News

Palo Alto school board to discuss renewed parcel tax, enrollment committee

Staff stresses importance of parcel-tax revenue

In advance of the quickly approaching expiration date of the school district's current parcel tax, the Palo Alto Board of Education will tonight discuss placing a renewed tax on the May 5 ballot.

Voters approved Measure A, the current six-year tax, in July 2010. It is set to expire at the end of the 2015-16 fiscal year, and staff are recommending that the school board approve ballot language for a renewed tax as well as hold a public hearing on the topic at the next board meeting.

The parcel tax, which started at $589 per parcel in 2010 and has risen to $638 per parcel this year with a 2 percent annual increase, allows for smaller class sizes and a wider range of high school course offerings as well as pays for professional development, training, instructional materials and counseling services. The tax also "reduce(s) the impact of deep budget cuts by providing a stable local funding source that cannot be taken away by the state or other school districts," the staff report reads.

The parcel tax also provides key financial support in a district where per-student operating funding has risen by only 8 percent, compared to the 13 percent increase estimated by the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

Since the financial downturn in 2008, Palo Alto Unified's enrollment has also increased by approximately 1,100 students and is projected to grow by more than 700 students over the next five years, according to staff.

"Although property taxes have risen in recent years, we have faced more than a $10 million reduction in our general operating funds as the result of reductions in funding from the state, a reduction in our lease revenues, and a substantial increase in annual pension costs mandated by state law," the staff report reads. "Expiration of the parcel tax would result in deep cuts to educational programs that are important to students and valued by the community."

In early December, the district polled 402 community members to gauge the interest and willingness of Palo Altans to vote to renew the parcel tax – and to possibly increase the tax amount in order to support existing and new programs.

Eighty-eight percent of respondents expressed support for a renewed parcel tax measure. Ten percent said they would vote no and 3 percent were undecided.

The top three issues that the parcel tax currently supports that community members said are most important are attracting and retaining qualified teachers; supporting advanced programs in science, math and technology; and providing enhanced electives for high school students, including art, music and social sciences. In descending order, the other important "problems" are keeping elementary school libraries open an fully staffed; maintaining teaching specialists in the areas of reading, math and science; maintaining teacher training and support programs; providing additional school counselors and psychologists for students who need help; and maintaining smaller class sizes.

The most important new use for additional parcel tax money, according to those surveyed, was adding support staff to help at-risk students who are struggling with the basics (78 percent said it is very/somewhat important and 31 percent said it is very important).

Fifty-seven percent of respondents said there is a great/some need for more money in the district, compared to 14 percent who saw an explicit great need. More than half of respondents (56 percent) agreed that the district "gives taxpayers good value for their money."

A resolution that the board will discuss Tuesday night indicates that if approved by two-thirds of voters, the new parcel tax would not exceed $758 per year for six years beginning on July 1 with annual 2 percent increases.

In other business Tuesday, Superintendent Max McGee will present a charge for a new enrollment advisory committee, the formation of which he has suggested multiple times since the fall in light of growing enrollment, particularly in Palo Alto's middle schools, and increasing calls for the opening of a thirteenth elementary school.

The committee's purpose, as described by McGee in a report, is "to prepare a set of strategic, evidence based, actionable recommendations that will enable the district to design, develop, and implement short- and long-term plans for accommodating projected PAUSD enrollment, consistent with PAUSD educational standards, financial capacity, and the Community Values and Planning Standards" an enrollment and facilities master planning board policy.

The district has in the past three years formed two other committees to look at the feasibility of opening a thirteenth elementary school, with the board continually delaying that decision.

McGee wrote that this committee's charge will be broader, and solutions might involve a thirteenth elementary school, a fourth middle school or a new K-8 school. The committee is slated to make recommendations to the board next fall.

The district will soon take applications for the committee, which will consist of approximately 12 community members, staff, parents, city representatives and local businesses.

The board will also vote on a revised design for Gunn High School's Central Building Project, which includes a comprehensive wellness center as well as upgrades to Spangenberg Theatre.

The board will also discuss spending $157,507 to purchase 465 Dell Chromebooks for Palo Alto High School.

The Tuesday, Jan. 13, meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at district headquarters, 25 Churchill Ave. View the full board agenda here.

