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School board hears input on construction tax

About 50 people packed the Ashland School Board meeting to speak out on proposals that would create a tax on new construction and a foreign language immersion program.

After listening to comments from parents, builders and educators, the board took no action on either proposal.

The board is scheduled to vote on the tax at its Dec. 14 meeting.

Because finances are tight, board members opted to look at revamping the district's foreign language program during next spring's budget process.

Community debates tax

Board members only briefly discussed the proposed tax and did not offer insight into how they would vote on the matter at their next meeting.

The tax would be levied on all new-construction building permits taken out within the district.

School administrators want to take advantage of a 2007 Oregon law that allows districts to tax new construction in order to help pay for building and maintenance of school facilities.

In August, the board voted 3-0 in August to direct school officials to move forward with the tax proposal.

Revising an early estimate, Jill Turner, the district's business manager, said Monday the tax could bring in between $100,000 and $350,000 per year.

"Last year, in the city limits, if this tax were in place, we would have collected $93,000," she told the board.

School administrators are proposing that the district enact the highest tax possible under the 2007 law, Turner said. The proposed tax would be $1 per square foot on residential construction and 50 cents per square foot on non-residential construction, according to board documents.

The fees would not exceed $25,000 per building permit or $25,000 per structure, according to the documents.

The district could only use the tax revenues to pay for new construction or renovation projects, Turner said. It is a one-time tax, levied when the building permit is issued.

Some building permits, such as those taken out to construct low-income housing, government facilities or houses of worship would be exempt from the tax, she added.

If the board approves the tax at its Dec. 14 meeting, the tax would be implemented Feb. 1, after intergovernmental agreements between the city and county have been signed, Turner said.

Ashland residents argued for and against the tax during the public hearing.

John Schleining said enacting the tax would hurt the construction industry, which hasn't yet recovered from the recession.

"This would be like a nail in the coffin for all those people," he said. There's thousands of people in our community who are trying to get back to work."

Chuck Keil argued that the tax is needed to provide funding for the district.

"The economy is beginning to rebound and things are beginning to get better, and I think it would be morally reprehensible for you not to put his tax in place," he said.

Parents call for language immersion

Also at the meeting, a dozen parents expressed their support for a foreign-language immersion program in the district.

A group of educators and parents presented results from a yearlong study on how to improve the district's foreign language offerings.

The Second Language Task Force's study calls for continuous foreign language instruction beginning in kindergarten.

"From everything that I've read — and my own prejudice is coming out here — when you hear kids who start in kindergarten speaking a language, it's just phenomenal," said board member Ruth Alexander, who was also a member of the task force.

The report includes three budget options — "first class," "business class" and "economy" — for implementing the foreign language recommendations. The economy option calls for hiring highly qualified Spanish or French teachers to instruct students, beginning in kindergarten.

The board commissioned the report before the budget crisis hit last spring. Now that the report is finished, there is no money to implement the changes the task force recommends, Superintendent Juli Di Chiro said.

It's possible that the board will be able to implement some of the recommendations during this spring's budget process, Board Chairman Keith Massie said.

"We can bring it back during budget development," he said. "I'd like to see that happen."

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.