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Frustrated with arguments on the parcel tax

Uploaded: Apr 17, 2015
I am hearing from various of the people I talk to that they are as frustrated as I am with the information being provided on the merits of the PAUSD parcel tax currently being voted on (Measure A). Although this blog is unlikely to have any effect on the outcome of this election, if the frustrations enumerated here are in fact widespread and made known to the movers-and-shakers, it may improve future election campaigns.

1. The election on a tax should allow the electorate to convey a decision on the funding/spending levels and spending priorities of the government body, that is, is it handling the budget appropriately? However, in this election, much of the opposition seems to revolve around issues of the quality of governance, which is not appropriate for this sort of election (except in the extremes), but rather should be part of the elections of the members of the School Board.
Separation of these two aspects would have been easier if the timing of the election had allowed the electorate to get a better sense of governance changes from having a new Superintendent and changes on the School Board.

2. I am frustrated that I am in a situation of "reading tea leaves", that is, having to make unreliable inferences from bad information (inadequate and poorly presented).
The relevant information provided by the advocates has been very poor, and that by the (unorganized) opponents has been negligible. Much of the information that I and others would like to have is coming from highly unreliable sources, such as anonymous posters on the Town Square Forums of Palo Alto Online.(foot#1) If someone wants me to take their claims seriously, they need to be willing to put their real names to it, to take responsibility for, and be accountable for, those claims. The name also affords an opportunity for the reader to assess the knowledge and biases of that person.
Note: I am too far outside the school community to have independent judgments on school budgets and governance. Similarly for knowing who I can trust to have knowledge and good judgments about which aspects. Even residents with children in the PAUSD are often in similar situations.

3. Another problem with so much of the arguments about the parcel tax measure occurring in Town Square Forums is the utterly disorganized presentations inherent in such forums. Add lacking structure and lengthy to unreliable and one has a very low-value information stream.
Acknowledgement: Much of what I present here has already been broached in TSF.

4. Excessive appeals to emotion raise warning flags for me, and those like me. People who want to make decisions based on analysis have learned that this is often indicative of there not being a logical and factual basis for the claim, but then sometimes it is simply an indicator that the advocate is clueless about the audience. (foot#2) Example: "Think of the children" (and its many variants) has become such a common rhetorical device that it now appears explicitly in many taxonomies of logical fallacies (a subcase of Appeal to Emotion), and warranted satirizing in the animated TV show "The Simpsons" as a repeated hysterical utterance of one of the characters, Helen Lovejoy.

5. The details of how the ballot measure was formulated raises a number of warning flags for me and others. For example, see the PA Weekly's Editorial: Caution on parcel tax: School board should be concerned about timing and over-reaching. The size of the proposed parcel tax was determined by polling data, creating an inference of "We will spend whatever we can get our hands on", which often implies that the spending won't be wise or effective. In this context, the arguments for how the taxes will be spent can easily be interpreted as rationalizations rather than justifications.
The advocates for the parcel tax have done too little regarding the justifications, but the opponents of the tax have provided a variety small criticisms, but nothing--either individually or cumulatively--rising to the level of arguing against the need for the tax.
I have come to see this election as another instance of bad governance in the school district. Given recent history, one of the key messages of the conduct of this election should have been "This is why we are deserving of your trust", rather than "You need to trust us".

6. More appeals to emotion in claims of what the money would be used for. Many Palo Altans are veterans of the budgeting process in other organizations, both in formulating budgets for approval, and reviewing budgets submitted by subordinates. We are well aware of the games that get played in terms of what you hide and what you expose, how items get shuffled around between "pockets" (accounts, categories?) and how you align income and expenses in those various "pockets". There seem to be lots of residents who see the budget arguments as manipulative, even offensive, but are going to vote for the tax anyway because they understand the election is about the tax (funding level) itself, and not about how the advocates (and opponents) conduct the election. (foot#3)

7. Endorsements: The "Bandwagon" Logical Fallacy: The advocacy for the parcel tax presents us with long lists of names of prominent people endorsing the measures. Some of these people have endorsed after carefully considering the pros-and-cons; others have endorsed with no analytically consideration, hopping on what they consider a bandwagon. And many others deciding to endorse for a range of other reasons. For the vast majority of the electorate, it is impossible to determine which is which, and how many are in each category. I recognize that endorsements, both quantity and individual ones, do strongly influence a significant portion of the electorate, but when I look at the advocates' campaign materials, this is 25% of what is offered, with Appeal to Emotion occupying much of the remainder.

8. Unreliable information (resumed): contradictions from the advocates. The official literature for the parcel tax says that it will be used for smaller class sizes. From the unofficial sources (anonymous and second hand), I get two contradictory claims. One is that the funding is important for keeping classes small enough at the high school level so that teachers can provide individual attention to students. The other is that the overwhelming emphasis is at the elementary school level. Both these could be uninformed speculation, based upon knowledge and/or assumptions that spending will match the advocate's own priorities. (foot#4) Or it might be a mix of both, or?

My basic message for voters is to not conflate a vote on funding levels with being a referendum on governance, and to not conflate the conduct of the campaigns with what is to be the result of the vote. However, my sense is that the School District and the advocates for this measure have created a frustration level where in one of these elections the voters will reject this separation, and use the power of the purse as a proxy. I find it particularly worrisome that many of the points raised here are reiterations of concerns already raised in January in the Weekly editorial cited above.

Oh. Before you attack the above as being biased by upon how I have decided to vote, know that you are provably wrong.

Resource:
2013-2014 Parcel Tax Fiscal Report, including the Parcel Tax Community Oversight Committee Report to the Board of Education:
- From School Board Packet
- Alt copy: Measure A Website (from below comment by George Jaquette, a member of the Oversight Committee)


---- Footnotes ----
1. Info from anonymous commenters: For example, see the news articles Guest Opinion: Tax renewal would protect Palo Alto school programs by Glenn "Max" McGee (PAUSD Superintendent) and 'Yes on A' campaign raises more than $46,000.

2. Appeals to emotion: One of the basic lessons in books and courses on managing small technology companies is recognizing that you have in close proximity people who are motivated very differently. For example, you can give a presentation that will have your sales representatives on their feet, and the engineers sitting in the back snickering. Or one that has the engineers engaged, and the sales reps totally bored.
Similarly for training sales reps about different audiences.

3. A common budgetary tactic is to have your most vulnerable funding supporting your most important and/or popular tasks, thereby making it hard to cut. Recognize that this occurs widely in both public and private organizations.
Sometimes this is manipulative, and sometimes it is simply being realistic about organization psychology. For example, one way upper managers feel they are having influence in the budgeting process is to direct certain items to be cut, but since they aren't willing to spend the time to make good decisions, they make quick decisions, and when those goes sour, they blame the lower-level managers for not protecting him from making those bad decisions. Consequently, lower-level managers are trained to hide items that upper management will be tempted to cut and later regret.
Famous examples (from politics) of these bad judgments:
1. Senator William Proxmire (D-Wisconsin) gave his "Golden Fleece Award" (for governmental waste) to a variety of important scientific work based upon the title, or unrepresentative phrases in the reports. The most famous of these was "The Sex Life of the Screwworm" by E. F. Knipling. This was ground-breaking work in biological pest control (releasing sterile males) that had already produced tens of billions in savings to the agriculture industry by the time Proxmire made his award. Proxmire eventually formally apologized for his irresponsible publicity seeking (after being sued).
2. In the Republican response to the 2009 State of the Union Address, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal used the phase "something called 'volcano monitoring'" as a characterization of wasteful federal spending. To my knowledge, he never explicitly recanted. However, he did subsequently (2012-11-12), and unsuccessfully, warn Republicans to "stop being the stupid party".

4. Class size consideration: Unrecognized assumptions:
Someone who is focused on problem of suicides by high school students might well assume that the focus of small class sizes would be there.
Someone who is aware of the following research is likely to guess that the focus on would be on the lower grades.
The research on class size that I am aware of is that small classes are very advantageous through Third Grade, and rapidly falls off in importance after that. At the high school level, that research found little difference between smaller classes (20-25?) and much larger ones (35-40?). This make intuitive sense because a college freshman is typically faced with large class sizes, and there isn't that much change in how they learn from when they were high school seniors. At that level, how the class is taught seems to be more important than its size. A confounding factor is that smaller class size can compensate for problems in the teaching. This happened to me during my senior year in high school: The school didn't have anyone to teach the math class so one of the other teachers had gone to summer school to learn the material, but despite good intentions, she had no mathematical aptitude and taught it as rote (she hadn't grasped that even trivially different orders of algebraic transformations were equivalent). Fortunately for the class, there were several students with the aptitudes and quick learning that they could fill the gaps in the official instruction.

----Boilerplate----
An abbreviated index by topic and chronologically is available.

The Guidelines for comments on this blog are different from those on Town Square Forums. I am attempting to foster more civility and substantive comments by deleting violations of the guidelines.

I am particular strict about misrepresenting what others have said (me or other commenters). If I judge your comment as likely to provoke a response of "That is not what was said", don't be surprised to have it deleted. My primary goal is to avoid unnecessary and undesirable back-and-forth, but such misrepresentations also indicate that the author is unwilling/unable to participate in a meaningful, respectful conversation on the topic.

If you behave like a Troll, don't waste your time protesting when you get treated like one.

Comments

 +   28 people like this
Posted by Nana Chancellor, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Apr 17, 2015 at 7:47 am

Dear Douglas,
I am co-chairing the Measure A campaign and would be happy to meet with you -- and anyone else -- to answer any questions you have about the Measure A campaign and how the funds that the parcel tax will generate will be spend. Feel free to email me at nana.chancellor@gmail.com
It has not seemed a productive use of time to participate in the on-line angry anonymous debates. We have been focusing our efforts on speaking to people via phone banking (every Mon-Thur eves 6-9pm since first week of March), via numerous informational events in the community, and via presentations and Q&As at Principal Coffees/PTA meetings/senior homes/community centers/private homes/Parent Networks/etc. We have 1000 lawn signs in place at supporters' homes throughout our district and have had groups of volunteers at the entrances of every elementary school talking to parents and giving out information. In the real world, the conversations that we are having and questions we have been answering sound nothing like what is happening in the comments at TownSquare and our phone banking results are overwhelmingly positive. While many, especially secondary and high school parents, have concerns and are anxious to see stress-reducing changes at especially the high school level (many that resonate with me personally as a parent of a Jordan Middleschooler), they still appear to be solidly supportive of keeping resources in place and do not get Measure A mixed up in their discussions of solutions moving forward. I am happy to discuss and share more, but must get my kids to school, and then have a Measure A coffee to participate in, and then a meeting with Elena at the Weekly? :)

[[Blogger responding here to keep it adjacent to the comment:
I appreciate the offer of personal conversation, but personal conversations are no substitute for a carefully written and vetted presentation of the arguments. Personal conversations are too vulnerable to a range of misunderstandings, both between the participants and between each participant and who they talked to before that conversation. Plus the "journey" to that vetted presentation has many important aspects that can be skipped when preparing for small, interactive conversations.

Notice that your enumeration of distributing information strongly targets people who show up to physical meetings and *listen*. This is a "feature" of Palo Alto politics, not just this campaign and not just the school district. It is hostile to those of us who prefer to read and think (and potentially research) before asking questions.
Aside: There is a novelty item available on the Web that addresses this: An award ribbon "I survived another meeting that should have been an email".
]]


 +   10 people like this
Posted by accountant, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Apr 17, 2015 at 8:20 am

Doug. You say "I have come to see this election as another instance of bad governance in the school district" at the same time you say that you don't think governance is a reasonable basis on which to vote no. I agree that this election is another example of the failed governance of the district. I think it logically follows from that perspective that I don't have to hand over more money to people who are doing a bad job at governance. To do that would reward precisely the behavior I don't want to continue, and would also waste my money. For example, we should fire the PR officer. We should stop paying Phil Winston. We should not send Max on a wasteful junket boondoggle to Singapore. We should proceed with caution about hiring a district permanent staffer at $140K to teach an elite research course to 10 kids per year. These are signs of a district awash in cash yet everywhere we hear poormouthing. This is all about governance, and the election is all about governance.