Comments

2 people like this
Posted by SuperD
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 13, 2015 at 11:07 am

Typical - once a tax goes into place we rarely ever see the tax go away, even if there is a sundown provision. I'll bet the school board will even recommend increasing this prospective renewed tax!!! Our schools (and state) would be in a lot better financial condition if Prop 13 were repealed. Hey, just keep taxing us further on the local level for our schools so Moonbeam can allocate more $$$ from the state coffers towards the state union benefits..


1 person likes this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 13, 2015 at 11:41 am

Marie is a registered user.

Given that the number of students is increasing, pension and retiree medical costs are escalating, and support from the city of Palo Alto is decreasing, the money for a quality education has to come from somewhere. Palo Alto still spends far less than the average school district in Massachusetts and other Eastern schools. And that is why you still find classes of 30+ in the high schools and classes that are oversubscribed.

Sadly, the retiree medical insurance program was eliminated for all teachers hired after 2009. The impact of this will not be felt for many years as every 20 something hired in 2008 and before who becomes vested in the program will still get benefits 50-70 years from now. Also, teachers over 50 will be discouraged from retiring by the full cost of medical insurance, which even under Obamacare is substantial for the middle class until medicare kicks in. At the least, I think the district should offer a limited subsidy for medical insurance for retirees 55+ to encourage those who would otherwise be eligible retire to be able to retire.

I support the increased parcel tax.


1 person likes this
Posted by resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 13, 2015 at 12:00 pm

Not until there no more sports fields on school grounds. Poor Palo Alto babies should finance their own sports activities, like in Europe. Education quality will be better.


2 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 13, 2015 at 12:25 pm

What an ignorant statement. The fields are used for PE, school athletics and is rented out to the community. HS athletes have to pay / donate $150 per season to participate. The turf for the Paly and Gunn football fields was donated.


6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 13, 2015 at 12:33 pm

Given that each year my property tax goes up by a considerable amount, there are older homes being sold for high amounts and the overall number of homes in Palo Alto is increasing every year due to all the new development, there are huge increases of tax money that our school district benefits from without increasing the parcel tax. I am not in favor of increases that will only be spent on lawyers fees, new administrators at Churchill and studies of various things that do not need to be studied. Now if the money was going to the classrooms or to fund assistant principals at elementaries or to provide nurses at all schools, then that would be different. But I do not think PAUSD spends our money wisely at present so please don't give them more until they can prove better financial responsibility.


4 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 13, 2015 at 12:46 pm

Enough with the parcel tax!

I am fine with paying my taxes, but Palo Alto seems to think it can rip me off endlessly and not have to show anything for it. Tax the people more who use the schools.


2 people like this
Posted by Not so rich
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 13, 2015 at 12:50 pm

I fully support the schools, by volunteering to help when I can, and helping with fundraising. I am lucky to be in a low income residence through the Palo Alto Housing corp. due to being widowed at a young age with young children. I am grateful for the help and have held down 3 jobs and worked hard all my life, now I am retired and this parcel cost is a large amount for my budget, please please link the amount to the price of the property, right now the thought of this going up yet again, and 2% when my SS went up less than that is worrisome, and I do not have resources to just pop out another $100. Not all Palo Altans are 'rich" but we have worked hard and offered much in this area. Thanks


1 person likes this
Posted by anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 13, 2015 at 1:02 pm

@not so rich,

Senior homeowners 65 or older can apply to be exempt from the parcel tax (and for a refund for the current year if it has already been paid.)

Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by summer school
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 13, 2015 at 1:25 pm

I thought the district dropped all school trips that require students to pay to participate? That's why they had to stop the summer school program even if scholarships were available.

Is the district now paying for 18 students and 2 teachers to go to Guatemala over spring break this year? No wonder they need a tax increase.

Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by Sense and Sensibility
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 13, 2015 at 2:12 pm

Instead of opposing the parcel tax, would it be possible for a citizen group to come up with an identical proposal, but one that includes eventually letting go of certain non-performers/poor performers in the district office, reduces staff levels and costs in certain nonessential areas, addresses certain odious practices resulting in what a lot in the community deem as resulting in unnecessary legal expenditures, results in better citizen oversight of our money, or even better rights of the community in district practices and decisionmaking (equivalent to referendum and initiative on the city level, or even equivalent to rights of members of various nonprofit organizations visavis leadership) -- or?

