Palo Alto Weekly

News - July 23, 2010

News Digest

School board backs lower tax threshold

Saying they want to help cash-starved schools throughout California, members of the Palo Alto school board Tuesday endorsed a measure to reduce the school-tax threshold.

If passed by the Legislature and approved by voters, the constitutional amendment would lower from two-thirds to 55 percent the majority required to pass a school parcel tax.

It is sponsored by State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, who began his political career as a member of the Palo Alto school board.

A similar bid by Simitian has failed three times before, most recently last year.

In a phone interview from Sacramento Tuesday, Simitian said he will "force the issue" this year because of the state's inability to adequately fund education.

"We're very clearly in a place where the state is unable to provide the level of funding for a quality program of instruction, so the least we can do is give this tool to local folks so they can make the choice about local needs," he said.

Palo Alto's two most recent school parcel-tax elections have comfortably exceeded the two-thirds requirement.

In May of this year, 79.4 percent of voters approved an annual $589-per-parcel tax. That vote replaced a $493-per-parcel tax approved by 78 percent of voters in June 2005.

But seven months earlier, in November 2004, a bid to boost an existing tax from $293 per parcel to $521 per parcel narrowly failed. It received 66.03 percent of the vote, just short of the 66.67 percent needed to pass.

Simitian amended his measure to limit the 55 percent threshold to parcel taxes of $250 or less. Measures seeking funds beyond that level would still be subject to the two-thirds requirement.

Musical 'gala' Sunday to fund disability center

As education budgets are slashed across California, volunteers are working to preserve services to students with disabilities at Foothill College.

A July 25 gala — kicking off performances of the Cole Porter musical "Anything Goes" through Aug. 15 — will raise funds for Foothill's Adaptive Learning Division, which serves 400 students each quarter.

The center offers "everyday services" to students with physical disabilities and learning disabilities — as well to as veterans of Iraq, Afghanistan and even Vietnam with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The help comes in many forms, from class note-taking assistance, to extra time on tests, to voice-to-text technology that enables a student to dictate school assignments, to counseling and tutoring.

Sara Moussavian, a 2009 Gunn High School graduate who just finished her first year at Foothill, uses software called "Dragon Dictate Naturally Speaking" to dictate and edit her essays.

Moussavian — who has had multiple surgeries for congenital problems and has difficulty using her hands, walking and processing lectures — also gets help from note-takers and uses a special test-taking room, where she gets extra time on exams.

After Foothill, she hopes to transfer to a four-year state college or university and aims for a "high demand" job.

Budget cuts earlier this year meant layoffs for three of the 19 staff members in the Adaptive Learning Division, according to coordinator Margo Dobbins.

"We were cut quite substantially so a lot of our resources that went to things like note-takers and tutoring — which is not state-mandated but is critical to student success — has been reduced."

The Foothill College Summer Musical Gala is scheduled for Sunday, July 25, beginning at 1:30 p.m., followed by an auction and wine-tasting buffet reception. Tickets are available at 650 949-6230 and https://secure.entango.com/donate/fhda_event.

Palo Alto chief transportation official named

Jaime Rodriguez, a traffic engineer who has worked for Milpitas and several other Bay Area cities, has been named Palo Alto's new "chief transportation official," replacing Gayle Likens, who retired July 1, 2009.

Rodriguez worked as a city traffic engineer in Milpitas for five years. After leaving Milpitas in 2009, he consulted on projects for cities around the Bay Area, working on traffic-signal systems for Oakland, San Leandro and Walnut Creek. He also worked with Placer County in the Sierra foothills.

He started work in Palo Alto on Friday, July 16.

Curtis Williams, Palo Alto director of planning and community environment, said the primary function of the chief transportation official is to oversee transportation planning. His job includes taking on neighborhood requests for traffic calming, conducting bike and pedestrian studies, measuring existing parking-permit programs and handling complaints about signals and stop signs.

— Carolyn Copeland

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