The burden of persuasion in an election like this requiring a supermajority lies with the proponents not the opponents. If they want our votes (and our money, which is considerable -- this is a big tax, nearly 1K per year per household, then they need to show good governance and good management. To say the election is not about governance or that we have to wait for the next school board election to express our concern makes no sense.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by sunshine, a resident of Barron Park,
on Apr 17, 2015 at 8:48 am

Dear Doug,
This is the first time that the parcel tax has required more than 50%+1 to pass. The original justification was that by making the law a per parcel rather than a property value based tax it avoided the larger majority required for a proper tax bill. I still oppose it because it is not a fair tax.
The parcel tax, now as when first voted into law, is based on owning one unit of property. Therefore, whether you own a small "entry level" home on a small lot or a 7 bedroom, 7 bathroom mansion on a huge lot, you pay the same amount. I think that this is the wrong way to assess a tax.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Jane, a resident of Barron Park,
on Apr 17, 2015 at 9:06 am

@ Sunshine,

That is a wrong way to look at a parcel tax, the size of the parcel and the structure. You should be comparing families with children who attend the schools. You should have stated whether you have 10 children or 1 child, you pay the same parcel tax.


 +   25 people like this
Posted by Rovers, a resident of South of Midtown,
on Apr 17, 2015 at 9:45 am

Dear Doug and @Nana, I have 3 children in PA schools and it pains me to say it but I am voting No on the parcel tax. My experiences with JLS and more particularly Gunn have left me incredibly frustrated. My boys don't seem to get any of the advantages of the facilities. Everything is geared to the extremes -- from sports participation to academic success. It's as if the school is designed and calibrated to overwhelm and exclude. The admin response to the suicides has been all talk and spin. As a parent I feel my voice is not heard at all, and voting no on this parcel tax is the only substantive input I can make to express my displeasure.


 +   14 people like this
Posted by rsmithjr, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Apr 17, 2015 at 11:47 am

rsmithjr is a registered user.

Thank you for your excellent article. It is good to see that someone is thinking.

A general observation about bond issues and propositions is that if there are doubts, the public will vote no.

There are enough doubts about this that I think even a very dedicated supporter of education can vote no and ask the board to come back with a better effort last year.

1. I am troubled by the fact that this is a large increase that comes a year early. The practice of running the election a year early seems to be a ploy to see if a large tax can be installed.
2. The rate of inflation of the parcel tax has been quite high.
3. I am also very troubled by the methods used to promote this tax. For example, Superintendent McGee's Weekly editorial refers to the "$120 increase--only $10 a month". He never mentions that the tax will increase to $758. This is the kind of sleazy promotion that we expect from cable TV companies; it is unworthy of a professional educator. We are being manipulated.
4. The analysis of the effect of property taxes are totally lacking.
5. Finally, justifications for the tax--why they need it and what it will be used for--are totally generic, without detail, or justification.


 +   20 people like this
Posted by George Jaquette, a resident of Palo Verde,
on Apr 17, 2015 at 11:59 am

Doug-
I enjoyed reading your column, although I am puzzled to read that you discount the opinions of anonymous posters yet you footnote their remarks. I wouldn't encourage others to wade through the noise in those forums, but perhaps your call to arms will encourage someone to give voice to the opposition who can debate the measure without indicting the entire school district.

It would be great if you could cite some real numbers about school funding. But wait, you can! The current parcel tax required the creation of an appointed oversight committee, who meets with the district finance officials and an independent financial reviewer to ensure that the money raised by the parcel tax is spent according to the measure's distinct purposes. Yes, dollars are fungible. Yes, a strategy for requesting more money is to ensure that something important is in the balance, based on that money. But 84% of the PAUSD budget is salaries, and that is a hard fact. If school funding is reduced, teachers will inevitably be laid off.

The oversight committee publishes (yes, makes public .. enables public consumption of factual data!) this report. I am happy to serve on that committee and do so because I have two kids in the district who love their school and lover their teachers. You can find last year's report from the oversight committee here:
Web Link

It is very clear to me that the loss of parcel tax revenue will result in teacher layoffs. Fewer teachers, older teachers (the last hired are the first fired, welcome to the union structure), more kids in every class, quite possibly resulting in the closure of an elementary school exactly when we need to open another middle school.

People have told me that real data about property taxes and school funding helps them understand the need for Measure A. I have cut / pasted two buckets of data below which help me understand the issue. First, property taxes DO NOT go up lock-step with property values. Here's why.

Someone I know bought a house in 2006, and property taxes were adjusted when the home sold. Below are the real numbers from that real estate transaction in 2006. The sale of the property caused property taxes to triple (from $4,131 to $12,980). This is painful for the homeowner now paying $15K in 2014, but this *is* how property tax income goes up for PAUSD. An older childless couple moves out who have owned their home for twenty years, and a new couple with two children moves in. Unfortunately PAUSD expenses go up $28K-$36K (the burdened cost of two average kids in the district, range depends on your assumptions about fixed vs variable costs), and property tax revenue increases $9K. Real numbers, real example. real facts.

Unfortunately, a small number of houses actually sell each year in Palo Alto. Homes become rental properties that attract families with kids, and the long-time owner of that home continues to pay lower property taxes than their next door neighbor who bought more recently.

Tax History (from Zillow) for a home in Palo Alto
YEAR PROPERTY TAXES CHANGE TAX ASSESSMENT CHANGE
2014 $15,629 +1.9% $1,266,777 +0.5%
2013 $15,339 -- $1,261,053 +2.0%
2012 $15,339 +8.7% $1,236,328 +2.0%
2011 $14,105 +1.7% $1,212,087 +3.3%
2010 $13,868 -- $1,173,029 -0.2%
2009 $13,868 +7.0% $1,175,817 +2.0%
2008 $12,966 -- $1,152,763 +2.0%
2007 $12,966 -0.1% $1,130,160 +2.0%
2006 $12,980 +214% $1,108,000 +241%
2005 $4,131 -- $325,105
Property tax revenue in Palo Alto has not doubled in the past ten years, as one person asserted online. Property tax revenue in fact rises much more slowly than real estate prices for the reasons cited above. Real numbers, contrasting 2008-2009 with 2013-2014 for PAUSD funding:
* Property tax increased from $106,194,134 to $127,389,537 (roughly 20%, or $20M)
* State funding decreased from $16,877,168 to $10,326,497 (loss of ~$6.5M)
* Federal funding decreased from $4,074,776 to $3,158,732 (lost of $800K)
* Parcel tax funding increased from $9,346,204 to $12,154,325 (increase of ~$2.8M, new housing and COLA increases.
* Partners in Education (PiE) funding increased from $2.3M to $4.9M, more than doubling.

Fun math fact that surprises most people in Palo Alto: Partners in Education (PiE), funded entirely by parents and community supporters, delivered more funding to PAUSD last year ($4.9M) than the federal government did. The parcel tax delivered more support than the state government did. We are moving towards a world where we have to pay for our education without help from the state or federal government, and the parcel tax is the best way to do so.

Our schools need the parcel tax revenue. PAUSD cannot cut 7% of the budget anywhere else without laying off teachers. The teachers who will be laid off are the last hired, least expensive, and arguably most important for changing PAUSD (younger, more technical, more willing to use online systems). Voting against Measure A requires a higher degree of cognitive dissonance (yes, cut funding and hope for a better education) than I can stomach. If someone inside of PAUSD has a plan for cutting expenses 7% while improving our kids' education, I would *love* to hear it. But until I see that plan, I am voting for Measure A.

George


 +   12 people like this
Posted by Another dad, a resident of Barron Park,
on Apr 17, 2015 at 12:12 pm

Doug,

We have a lot of dead kids. It's been happening for YEARS. There is no real plan in place to prevent more. What exactly more proof do we need?

What do we need to do to pound this into the thick heads of our community. ("oh, it's not my kids, so I don't care")

Here's my proposal:
1. Vote not on A
2. Force Max McGee to resign...now.
3. Start firing Administrators who are so oblivious to the lives of kids under their care.
4. Start firing teachers who abuse kids with excessive stress

Alternatively:

1. District is sued out of existence by angry grieving parents.

What do you think?


 +   19 people like this
Posted by rsmithjr, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Apr 17, 2015 at 12:24 pm

rsmithjr is a registered user.

George,

If proposition A fails this year, the current parcel tax continues for another year, so there is no loss to PAUSD funding.

I have decided to vote against this (the first time I ever voted against a school or city tax or bond issue) for the reasons I stated in a post above, as well as some other reasons.

Without any immediate loss to funding, this gives the PAUSD time to sharpen their pencils, see how much they really need, look at the property taxes more carefully, and make a more robust argument for that funding level.

This time around, I have felt that the arguments were insubstantial and manipulative. I would like to see something that is both more honest and more intellectually 0substantial before I make a further investment.

Just think of it as a teacher giving a term paper back to a student for a rewrite! Right now, it is an F.


 +   15 people like this
Posted by accountant, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Apr 17, 2015 at 12:39 pm

Man this thing isn't just going to lose, it's going to tank.

Nice work Max. For a guy who has a goal of avoiding distractions and focusing on what matters you are terrible at that. I am sure what will happen is you will get praised by the board but let me be the first to tell you that if this parcel tax fails it is your fault. You led the district into needless controversy after needless controversy -- union grievance, schoology, the Public Records Act (did you hire that temp yet, lol) homework, APs, zero period, [[portion removed by blogger]]

No way am I handing over more money for Max to put into a brown paper bag and hand to the union. Not going to happen.


 +   10 people like this
Posted by It's about trust, a resident of JLS Middle School,
on Apr 17, 2015 at 1:00 pm

@accountant,

I agree. I had a recent experience with McGee in which he responded to a request, and I had occasion to call a state department of ed office that helps districts and families implement just that request -- they told me they had just been called by someone in PAUSD. The PAUSD caller had been essentially getting information on ways to deny such a request, even though a fundamental requirement in our code is that it not cost anymore than the usual (it would have saved money), and had they worked with us in dialog, reservations could have been solved.

Did McGee direct the person to undermine us and not tell us? With Skelly, there was always this sense that what was going on behind the scenes was completely a different story from the one district personnel often made up to tell parents. The hope was McGee would work at restoring trust by ferreting that out. Instead, he seems determined to squirrel himself away in that office. I don't know whether he was being honest and his underling was doing her usual hit job without his knowledge, or whether McGee was part of it since he has if anything been more subject to that person's influence than even Skelly. Either way, the result was very destructive of trust, and did nothing to dispel the way every interaction with the district only makes that worse, to the detriment of education and child wellbeing.

We all felt really betrayed, not because of the ultimate outcome, but because of the dishonest way it was handled. I have more examples. Is it McGee, or his failure to come in with a plan for a clean sweep, restoring trust, and improving communication and working with the community.

It seems to me that the feelings about this tax are directly proportional to trust in the district, which seems also inversely proportional to how much knowledge and experience people have had with the district (outside of Ra Ra PTA adherents). If people REALLY understood the personalities, they wouldn't question the need for anonymity in complaints. Trust DOES have a bearing on whether we should give them even more money or not.

