News

Editorial: School board should be concerned about timing, over-reaching on parcel tax

 

Palo Altans have stepped up time and time again to support the schools, through generous donations, bond measures to upgrade facilities and parcel taxes to supplement regular property-tax revenue and state support.

And we see the results all around us at every school site: new classrooms, gyms, a media arts center, theater and many renovations and upgrades, as well as new programs and more teachers to serve the district's growing enrollment. We are the envy of many a district.

The district is also in the best financial shape it has been in for years, and we worry that going to the voters this May for a renewal and increase of the current parcel tax, as the school board is expected to decide next Tuesday night, may encounter push-back and even defeat if not perfectly executed.

While the current parcel tax of $638 was approved in 2010 with a 79 percent vote, the financial need then was more clear, and the election pre-dated the series of missteps and controversies that have plagued the board and administration over the last three years.

These have not been good years for district governance or transparency, and although two new school board members and a new superintendent bring promise of a new era, May is far too soon for those voters who are skeptical to have regained trust and confidence in the management of the district.

So in this climate we question the wisdom of going to the voters a full year before the current tax expires in 2016 and before the new board and superintendent demonstrate they can get their house in order.

We also worry about seeking an increase. The proposed new tax is $758 per parcel, an almost 20 percent increase from the current tax of $638, plus an automatic 2 percent per year escalator for the next six years. (The current parcel tax was originally approved in 2010 at $589 and was also subject to a 2 percent annual increase.) With the annual increases, in five years property owners will be paying $836.

A survey conducted for the board in December shows sufficient support to obtain two-thirds voter approval of the new, increased tax rate, but it also shows a significant drop in the perception of the district's financial need from similar surveys taken over the last decade. Only 14 percent said they felt the district had a "great" need for more money.

Palo Alto voters passed the first school parcel tax of $293 in June 2001 with a 75 percent "yes" vote. That tax was to last five years and was fixed, with no annual escalator.

In November 2004 an early attempt to renew and increase the parcel tax to $521 was narrowly defeated after an opposition campaign emerged and was not taken seriously by supporters of the measure. Another campaign was mounted in June 2005 and resulted in 73 percent approval of a $493 per parcel, six-year, flat-rate tax.

Then in May 2010, a year early, the 2005 tax was replaced with a new six-year $589 per parcel tax with a 2 percent per year automatic escalator. It was a perfectly executed special-election campaign, conducted entirely by mail (a first in Palo Alto) with a 50 percent voter turnout. The measure passed 16,000 to 4,000.

If a new parcel tax is to win this spring, the district and its supporters will need to go to extraordinary lengths to honestly and clearly explain the district's finances and avoid scare tactics as a device for gaining support. Key to this will be showing realistic projections of property-tax revenue, which makes up 72 percent of the district's $185 million budget, and of costly new pension-payment requirements.

Every year the district intentionally underestimates future revenue from property taxes, creating the false impression of a financial squeeze, and as a result almost every year there is a substantial surplus at the end of the year. As the largest driver of the budget, this overly conservative forecasting of property-tax revenue distorts the financial outlook, and instead of fully utilizing our revenues for programs, the surpluses merely add to our already large reserves or get spent on one-time expenditures that often aren't well-considered priorities.

We think Palo Alto voters will support an extension of the parcel tax, but only if presented with an unassailable, no-spin description of our finances and why, even with our good financial condition, we need money to deliver an even better educational program to our kids. But we are not confident that now is the best time to hold the election to maximize chances for success, or make the case for a significant increase in the tax.

Correction

Last week's editorial incorrectly stated that Councilman Marc Berman was among those who participated in closed sessions in 2012 to discuss the purchase of property from developer John Arrillaga. Berman was not on the Council at the time. The Weekly regrets the error.

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Comments

15 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 23, 2015 at 8:34 am

Please, just say no to this tax!

it is regressive, and it is too high. If it was a couple hundred bucks, OK,
but this thing just keeps creeping higher and pretty soon it's going to be
another $1,000 expense in a City that just keeps nicking its residents for
more but not really having anything to show for it.

People come here with kids for the school, and everyone values education,
but this just keeps growing, under the "do it for the children" rubric - let
them pay more of their own way without squeezing and guilt-tripping the
rest of us.


