Councilperson Joe Franklin makes his case against Measure A. Photo by Kevin Cody

by Mark McDermott 

Manhattan Beach is among the best-known cities, for its size, in the United States. The city is known for its idyllic beaches, beautiful weather, iconic pier, and its well-to-do, occasionally famous citizenry. 

But among the thousands of families who have moved here in the last two decades, a period during which nearly two-thirds of the town’s population of 36,000 has turned over, Manhattan Beach has been best known for its schools. 

The Manhattan Beach Unified School District is academically one of the highest-performing school districts in California, while U.S. News & World Report ranked Mira Costa as among the top two percent of high schools in the nation. 

What makes this achievement extraordinary is that MBUSD is one of the most poorly funded school districts, not only in the state, but in the nation. California itself has a chronically underfunded education system, ranking 41st in the United States in terms of per-pupil funding and 49th in terms of teacher-to-student ratio. Within California, MBUSD receives less public funding than all but one other school district, Piedmont, meaning its per-pupil funding is actually lower than even the abysmal state average. And things are likely to get worse. MBUSD is approaching what assistant superintendent Dawnalyn Murakawa-Leopard has described as a “financial cliff:” an enrollment decline during the pandemic will soon further slash state Average Daily Attendance funding, even as other costs, including health care, retirement, and special education, continue to rise. 

How did a wealthy community that values education arrive at a situation in which its public schools are in an ongoing state of financial crisis? 

This is the question that has animated a group called MB Citizens for Schools. The response they arrived at was a citizen’s initiative, called Measure A, which will appear on the June 7 ballot. It would levy a $1,095 tax on every parcel in Manhattan Beach (minus exemptions for seniors and low-income residents), and raise an estimated $12 million a year, at least $144 million over the next 12 years. 

Wysh Weinstein, PTA president, and co-chair, with Angie Smith, of MB Citizens for Schools, said that for decades the MBUSD community has tried to find solutions to the district’s chronic underfunding. Parent-led delegations have gone to Sacramento, parent groups including the PTA, the Manhattan Beach Education Foundation, and MBX have raised millions of dollars each year for schools, and a $225 parcel tax with a six-year duration was passed in 2018. But it was never enough, Weinstein said.  Beloved educational programs have been routinely slashed, pink slips are issued to teachers every few years, and class sizes have inevitably grown larger. 

Weinstein said Measure A’s passage would be a game-changer for MBUSD. She said the measure would finally provide schools with a reliable source of funding. 

“We have been down all of the other paths to try to get adequate funding and they have all led us right back to where we started,” she said. “This is a real opportunity to shift direction and as a community really stand up and make a proactive choice to support our schools. A positive change like this doesn’t just affect the schools or the students. It affects the entire community.” 

The manner in which Measure A is going to the ballot is also a game-changer. For the last 50 years, bond measures required 55 percent voter approval, and parcel taxes required 66 percent. But recent court challenges have resulted in newly settled law that allows citizen-led initiatives, as opposed to those put forward by government agencies, to pass at the lower threshold of a simple majority, or 50 percent of the vote plus one. This is no small part of why Measure A is five times larger than the Measure MB parcel tax passed four years ago. 

No formal opposition group has emerged against Measure A. Four residents co-authored an argument against the measure that appears on the ballot itself, including former mayor Bob Holmes, former Pacific Elementary principal Christine Norvell, and residents Heather Kim and Liz Cebula. They argued against several aspects of the parcel tax, including its duration, size, and structure. But ultimately, they argued that MBUSD leadership could not be trusted with this amount of money. 

“Even if the tax passes, we are not confident the taxes will be spent appropriately by the current school board,” they wrote. “A new tax does not solve the current overspending problem of this school board. We are not against a parcel tax in theory. We are against this parcel tax.” 

Kim spoke against the tax at the May 3 City Council meeting. 

Enrollment declines are at the center of Councilperson Joe Franklin and other Measure A opponents arguments. Graph from Franklin’s presentation at the Joslyn Center last week, courtesy of Joe Franklin

“This parcel tax is occurring on top of another parcel tax…that’s already in place,” she said. “And yet here we are, again, with a brand new one that is actually four times the current tax…And it’s unfair. All Manhattan Beach owners will be forced to pay the same amount, regardless of their property value. In addition, because of the way that this was put together, only 50 percent of the voters plus one person need to come out and vote yes in order for this to pass. Fifty percent are going to speak for all 100 percent of the residents here in Manhattan Beach when normally this requires a two-thirds vote.” 