If the tax goes down this time, and I hope it does, I sincerely hope the district will get the message and finally take necessary steps to restore trust. I would add to your list of names, accountant, to include the Head of Student Services and the District Nurse. If nothing else, the kids could benefit from having someone with more recent, relevant clinical experience, and the energy and intrinsic interest in putting the kids' health first.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by It's about trust, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 17, 2015 at 1:04 pm

accountant,

But I don't think you can assume anything about the final outcome, it remains to be seen. The district is counting on this community being patsy for funding anything to do with the schools, and they would be right (I do that myself). Skelly said as much in a board meeting, once. Ask and ye shall receive, basically.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by rsmithjr, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Apr 17, 2015 at 1:39 pm

rsmithjr is a registered user.

The first point that Doug made in his very excellent analysis was not to let issues of governance play too much of a role in a decision.

I have been mulling this over. The difficulty is that, with government bureaucracies as well as business, denying them money is one of the most powerful ways to send a message.

Elections don't seem to make that much of a difference. We have always had really good people on the school board, but the professional educators are trying to keep the levers of control to themselves as much as possible.

Losing a parcel tax election may send a message. However, it is unfortunately likely that the district will be asking "what tactical mistake did we make" rather than "how can we really do a better job".

Increasingly, these tax elections have been driven by consultants, image, tactics, and manipulation.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Apr 17, 2015 at 1:59 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

On whether being a parcel tax is the right mechanism:

The simplistic Prop 13 created a mess where it is difficult, even impossible, to structure a tax that is even remotely fair. The big argument against parcel taxes, instead of value-based property taxes, is that people with small houses pay the same as people with big houses,... and same as large commercial properties. This argument misses the effect of Prop 13. You often find cases where the people with small houses are paying more property tax than those with humongous houses, because the former were recently purchased and the latter haven't.

I have been repeatedly surprised by how many of our political elite don't understand the extent of the tax burden on PAUSD parents. First, there are the property taxes, which are likely high because they have recently purchased in Palo Alto. Then there are all the "voluntary" contributions that are regarded as virtually mandatory (PiE is but one). Then there are all the donations of time (equals money) that are "expected". Several parents have told me that they "ran the number" and figured it would be cheaper to live in Mountain View and send their child to an excellent private school -- they said the break-even point between this strategy and PAUSD was at the second child.

But one example of the elite being unaware of the tax burden: Two City Council campaigns ago, I was at an event for (candidate) Liz Kniss and she made a comment about how Palo Altans could afford more taxes and I raised the above burden, and she was unaware of it. In one of her interviews (the video may still be online), she spoke to the audience and said that she expected that most of them were paying very low property taxes because they had purchased their homes before Prop 13 (passed in 1978, retroactive to 1975). Remember, she is hardly alone is this disconnect between the elite and typical parents.

If you narrowly focus on households that have a single child in PAUSD, a parcel tax has each paying the same, whether that child is in kindergarten or a high school senior and regardless of their houses (Prop 13) assessed values, current market values and when they bought those houses. But the real situations are anything but that simple, so choosing which of the allowable tax schemes to use is going to have large elements of unfairness for many.


 +   17 people like this
Posted by George Jaquette, a resident of Palo Verde,
on Apr 17, 2015 at 2:01 pm

@sunshine
Parcel taxes in California have required a super-majority (2/3 of the vote) since Prop 13 passed in 1978. The current parcel tax passed with a supermajority approving it, and this is not the first time that 50% +1 has been required.
Web Link
Supermajority requirement
According to Proposition 13, enacted by the state's voters in 1978, local districts can levy this type of non-ad valorem tax only if a supermajority of two-thirds of the voters approve. (A non-ad valorem tax is one that is not based on the value of the property that is being taxed.)


@rjsmith
You are absolutely correct that the current parcel tax runs through June 2016, but if Measure A does not pass then the school district has to create two budgets, one with the lower forecasted income. Because of union contracts, teachers would be given advance notice (in March) that they are the last hired and will be the ones fired if there is a funding shortfall. This can really disrupt school, as our newest (and most stressed) teachers begin to prepare for other options in the fall. The actual ax does not fall until June 2016 when the current parcel tax expires, but there will be pain and disruption early next year if Measure A fails.

I have cut / paste information from another online thread below, as Nana makes the point well.

I would also like to thank you for signing your posts, and for making thoughtful and well-written arguments against Measure A. I have said before that I am open to discussion and I welcome opposing thoughts, and I am happy to read and understand your point of view.

George

Posted by Nana Chancellor (last Friday)

1. If this fails, is there one more year that the Measure can be put on the ballot before the past one completes its cycle?
The current parcel tax officially expires in June 2016, so the short answer to your question is yes. That being said, to have to run it again would be risky and not without consequences. The following are factors to keep in mind:
a) Every parcel tax campaign here and in other districts run their renewal campaigns a year ahead of expiration because it is simply too disruptive and risky not to do so.
b) It would take a lot of effort, time, & distraction by the district to have to plan a budget without confirmation that 7% of it will stay in place; they would basically have to prepare & plan for 2 different budgets.
c) The timing of a second run would be very challenging. We know from experience that chances of getting a super majority if running in a general election are very slim (the one that lost in 2004 was in a general election; parcel taxes all over California are held as special elections because getting a super majority in anything in a general election is close to impossible).
d) Running it in a special election next May would cause a lot of anxiety and instability for teachers and other school personnel (as well as for parents & students), as pink slips have to be given out in March.
e) Using defeat of Measure A to send a message (as some have suggested) sets a very dangerous precedent which would likely trigger a trend of future organized opposition with various agendas which could make it almost impossible to pass future parcel taxes by the super majority needed. I'd also be concerned about what message a no vote on school funding would be sending to our students, especially if used as a manipulation tool to strong-arm our board/superintendent/teachers into taking some kind of specific action, regardless of how valid the requests might be. This funding is simply too important to get mixed up in any political battles.
f) Not to mention the 1000s of volunteer hours and money which would be wasted? (it costs the district about $300,000 to hold a special election and the campaign has to raise more than $100,000 to educate and persuade at the scale needed to get a super majority)
g) It might lose the second time around? which would force PAUSD to cut nearly $13 million in expenditures for the 2016-17 school year. This could possibly result in having to close an elementary school and would definitely force the district to lay off numerous teachers causing increased class sizes at all grade levels and the elimination of many electives.


 +   9 people like this
Posted by It's about trust, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 17, 2015 at 2:29 pm

"would definitely force the district to lay off"

This is just hyperbole, sounds utterly manipulative and ungrounded, and only hurts your case. If the district laid off any number of administrators, or even brought in Stanford interns in their place, we would all be better off.

If I felt like the case were good and trustworthy, that McGee had come in and even gotten us on a direction of cleaning up, then I would be in. But instead I feel manipulated and as Doug wrote, people making an emotional argument without even themselves knowing the details or the problems.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Apr 17, 2015 at 3:08 pm

"I have come to see this election as another instance of bad governance in the school district."

And our city council wants to compensate BV residents for leaving it? Hmmm.

But we'll pay. The equity in our houses depends on the schools, you know. We just can't afford to gamble whether they actually need this money.


 +   12 people like this
Posted by Supermajority, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Apr 17, 2015 at 3:09 pm

Hi Doug,

I think you pretty much summed up the issues, and in particular this last bit in #8: "the School District and the advocates for this measure have created a frustration level where in one of these elections the voters will reject this separation, and use the power of the purse as a proxy."

But you also recommend: "My basic message for voters is to not conflate a vote on funding levels with being a referendum on governance,"


And in normal circumstances I would agree with you. Heck last election I funded the parcel tax campaign. However, these are not normal times. We have a mental health-crisis in our schools, and from my perspective it originates in poor management, oppressive classroom behavior, and bad governance. It is also something that hits a minority of families hardest. Some few are hit tragically hard. We have 4 suicides, 16 students hospitalized from Paly in 3 months, and 10% of the student population on a watch-list. While this does not constitute a majority, it is shocking beyond belief.

In this regard, I feel we have a moral obligation to use the power of the purse as a proxy for defense of the minority.

The requirement of 2/3 supermajority vote is the only opportunity where a minority of hard-hit families can sway the outcome and send an electoral message to the board, the district management, and the teachers who are mistreating our kids. These people have not earned our vote, they should not get our vote.

Consider that in a normal school board election, a minority can vote for their favorite candidate in a wide field of candidates and still fail to generate enough votes to get a majority of board members. Usually the outcome is zero wins. In rare cases if the majority is split, then perhaps one minority candidate may be elected. They cannot sway the board to address the oppression in the schools.

However, when the district is attempting to gain a supermajority, the burden is on that district to show super-majority competance, representation, and quality results for the students. They have failed to do so; given the gravity of student mental-health outcomes I feel the power of the purse is the best choice left for these families.

That's politics - keep your voters happy, or they turn on you. In this case 2/3 of your voters.


 +   8 people like this
Posted by It's about trust, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 17, 2015 at 4:49 pm

supermajority,
Well said. When we were elementary parents, we never appreciated the problematic culture at Churchill and how it impacts policy, culture, and management of the district, but unfortunately couldn't avoid seeing it in middle. We must address it, our children's futures and lives are at stake.


@curmudgeon,

Reacting from fear so that you fail to help parents trying to solve serious problems isn't going to help the kids or our property values. When bad things fester or get covered up, they often come out in more destructive and less controllable ways.

There are serious problems festering now that McGee has had an opportunity to address and has utterly missed it. Some of his underlings are already pulling a Skelly on him, too, if he doesn't wake up. The foxes are unfortunately too drunk with power and getting paid way too much to leave the henhouse voluntarily. We sent McGee in there with a broom but unfortunately he was too dazzled to sweep -- we shouldn't then just send in more fat hens. Sending him a message through this election is the kinder way.



 +   6 people like this
Posted by Steve Sherman, a resident of St. Claire Gardens,
on Apr 17, 2015 at 5:29 pm

Doug,

Thanks for adding some rational thought to this debate. Your friend is not the only one who has done that analysis, of where to live vs. paying for private school.

However, as a Palo Alto educated resident of Silicon Valley who chose to raise our kids in Mountain View,specifically to avoid the overdone drama of PAUSD, I take exception to your specific example. I'll put the MVLA high schools up against Paly and Gunn any day, using any metric you want. Both are Basic Aid districts relying on local revenue and both send students off to any university parents could want. As for elementary districts, our family has always volunteered and worked to support education in MVWSD, and I am proud of our district, not just my kids. I'll close by reminding the parent in your example: The former API test scores widely quoted in real estate ads were never found to correlate well to any educational outcome, only to the educational attainment of the students' mother. Some of us who think hard about education came to refer to API as the Affluent Parent Index!


 +   9 people like this
Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown,
on Apr 17, 2015 at 6:17 pm

George,

Looking at the 2014/2015 PASUD Budget book, the budget is $182 million; approximately 60% is accounted for by the schools (principals, teachers, school staff, utilities, etc). 40% is spent on other. That 40% represents about $72 million.

If the parcel tax does not get approved, will all 7% be cut from the schools, and no cuts to the spending on "other"? Tell us where the cuts will occur besides teachers. If you are saying that all 7% will be directed at teachers, and nothing cut from other, then the priorities are all wrong in our district.

Property tax revenue has grown faster than predicted from previous budget estimates. If the parcel tax is not approved, how much will this unforecasted growth in property tax revenue offset the 7%? And where has the unforecasted growth in property tax revenue been spent on?