In other words, instead of just opposing a parcel tax which would pose the choice of supporting or not supporting the schools and will be used as a proxy for it (punishing our kids instead of those who really should get the message), couldn't we just propose a competing parcel tax that overtly makes the points we want to make so the community is appeased? That would make the vote a referendum on certain practices, but not endanger the funding level.


Like this comment
Posted by Sense and Sensibility
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 13, 2015 at 2:15 pm

Sorry, it's been a long day. I hope my point in the first paragraph is clear.

Would it be possible to just take the language of the proposed parcel tax and add a few riders as an alternative proposal? The district gets our money, but only IF....


3 people like this
Posted by probably won't vote yes
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 13, 2015 at 2:35 pm


Funny these responses don't look like an 88% approval rate.

I too keep wondering when do they ever stop asking for more money. The last changes to the schools due to the parcel tax look great. All schools in PAUSD benefited. PAUSD is financially stronger now than they have been in the past BUT they still want more just because the old parcel tax is expiring. Time to give the community a break. I've put three children through the PAUSD with many yearly contributions and all those years there is always 'Sacrament and their deep budget cuts'.

Not sure I'm buy this one.


3 people like this
Posted by Surly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 13, 2015 at 2:39 pm

Thanks, Anon, thanks for the link.

Sense and Sensibility, what you're proposing is great in an ideal world but not in one like Palo Alto where every project costs twice the amount budgeted and takes twice as long to finish, where lawsuits abound, and where every city worker gets a raise regardless of performance it takes YEARS to synchronize a traffic light.

Applying for the Parcel Tax exemption may be one of our few ways to register our displeasure at the City's ridiculous and irresponsible spending.

Our measly $600 exemptions won't even make a dent in the $4.5 Million redesign of the City Hall's 1st floor of the $24 Million MORE spent on the Mitchel Park Library or the Chief Sustainability Officer's salary and benefits, but maybe they'll consider it a small token of our appreciation.

It's the thought that counts.


5 people like this
Posted by Accountability
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 13, 2015 at 2:44 pm

No parcel tax until the homework policy is implemented!

Our Teens need sleep!


5 people like this
Posted by Surly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 13, 2015 at 2:51 pm

PS: Wasn't the City bragging about its HUGE budget surplus when it decided to fund all the raises and the "redesign" of the 1st floor of City Hall??

If we've got -- or had -- a budget surplus -- how about using it for the schools rather than on silly projects like a $4.5 Million redesign of the first floor a of city building that few taxpayers will ever see?


2 people like this
Posted by summer school
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 13, 2015 at 3:59 pm

To quote the Weekly: Web Link

---
It is unfortunate that the positive outcome of these negotiations was marred by the comments of school trustee Melissa Baten Caswell, who misleads the community by suggesting that the school budget will need to be cut as a result of the deal and that the schools will have to "figure out how to work with less operating funds in order to be successful for the students going forward."

In fact, the school district's finances are in the best shape they've been in for decades due to large increases in both property-tax revenues and reserves, and the effects of the lease renewal will only be to modestly slow the rate of increased spending by the district."
----


The Weekly will be telling you to vote NO. They wouldn't want to "mislead the community by suggesting that the school budget will need to be cut" when "the school district's finances are in the best shape they've been in for decades".


2 people like this
Posted by probably won't vote yes
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 13, 2015 at 8:39 pm



And how about the millions that will be spent on beautifying Charleston/Arastradero.


1 person likes this
Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 13, 2015 at 10:31 pm

voters,

The school district is not a part of the City budget, they are separate entities.

That said, if the district wants people to vote yes, I would love to see a proposal with a few strings (with teeth)...

I voted for a Strong Schools bond that essentially promised new schools, and if you look at the per square foot cost of school construction in even really expensive areas, should have largely replaced our schools with new buildings. Near as I can tell, we got just a few new buildings and a lot of expensive lipstick for some aging oinkers.


