"I'm overwhelmed by the energy and passion of the campaign," Superintendent Kevin Skelly commented this week. "You can't control the results but you can control the effort, and it's been all out."
Campaign leaders warn that today is the final day for voters to mail in their ballots and be sure they get counted, although Saturday mail might get there and there is a drop-off box at City Hall for late voters Monday and Tuesday.
The last days of the mail-in-only campaign have arrived after many months of effort involving literally hundreds of volunteers, with a huge push during April to increase the vote. On Monday and Tuesday, those who don't mail ballots can drop them off at the Palo Alto City Hall, in the city clerk's office. They must be in by Tuesday — postmarks don't count.
As we stated in early April, approval of this tax increase — from $493-per-parcel to $589 — will mean the Palo Alto Unified School District will be better able to maintain programs that contribute to the nationally recognized excellence of our schools.
The need is severe. The district this year faces a gap between revenues and expenditures of several million dollars, and unless new revenues can be found the impacts on educational programs will be substantial — and damaging.
The increased tax will generate an estimated $1.8 million in additional revenues. The existing tax, approved by 74 percent of voters in 2005, has been generating about $9.4 million a year, about 6 percent of the district's budget. It will expire next year unless replaced with this new tax, which should produce about $11.2 million.
These are local funds that cannot be siphoned off by a state government desperate to close its own budget shortfall.
Like the 2005 tax, Measure A will also be a six-year tax, continuing an exemption for senior homeowners who request one.
Unlike bond measures, which are limited to construction-related costs, a parcel tax can be used for educational programs, equipment and staff. If approved, Measure A funds can be used for faculty and staff salaries, primarily to limit increases in class size, preserve "core programs," reduce potential teacher layoffs, and help close a huge gap in the district's budget.
Al Yuen, one of three co-chairs of the campaign, cited the high-energy push by hundreds of volunteers, who mostly represent a new, younger generation of people getting involved in the district. But there are older volunteers, also.
People seem to realize that "the cornerstone of our Palo Alto community is the strength of our schools," he said.
The outcome of Measure A will extend beyond our schools to a broad cross-section of the community, even to homeowners with no children in school.
Real estate professionals have long reported that a significant factor in the price of Palo Alto homes is the quality of education our schools provide. Prospective buyers have even paid premium prices for homes within certain school-attendance areas based on relatively small differences in average test scores between schools.
But the truly important reason to support this tax increase is all around us in our community, on foot and on bicycles, in parks and playgrounds. It is our children and grandchildren, the next generation that is the collective responsibility of all of us, whether or not we have school-age children or grandchildren of our own. We owe it to them to provide the best quality of education and school experience we can, even (or especially) during economically challenging times.
Measure A is a key component of our being able to meet that responsibility. As Skelly correctly observes, "The consequences are great for our schools."
As with the campaign workers, voters should resist a natural tendency to being overconfident in this important vote. Every vote will count. And now's the time!
If you haven't already done so, vote YES on Measure A — right now — and head for the nearest post office.