 +   7 people like this
Posted by George Jaquette, a resident of Palo Verde School,
on Apr 17, 2015 at 10:32 pm

@common sense
Sign it and I will answer. Otherwise I choose to ignore you.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by It's about trust, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 17, 2015 at 10:44 pm

Doug,
Every time there is an election, there are always people who surface with a few of the same characteristics:
1) They use their names
2) They come out of the blue, most people who have been working on the problem in the real world have no idea who they are, and they have no previous presence in ordinary public discussion, or if they do, it's related political things
3) They constantly harangue other posters about anonymity and try to bully people into revealing their identities, or they usurp the discussion that way
4) They are the ones most responsible for ad hominem behavior that makes others feel they need to be anonymous

Please delete such posts as off topic and stifling of discussion. Whether they are astroturf of not, they certainly come across that way.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by It's about trust, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 17, 2015 at 10:51 pm

@common sense

As an active member of the community who has fundraised for our schools, volunteered, supported school board candidates, and gone to bat for kids, I find it interesting that I have never run across George Jacquette who is so vocal now and oddly insistent that people reveal their names.

I personally find your comments and information interesting and find no need to interpret them through any bias about who said them.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Apr 17, 2015 at 11:34 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: "It's about trust" comments about George Jaquette being an unknown:

The Parcel Tax Community Oversight Committee for the current parcel tax includes a member named "George Jaquette" (doesn't have the "c" that occurs in the more common spelling of this name). I have no way of knowing if the person commenting under that alias is that Committee member.
Aside: The use of unregistered aliases allows multiple people to post under same alias. In many cases this is harmless (for example multiple people using "Resident" as their alias), but I try to watch out for cases of impersonation.

On the assumption that commenter "George Jaquette" is the Committee member, my strong inclination is to leave his comments as-is.

-----
The comment about not having encountered him is an interesting one. A long running complaint from those who have been "working the issue" with both City Hall and the School District is that the appointees to Citizen/Community Oversight Committees, Blue Ribbon Panels, Commissions, Boards... come overwhelmingly from "The Establishment" or "The Club" ... and often have little/no involvement is the larger public sphere on the issue, either before or after being appointed.

FYI: The members of the current Oversight Committee are:
Anupa Bajwa
Megan Swezey Fogarty
George Jaquette
Ben Lenail
Eric Rausch
Anne Rockhold
Steve Schlenker
Jeff Traum
Sanjay Verma


 +   26 people like this
Posted by Eric Rosenblum, a resident of Downtown North,
on Apr 18, 2015 at 7:29 am

Eric Rosenblum is a registered user.

Hi Doug--

Your post is an odd one. You are essentially complaining that it is difficult to make a rational decision about a parcel tax by reading through posts on Town Square. That makes sense. Most people would agree that the comment section of articles is not the "go to place" for well-structured research. I'm just not sure why this fact surprises you.

If you were complaining that that the Board of Education's report on the need for Measure A, along with their proposed use of funds (link: Web Link) is difficult to understand, that is another matter. If you are arguing that you _understand_ their report, but don't agree with several of the underlying assumptions, that is also another important matter. However, you seem to be complaining that the Town Square representation of some posters' representation of other people's representations of the argument for Measure A are insufficiently cogent for you.

It seems that Nana Chancellor has agreed to talk to you personally. You replied that "...personal conversations are no substitute for a carefully written and vetted presentation of the arguments...". This is also true. Maybe she is offering to talk to you personally because the carefully written and vetted presentation of the arguments have already been published (again: link: Web Link), and she therefore doesn't need to re-write that presentation.


 +   11 people like this
Posted by mauricio, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Apr 18, 2015 at 11:57 am

mauricio is a registered user.

There isn't one good reason to vote YES on A. The PAUSD needs major reforms, and this will certainly not happen if the tax increase is approved by the voters. Additionally, with massive tax revenues pouring in as a result of the unprecedented increase in property value, the district is doing tremendously well financially, probably as well as any district in California and the nation.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Apr 18, 2015 at 3:42 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Eric Rosenblum's comment above is a good example of why many residents have so little trust in local government. Rosenblum is a member of the City's Planning and Transportation Commission (and on the Steering Committee of the pro-development advocacy group Palo Alto Forward).

He takes my lament about the grossly inadequate information from official sources and the poor quality of other sources and turns it into a critique of me choosing to use sources that I characterized as "unreliable" (point 2 in the main posting).

Before you wonder whether this misrepresentation was unintentional and based on poor reading comprehension, be aware that Rosenblum is a manager for a major high tech company (AB from Harvard, MBA from MIT).

Rosenblum misrepresents the report he cites (and was cited previously in this discussion) in the web links. This is a report on how the current parcel tax funds are being used. This election is about what funds are needed. Being aware of this category of distinction is basic to a manager's training (just as anyone with a math background is expected to be well aware of the necessary/sufficient distinction).

For Rosenblum to miss this distinction at this late stage in the campaign is not credible:
1. A prominent question throughout has been of shuffling costs between "pockets" (point 6 in main post).
2. The justification for the size of the increase in tax (point 5).

As to Rosenblum's characterization of the report on the weblinks as satisfying my "carefully written and vetted presentation", this was a report to the School Board meeting of 2014-11-18, that was marked "This report is presented for information only. No Board action is necessary."

Also, there is a timeline problem with Rosenblum's claim. The polling for the measure wasn't done until December (School Board backs increased parcel tax) and the measure itself wasn't finalized until February. The implication that the arguments for the tax could be finalized well before key details were determined -- such as the amount of the tax -- is yet more evidence of how very inadequate those arguments are.


 +   12 people like this
Posted by It's about trust, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 18, 2015 at 6:29 pm

Here's why I am voting NO:

I am a parent who has long volunteered for and valued our schools. Right now, we do not need the money as much as we very, very much need to send a message to the district office that they cannot ignore.

We voted in the previous supplemental tax during a time of need that has passed. Property taxes, which provide the majority of our funding, are now at an all time high. We should let this supplemental temporary tax expire so that when we get to the next time of need, the capacity will be there to ask again to keep our funding stable. If we tap people out when times are good, we are squandering a resource we will need to keep our schools stable when times are bad again.

We have a serious crisis. There is a SERIOUS trust problem for good reason -- dishonesty among the administrative ranks has fiscal, human, and leadership impacts, many families have been suffering for a long time, our district has been hurting. We all hoped McGee would be the change, but he hasn't, he's showing signs of being co-opted by the same underlings who helped sink Skelly. He would do well to start doing what is necessary to clean up the district office and restore trust. He's been here almost a whole school year and shows no signs of starting -- a resounding NO in the ballot (not just a squeaker) would be the message he needs.

It would be one thing if we really needed the money, but we don't. The Weekly's editorial advising caution points out that this big of a request needed to be honestly and openly justified, and that would include being very open with the public about what the district is currently spending its money on, but they have not done that. In my opinion, it should have included showing some fiscal prudence by reorganizing and streamlining the district office as part of re-establishing trust with the public.

If this large a supplemental tax is passed now, the district will just spend the money up to the limit, which isn't such a great thing in a district that seems to have no mechanism to tighten its belt from the top-heavy side. I still have seen no accounting of how much the central administration costs us, and what we're getting for it, even while I can see that prorated for 365 days, our Superintendent makes more than the President of the United States.

(Doug, governance is a big issue. If someone lies and treats you in an untrustworthy manner in other spheres of life, how inclined are you going to be to give them more money every time they ask?)


 +   11 people like this
Posted by Ben, a resident of Community Center,
on Apr 18, 2015 at 8:03 pm

I voted NO. PAUSD has never articulated clearly what exactly the continuation of a parcel tax was specifically for. They did however specifically identify the usual 'victims' should the measure fail. Victims are always; libraries will close, and class size will swell. Bloated salaries at Churchill Ave and exceedingly generous benefits packages for most employees the district can no longer afford to hand out like candy on Halloween, are of course exempt from cuts, or even discussion. Record property tax hauls in recent years and another round of hiring are not the indications of a poor school district.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Apr 18, 2015 at 8:11 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: "It's about trust" and similar comments

The decision about when a situation has crossed the threshold where the voter chooses to his/her vote on a tax to express strong disapproval on governance is an very personal judgment about the tradeoffs.
- How big will the damage be from the shortfall?
- If the tax is defeated, what changes are likely to occur?
- Why do you believe those changes will happen? Reminder: Believing that certain changes need to happen is not a good argument that those changes will happen.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by village fool, a resident of another community,
on Apr 18, 2015 at 9:54 pm

Dear Mr. Moran,

More than two years ago I posted an open address to Ken Dauber to form a shadow PAUSD board (link: Web Link).
Shadow government is used in other countries as mechanism of Checks & Balances. Churchill lead a shadow government.

I knew, then, that it was a very unusual suggestion. Having said that - I could not see any mechanisms of Checks & Balances that could address or resolve the issues that are being discussed now. First and most - trust. I noted trust on my open address, then.

Trust is crucial, more so when it is about kids' well being. And in this case, a public school system, kids' well being is also about everyone's' tax $, not only Measure A.

Retaliation was mentioned many times. Those who currently have kids and have lost trust, will not risk their own kids' well being.
Voting NO seems to be the last resort. It is anonymous, and those using it are hoping to speak their mind this way.

Lack of Checks and Balances were discussed in many threads before. Many of the comments relating to these issues were removed, arbitrary, so it seemed to me.
I think that what you see now is the accumulation of years of silenced concerned adults. The tip of the 'sound of silence', I dare say.

Yours,
village fool


 +   4 people like this
Posted by It's about trust, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 18, 2015 at 10:23 pm

Doug,

My opinions now are informed by a lot of knowledge of people in the district office and how they impact decisionmaking and families in our district, knowledge I didn't have even 5 years ago. Given how those people are VERY likely to respond, the power they have to affect our programs, expenditures, educational approaches, and children, and how their response will affect our district overall, I can only conclude that this Measure should be defeated.

To your questions:

1) If the tax is approved, what is likely to occur? (I realize you didn't ask the affirmative, too, but you should.)

The district people WILL without question feel emboldened and entrenched in the status quo, which is proving harmful and even deadly. Skelly already expressed an opinion in a meeting I attended that this community is basically a soft touch that will hand over more money whenever asked. (Of course not in so many words. But close.)

Given the noticeable lack of responsibility the district is taking in the suicide crises (It's not our fault, the kids are just mentally ill, etc), and the way families have been treated (serious censorship of parent lists even though it was serious soul searching and comforting not sensationalism, and mental health professionals said people SHOULD talk, etc) an affirmative vote will almost certainly be used as publicity for the district to squash any non-sycophants.

In the aftermath of tragedy, the grassroots that emerge are usually the silver lining, the force that solves problems for others in the future and prevents it from happening again. (As you know, "users" are the innovators, and solving problems the impetus.) If this measure passes and the district uses it to characterize the community sentiment as approving of their abysmal job performance, and to marginalize the changemakers, as they will almost certainly do, there goes any hope of reform. There are some people in our district office whose leaving I believe would be like removing a big, stinking log jam, and I don't mean McGee. Approving this measure would be like bringing the concrete to shore up their dam.

The other negative occurs down the road if we really need a short-term tax increase to shore up our finances in the way this one did when it was first introduced. If we let something like this be squandered when times are good, it's like "crying wolf" if we want another one when times are bad (and we're still paying for this one).



2) How big will the damage be from the shortfall?

Other people have answered this question as well as possible, but we really can't know because the district has not been forthcoming with honest and thorough information. The Weekly's editorial urging caution discusses the fact that our district's financial health is going gangbusters, as are the property tax receipts from which our school funds mainly derive. The editorial also points out that every year, the Business Office inevitably underestimates tax receipts and we get an end-of-year surplus that doesn't get spent well or on priorities. It has proven to be a poor management practice -- we've been told to trust them, they'll change (but only AFTER they get more money). Sorry, no, we should not reward this kind of fiscal irresponsibility.