Michael Sinclair, a member of MB Citizens for Schools, and the author of Measure A, said that $1,095 is not an arbitrary number but a carefully considered calculation of exactly how much revenue is required to bring local students up to the state average in per-pupil funding. Measure MB ends in two years, but even so, Sinclair said, it simply wasn’t enough money to give MBUSD stability. 

“It was initially passed to stave off teacher cuts, and it was a great start, but it’s just not enough because what we know is that we are still among the lowest funded school districts in California,” Sinclair said. “We know we still need a source of locally controlled funding the state can’t touch, and redirect, and can’t take away from us. We need vital resources and adequate funding in our classrooms. And so we’re left with this question that we’ve been asking now for decades. What do we do?” 

MB Citizens for Schools reframed the question. Measure MB was $225 because surveys indicated that is what was possible in order to achieve two-thirds approval from voters. But given the 50 percent voter approval that is now allowed, MB Citizens for Schools explored a different question: how much revenue do the schools actually need? 

“That has yielded a very different result, and what we believe is a very clear local and sustainable solution to what we know is a decades-old problem,” Sinclair said. “And so earlier this year, we circulated a petition in the community for this citizen-led local funding initiative. We needed 2,700 signatures to qualify for the ballot. We collected over 4,100 signatures, and we did it in nine days. We did that because Manhattan Beach continues to stand behind its schools. Once we went out to the community to educate, people knew that this protects quality education and safe schools. It really creates a secure future for the district, for students in the district, and really for the entire community.”

At the May 3 council meeting, a leader for the opposition emerged. Councilperson Joe Franklin, a longtime MBUSD volunteer who said he had supported Measure MB and every bond measure over the last 25 years, gave an impassioned nine-minute speech against Measure A near the end of a long, late-night meeting. He said he and his wife Nancy had brought their kids through MBUSD, and even chose not to opt out, as senior citizens, from the previous parcel tax “because we felt so strongly about our schools.” 

“So it’s with a heavy heart that I oppose Measure A,” Franklin said. “This measure has several flaws and is being brought to voters on a short timeline. It’s asking for a staggering, never-before-seen amount of money.” 

Franklin, in an interview, said Measure A’s price tag was simply too high. 

“We all love our schools,” he said. ”But times are uncertain, the tax is too much, it’s too rushed, and it rises with inflation. Folks can be pro-school but against this tax.” 

Wysh Weinstein argues in favor of Measure A. Photo by Kevin Cody

For A 

If you were to attempt to design a way to make school funding for Manhattan Beach schools erratic, predictable only in its chronic lack, you’d be hard pressed to do a better job of it than the state of California has done over the last five decades. It’s a tangled legislative tale in which several iterations of school funding reform somehow all served to further damage MBUSD’s ability to be funded by the property taxes its own residents pay to the state. 

Michael Sinclair has attempted to document the unusual predicament local schools have faced through his “deck,” a 28-slide presentation that covers this financial history and MB Citizens for Schools proposed solution, Measure A. 

It began with Proposition 13. The idea behind this citizen initiative, sponsored by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association in 1978, was to stop property tax rates from escalating. Among other things, Prop. 13 took control of property tax revenue away from local agencies, and gave it to the state. Prior to 1978, school districts could rely on property taxes as a reliable source of revenue. After 1978, those revenues depended on many things —  state politics, the vicissitudes of the larger economy, and a series of education reforms that periodically changed education funding formulas. 

One of the first slides in Sinclair’s deck illustrates the unintended consequences Prop. 13 had for education in California. Before 1978, California ranked 7th in the nation in per pupil funding. But upon the passage of Prop. 13, 60 percent of that revenue was gone overnight, and subsequent reforms did little to improve school funding, resulting in it falling to 41st in the country in funding.

“Prop. 13 effectively froze school funding, and eliminated 60 percent of the tax revenue that had been spent on school districts, and importantly, it shifted from districts being able to control spending, and budgeting to the state having that control,” Sinclair said. “And then, in addition to that, it layered on this supermajority requirement, which made it harder for any localities to be able to put new local taxes in place. It had that two-thirds voter majority.” 