15 people like this
Posted by Private Parent
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 23, 2015 at 9:08 am

I don't see the need for a 20% jump, plus a yearly escalator. It would make more sense to do this proposal simply as a continuation of the current situation. A two percent escalator over the current amount, continuing.

I will likely support the measure--well-funded schools are a public good that are incredibly valuable on many different levels. But the approach the board seems to take is, "What is the most we can possibly get?" Rather than, "What do we realistically need?"


12 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 23, 2015 at 10:07 am

I attempted to post, but my post wouldn't post.
I oppose any rise in the property tax, especially for PAUSD, because I believe they are extraordinarily well funded and they compensate their employees very well, too.
Vote "NO" on any rise, especially a built-in multi-year rise.
I pay over 20k/yr on my property taxes for a strictly middle class home here.
PAUSD seems to think we are all filled with endless money to hand over to them.
In the real world we have real budgets and realistic constraints. From what I have seen over the years, PAUSD exists in a "special" reality where there aren't many constraints.


8 people like this
Posted by cur mudgeon
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 23, 2015 at 10:13 am

Read my lips. No new taxes. Until they learn to use both sides of a piece of paper. Enough already.


8 people like this
Posted by Barron Park dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 23, 2015 at 10:28 am

If this is true, then this is disturbing. Let's get some solid facts before we decide.

"Every year the district intentionally underestimates future revenue from property taxes, creating the false impression of a financial squeeze, and as a result almost every year there is a substantial surplus at the end of the year."


11 people like this
Posted by Just Say No
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 23, 2015 at 10:32 am

I'm voting against it and hope most seniors apply for the parcel tax exemption to send a message to Mr. Keene and the city that spending here is totally out of control.

The city congratulates itself when the cost of the Main Library DOUBLES and takes twice as long to complete. It spends $4.5 million to redecorate one floor of City Hall. It can't be bothered to inspect construction projects like Cal Ave and then claims it's totally free to rip out months of work.

When this nonsense stops, I might consider voting for yes on something but not before.


6 people like this
Posted by Ann Bilodeau
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 23, 2015 at 10:53 am

I participated in the phone survey, with my heart sinking. The survey seemed designed to find out what arguments would fly with the voters.

But I do wish that participants in this forum would remember that the City and the School District are two entirely separate legal entities. If you are angry about Mitchell Library, that isn't a reason to vote against a school bond. Let's focus on whether the school district needs the money.

I hope the Weekly follows up to present information about the assertion that the school district consistently underestimates tax revenue. (It may be wiser to do this than to overestimate and run a deficit.) Let's discuss better ways for the district to use any surplus that results from this practice.


9 people like this
Posted by Just Say No
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 23, 2015 at 11:04 am

Ann, ALL of the surveys from the city are designed that way. They test arguments and price pain points. "Well, if we said X, then would you be more likely to support it?"

I am well aware that the school and city are separate but alas, it seems to be the only way to get through to Mr. Keene et al.

I find it highly ironic and sad that it was former teachers and county employees who first told me about the exemption and they were all taking it.


13 people like this
Posted by Stepheny McGraw
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 23, 2015 at 11:41 am

PAUSD does not have an eye for the bottom line. They spend money as if they were a private entity -- not a public one which should be accountable in every sense of the word to those from whom they take the money.

I see no need for another increase in parcel taxes and will, once again, vote against a district which takes ten people on a road trip to Illinois to visit a school where the prospective superintendent once was. Junkets and waste.

Sadly, I will also be opting out of the parcel tax for Palo Alto Schools. How many other seniors see the absurd excesses and choose to opt out? I would love to know the percentage in our town.


9 people like this
Posted by commonsense
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 23, 2015 at 11:41 am

This is for PA schools, not the city. It's for education which still falls short - PiE provided $5,000,000 for the schools, without which there would be less science and no teacher aids. If that doesn't matter to you and you are a home owner, supporting the schools with a $1000 a year has for sure helped your property values increase more than anywhere else on earth. Quit whining!


2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 23, 2015 at 12:06 pm

@Private Parent, my thought exactly. Where's the "Like" button?

>> But the approach the board seems to take is, "What is the most we can possibly get?"