Speaking as an active parent who knows this district, the likelihood that a defeat will result in teacher layoffs is nil. If the district tries any such thing, they will be handing activists the torch and ridden out of town on a rail. (This could be extremely beneficial if it finally resulted in our district administration being streamlined and the rot rooted out. But you better bet the teacher union is going to have a thing or two to say about this possibility if it isn't truly necessary -- and it won't be.)

The bond doesn't even exactly promise anything specific either, so it's really hard to take ANY threats seriously. I suggest you personally ask the Bond Measure Oversight Committee for the facilities bond about the enforceability even of specific bond measure provisions, nevermind vague intentions.


3) If the tax is defeated, what changes are likely to occur?

If the tax is defeated, it gives support to those calling for improvements and change, and it is unimaginable given the efforts now that they won't derive some political benefit in effecting change from it. This could have the added benefit of making board members who campaigned on change but are yet in the minority a greater lever, since they would then have irrefutable confirmation of the community's displeasure.

It is also almost certain that the district will come back with another ask, as they did the last time a bond was defeated, probably more well-thought-out, and hopefully knowing they won't be able to get away with being less than honest and detailed this time.

If we get the kind of reform that brings in reasonable, intelligent, open and honest players to work with McGee in the district office, then in the future, a NO on this election would also give them pause about playing games with these special elections, which are enormously expensive. If you recall, one of the responses to a loss in the past was to move tax requests to special elections instead of general, at a huge cost to taxpayers. They might be more willing to focus on honesty and credibility rather than playing games with expensive special elections to get their way if this gaming of the vote doesn't work.

How will McGee react from a loss? it's hard to tell. I'm beginning to believe that it almost doesn't matter if he doesn't change some key personnel in the district office. That is not likely to happen as a direct result of a NO vote, but it will certainly give him pause, which is likely to give reformers an opening (there I can't tell you what I know, but this is one of those circumstances where people are bending over backwards trying to give McGee a chance to stop tripping over his own shoelaces on his own first. If he wakes up in time, he will avoid Skelly part deux.)


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by It's about trust, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 18, 2015 at 10:31 pm

Oh almost missed this:

-Why do I believe these changes will happen?

A much greater acquaintanceship with the district, people in the district, the community, the parent community and several school sites, leadership among the parent community, etc, than the norm. Wish I could give you more details publicly. Will do so privately if you wish and provide contact info.




 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Zayda, a resident of Barron Park,
on Apr 18, 2015 at 10:34 pm

Having read many of the pro and con arguments about the Measure A parcel tax, I have decided that there is a third option. Since my wife and I are both seniors with no children in school and exempt from the parcel tax, we simply discarded the ballots. This is based on the old principle from 1776..."No representation without taxation".


 +   4 people like this
Posted by It's about trust, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 18, 2015 at 11:12 pm

Zayda,
I hope you will reconsider. Parents trying to change things for the better have a tough row to hoe. The whole point in the district's decision to hold a special election -- which costs the schools hundreds of thousands more than holding during a general election, which is hundreds of thousands of dollars that won't go to educate our kids -- is because so few people vote except those most zealous for their cause. The district has gotten supermajority's before, so they know very well that this community is supportive. There is no good reason an honest district shouldn't have stuck with holding these elections during the general election to save money. A lot of money.

If only to discourage that practice which takes money away from our kids and wouldn't be necessary if the district simply were more honest and open in these asks, please vote NO. Failing to vote only encourages the bad behavior.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by George Jaquette, a resident of Palo Verde,
on Apr 18, 2015 at 11:46 pm

I find it laughable that some (including the blogger himself) would question whether I am indeed myself when I post. ...

[[Deleted by blogger: This leads me to believe that this is an imposter and a troll.
1. Any reasonable person would recognize the possibility of impersonation.
2. He makes the false claim that previous comments of his have been deleted here.
3. ...
Note: Previous comments posted here under this alias seem to be from this same person.

**UPDATE** A subsequent posting under this alias indicates that this comment was just ill-advised and not indicative of impersonation + troll.
]]


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by village fool, a resident of another community,
on Apr 19, 2015 at 12:39 am

Dear Mr. Moran,

George Jaquette listed several organizations where he claimed to be active.

While I am absolutely not a private detective, here is an organization which was easy to remember, and easy to check - PiE board: Web Link

Obviously I cannot know if the George Jaquette who posted above is the PiE board member listed, or not.
[[Blogger: And as you recognized, "there's the rub": Biographic detail that can be easily checked online can just as easily be used to create a more credible impersonation.
It was the (deleted) hyperbolic reaction to a trivial caveat that, in my experience, indicated this was a troll/imposter.
]]

Yours,
village fool


And-
@George Jaquette - I'll try to post your original comment sometime soon. I post on my blog comments before and after being censored.
Link: Web Link

I must admit that Town Square and this blog are different.
The blogger here announced his clear editing policy, and is disclosing that your comment was edited, including the reasons.
Town Square (TS) had many comments vanish, completely. No trace left. . Comments which seem to conform to the published terms of use. Nowhere in TS is it written that mentioning the ongoing censoring is violating the terms of use. However - any comment that mentions the ongoing censoring is censored.


 +   14 people like this
Posted by George Jaquette, a resident of Palo Verde,
on Apr 19, 2015 at 9:13 am

Doug-
I have no problem with your decision to remove last night's post (but will repost some very real and very important information that you removed along with the personal stuff). I agree with you and with Village Fool that I was confusing my experience on some (anonymously) edited boards managed by PA Online with your (personally) edited blog. My apologies. I believe I can now say that my posts have been edited on this blog, but I also understand (and support) your decision to do so.

Reposting facts:
The state historically provided more funding for our district, and this funding has fallen as our property tax revenue has gone up. The state gives us much less money now (I have posted facts and numbers already on this blog), and the state has now shifted the burden for the unfunded pension obligation to school districts across California including PAUSD -- so in addition to giving us less money, they are going to take more from us as a percentage of the teacher payroll every year. The payroll deduction for current teachers to fund the pensions of retired (and future retired) teachers is going to rise every year for the next seven years. Max didn't decide to do this, PAUSD isn't playing a shell game, this is a decision made by the state and it will be implemented. Many states and cities across the US are facing this same impending crisis (unfunded pension liabilities), and an arguably courageous decision by the state to tackle the shortfall with CalSTRS unfortunately increases our school district expenses starting next year. Here are the facts:
Web Link
"districts' share of teacher-pension costs would increase to nearly 20 percent of payroll, up from about 8.25 percent."

Palo Alto is blessed to have increasing property tax revenue, but we cannot fund the district solely on property taxes. People will be laid off (yes, administrators and teachers) if the parcel tax is not renewed.

Patrick Hale did not hide behind a tree and proclaim his commitment to democracy. Note that Benjamin Franklin only resorted to a pseudonym when his signed opinions were rejected (citation below at 1), not because he was afraid to make his point publicly.

Democracy requires transparency, not anonymous ad hominem attacks on faceless members of our public school district (waste, playing games, etc.). We are given the implication that one poster is wise and connected ("there I can't tell you what I know") and somehow powerful, but of course we can't verify anything that (s)he writes.

By contrast, Nana Chancellor (whom I do not know, and have never met) posted a clear justification for running this special election, and for the mail-in ballot -- it is the most likely way to get the measure passed with a super-majority. Calling this "playing games" is judgment, and one can instead choose to say "executing the most likely strategy to win passage". Judgment should in my opinion be attributable to someone so we can determine how much weight to give their judgment.

In my opinion, the value of each comment should be judged on its merit and un-named posts should be held to a higher standard. The request in your original blog was to surface valid concerns and hear why others support the measure. I do not believe that many of these later anonymous comments and any of the posturing and implied insider knowledge help achieve that goal.
[portion removed preemptively]

George

(1) Mrs. Silence Dogood was a pen name used by Benjamin Franklin to get his work published in the New-England Courant, a newspaper founded and published by his brother James Franklin. This was after Benjamin Franklin was denied several times when he tried to publish letters under his own name in the Courant.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by why not to play chicken, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 19, 2015 at 10:45 am

It's about trust,

Consider for a minute that what you expect will happen after a Measure A defeat won't happen.

I say that because the district surveys show significant satisfaction with what Palo Alto schools are doing for students, what you call the "status quo." Web Link

Happy stakeholders support more services for those who aren't faring as well. More services require more money/Measure A passing. Few will engage in the discussions on the best use of those additional funds, so you'll have the district and school board pretty much all to yourself during those discussions.

Happy stakeholders do not support cuts to what is working for them though, which is what they fear will happen if Measure A does not pass and millions are at risk.

While you will be advocating for change either way, the minute Measure A goes down and PAUSD starts drawing up two budgets 30,000 other parents will engage too, a group almost never in agreement on what the most important issue is. Even when they focus on one issue, there is never uniformity on the best way to move forward.

Instead of you and a few, all 30,001 will be fighting for their "best use of dwindled funds" and making demands on what should NOT be CUT in 2016. Pitting parent-vs-parent and student-vs-student, lots more noise, anger and misinformation will be generated and put the second parcel tax at even greater risk of defeat than this one.

If you don't like parcel taxes, that will be fine with you.

But if you want the schools to have the millions parcel taxes provide, IMHO the best chance it has of passing AND you getting the changes you want is if it passes this round.







 +   3 people like this
Posted by village fool, a resident of another community,
on Apr 19, 2015 at 10:53 am

@-George Jaquette

While I do not want to "hijack" this discussion to the issue of censorship/freedom of speech/First Amendment, I believe that those issues are totally related to Measure A - the trigger for this thread.

I mentioned above my open address to Ken Dauber to form a PAUSD Shadow Board. (Web Link).
I wrote this address when the OCR was high on the public agenda and many were talking about independent investigation.
Having my own perspective, it was crystal clear to me that such investigation was not about to happen. Sadly, I was correct. And, then again - no Check & Balances.

As to anonymous postings -
You may notice only YES Sayers or those who do not have any current personal contact with PAUSD are using their real names.

AS to those who are posting anonymously, ask yourself, please, why?
My response, sadly - - Retaliation! Retaliation! Retaliation! (not disconnected from lack of Checks & Balances).

And another personal note - we had a short dialog on another thread. You may have noticed that it disappeared, no trace left. Mr. Moran is kindly providing a safe place for me. I started my own blog when I decided to have a place where I cannot be deleted. The ongoing censorship the Town Square is another very serious issue.


 +   11 people like this
Posted by Jerry Underdal, a resident of Barron Park,
on Apr 19, 2015 at 11:43 am

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

Doug Moran,

I concur wholeheartedly with your statement: "Much of the information that I and others would like to have is coming from highly unreliable sources, such as anonymous posters on the Town Square Forums of Palo Alto Online.(foot#1) If someone wants me to take their claims seriously, they need to be willing to put their real names to it, to take responsibility for, and be accountable for, those claims. The name also affords an opportunity for the reader to assess the knowledge and biases of that person."

I have been criticized in TS for consistently using my own name in my postings. An appeal in one post for me to choose an anonymous handle if in order to create a level playing field was truly surprising in its frankness and unapologetic defense of the virtues of anonymity. You have a great deal of credibility on this issue since you have always posted over your own name and stood by what you said.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by It's about trust, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 19, 2015 at 2:28 pm

@Jerry Underdal,
Doug Moran also does not make a habit of trying to judge situations by fitting people into political stereotypes and interpreting everything through the lens of personal political biases rather than going by facts, and he does not tend to go after people relentlessly and harass/attack them just because they disagree on an issue. While that kind of behavior may be tolerated or normal in a political forum, in a parent-school forum in which children are dying and you are not only dominating the discussion, but you have admitted you have no firsthand knowledge from which to judge some of the deep pain and frustrations expressed by parents, your using your name could be perceived as threatening and self-serving, I can see that. I doubt the request was for you to create an anonymous handle in general but rather as attempt to render your presence less hurtful and disruptive BECAUSE you have consistently used your name and your behavior is thus a known. Perhaps it was suggested as a way to just avoid traumatizing people with firsthand experience who are turning to these forums for frank discussion (since the school parent lists were so heavily censored and even shut down after each suicide). My impression is that you have been better behaved on this discussion than others, but still perhaps dominating and derailing discussions, certainly unintentionally, but derailing parent discussions nevertheless. Again, just realize the parent lists have been shut down for discussing these issues for many, this is all they have.

