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.