3 people like this
Posted by annymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 23, 2015 at 12:34 pm

@ Stepheny, you mention the relatively recent road trip junket to Illinois to visit where our new superintendent once was in charge, and I happen to have met a graduate from that IIMSA, if I'm not mistaken, it is an elite academy, and there is plenty of info out there about the place and Superintendent then Principal McGee (sorry, exact spelling not currently in hand), and so I agree it was a taxpayer-paid junket to Chicago. I personally enjoy travel to Chicago, but I don't do it at taxpayer expense on a flimsy reason. The trip was NOT necessary and likely was highly enjoyable to the PAUSD Board (and any staff?) who happily went on the trip.


2 people like this
Posted by seniors
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 23, 2015 at 12:36 pm

If more seniors stepped up to the plate and paid the parcel tax like their neighbors (most of whom are paying far more in property taxes for similar homes) the parcel tax would be lower for everyone.


7 people like this
Posted by Enough!
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 23, 2015 at 12:59 pm

Enough ! We have taxed ourselves to death for the local schools and we are constantly told it is not enough. This time it is even in spite of record property tax revenues.

When I see the huge monster of a building being erected at Paly as a mere theater, even though Paly already has a theater, I think that we have paid far beyond what is reasonable to pay in order to enable what we actually want. All we need and want is a good, solid education to be dispensed in our schools, not all the overly luxurious extra perks.


2 people like this
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 23, 2015 at 1:22 pm

@annymous - it would have irresponsible to hire a superintendent without going to see him at work, and interview his peers and subordinates. You'd rather blindly hire someone for a multi year contract, pay him a million+ dollars, than pay a few thousand to go check to make sure he is a good fit? That's classic penny wise pound foolish.


Like this comment
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 23, 2015 at 3:58 pm

@Stephney ..

> How many other seniors see the absurd excesses and choose to opt out?
> I would love to know the percentage in our town.

Up until a couple of years ago, I could have provided that information fairly accurately. But I haven't been collecting that much school data recently. The last time that I did request the names of those opting out, the count was somewhere between 2400 and 2600. The actual number of "opting" seniors seemed to go up and down by a couple hundred every year. With people passing away, and seniors selling and moving into other quarters, this made sense to me.

Trying to determine the "percentage of seniors" opting out becomes much more problematic. I am not aware of any public data that provides precise information about the age of the owner of a property. (This information exists in the private domain, but is obviously not available without considerable expense.)

I think that there are about 20K parcels in Palo Alto, but the PAUSD is larger--including the Stanford and "Near" Los Altos Hills. This would probably push the total PAUSD parcel count up to about 25K.

So--using "Kentuck Windage" here--I'd say that about 10% of the properties are opting out.


6 people like this
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 23, 2015 at 4:23 pm

> If more seniors stepped up to the plate and paid the parcel tax like their
> neighbors (most of whom are paying far more in property taxes for similar homes)
> the parcel tax would be lower for everyone.

There is absolutely no evidence for this belief. The parcel tax is "free money" as far as the PAUSD is concerned, and they will push for as much as they think that they can get.

When the parcel tax was proposed back in the early 2000s, we we told that housing prices were down, and so the income for the District was down. How, housing prices are way up, and the parcel tax increases continue. It's clear that exacting as much money out of the taxpayers is the agenda of the PAUSD, and the parcel tax is another way to do it.

If you feel strongly about giving the PAUSD more money than you currently ar, please contact the business office to inquire as how you can transfer money from your bank account to theirs.


7 people like this
Posted by Out of Control
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 23, 2015 at 4:29 pm

What is that oversized monstrous building they building at Paly, across from Town and Country. Looking at that out of scale building tells me I won't vote yes on the new proposed tax!


2 people like this
Posted by annalongwell
a resident of The Greenhouse
on Jan 23, 2015 at 5:10 pm

Is there some way to associate the amount of the parcel tax to the academic achievement of the students? Why the big emphasis on recreational facilities (another swimming pool for Gunn, playing field re-furb at Paly, and now theatre?)
How about a new computer lab or chemistry or microbiology lab(parents can relax about asking their teenagers to please wash their hands before meals once they get the basics of micro). I'd be proud to pay a tax if it meant our students were recognized as academically superior, not just in CA, which is like being the best of the worst, but in the US and in the world.


7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 23, 2015 at 5:19 pm

I am very much against this tax.

Until such time as PAUSD is more financially responsible with money it is already getting there should be no reason to give them more. The last tax was for refurbishing and remodeling the schools. This is done so why should it be continued other than to give them an even bigger slush fund to waste.