Whole books have been written about the tendency of humans to demonize other humans with whom they disagree or with whom they have little in common, and to use the stereotyping as the basis of relationship or conflict, rather than the issues at hand. The use of an anonymous handle helps keep the focus on the issue rather than the person, though I can see how that would be disconcerting to those whose view of the world is informed by viewing every issue through judgmentalism about the persons involved. (Those people don't usually understand others who choose anonymity, but it's usually the very same people criticizing anonymity who are the reason the anonymity is necessary.)

I think the Weekly strikes a good balance by ensuring that people who choose anonymous handles retain one handle throughout a thread so at least one person = one name. Unfortunately, it usually means only one person in a household can post on an issue, though.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Apr 19, 2015 at 2:41 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

We have strayed too far afield into the generic issue of anonymous comments, and I am requesting that commenters return to the original focus.

Reminder: The issue of anonymity in comments arose in the context of dissatisfaction with the information from the official sources.


 +   14 people like this
Posted by Nana Chancellor, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Apr 19, 2015 at 2:56 pm

Doug, I was just now alerted to your comment to my comment. As shared before, I do not spend much time on TownSquare. I do want to thank you for your interest in this critical election for our youth & schools and for creating this forum for discussion. I especially appreciate your "basic message for voters to not conflate a vote on funding levels with being a referendum on governance" and your encouragement of people to use their real names.

I would like to encourage you and anyone else interested in facts regarding the need for the parcel tax to stay in place, as well as where the money will be spend, to become familiar with the following "carefully written and vetted" information:

2013-2014 parcel tax oversight:
report: Web Link

parcel tax resolution/presentation:
Report: Web Link

As well as the Measure A Campaign Website: www.SupportPaloAltoSchools.org (including the lengthy FAQ section which provides detailed information in the following areas: Basic Parcel Tax Info, Budget, Investment Priorities, State Law & Funding).

I find the information shared in this thread by George & Erik helpful to this discussion as well. Looking at where the current parcel tax money (~$12.4M) is spend is especially relevant as that will continue to be spend exactly as is when renewed. Please keep in mind that the main purpose of the parcel tax (since first started in 2001) was and will remain to be to keep class sizes as small as possible. Currently 85 full-time PAUSD employees (67 teachers, others counselors, librarians, & psychologists) are fully funded by the current parcel tax. The plan is to keep these individuals in place.

As to where the increase (~$2.4M/yr) will be spend, the majority will be earmarked to further help struggling students thrive socially, emotionally, and academically. These areas include:
- Comprehensive family and student counseling support across sites
- Additional literacy support for grades PK-2 (Analysis shows that students who struggle in high school have underlying literacy problems in the early grades)
- Extended and expanded summer school
- Additional nursing staff support and programs to support physical wellness
- Additional tutoring (including offerings after-school and on weekends) for any student struggling in any core subject
- Additional investments/efforts to reduce the current achievement gap (A Minority Achievement and Talent Development Advisory Council has been developed and will provide recommendations in this area)

If you have any additional questions in regards to the campaign that you would like to have answered, please email me at nana.chancellor@gmail.com If you have additional questions in regards to the budget or how the money will be spend, please contact Dr. Max McGee at mmcgee@pausd.org

Lastly, if interested, here is a copy of the speech I gave to the board on January 29th:

Before I start, I would like to give my deepest condolences to every family and individual in our community whose lives are forever changed and hearts broken in the wake of the recent tragedies. The strength of our community and ability to work together to support all our students is more critical than ever.

I am speaking to you this evening as a parent of current elementary and middle school children in Palo Alto public schools. I am also speaking to you as a social worker with a specialization in child welfare. And I am speaking to you as the co-chair of the parcel tax campaign.

I am honored to share that we have an incredible grassroots network of support already formed and ready to campaign for our students and schools as soon as this is voted on tonight. These 3 right here are my fantastic co-chairs: Bijal Shah, Sara Woodham, & Lydia Kou. I would like to also invite anyone else present here today, who is involved in helping this campaign -- whether with fundraising, endorsements, yard-sign coordination, website, social media, or as experienced advisers -- to please come up and join us.

Our campaign team includes parents from schools across the district, grandparents, young professionals without children, empty nesters with children in college, home owners, & renters. We don't all share the same political or religious views & we didn't all support the same school board candidates; however, we are all united in one common goal: supporting our schools and youth. And we are united in our conviction that the parcel tax that has been an integral and consistent piece in the school district's financial puzzle for the last 13 years, must stay in place!

We are equally united in our belief that our, in so many ways, excellent public school district, can do more in areas that will help foster students' social-emotional learning and growth to go hand-in-hand with their academic learning. Areas that will help give each of our children opportunities to shine in their own unique ways and understand that there are many paths to success. Areas we just heard our community ask for. Areas Dr. McGee and the board just proposed new programs and additional resources be invested in.

As has been shared by the board, the need and interest in this particular area was equally supported by the hundreds of residents who shared their priorities via the parcel tax phone survey, in which "helping struggling students in need" was ranked as the number one priority for additional services and spending. And more than 70% stated that they are willing to pitch in an extra $96-120 a year to do so, which translates to 8-10 dollars a month.

I want to share with everyone listening this evening, that my co-chairs and I don't take the task of running this campaign lightly. We have been in multiple meetings with Dr. McGee and our district's finance experts, and individual board members, over the last several week. We have poured over the budget and asked every tough question we could think of. And we have ended up with the exact same conclusion as the independent oversight committee, namely that the parcel tax money is an absolutely critical funding stream which has been consistently spent on exactly what it was earmarked for.
The current parcel tax that expires next year has done its job minimizing class size increases, which has been and remains to be the number one purpose of the parcel tax. Currently 66 full time teachers in the district are paid for entirely by the funds generated by the parcel tax. 66 teachers.

What we have also learned from these meetings is a big picture that gives reason for excitement. Because in spite of the financial hits we have all learned about (including yearly loss of the Cubberley lease revenue & yearly increased state mandated pension contributions), the district has managed to balance our budget because thankfully we have had a larger than expected increase in property tax revenue which has helped mitigate the financial challenges. But we cannot innovate and grow in the areas that our superintendent spoke to and that our community, students, parents & teachers are seeking without making an additional investment.

The current picture allows for a unique parcel tax campaign in which the increase asked for will actually go to new and exciting programs rather than to help fill a financial hole in order to stay at status quo, as prior campaigns. Basically, with an increase, we get to add a few new much-needed pieces to the puzzle while leaving all the current pieces in place. New pieces that I am hearing our students, faculty, and parents are united in asking for and that our superintendent and school board members wanting to provide.

This is not the time to cut resources, it is the time to unite and pitch in a little extra.

So, it is with no reservation and a lot of excitement, respect, and gratitude, that on behalf of the Support Palo Alto Schools 2015 Parcel Tax Campaign Team, I ask our community to join us in supporting this vital funding for our students & schools.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by It's about trust, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 19, 2015 at 2:58 pm

@chicken,
Your web link merely goes to the PAUSD page with the vision statement, perhaps you could explain to what you are referring when you say "surveys"?

Your statement falls under the heading of "Lies damned lies and statistics" because I'd probably answer that question in the affirmative as well. I doubt you'd get the same answer if, say, the question asked how many parents and professionals who'd had to solve a problem involving Charles Young, Assistant superintendent, say, were satisfied. People are willing to try to solve problems precisely BECAUSE they care about the schools and care about improving and saving what's good. But your statement does bring up the spectre, again, of the district claiming a win can be falsely interpreted to mean a public acknowledgement that everything is fine, when we desperately need to NOT be proceeding like everything is fine or tripping up those willing to try to solve the serious problems.

I'm happy with our teaching staff, the resources in our schools, and the amazing families in this district. That does not mean I am going to gloss over serious problems -- including a suicide crisis or a large tax increase ask when there is no mechanism for streamlining an ever more top-heavy and poorly performing administration -- or overlook waste and administrative problems destroying trust, or even threats to our school district future. The very existence of a school district is to provide local control, and that means everyone taking responsibility for ensuring the schools do well.

District surveys also show around a quarter of 11th graders experience chronic depression, and a shockingly high number consider killing themselves despite other risk factors and co-factors for depression being so low here. (You could always use that to claim a majority of 11th graders are not chronically depressed, but that would be a dishonest way to look at the data.)

I think you also miss the point of my post almost entirely. Making me personally happy in this district would not involve providing more "services" at all, it would simply involve firing a couple of D-players whose untrustworthy actions undermine our district being its best and serving families, and undermine trust. Replacing them with even some fresh-faced Stanford interns would do a lot of good and even save us money. I think this is also the case for almost every other dissatisfied parent I know, and it's many.

Another thing that would make me happy is our district living up to its own vision for our students, which again, wouldn't require more resources but rather a willingness to be more open, flexible, honest, work with families. If only the public even heard some of the things I've heard said in frank moments by even the experts they've hired to push their agendas. Or even by people I know pushing Measure A right now.

Working on restoring trust doesn't involve more services, and it certainly doesn't have to be more expensive, in fact, it could save a lot of waste and lead to a substantially better culture. A culture of trust is so essential for a school district. Taxpayers should care about that for the kids, but if not, for the liability the district is incurring left and right behind the scenes.

I think your analysis of what you think might happen with Measure A is divorced from the realities of the district and real world power dynamics.

I'm still looking for an accounting of our administrative/paper pusher burden. I think you don't know this district if you think either teachers or parents are going to let that slide if the district tries to cut teachers or salaries, especially with property tax receipts so high.

This Measure is an extension of what was supposed to be a temporary tax during a downturn. We should not get too attached to it when times are so flush, or we will not be able to ask again when the economy takes another inevitable downturn. As a parent who has never voted NO before on one of these things, I think NO is the best choice now.


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Posted by Nana Chancellor, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Apr 19, 2015 at 3:02 pm

FYI, I attempted to include the following videos in the last comment as well, but was told I had "too many URLs" so trying to post them here separately:

In regards to parcel tax oversight:
video: Web Link

In regards to parcel tax resolution:
Video starts about 4hrs 30min into the board meeting: Web Link


 +   2 people like this
Posted by It's about the trust, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 19, 2015 at 3:16 pm

Nana,

For me, it's about trust. I don't find your links reassuring, because I see the tax in the context of the overall budget, and I don't feel reassured in any way about that. In fact, the Weekly's editorial urging caution on this tax said the district underestimates property tax income every year so seriously that there is always a surplus at the end that doesn't get spent well and doesn't get spent on district priorities.

It also urged the district to be a lot more forthcoming about the entire budget. It's an old tactic to claim assign the most essential services to any new tax -- ambulances! emergency services! teachers! -- while leaving the majority of expenditures unexamined.

Could you please share with the public a frank look at our expenditures for the 25 Churchill office, our leadership, our paperpushers, and all non-teacher/direct student instruction-related expenses, including overhead?

Thanks.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by It's about trust, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 19, 2015 at 3:27 pm

"This is not the time to cut resources, it is the time to unite and pitch in a little extra."

Actually, the Weekly's editorial pointed out that our district is financially really healthy right now. Property tax receipts are skyrocketing along with home values.