1 person likes this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 13, 2015 at 11:10 pm

Personally, I have no problem paying a parcel tax for PAUSD. But I would feel much better about it if there were regular external audits and public, detailed budgets for each school and department. If PAUSD is going to continual request additional money it needs to prove that it is spending its resources prudently.


Like this comment
Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 14, 2015 at 8:35 am

@Anonymous:

"I would feel much better about it if there were regular external audits and public, detailed budgets for each school and department."

- here's the link to the 329 page Budget Book (2012-13): Web Link

- here's the link to the short version, the Budget Napkin (2014-15): Web Link

- it looks like there is an annual audit, here's the link to the last few years: Web Link

Lots of budget detail there.


3 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 14, 2015 at 10:51 am

> Anonymous said - Personally, I have no problem paying a parcel tax for PAUSD.

Over and above what we do normally, I have a problem with it. I've been paying - and enough already!

> But I would feel much better about it if there were regular external audits and public,
> detailed budgets for each school and department. If PAUSD is going to continua
> request additional money it needs to prove that it is spending its resources prudently.

That is kind of the whole point ... if there was not already to begin with, why would
you be OK with it if they suddenly start now. To request additional money they should
either prove beyond a shadow of a doubt there an emergency need for it, or as you
suggest publish detailed budgets and reports to show they are being responsible
already.

Whatever it is, the City or not, we are all continuously asked and hit up for more money.
There has not been much trust built up to make me feel OK about this.


1 person likes this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 14, 2015 at 10:57 am

By the way thanks Fred, but why don't we see some outreach and interpretation of
this rather than when the subject gets brought up someone just dismisses criticism
because there is a link somewhere that no one knows about , has read or reported on?

You know ... there is a law that says insurance companies are supposed to send
bills out that the average people can read and understand. This is the law, and yet
per the new Brill book, this is a joke, and when he interviewed a CEO or an insurance
company and brought along his bill the CEO himself could not read it.

Just because there is a link somewhere, that is the absolute minimum effort,
Get what I mean?

Off the subject, but
Steven Brill - "America's Bitter Pill:
Money, Politics, Backroom Deals, and the Fight to Fix Our Broken Healthcare System "

Web Link


4 people like this
Posted by retired no kids
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 14, 2015 at 11:09 am

while i applaud Palo Alto for being such a wonderful place. I believe parcel taxes are already too high. Especially for senior citizens.


1 person likes this
Posted by Sense and Sensibility
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 14, 2015 at 11:22 am

CrescentParkAnon,
As an aside...
"You know ... there is a law that says insurance companies are supposed to send
bills out that the average people can read and understand. This is the law, and yet
per the new Brill book, this is a joke, and when he interviewed a CEO or an insurance
company and brought along his bill the CEO himself could not read it."

Can you please provide me a little more detail/links? I want to cite that someday.

You might laugh to know that I keep a file of absurd examples of insurance behavior/practices. One of them is a stack of glossy almost impenetrable brochures explaining how to read all kinds of different medical bills and re-designed medical bills. Someday I should simply time someone reading them all. Then test for comprehension...
(If you have to make a brochure...)

Back to the district

You hit the nail on the head - the big problem is trust. Dauber and Godfrey can only do so much. Is the administration listening? Repairing trust takes work.


Like this comment
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 14, 2015 at 12:41 pm

> Sense and Sensibility

I heard that in the last week on Fresh Air when Terry Gross interviewed Steven Brill
the author of the book I mentioned and linked to. It should be in that book or more
specifics should be in that interview.

There is all kinds of stuff we do not know going on with the health care industry
and that was a good interview ....

... ah ... the interview is online at least here: Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by Easy NO vote
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 14, 2015 at 7:15 pm

The district has plenty of money and they should reduce positions, beginning with the public relations positions. If more suggestions are needed just let me know. There are plenty of administrative and certificated positions waiting to be axed without affecting class size. Kevin Skelly and that board cemented my 2015 NO last year. Sorry, Mr. McGee.


Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 15, 2015 at 11:31 pm

Posted by retired no kids
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 14, 2015 at 11:09 am

while i applaud Palo Alto for being such a wonderful place. I believe parcel taxes are already too high. Especially for senior citizens.


>>> Senior citizens can opt out of school district parcel taxes.


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

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