The things they claim to be wanting money for are exactly the same as PIE seem to say their money is used for.

I doubt very much that these things will not go away if they don't get the money, it would just mean that they would have to be more pecuniary cautious with their housekeeping like the rest of us. The more money they get, the more likely they will study something questionable, hire another administrator to fill a questionable fancy job description, or go on another fact finding mission to distant climes for over a dozen lucky board members and senior administrators.

I know it is only hearsay, but I have often heard of teachers at the end of the school year having to spend money on almost anything so that their next year's budget isn't reduced.

So no new parcel tax until PAUSD proves itself to be more financially responsible.


1 person likes this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 23, 2015 at 5:34 pm

Marie is a registered user.

While I do not agree with all the PAUSD spending decisions, it does seem clear that more funding is needed. With the city withdrawing support and pension payments accelerating, more money will be needed just to stand still. Increased housing will increase students, without necessarily adding sufficient funding to pay for those students. My understanding of Palo Alto history is that the original utility tax was passed with the understanding that the funds would be used primarily to support PAUSD due to the shortfall from Prop 13. I do not support the (totally legal) diversion of those funds to pay for other city priorities. PAUSD desperately needs to open new schools at all levels. Where is the money to run those new schools? Where is support from the developers building new housing for new schools? While short-term PAUSD has excess funds, which need to be spent before Jerry Brown confiscates them, the long-term forecast is not good.

PAUSD's funding is high only in comparison to other CA districts. Compared to districts with comparable academic achievements on the East Coast, we spend much less, even though the overall cost of living for our teachers is much higher.


3 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 23, 2015 at 7:15 pm

I'm not here to tell you how to vote...but at least understand the difference between the parcel tax and the "strong schools" building bond.

First, please know that the two programs are separate and the funds do not co-mingle.
Second, the building bond (2008) is what is providing the funds for all of the new and remodeled facilities at all schools withiN PAUSD. That is not what is being discussed in the above article.
Third, the parcel tax (and the proposed renewal) pays for staffing and programs, not facility construction. This is the parcel tax the BoE wants to renew and increase.

So when you vote for or against the proposed parcel tax, understand that you are not voting for or against facilities improvements (e.g., the new Paly Theater). That bond is a done deal and there is no proposal to renew it at this time. You will be voting for or against providing additional funds for staff salaries and program support (e.g., art, music, etc.).


2 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 23, 2015 at 7:48 pm

@Mr. Recycle, I'm not sure I agree with you. I know there are thousands of school districts and they can't all go on luxury junkets. Costs charged to taxpayers should be reasonable. Reasonable costs, to me, would be decent lunchrooms (which I experienced on the east coast, but not here).
It is true school district superintendents seem to cycle frequently, though. I think there is a lot of info out there in the public domain about IIMSA and one could videoconference with peer officials if checking references needs to be done to that extent. I think peoples' records are pretty clear in some cases, like this case. We were dealing with someone with a pretty high profile and known resume.
I understand Duveneck School nearby me has had luxury tablets stolen (sorry, no time to look up the reference, but it was on this forum in past) and such luxury expenditures for small children offend me, at taxpayer expense, and especially when they are not properly safeguarded and are stolen! I pay incredibly high property taxes and believe they are disproportionately high compared to whatever boost I get (to some extent) on the value of my property.


1 person likes this
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow School
on Jan 23, 2015 at 7:53 pm

> Compared to districts with comparable academic achievements on
> the East Coast, we spend much less, even though the overall cost
> of living for our teachers is much higher.

Would be interesting to see the hard data on this.

The following link points to a web-site that has compiled a comparison of cost-of-living by state, expressed as an “index”:

Web Link

Cost of Living by State
STATE (Q2-2013) (Q3-2014)

CA 128.6 131.9
CT 133.8 145.9
NY 134.5 131.6

One of the really frustrating things about discussing education/finance is that we are talking about 50 state school systems, which have differing costs-of-living, differing retirement plans, differing testing/evaluation systems, and radically different financial reporting systems. Making any sense out of education finance can cause someone to scream out loud for seemingly no good reason to his neighbors.

We also have to remember that looking at a teacher’s salary is only looking at half the cookie—since it’s very likely that there are two earners in the family. One really needs to get better data—such as household income. Unfortunately, this is virtually impossible to come by from publicly sources.