Not only do we NOT have to cut resources, we have the luxury of cutting waste at our leisure right now. Pleading poor and asking people to pitch in for emergency extras during a time of plenty, instead of getting our house in order, is like Crying Wolf. That resource won't be there when we REALLY need it the next time the economy turns down. Vote NO.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Apr 19, 2015 at 3:34 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Note from "Management": excessive repetition

A certain amount of repetition of ideas is legitimate, but there is a threshold after which it takes on the appearance of "shouting" or hectoring.

Similarly for frequency of posting by an individual or small group: Let others have a chance to comment.
Advice: Being too quick to respond shuts out others with similar views and creates the impression that you and your views are isolated outliers.


 +   7 people like this
Posted by Another dad, a resident of Barron Park,
on Apr 19, 2015 at 5:54 pm

At risk of being repetitive (nods to Doug for pointing this out)

Measure A, pass or fail, doesn't mean much. Even a few more suicides by local kids could cause legal attacks or investigations from Sacramento that could easily shut down entire schools.

Funny that so few people get this, still, after all that has happened. PAUSD is on the edge of disaster and still happily skipping along like nothing is happening.


 +   10 people like this
Posted by Two Reasons for No, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Apr 19, 2015 at 8:28 pm

Doug,

The tone of this discussion is whether Measure A should fail for FUNDING or for GOVERNANCE (as a protest).

I believe it is not an either-or decision. There appears good justification on both accounts to vote NO on Measure A.

From a funding perspective, there needs to be a justification from the district why current funding is insufficient, and specifically why. They have failed to make a compelling case; instead we have gotten the usual tricks of obfuscation and holding high-value projects hostage while they fund lower priority stuff out of other buckets. Furthermore, the ballot amount wasn't chosen through accounting needs, but rather through political polling.

1) From a FUNDING perspective, there needs to be a justification from the district why current funding is insufficient, and specifically why. They have failed to make a compelling case; instead we have gotten the usual tricks of obfuscation and holding high-value projects hostage while they fund lower priority stuff out of other buckets. Furthermore, the ballot amount wasn't chosen through accounting needs, but rather through political polling to determine how much they can fleece voters. This is not a legitimate request from a perspective of FUNDING decisions.

2). From a GOVERNANCE perspective, I have a strong personal belief that the school is highly complicit in adding to student stress. Our own children, and many children of friends in the community are (in the words of my neighbor) are "just barely hanging on". I know that teachers have used excessive homework as a substitute for quality teaching, then proceeded to test at a level of difficulty far in excess of what they have taught. These same teachers have used intimidation, bullying, detentions, public beratings, and personal humiliations to drive the homework agenda. The environment in the classrooms is oppressive. We have family friends who moved away specifically because of the mistreatment of their children. In the past, when discussing this with the Principal, he felt it was the teachers' right to manage their classrooms any way they like. I have encountered these types of issues over multiple years, multiple teachers, with all three children. I have heard this from my neighbors as well. It is just not that rare. These issues have been raised to the Instructional Supervisor, Principal, Super, and Board members, who have all chosen to ignore these issues. The board members at least act like nice people, but are ineffective. Dr. Skelly told me point blank that the use of intimidation in a classroom is acceptable, and he saw no problem with it. in his words: "how else is a teacher supposed to get homework done?" really sums up the carrot-stick method of teaching (without the carrot). It is belligerent and oppressive. It is the direct opposite of pedagogical research which stresses engagement, differentiation, structured support and encouragement. The intimidation approach breeds disengagement and despair among students. This causes stress when experienced day-in, day-out for years, without relent. It is not my definition of paying higher salaries to attract higher talent. ( please don't bother to point out that there are good teachers - I know that. The schools don't manage the bad teachers)

This surpasses my vomit-test for using this vote as a vote on governance.

You lay out three questions for such a decision; however I don't agree that they are necessary, but I will try to answer anyhow:

- How big will the damage be from the shortfall? I don't believe there will be any damage, as the district has no accounting justification for this measure, and I don't believe there will be an impact on property values either. This is mostly hyperbole and fear-bullying to try to intimidate people into voting for the measure. It smells a lot like the intimidation used in the classrooms, for which we are voting against.

- If the tax is defeated, what changes are likely to occur? I think there will be a political shift to enable Ken Dauber and Terry Godfrey to take a more active position on student mental health. Ken is obvious; Terry was active in Project Safety Net. They are the only two board members who can restore trust with the community, and they will be necessary to drive a new direction in order to win future funding. While I would like to imagine that the quality teachers will help educate the oppressive teachers, I rationally understand that will never happen. It is unclear whether Max will take the lead on the issues that are oppressing our students in the classroom; but we can at least believe he has read some of these blogs and will gain awareness of the issues.

- Why do you believe those changes will happen? The district still wants the money. So does the union. So they will make a second attempt to bridge the gap with community trust, repair some prior damaging statements, and at least give appearances to move in this direction. It would be far more believable if Max publicly stated what he is going to do to re-establish trust with the community AND if the union publicly declared that they would take such measures under Max's direction, but I don't believe they are credible actors. More likely they will muddle through, make the fewest changes possible to just squeak by a win on the next election. But fundamentally they still want my money, so some limited changes will be forthcoming.

That justifies two reasons to vote No on Measure A.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by GoneOnTooLong, a resident of Barron Park,
on Apr 19, 2015 at 9:34 pm

Since this is a Parcel Tax, why are ballots not being sent to each property owner so they can be assured a voting opportunity as well ?
Allowing only registered voters to vote on this parcel tax is unfair since a large number of registered voters are not property owners, and therefore not subject to the tax.
The county knows how to mail me a Property Tax Bill, they know how to cash my check, so why cant they send me a ballot so I can vote ?




 +   6 people like this
Posted by Jonathan Brown, a resident of Ventura,
on Apr 20, 2015 at 12:14 pm

If opponents to Measure A had any good arguments, I'd expect them to be listed in the formal ballot materials. Instead, no arguments against Measure A were submitted. "Yes on A" is the only position that's supported, and even after reading this page I have heard no good arguments against supporting our kids' education.


 +   7 people like this
Posted by rsmithjr, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Apr 20, 2015 at 12:18 pm

rsmithjr is a registered user.

I am voting no for three sets of reasons:

1. I don't like the manipulative techniques that are being used, e.g., voting a year early, talking about the "increase" without mentioning what the actual amount is, using the more expensive mail ballot instead of a general election, trying to get the seniors to vote yes but exempt themselves.

2. No substantive justification for the tax.

3. No trust, general "governance" issues, send them a message.


BTW we also own a property in San Francisco, and I pay their parcel tax without complaint even though I don't live there. I am almost always willing to support tax increases IF they are handled properly.


 +   9 people like this
Posted by resident, a resident of Midtown,
on Apr 20, 2015 at 12:28 pm

I'm voting no on Measure A - the reasons are:

1) Money is fungible; proponents are claiming that the parcel tax money is spent on teachers, but they don't say is that it frees up money to spend on non-school/teacher related items; as common sense points out 70% of the budget is spent on school related expenses like principals, teachers, support staff, utilities, etc. That leave 40% being spent on "other". For the PAUSD to threaten to cut teachers when 40% of the budget is spent on "other" smacks of bullying - why would spending be cut on the primary mission of the school district? wrong priorities.

2) For at least the past six years, the administration, board, PTA, etc. have been made little or no progress around the issues of stress, homework overload, etc. And there is no commitment on a time frame to solve these issues. I feel the parents will continue to be ignored unless something is done to get their attention, and voting down Measure A would do that.


 +   9 people like this
Posted by Lee Thé, a resident of Charleston Gardens,
on Apr 20, 2015 at 2:44 pm

Lee Thé is a registered user.

The first parcel tax was presented as an emergency measure, due to the recession, with a sunset clause.

The recession is over. Property taxes--the primary funding source for PAUSD--are booming (and properties covered by Prop. 13 still have the property tax increasing considerably--just not as fast). And the student head count for K-5 shrank by 131 this year (no wonder; what young families can afford to buy here now?).

So the regressive parcel tax has fulfilled the need given for it, well in advance of its sunset clause. Now there are new reasons given for extending it--all of which amount to taking this source of funding as a given, while saying not a word about the boom in the property tax base.

In the private sector this is called Bait and Switch.

Also, remember that Palo Alto pocketbooks face a quarter-billion-dollar shortfall in the form of unfunded city pension/healthcare obligations. The City and the school district are separate entities, but both are funded from the same source: us. So appeals to our largesses need to take this into account.

Note that the Finnish school system achieves better test scores and pays teachers higher wages, in part because it assigns two teachers to every class--one with the sole job of helping students who are having trouble keeping up, a system that works better than small class sizes per se--the other with the non-teaching school district staff being one sixth the size of ours.

The Finnish system was enacted just a few decades ago, over the usual objections that such changes couldn't be achieved, and the results top those of neighboring Scandanavian countries with similar demographics and all other countries as well, apart from a few high-pressure "grind" districts in Asia.

Note also that funding schools via parcel taxes is a burden on the very people Palo Altans wring their hands over--homeowners--many of them city and school district employees--who can only live here via Palo Alto's Below Market Rate (BMR) system, which sells them condos for far below going prices. Such people can ill afford these parcel taxes. Yet no one advocating for our schools has said anything about letting such homeowners off the hook (I'm not one of them BTW).

What may seem like pocket change to a software engineer at Google is nothing of the sort to my neighbor, a widow who works for PAUSD in BMR housing.

Nor do I appreciate PAUSD spending hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to hold a special election instead of addressing this issue during a regular election. Could it be that the real reason for doing so is a sophisticated form of voter suppression--filtering out regular voters in hopes that the school booster crowd, who are sure to vote, will carry the day when they might not in a general election?


 +   8 people like this
Posted by Michael O., a resident of Gunn High School,
on Apr 20, 2015 at 10:26 pm

Michael O. is a registered user.

Everyone is splitting hairs. PAUSD spends about $13,000/year/student. Think that's a lot? Cambridge, Massachusetts, home to the second best university in the world, spends $27,000/year/student. Spending per pupil in California is 49th in the country and a wealthy place like Palo Alto can afford and should pay more. Only through measures like the parcel tax can the city as a whole increase spending to adequate levels. Either you think the students in the city are worth the money or you don't. Everything else -- where the money is going, whether the superintendent should be fired, whether people are making this an emotional issue, whether we're spending too much on smart kids or athletes or whatever -- is besides the point.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by sea reddy, a resident of College Terrace,
on Apr 21, 2015 at 5:45 am


No additional taxes please!
We do not need it; we need to reduce wasteful spending!


Regards


 +   7 people like this
Posted by Two Reasons for No, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Apr 21, 2015 at 8:11 am

You cannot cry poor, while CA is ranked low in spending, teacher salaries remain high:

Web Link

Palo Alto teachers are paid more than Cambridge MA:

Palo Alto : $85,721
Cambridge: $80,725

Soooo,... It does matter how the money is being managed. For our higher salaries we are not getting safe schools for our kids. More money won't help that...

(Also, shaming voters is not a good strategy to win votes when you are already high paid. We would like to get the professional treatment commensurate with these high salaries, but the worst teachers are unmanaged)


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Nana Chancellor, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Apr 21, 2015 at 10:58 am

Fun surprise to meet you in the real world last night, Douglas :) How do I post the lovely picture of us? [[sorry, blogging software doesn't support this]]


 +   2 people like this
Posted by It's about trust, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 21, 2015 at 1:20 pm

No offense, Michael O, but (without even checking your numbers for MA which seem high) you can't really compare costs per pupil between a district in a part of the country that has wicked cold weather and temperate CA. Heating/cooling, maintenance, upkeep, facilities, everything is far more expensive there.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by It's about trust, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 21, 2015 at 1:28 pm

@ Jonathan Brown,

That's an illogical argument, coming to such conclusions about a lack of opponents on the ballot.