The very next year, in 1979, the first of several laws meant to help schools was enacted. AB 8 ensured school districts a share of property tax revenue, based the Average Daily Attendance (ADA) funding formula, which allotted money according to a three-year average of student attendance. At the time of its passage, MBUSD was a K-8 district. When it became a K-12 unified school district in 1991, MBUSD remained locked into the 1979 ADA formula. 

“We are still funded by the state as a K-8 district despite the fact that we’re unified and have over 6,000 kids in our current ADA,” Sinclair said. “So it’s just not sustainable.” 

In 1988, Prop. 98 passed, again attempting to help schools by requiring that 40 percent of the state’s funds go to education. But it too had many unintended consequences, freezing funding at that level and restricting significant parts of school revenues (called “categoricals”), so they could not be spent on classroom education. And then, in 2013, perhaps the most damaging legislation for MBUSD was enacted. This new Local Control Funding Formula was championed by Governor Jerry Brown and intended to solve chronic underfunding statewide. LCFF created a formula that allotted funding, in part, according to how many students districts had who were eligible for free or reduced lunch programs. LCFF was aimed at helping those in lower socioeconomic strata, but the unintended consequence, once again, was to further reduce MBUSD’s state funding. 

“The point was to fund for equity in California, which is admirable, but what it doesn’t do is fund for adequacy,” Sinclair said. “Because of LCFF,  and that lack of adequacy, MBUSD became one of the lowest funded districts in the state. We are, by some measures, the second-lowest in the entire state.” 

The upshot is that MBUSD has been financially scrambling for decades. In the late ‘90s, it began selling off real estate, including district offices. Program cuts began in 2002, and by 2004 all classroom teacher aide positions were eliminated. During the Great Recession of 2008-2009, 40 percent of administration positions were eliminated, and 25 percent of classified staff. In 2020, MBUSD made $3.5 million in cuts. 

“It just became this cycle of pink slips and program cuts that we are so familiar with by now,” Sinclair said. “We see it at the end of every year.” 

Local parents have fought for their kids’ schools every inch of the way. The Manhattan Beach Education Foundation was established in 1983 and has raised $90 million, while the PTA has attempted advocacy in Sacramento, and tried unsuccessfully to enact a parcel tax in 2003. But the fight, always uphill, threatens to become unwinnable. MBEF has vastly increased its funding over the last decade but it cannot raise enough money to keep bridging the funding gap. 

In looking for a solution, MB Citizens for Schools looked at per pupil funding elsewhere —  including other states, such as New York, which provides $28,000 per student, as well as other districts in California with similar demographics as Manhattan Beach. The districts in California which have the highest per pupil funding include Laguna Beach, at $25,190, and Palo Alto, at $23,578 —  but both qualify for a different funding model, called Basic Aid, which allows districts to keep more property taxes. Only 80 of California’s 1,000 school districts qualify as Basic Aid, and though MBUSD hopes to do so in the next decade, currently it must rely on LCFF funding. Other districts in this situation include Piedmont, the only district that receives less state funding than MBUSD, but still manages to achieve  $19,000 per pupil funding, Santa Monica, is at $17,567 per pupil; and San Marino is at $15,785 per pupil. What these three districts have in common is large parcel taxes —  led by Piedmont, whose tax is $3,000 per parcel, followed by San Marino, at $1,352. 

Sinclair found that a key measure was a parcel tax’s percent of a district’s budget. Santa Monica’s parcel tax is $346 but represents 8 percent of the district budget. San Marino’s is 13.6 percent. MBUSD’s previous parcel tax represents 2.9 percent. Measure A would increase this to 12 percent. 

“What we know is that districts that have their parcel tax somewhere between 6 percent and 15 percent, that’s the sweet spot,” Sinclair said. “That’s where, based on your numbers, you get closest to adequate per pupil funding…Those districts with the highest amount of local funding, they’re the ones with the highest per pupil funding.” 