The lack of transparency on the part of most public agencies when it comes to total-cost-to-employ and total-lifetime-earnings renders most of these discussions useless—since it’s clear from looking at pension payouts that most public sector employees will make at least twice in their retirement years via their pensions that they made while on the job.

So, we have to look at most public sector salaries in terms of a lifetime earnings number—which is generally not something that these agencies want to talk about, or make estimates about.

(Note—not certain how the COL “indexes” were calculated, so take with a grain of salt. However, most everyone knows how expensive it is to live in NY and CT, so those numbers some believable.)


Like this comment
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 23, 2015 at 8:15 pm

> Is there some way to associate the amount of the parcel tax
> to the academic achievement of the students?

The simple answer to this question is “NO”!

However, the more difficult question about the relationship between spending and academic performance has had a lot of review, with somewhat differing answers depending on who is doing the investigation. Organizations heavily dependent on government for funding (unions, Ed Schools, consulting orgs) often make claims that student performance is heavily tied to school spending. Studies done by, or funded by, organizations not sympathetic with ever increasing education spending will often come up with results that look for other reasons for academic success.

Of those studies that have looked at the role of the family in student success, it’s clear that families that have higher levels of education generally have children that perform well academically. Some studies attempt to link family income to student success, often without looking at the education levels of the parents, or the time the parents spend with their children nurturing their education.

The following is a look at API scores, and parent education, for a few local school districts—

Web Link

The paper links to a number of other papers, some of which look at Bay Area schools, and some which look at education spending in general.

Unfortunately, the kinds of data rarely seem to get to the level of the PAUSD school board when discussion of education, and education spending, are being considered.


6 people like this
Posted by Paly Mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 23, 2015 at 9:41 pm

The seniors have been paying over the national average in property taxes for decades. Some of them for 5 decades. Their taxes have helped build the schools to what they are today, so asking them to pay more now is really ridiculous.

Rather than increase the taxes on owner-occupied, primary residences, revise the tax structure on long-time commercial property holders to pay more taxes to the city. This includes the numerous landlords in this city who own multiple residences and rent them out to families with lots of kids in PAUSD. These landlords have owned their properties for a long time, and their assessed values must be really low.

I think we should allow only one Prop 13 residential property per person. Anything beyond that should be reassessed so that the landlord pays his share of tax to the schools and city.

We purchased our small tear-down home 8 years ago, and pay $24,000 a year in property taxes. We have only one child at Paly.


6 people like this
Posted by Enough!
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 23, 2015 at 10:30 pm

@ Crescent Park Dad

I understand very well the difference between bonds and parcel taxes. However, they both go to local schools and they are both tax money that comes out of our pockets. Maybe the school district needs to pick and choose what it wants. It cannot have it all. Given the totality of taxes we have paid for the school district, how much we have globally been taxed for the school district, I say: Stop! Enough! At this point, it does not matter what kind of tax it is, and what it is for.


Like this comment
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 23, 2015 at 10:55 pm

@Paly Mom - you can't seriously argue seniors are paying more than the national average in property tax on one hand, and then call for prop 13 reform in the next paragraph. Seniors, especially in places like Palo Alto, have reaped a huge benefit under prop 13. I'm happy for them, and want them to stay in their homes, but maybe don't complain about a small parcel tax when a repeal of prop 13 would also fund california schools generously, and much more painfully.

@anonymous - interviewing a superintendent isn't a luxury junket, and no offense to Aurora, but it isn't particularly a luxury destination. Hiring a superintendent without the due diligence of interviews is the kind of thing people in the private sector would mock a school board for doing. It is probably one of the few things the last school board got right. Would you hire a nanny without talking to previous employers? Do you want the school board to hire teachers without talking to the school the teacher worked at? There are about 1000 more wasteful things going in Palo Alto than this.


2 people like this
Posted by TheCorruptionInTheSystem
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 23, 2015 at 11:01 pm

You can see the corruption In the system by examining district behavior.

Every year they are adding to the reserves rather than spending . They don't really NEED. More than the current tax.

They ARE ASKING for as much as they can possibly get through polling different trial "stories"

They are polling for different inflation adders as well (even though the property tax base increases every year .

The district is asking for more because they can, not because they need.

They are willing to tell you whatever "story " you will believe to get the money.