In a ballot like this, especially on an off year, the school district, the Yes side, is who holds all the cards, knows when they're putting through the paperwork, etc. Once the ballot is qualified (or whatever the process is), there is like 10 days to submit arguments or something short like that, in order to get them into the materials. The district is going to have those ready. Who else is going to have those ready? The NO side has simply been the community response to this situation, there is no organized NO side. I think there's someone with #RightNow but I still don't have any idea how to find those people and I don't know how organized that effort is.

Furthermore, no politician in their right mind is going to come out publicly against something like this. If the thing gets voted through and they came out publicly against it, they're toast politically. If it gets voted down and they came out publicly for it, no one is going to hold it against them. In fact, Dauber's political power will probably increase if it gets voted down, as he will have more of a mandate to be the voice of the disaffected parent community.

So, the lack of an organized NO political effort really makes no sense and isn't a logical reason to make a decision.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Tim Buck II, a resident of Downtown North,
on Apr 21, 2015 at 1:48 pm

"Note that the Finnish school system achieves better test scores and pays teachers higher wages..."

This comparison against US schools is not proper. Finland is a largely socialist country. Its teachers are totally unionized, and the government controls the curriculum. That un-American system is DOA over here.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by read some more tea leaves, a resident of Barron Park,
on Apr 21, 2015 at 2:13 pm

most of our elected officials don't seem to support Measure A.

Based on Web Link , it seems that among council and departed council members, it is Berman, Wolbach, and Shepherd who gave money. So, the majority of council members did not donate. That is telling. [[invalid inference deleted by blogger to avoid triggering off-topic comments]] If elected officials fear retaliation, they don't show it. [[invalid inference not deleted: endorsements and donations have very different levels of visibility]]


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Skeptical, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Apr 22, 2015 at 3:57 pm

Hey Mike O.

Throwing out a number like 27K per pupil sounds like we are seriously shortchanging our kids. But it is simplistic to just compare the end number without understanding where the difference comes from, don't you think? Like Cambridge apparently spends 45K to send ~600 students to other districts. Who knows what they are spending on pensions or maintenance. We are already paying separately to replace anything in the district that might break in the next 20 years so maybe our maintenance costs are significantly less? I don't have the answer. All I know is that the argument of 'In City X they spend a lot more than us so we shouldn't feel so bad' is not very convincing, since it is not even clear to what extent it is true.

Maybe we should compare to other high performing districts locally? Cupertino seems to spend $7K per pupil. So based on picking a district at random for comparison we are spending twice as much! So maybe we should be lowering the property taxes then??


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Michael O., a resident of Gunn High School,
on Apr 22, 2015 at 10:51 pm

Michael O. is a registered user.

Okay, it may not be completely fair to compare Palo Alto to Cambridge, or to Cupertino, for that matter. But it seems to me that if you walk around the schools, that the schools are incompletely funded. It may be a luxury problem, but sports teams get bused to away games but not bused home. Huh? Someone needs to go get them. Why would a district like this have to make that choice? Elementary schools don't have enough teachers per classroom. Whatever it is, Palo Alto schools are under-resourced. If you don't think it's the responsibility of the community to pay, fine. If you don't want to pay more, it's your right to complain, but the fact is that you are choosing not to support the education of the children here at the level it is in other wealthy communities outside of California. Anyone who chooses that should just say it out loud. It's kind of embarrassing that as wealthy community as this has to nickel and dime the schools.

As far as the Cambridge MA school budget is concerned, per pupil spending in '14-15 was $27,474, with over 80% going to salaries -- not to heat and maintenance. Web Link It's also cheaper to live there, by a fairly big margin, so easy to argue that the Palo Alto teachers are underpaid relative to their Cambridge colleagues. And I'm pretty sure that $45,000 in Cambridge doesn't add much to per pupil spending when their budget is over $160,000,000.




 +  Like this comment
Posted by Skeptical, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Apr 23, 2015 at 11:05 am

I agree that this school district has weird policies... For instance the fact that field trip transportation is done by parents, who bear all the liability... or when we were enrolling into kindergarten for the first time and it looked like our neighborhood school had too many kids, they told us that possibly 30 kids would have to attend other schools... those being across town in south Palo Alto... and when we asked if they would be able to provide transportation for all of these kids the answer was basically 'no... we don't have any busses'... but I digress...

As for 'not supporting schools at the level of other districts outside California', again I think you are oversimplifying things.

Talking about Cambridge... the 45K is *per student*... so the total is 25M, or roughly 14% of the 27K figure... you can get the state numbers from the Mass Dept of Elementary and Secondary Education web site. They have a teacher to kid ratio of 10:1. They also have a very different mix of students. I am just saying you are oversimplifying things.

And where do you come up with Palo Alto teachers are underpaid compared to Cambridge? The average Cambridge teacher seems to be paid 80K. I assume that does not include benefits.




 +   2 people like this
Posted by It's about trust, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 23, 2015 at 10:17 pm

Having had some more experience with our district personnel recently, I have to say, frustration with the arguments on the parcel tax are nothing, try dealing with these people. Holy cow. No one is watching the funny farm (with a capital "F"). Gah!

Vote NO on Measure A and then -- Who do we call in to clean this up? There is no one minding the store.

It is indeed about the TRUST.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Michael O., a resident of Gunn High School,
on Apr 23, 2015 at 11:40 pm

Michael O. is a registered user.

Well, $85K in Palo Alto goes much less far than $80K in Cambridge. I assume the $45K/student is what the district has to pay to charter schools for each student who opts out of the public schools. (That's a whole other discussion.) But the amount our district pays per student is about average for the entire US. This, in the most expensive place in the US to live.

I don't get how voting no on A will "clean up" the district. You get what you pay for. The fact that the laws here require the district to essentially beg for money is bizarre. The weather certainly is nice out here, I guess.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Skeptical, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Apr 24, 2015 at 9:16 am

Well I don't get how blindly throwing money at something helps things either. The property tax growth over just the past 2 years was 6.13% and 7.19%, with enrollment growth over those years being less than 1% each year.

If you look at how much the property tax revenue has been increasing, it is pretty interesting:
2001 12.77%
2002 5.62%
2003 0.36%
2004 8.19%
2005 6.96%
2006 9.99%
2007 7.14%
2008 11.15%
2009 2.92%
2010 0.77%
2011 1.61%
2012 6.13%
2013 7.19%
2014 3.00% (projected... so disregard it)

In addition we passed the construction bond.
Where is all of this money going?
The parcel tax was originally passed during a time of low property tax growth as a 'temporary' tax. It seems to me that instead of spending every penny of the sizable property tax increases, they could have tried to wean themselves off of the temporary tax. Now what will they do if there is another downturn or leveling happens?

If you look at all of the construction for 'essential' things like artificial turf fields and extra auditoriums, it doesn't look like anyone is begging for anything.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by village fool, a resident of another community,
on Apr 25, 2015 at 11:39 pm

@George Jaquette -
One of your "edited" comments can be found along many other censored comments on my blog, I post comments before & after being censored.

Here is a link: Web Link

You posed the comment almost 24 hours ago on the thread reporting that the battle over Measure A heats up.

I will appreciate you insight as to the reason that had those portions removed from your comment.
I hope you see my comment. I posted here since I am blocked from posting on Town Square. The Weekly went to great length to have me silenced.

And -

Dear Mr.Moran,

Let me try to relate again to the issue of the ongoing censorship. The Weekly have been using those practices for many years, basically shaping the public opinion.

Here is a thread that tried to deal with those issues. One of many examples. The thread was locked, completely. This thread was started by 'village idiot'. it was not me. I am relating to this specific thread since the publisher responded.

Web Link

The ongoing censorship is not disconnected from the usage of anonymous aliases. Especially when this is about schools.
Retaliation within the school system was mentioned many times. No one will risk their own child well being. Add that to a local virtual board practicing censoring methods which reminds other times and other places. The current frustration you see is just the tip.

Thank you
village fool


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by It's about trust, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 26, 2015 at 7:22 pm

HI Doug,

Here is a very factual and pragmatic reason to vote NO on Measure A:


Only a few years ago, PAUSD put a Measure on the ballot to move our board elections from odd-year elections to even-year elections because it would save money (election costs) to have the elections at the same time as the general election on even years. That election itself cost us maximum dollar, and had the effect of extending the board terms of a few of the most problematic board members by 2 years. But public approved it to save election costs -- the same election costs the district is now spending on special elections to game the system to get extra money, rather than making the case to the public through action and transparency.

This Measure A is the second special election for PAUSD, after recently starting this practice, COSTING us maximum money to wage the election. Palo Alto voters have shown a willingness to pass funding measures in the past by overwhelming majorities in general elections, so it's definitely NOT necessary. The district should STOP using expensive special elections for these votes, they are hugely expensive, and they just got us to vote for moving an election in order to save the exact same election costs!

People should vote NO on Measure A if only to show the district that spending hundreds of thousands on special elections is a waste of money, especially given the hypocrisy of their having just spent money on a ballot to move our board elections with the argument that the election costs will be less for the district if moved to even-year general elections.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Apr 26, 2015 at 7:42 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

The above statement about moving the School Board election misrepresents what happened. The District moved its election only after the City of Palo Alto moved City Council elections. Without the Council election being held at the same time, the cost for the School elections would have increased significantly, so the Board moved their elections as well. The opposition to changing the Council election schedule got drowned out by other campaigns and Palo Alto voters approved it, along with all the consequences.

One of the problems with moving the Council and School elections was that those campaigns would be drowned out by the up-ticket campaigns (national and state), resulting in local elections potentially being dominated by "low-information voters" (whether this was the intent is off-topic here). So we are left with a situation where you want a campaign that allows voters a better chance to become informed, you are effectively forced to go with a special election. But these special (one-issue) elections are subject to legitimate criticism that they are expensive and intended to be dominated by voters supporting the measure being voted on. "Damned if you do; damned if you don't"


 +  Like this comment
Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown,
on Apr 30, 2015 at 10:01 pm

Some facts and figures:

PAUSD 2008/2009 budget - $145,000,000

PAUSD 2014/2015 budget - $182,000,000 (increase of 25.5%)

CPI increase from 2008 - 2014: 10% (Web Link)

Here are the figures from the PAUSD budget books for 2008/09 & 2014/15 school years:

Amount spent on schools (teachers, principals, staff, utilites etc)
* in 2008/09 school year: $108,000,000
* in 2014/15 school year: $121,000,000 (increase of 12%)

Amount spent on "Other"
* 2008/2009 - $37,000,000
* 2014/2015 - $61,000,000 (increase of 65%)

So those who say if Measure A doesn't pass, that they would cut teachers first I ask you why you would not cut "Other"? which has grown 6 times faster than inflation, 5 times faster than the grown in spending on the schools. Where are your priorities?


 +  Like this comment
Posted by village fool, a resident of another community,
on May 1, 2015 at 1:53 am

@common sense - you asked: "Where are your priorities?"

Kids.
Everyone's tax $ could and should have been better used.
Trust has been an issue for the longest time. The inconvenient issues are silenced, keeping up appearances.
No checks, no balances.
There is no way to restore trust prior to identifying the reasons that had trust broken. Identifying to the tiniest details.

Independent investigation anyone? This issue has been discussed and silenced/censored more than two years ago. Silence is not good news, nor is it an indication that all is great. Concerns about kids' well being do not evaporate, contrary, even when the discussion is censored.

Sadly, i doubt that measure A result will make any difference. Even a no.
I see no way of prioritizing the kids, all the kids, prior to spelling out the wrongs. Clearly.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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