Another number that went into the Measure A proponents arriving at $1,095 is the per pupil state funding. Laguna Beach receives the highest, as a Basic Aid district. It receives $23,578, while the average among all districts is $13,153. MBUSD receives $11,070 per student in state funding. The gap between the average and MBUSD is $2,083 per pupil. So if you multiply MBUSD’s 5,700 students by $2,083, it equals $11.87 million. MB Citizens for Schools estimates that 10,850 parcels will pay the tax, with an estimated 2,500 parcels exempt, so dividing $11.87 million by that number of parcels comes to $1,095 per parcel. 

“There’s nothing in here that is random or arbitrary. There truly is a reason for everything. $1,095 is not an arbitrary number,” Sinclair said. “It is the amount required to bring our students up to the state average. We know that over 100 school districts in the state currently use a local tax to offset inadequate funding, with amounts well over $3,000. We, as citizens in Manhattan Beach, believe it’s right that we are seeking a fraction of that to keep our schools among the best and to solve this when you have seen a funding problem that is almost half a century old. We see it is a sustainable local solution to finally answer that question.” 

“When we started to dig into this, it was really shifting the conversation,” Sinclair said. “In my mind, I thought, ‘Okay, well, what happens if we shift the conversation from what can we do to what do we actually need?’” 

Weinstein, who helped lead the charge for Measure A on the ground during its nine day sprint to make the ballot earlier this year, said the word “adequate” was something she has focused on to bring the issue to simple clarity. 

“We’re going for adequate funding,” Weinstein said.  “We’re not going for anything crazy. Residents without kids in school might not initially understand what we are doing, because they may think this does not directly impact them. But every child should have access to an adequate public education, and if you live in this town, wouldn’t you want that for your neighbor?”

Against A

Joe Franklin was initially disposed towards supporting Measure A. His own father taught in public schools, his kids benefited from attending MBUSD, and his own involvement with the district had been his primary civic involvement prior to entering city government in 2020. He even signed the MB Citizens for Schools petition.

“For lack of a better word, it was a knee-jerk reaction, because I’ve supported all the bond measures in the last 25 years,” Franklin said. “I even wrote a column for the Daily Breeze in support of Measure MB.”

But after the petitions resulted in a ballot measure, Franklin took a closer look and listened to what some of his political compatriots had to say, including former councilman Bob Holmes, who has helped guide multiple generations of conservative, local politicians. By May 3, when he announced his opposition at council, Franklin had become fervently opposed to Measure A. 

It was late in the night and as he prepared to speak, Mayor Hildy Stern asked Franklin to try and keep his comments to the issue at hand, the City’s M.O.U. regarding Measure A, under which it agreed to collect the funds, assemble an oversight committee, and establish a CPI cap. Franklin, though also opposed to the M.O.U., did not constrain his remarks to that topic but gave a full-throttled critique of Measure A itself. 

Joe Franklin and Heather Kim speaking in opposition to Measure A at last week’s forum for senior citizens. Photos by Kevin Cody

Franklin said that due to the high price tag, senior exemptions will likely be higher than anticipated and lead to a $4 million annual shortfall, requiring another parcel tax. He also argued that due to inflation this tax could end up costing more than $2,000 a year per homeowner, as much as $200 million in total, well beyond the $144 million proponents have estimated its revenues. He also argued that the school district’s 11 percent drop in enrollment over the past two years deserved an investigation rather than millions in new funding via a parcel tax. 

“For these reasons, I oppose Measure A and the city’s role in the execution and administration of this Memorandum of Understanding with the Manhattan Beach Unified School District,” Franklin said. “This Measure A proposal is opportunistic and not fair to our residents.” 

His arguments largely mirrored those on the ballot opposition statement, which first and foremost took aim at the CPI cap, or what they argued was the lack thereof. 

“At current rates of inflation, this tax could DOUBLE in 12 years to $2,200/year. There is no CPI cap,” they wrote. 

While true that the ballot language itself included no CPI, the structure of the citizen-led initiative process meant that the City of Manhattan Beach would not only collect the revenues but also administer a CPI cap. That is what the council agreed to do, in a 3-2 vote, with Franklin and Councilperson Suzanne Hadley opposing. 

At the meeting, Sinclair pushed back on the notion that the parcel tax could double as “simply not true.” 

 “As the M.O.U. clearly confirms, any annual increases are capped at the lesser of CPI or 5 percent,” he said. “With no annual increase to be levied in the first year of assessment, Measure A cannot double.” 

