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LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner: Measure EE 'Referendum On Whether We Believe In Public Education'

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — A little over a year into one of the toughest jobs in Los Angeles, LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner is facing another daunting hurdle – convincing voters on Tuesday to approve a new property tax to help pay for raises for teachers and hire more support staff like nurses and counselors.

"Public education's not easy," Beutner said in an interview with CBS2 anchor DeMarco Morgan.

Measure EE is a parcel tax, or a flat fee based on the square footage of a property, rather than its assessed value. The measure requires a two-thirds margin for approval, and if passed, would remain in effect for 10 years and raise an estimated $500 million per year.

If voters approve the measure, it would impose a levy of 16 cents per square foot of building improvements on properties within the district – on a 1,700-square-foot home, that would be another $272 of tax per year. Exemptions would be provided for parcels owned by people 65 and older using the property as their primary residence.

Measure EE was placed on the June ballot in the wake of January's nine-day strike, the first LAUSD teachers' strike in 30 years. The deal that ended the strike included a 6 percent pay raise for teachers, and more funding to hire support personnel like nurses, librarians and counselors.

The strike was an impressive show of solidarity by teachers and parents who chose to support them by keeping their children out of school for six days. On the first day of the strike, nearly 160,000 students were absent from LAUSD campuses, which serve nearly half a million students.

Beutner says he was not surprised by the strike and the support for teachers because he shares those same values. But now comes the time to consider how to pay for it.

"For about 75 cents a day, we can start down the path to reduce class size, to add more counselors, nurses, librarians," he said.

Critics of the measure, like the L.A. Chamber of Commerce and the California Taxpayers Association, say the money raised from EE would flow into the general fund, and not necessarily into classrooms. A statement from the president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association says in part, "Measure EE is a tax increase of $160 per 1,000 square feet of every home, apartment and every other building within the LAUSD boundaries. The money is not guaranteed to go into the classroom."

Beutner, a former investment banker and publisher of the Los Angeles Times whose appointment as the superintendent of the second-largest school district in the nation was rather controversial, disputes claims that the money raised from Measure EE will be misused.

"Ninety-five percent of our money goes to schools. We're reducing the administrative side, we're reducing health care costs. All those things are being done," Beutner said. "[Measure EE] is just a referendum on whether we believe in public education."

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