This is fair for everyone and this is equitable for everyone,' " Lapporte said.
Both the Moraga and Orinda school districts have an income requirement for their parcel tax exemptions. The Acalanes district does not.
The Lafayette district has cut more than $2 million from its budget over the past three years, according to school officials. On March 9, trustees approved another $1 million in reductions, including four school days, to help close a $2.2 million deficit.
"We have cut away all the fat that we can," said Corrine Christensen, the other Measure B campaign co-chair. "We are now into the bone and into cuts that are directly affecting the classroom."
Teachers have made concessions and parents have stepped up their donations, and asking the community for more money was a last resort, Lapporte said.
While the parcel tax will not allow the district to add programs, it will help preserve what is already in place, she added.
"We're all very aware that a lot of citizens are just really taking a hit with the downturn in the economy," Lapporte said. "We're conscious of that. It's not a decision that we go into lightly."
Ballots must be returned to the county elections office by May 3.
Contact Jonathan Morales at 925-943-8048. Follow him at Twitter.com/sosaysjonathan.