Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - October 1, 2010

Editorial: YES on Measure E: Foothill-De Anza tax

The economy and state cutbacks have put our superb community college district in an tough situation in face of rising demand

Faced with a huge dilemma of slashed state support and an escalating demand for classes and programs, the Foothill-De Anza Community College District is turning to voters in the sprawling district for help in the form of a modest $69 per year parcel tax.

The district has put forth Measure E on the Dec. 2 ballot to help it offset part of a $20 million cut in state funding it has experienced in recent years, from the district's annual budget of about $180 million. It is the district's first-ever appeal for a parcel-tax funding for its programs. Earlier voter support has been for bonds to cover buildings and facilities, and can't be used for programs.

If passed, the parcel tax will expire in six years. Funds also will be kept separate from the district's overall budget so people can better track how they are spent.

The tax will raise about $6.9 million annually in additional funds for the strapped district, not enough to make up for the decreased state funding. But district staff have agreed to cut back their benefit packages, resulting in another $5 million to $6 million savings.

And some capital-improvement bond funds used for photovoltaic systems will result in an annual savings in energy costs of about $400,000.

It is only the second parcel tax proposed for community colleges statewide — the first was in the San Mateo Community College District, and received voter approval in June.

The statewide cutback in per-student reimbursement for enrollment has directly impacted thousands of Foothill-De Anza students who have found that elimination of classes has resulted in remaining classes often being full.

"We haven't been able to offer as many classes. This has resulted in a flood of students, with 10,000 on wait lists for classes," district Trustee Bruce Swenson said of the crisis facing the district. Swenson began his career as a teacher in the district, rose to being an administrator and ran for the school board following his retirement.

Few people realize how important the Foothill and De Anza community colleges have become to residents of northern Santa Clara County.

With an overall enrollment of about 45,000 students (or 35,000 if calculated as full-time-equivalent students) the district has a far larger enrollment than Stanford University and actually approaches the size of University of California, Berkeley.

Swenson and fellow district board member Betsy Bechtel — former Palo Alto City Council member and mayor — are stumping hard to achieve the two-thirds voter approval needed for the parcel tax.

Last year an estimated 16 percent of Palo Alto high-school graduates went to Foothill or De Anza, many with plans to transfer to four-year colleges later. About 70 percent of the college district's students work full or part-time, Bechtel and Swenson estimate.

The faltering economy statewide has also driven many students (many of them adults) back to school for job retraining, to develop new skills and knowledge to help them launch new careers. Training programs for nurses and other support occupations provide people who fill the essential but often lower-visibility jobs in our communities.

There is no organized campaign opposing the measure. The opposition argument in the sample ballot is signed by only two persons, representing groups that oppose virtually any tax increase for any purpose: President Douglas A. McNea of the Silicon Valley Taxpayers' Association and Chair Brian S. Darby of the Libertarian Party of Santa Clara County.

The measure is overflowing with support from public officials and others who care about education — including all members of the Palo Alto City Council and Palo Alto Board of Education. It is supported by all Chambers of Commerce in northern Silicon Valley.

Even though the parcel tax won't entirely fill the funding shortfall, it will when combined with cost savings result in the restoration of numerous classes.

Measure E is a modest but vitally important parcel-tax measure that will be of immeasurable benefit to thousands of recent graduates and adults seeking to move their lives forward. Vote YES on Measure E on the Dec. 2 ballot.

Comments

Posted by Numbers, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Oct 6, 2010 at 11:24 pm

"It takes $13,500 per year to educate each community college student."
Web Link

A foreign student pays ~$5,000 per year for tuition.
Web Link

The tax payers have been subsidizing the difference, $8,500 per yer per foreign student. ($13,500 - $5,000)

There are over 3,000 foreign students at Foothill and De Anza.
Web Link

The tax payers have been paying over $25M for the education of foreign students at Foothill and De Anza. ($8,500 x 3,000)

This measure is not necessary if FHDA charges the foreign students the actual cost of their education.


Posted by Mosh money, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 7, 2010 at 10:38 pm

There is already a $400 comunity bond on you property tax.


Posted by alum, a resident of Los Altos
on Oct 15, 2010 at 10:11 am

I've taken courses at Foothill and have had an opportunity to witness math and science classes. The truth is that these classes are not full. If you visit one of these classes in the middle of the quarter, the classes are barely half full. And, if you visit them after the withdrawal deadline, there are even less students. I've seen about 10 students in some classes.

My friend's son signed up for a calculus class which was supposed to meet 5 hours per week and one "to be announced" hour. He asked the teacher about this "to be announced" hour and was told "oh, we don't need to." He was told that if wanted extra units, he could take a "class" where all he had to do was check in to the tutoring room, but the instructor was not there.

These are the "classes" that your tax dollars would support.


Posted by Bill, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 27, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Why can't they raise the [patheticially cheap] tuition? The tuition at these places is *very* inexpensive. We are already paying to upgrade all of the facilities in these campuses. If the state is cutting funding, they need to argue their case to the state. If they come to the local population because it is the easier route, what will happen in the next 6 years? Do you think the state will see fit to restore the previous funding? Then they will be in the hole in 6 years when this tax expires and we will hear the same 'sky is falling' arguments all over again, but this time with an even larger price tag.

Is there no end to these bonds and parcel taxes? Am I the only one in this city to think this is a rediculous way to raise money? I am paying for a stupid hospital in San Jose for crying out loud.


Posted by Nimby-maybe, a resident of Ventura
on Oct 27, 2010 at 8:43 pm

Community colleges are good places for people who went to poor high schools or spent their teen years sluffing off to get a leg up toward a college degree. I don't think we should soak these people or discard them -- we need all the well-educated workers and citizens we can get.

I do have a question about this measure, though. How do we guarantee that the state won't grab the money, as they do with other taxes? I would think state law would trump any county initiative? The measure does say that if the state reduces their funding due to this tax, it is suspended if that will restore the state funding. But what if the state doesn't then restore their funding? The college district still loses.


Posted by Butch Cassidy, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 1, 2010 at 8:43 am

How are apt buildings treated under this tax, as a single parcel? Whoops missed some revenue there!!


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