City Finance Director Steve Charelian, who set the CPI cap at 5 percent, said that the overall number over 12 years is likely to be much lower. 

“We looked at it historically and went back over 25 years of CPI, and it was roughly 2.4 percent,” Charelian said. “So the 5 percent, I think, has a cap in the sense of not to exceed 5 percent. Right now inflation is high, everybody’s talking about it, everything’s high. But if you look at it historically, CPI is a long-term kind of calculation.” 

The ballot statement against Measure A also argued that the tax would last 12 years, included no limitations on how the money is spent, is twice as long as Measure MB,  and “requires a burdensome, annual opt-out process for seniors,” and is regressive. 

“Every home and property parcel (regardless of  value or size) pays the same tax,” they argued. 

In fact, the City’s M.O.U. states that senior citizens do not need to opt-out every year. After they opt out once, their exemption rolls over yearly, for the duration of the tax. But the parcel tax is regressive because every parcel owner pays the same $1,095, which is a much smaller percentage of a home worth, say, $12 million than a home worth $3 million. 

Sinclair said that Prop. 13 simply does not allow a parcel tax based on valuation and that in any case homeowners receive equitable value in the benefits of the parcel tax, securing their own property values through the maintenance of excellent schools. 

“So, because of constraints from the state, Measure A looks to equity of benefit – all property owners benefit from increased city services and high property values resulting directly from high-achieving schools,” he said.  

Sinclair said the 12 year length of the tax was purposeful. 

Measure A proponents argue that MBUSD is underfunded by $2,083 per student. Graph courtesy MB Citizens for Schools

“There are two reasons,” he said. “One is we wanted to make sure that we could look every parent in the eye and say, no matter where you are, if your child is entering kindergarten right now, based on Measure A your kid is going to be able to go through their entire K-12 education with adequately funded schools. Number two, based on our current projections, we believe that towards the end of this measure, somewhere at the nine to eleven year mark, we believe that our district may be able to flip over to the Basic Aid state funding model.” 

Franklin’s issues with Measure A, however, go beyond the ballot measure opposition statement. He doesn’t buy the premise underlying MB Citizens for Schools —  the notion that MBUSD is underfunded. In the presentation Franklin delivered at a forum for senior citizens on Monday, he argued that MBUSD is amply funded. 

One of his bullet points asked: 

  • Is MBUSD one of the lowest-funded districts in the state? [As claimed on the proponents’ flyers and in the measure’s text.]

“No,” Franklin argued. “We are relatively low on one type of state funding (LCFF) as are other affluent districts. Our other state, federal, and local funding, however, puts us relatively high in total funding. ‘Local funding’ includes education foundation (MBEF) and current parcel tax funding (Measure MB).

Another Franklin bullet point asked:

  • “Does MBUSD spend less per student than other comparable districts?”

“No,” he argued. “MBUSD’s high funding… allows us to spend substantially more per student than districts like PV, Redondo, Torrance, El Segundo, San Marino, La Canada, and South Pasadena. We spend at least $1,200 per student more than all of these districts…ranging to up $2000+. The new tax would add $2000 to these differences.” 

The other point Franklin has focused on is MBUSD enrollment decline. He delivered the following bullet points: 

  • “Is district enrollment declining? Yes. From 2010 to 2020, enrollment fell about 9 percent (6,645 to 6,030). In the last two years, enrollment has fallen 3 percent (to 5,820) — a 12.4 percent total decline since 2010.”
  • “Can this decline be blamed on demographic shifts?” No. Since the 2010 census, MB’s population has grown less than 1% (34,867 to 35,064). Meanwhile, the population of school-aged kids has grown 9 percent (7,252 to 7,899).”
  • Are more MB kids attending schools outside of MBUSD? Yes.In 2010, 92 percent of school-aged kids (6,645 of 7,252) attended MBUSD.In 2020, just 76% did (6,030 of7,899). As of 2022, the percentage is about 74 percent (5,820).
  • Does enrollment matter? Yes. A rise in parents sending their kids elsewhere should prompt questions about why. These parents are a substantial portion of the population and would pay the increased taxes. With an infusion of $12M+ per year in fixed funding, and assuming more families leave, per-student parcel tax funding will rise sharply and continue to rise — at the same time state and federal funding will decline due to fewer students. This means fewer students being supported by everyone’s 5X parcel tax payments.

