With school districts across California slashing programs and payrolls, four Palo Alto school board members Tuesday said they would endorse both school funding measures on California's November ballot.
Though neither measure is perfect, it's important to "stand shoulder to shoulder" with other districts that are "hemorrhaging very badly," board member Dana Tom said at the first Board of Education meeting of the 2012-13 school year.
The two measures are Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown's temporary taxes to fund education and local public-safety funding, and Proposition 38, Los Angeles lawyer Molly Munger's proposed tax to fund education and early childhood programs.
"If we get neither measure passed, it's really, really bad," Tom said. "Many districts in our state have used up their arsenal of backstops to scrape by, from not having the required minimum reserve funds to cutting the school year, and further cuts would be devastating to them."
If both measures pass, the state Constitution specifies that the provisions of the measure receiving more "yes" votes prevails.
Failure of Brown's measure would trigger $6 billion in immediate spending cuts, mainly to education.
Palo Alto is shielded from the brunt of those because it relies on the state for only 3 percent of its operating revenue, with 74 percent coming from local property tax. In fact, with a strong local real estate market and increased assessments, the Palo Alto school district may face something of a financial windfall in the coming year.
The school board will formally vote to endorse the ballot measures Sept. 4. Four members Tuesday declared their support with the fifth, Barb Mitchell, saying she will abstain.
"I'm not wild about resolutions that put our word against another agency where we have no control over outcomes, and I don't think there are thousands of people waiting to decide how to vote based on how we vote," Mitchell said.
In other business Tuesday, board members gave Superintendent Kevin Skelly the go-ahead to begin searching for a location to open a fourth middle school.
They also largely endorsed Skelly's description of the school district's "interests" in a charge to a community advisory group slated to make recommendations on the future of Cubberley Community Center by early next year.
With the $7 million-a-year lease of Cubberley to the City of Palo Alto up for renewal in 2014, the school district does not want to lose that income and yet wishes to preserve Cubberley as an option for educational uses, probably sometime between 2020 and 2030, board members said.
In a lengthy discussion of school district priorities for the coming year, board members asked Skelly to "reduce and simplify" a long list of recommendations he presented.
On the controversial issue of high school guidance counseling, they asked Skelly to reformulate his recommendation to encompass specific and repeated board guidance given last spring.
"To say, 'Continue our work regarding high school guidance' doesn't do justice to the amount of work and conclusions we reached in June," Tom said.
"Greater clarity on that goal is essential for us to be successful with that."
That sentiment was echoed by eight student and parent speakers, all of whom urged that Gunn High School adopt a "teacher-adviser" counseling model now used at Palo Alto High School.
Paly graduate Anabel Cervantes, a recent graduate of Santa Clara University, said Paly's teacher-advisory system was critical to her success in high school and college. Cervantes's two younger brothers, Gunn students James and Steve Cervantes, urged the board to give Gunn students similar opportunities in their counseling system.
In other business, board members said they would welcome three new members to the citizens' committee overseeing construction under the $378 million facilities bond approved by voters in 2008.
Parent James Cowie, senior vice-president and general counsel of Cadence Design Systems, lawyer Walt Hays, chair of the district's Sustainable Schools Committee, and lawyer and parent Helen Leichter will replace Ray Bacchetti, Scott Darling and Gary Hornbeek on the Citizens' Oversight Committee.
Bacchetti, Darling and Hornbeek, who have served since the committee was first formed, have been termed out.
Proposition 30, Brown's measure, would boost personal income tax on annual earnings over $250,000 for seven years, and increase sales and use tax by a quarter-cent for four years.
The approximately $6 billion a year in temporary revenues would be allocated 89 percent to K-12 schools and 11 percent to community colleges.
Proposition 38, Munger's initiative, would increase for 12 years personal income tax rates on annual earnings over $7,316, using a sliding scale from .4 percent for the lowest individual earners to 2.2 percent for individuals earning over $2.5 million.
In the first year, the roughly $10 billion in proceeds would be allocated 60 percent for K-12, 30 percent to repay state debt and 10 percent to early childhood education.
After that, allocation would be 85 percent to K-12 and 15 percent to early childhood education.
Proposition 38 allocates funding on a school-specific, per-pupil basis subject to local control, and prohibits the state from directing the new funds.