Franklin expanded on this topic at last week’s council meeting. He said the enrollment drop alone is reason enough to not vote for Measure A. 

“734 students out of 6583 students, over 11 percent of the student body, left MBUSD in the last two years,” he said. “Prior to COVID, the enrollment would drop only about 1 percent per year. It is not known at this time how many will return. This drop in enrollment requires a thorough investigation and even more importantly, introspection, to determine the reasons for such a dramatic decline in such a short period of time. It does not require an injection of unprecedented funding in a rushed manner.” 

Michael Sinclair, author of Measure A.

Councilperson Joe Franklin, leader of the opposition to Measure A.

Competing visions 

MBUSD, MBEF, and MB Citizens for Schools representatives each took issue with the numbers Franklin, and other Measure A opponents are using. 

Superintendent John Bowes said the idea that LCFF funds are just one of many sources of revenue understates their importance. 

“LCFF is our only source of ongoing unrestricted funding,” Bowes said via email. “Other state, federal, and most local funding is restricted, meaning that it can only be used for specific purposes. There are some sources of local revenue that provide unrestricted funding — e.g., lease/rental revenue — but most unrestricted local revenue is one-time (e.g., insurance rebates, etc.).” 

Unrestricted funds are what make up MBUSD’s general fund, which pays for salaries and most direct educational program costs. Restricted funds, or categoricals, pay for things like maintenance and specific federally mandated programs, such as special education (although federal funds have not matched special education cost increases for several years, another source of financial difficulty for many school districts, including MBUSD). 

Sinclair said that over 80 percent of MBUSD revenues are LCFF funds, and pushed back on the notion that the district does not have a funding problem. He cited state date available at ed-data.com

“MBUSD is among the lowest funded districts in the state,” he said. “Our students receive $2000 less per pupil than the state average. In terms of supplemental LCFF funding, we are the second lowest funded in the state.”

Bowes also said that MBUSD enrollment patterns mirror those occurring statewide, where public school enrollment has steadily if slightly declined for the last decade and then steeply declined during the pandemic. 

The pandemic brought precipitous drops in enrollment on a statewide basis,” Bowes said. 

Though Bowes said evidence thus far is mostly anecdotal, the widespread, and logical belief among most observers is that parents moved their kids to private schools that found ways to remain open for classroom instruction. Some moved out of state, or to Orange County, where classroom instruction resumed earlier in the pandemic than it did in LA County. A budget report compiled by MBUSD earlier this year indicated this was the trend locally. During the peak of the pandemic, 58 percent of students who left MBUSD did so to go to a private school. The year before the pandemic, only 24 percent of students who left the district did so to attend a private school. By last summer, this number was at 34 percent, closer to pre-pandemic rates.

“It appears that in 2021-22, exit patterns are returning to what may be considered more typical,” Bowes said. 

Sinclair argued that stable funding will help bring back some of the families who left in recent years. 

“I think once people who are looking for schools in California assess that MBUSD has properly and adequately funded schools —  I don’t think we’re going to see declining enrollment,” he said. “This will help to bring people back.” 

MBEF executive director Hilary Mahan said that Franklin and other opponents are making an argument that the foundation’s funding makes MBUSD an adequately funded school district. She said in actuality, MBUSD has been thrust into a role it was never designed to play. Ed foundations are meant to provide extra enrichment programs, she said, but instead MBEF in recent years has been tasked repeatedly with saving teachers jobs and maintaining workable class sizes. 

“MBEF  was founded on the principle that our students would benefit from having innovative lessons and academic enrichment in our classrooms,” Mahon said. “It was not founded on the principle that it would become a staple for ensuring that pink slips weren’t issued at the end of the year. And that’s the major concern of what’s happening. You know, you might hear out in the community, well, our schools are just fine. Are these individuals seeing what’s happening each year with pink slips being issued, and then sometimes being able to be reneged?” Our state funding in our school system is simply inadequate.” 

According to MBUSD data, 70 employees have been laid off since 2013, in five different rounds of layoffs. Other years, pink slips were issued, and then rescinded by funding drives, and occasionally by last minute clarifications in state funding. The state budget process has often lingered beyond the district’s mandated budgeting dates. 

Weinstein was formerly a teacher and was a recipient of those pink slips that were later rescinded. She said it’s hard for teachers to feel secure when their jobs are routinely threatened, this does not help in retaining the best talent. The same is true for programs that are constantly under threat, Weinstein said. 

“As a parent, as a teacher, as a child, you are frustrated, because everything you are passionate about, and worked so hard to implement is constantly on the chopping block, and you have to constantly defend it instead of building it up and making it better,” she said. “Also, it’s important to realize —  our kids are watching what we do as a community.” 

Mahan has worked with MBEF for 10 years, and said her job has become performing triage —  constantly making on-the-ground assessments to weigh what programs can and should be saved, and those that must be sacrificed. 

“What we’ve been witnessing over the years because of this consistent lack of funding is that cracks are beginning to show in the foundation,” she said. “Do we have strong, amazing schools with phenomenal outcomes? Absolutely. Our schools are still thriving, despite the lack of funding. But over the years, I have noticed changes and shifts in what we’ve been able to do for our students… Class sizes have grown. There’s less personal attention from teachers and experts, especially at a time when kids need it the most. We have lacked sufficient funding to ensure that the curriculum is state of the art, that best practices are able to be implemented. We’ve lost funding for very particular positions, which are really our R&D department, our teachers on special assignment. Those are the ones who figure out what is the best way to teach a subject, how can we make this a hands on lesson, and how we teach a teacher to teach this subject.” 

“When you look at the way in which all California schools are funded, the number of educators per student, our per pupil ratio, is 49th in the country,” Mahan said. “In Manhattan Beach, a lot of it has to do with our cost of living. The number of teachers we have, per pupil, is significantly lower than any other almost school system within the state.” 

When people question the price tag of the parcel tax, Weinstein’s response is that it pays for itself in terms of maintaining property values. 

“There’s a reason homes in Manhattan Beach are valued more than in other nearby communities,” she said. “When you talk to people who have moved here, and ask them what drew them here, almost everyone says, ‘The public schools.’ People want to live in neighborhoods with strong public schools. Some people have sticker shock regarding the cost of the parcel tax, but when you say it’s $3 a day, it surprises everybody. It’s an investment in your home, in your community, and an investment in the neighbors living next to you. It’s an investment in our future together.” 

Sinclair noted that there is a six figure property value difference between Manhattan Beach and adjacent communities because of the schools. If the schools were to falter, so too would property values, Sinclair argued. 

“If you’re investing $1,000 a year into your schools, you’re actually investing it into your property to get equity if you ever choose to sell it.”

Franklin is a real estate professional and does not dispute the link between MBUSD’s schools and home values. He is also grateful for the education his children received. “We owe Manhattan Beach a lot,” he said. 

Franklin also doesn’t reject the idea that MBUSD needs help in the form of a parcel tax. But the manner in which Measure A has been constructed bothers him. Franklin believes MB Citizens for Schools have worked hastily, and not quite above board in terms of the its new, and lower majority requirement, and its rush to the June ballot, rather than the higher turnout election in November. 

“None of our parcel taxes prior, and none of our bond measures prior, had that level of bar [for passage],” he said. “That’s such a dangerous precedent. Because you can get a motivated minority To become the majority, which works to the detriment of a lot of people. A good, sound, reasonable amount had been established, two thirds plus one. So all these alarm bells are going off.” 

Franklin also believes the 12 year length of the tax is an overreach, because so much could change in that period of time, including state funding and potentially ongoing enrollment declines. All of these concerns add up to what Franklin believes is a logical conclusion —  not to reject the idea of a parcel tax out of hand, but to slow the process down and better vet the particulars of how such a tax would work. 

“What’s the rush? And why are you rushing to put this in on June 7, when it is traditionally lower voter turnout?” Franklin said. “You want a robust discussion about this. You want people to have time to take a look at it. You want people to hear both sides.”

Easy Reader will host a debate on Manhattan Beach Parcel Tax Measure A on Monday, May 16, at Shade Hotel in downtown Manhattan Beach. Michael Sinclair and Wysh Weinstein will speak on behalf of Measure A. Joe Franklin and Heather Kim will speak in opposition. Doors open at 7 p.m. Debate starts at 7:30. Free, but seating is limited.

Michael Sinclair and Joe Franklin at last week’s forum on Measure A.