This is deceitful and greedy. Why not tell us the truth? Why not ask for only what is needed. That is where the analysis should star: here is what we need.

Nowhere is honest description of Need to be found.

What remains is cynical greed and corruption.


4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 23, 2015 at 11:07 pm

I suppose it is fruitless to ask how much this survey/poll cost?


6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 23, 2015 at 11:53 pm

Crescent park dad - no funding is comingled??? HA! You couldn't be more wrong! The funding that is comingled is the funding to PAY the parcel tax - aka my paycheck. The school district likes to convenient say Oh No! This bucket of cash is for paying for our lavish building spree, but the bucket of money we're asking for now if for classroom luxuries. Guess what - both buckets are all coming from the same place, the sweat off my back. I don't have the luxury of different buckets to dip in to.

Well guess what - I'm done! They had to have that funding, they decided what they needed it for - so now they've blown it, Maybe they ought to consider canceling some of the wild building spree and give the tax payers a little breathing room before they hit us up again (oh woops probably way too late for that).

BTW is funding afterschool sports on their list??? NO, that's all coming out of our pockets and thats just fine and dandy with the school district. And its a whopper in annual personal checks, that really makes the lavish building at all the campuses Really chafe.


1 person likes this
Posted by Paly Mom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 24, 2015 at 4:48 am

The home prices, bonds, and taxes are already so high.

Wouldn't an increase affect new home buyers?

It is hard enough for our family as it is.
What about potential new buyers with children?


9 people like this
Posted by PAUSD Parent
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 24, 2015 at 8:07 am

I'm wondering too about the cost of the polling, and also the cost of the consultant who is working on this for the district, the cost in staff time, and the cost of a special election for this measure. Why do we "need" the more costly special election when there's still plenty of time to enact this tax through a regular election before the current parcel tax expires (more than a year from now)?

I suspect the reason for holding a special election, rather than wait for a regular election to roll around, is because the measure's proponents have calculated that the chances of winning are greater in a special election (fewer and more targeted people voting). That's fine, if it's part of the proponents' strategy, but at what further cost to us taxpayers? This information should be more transparent to those considering this measure. After all, we are the ones footing all these bills.

Also, until the district takes measures to curb its legal fees (and perhaps hiring a salaried inside counsel could help with that), I'm not confident the district is doing all it can to be a good steward of our tax money in focusing on what kids need, rather than on what adults need (or think they need).

I'm happy to support our youth, and have always voted "yes" for every bond and parcel tax in the past, but I'm having my doubts at this point about what the district's true "needs" are, and would appreciate more un-spun, transparent information.


Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 24, 2015 at 8:47 am

Maybe I should have prefaced my remarks with the seemingly safe statement of: "Please don't shoot the messenger."


2 people like this
Posted by xPA
a resident of another community
on Jan 24, 2015 at 9:25 am

I am surprised at the number of relatively large number of new homeowners in PA that are complaining about the parcel tax. Although it may seem like adding insult to injury, you should have known what you are getting into. Taxes are set at the absurdly low rate (absurd for a top school district) of 1%, plus all the special assessments (e.g., bonds), with growth of the assessed value at the lower of 2% or the rate of inflation. This is a shockingly low rate of funding compared to a top east coast school district such as Scarsdale, NY.
PAUSD does well with extremely little, a testament to the parents and some of the teachers (there really are a surprising large number of impossible to remove, but lousy teachers in the PAUSD).

The problem that sticks in my craw is the free riding by Palo Alto landlords that own properties with a low assessed value, and rent to families with school age kids. If apartment buildings were not bad enough, Prop 58 and Prop 193 created an ever growing number of homes that are rented out by the descendants of the original owners. I am happy to have left all this California nonsense behind me.


1 person likes this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 24, 2015 at 9:32 am

@ Mr. Recycle, if they stayed in Aurora that is one thing - I bet they stayed in downtown Chicago, which reporters love to go to and consider a plum assignment. Great city.
This is only one recent thing to evaluate, but I stand by my thought that this district is incredibly flush compared to other school districts and monies supplied by local property taxpayers are fully sufficient.


4 people like this
Posted by don't forget
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 24, 2015 at 10:24 am

Folks are forgetting about the state's recent decision to fund the $74 billion unfunded teacher pension liability.

The state legislators decided to fund it ASAP and to hand most of the bill to school districts and teachers. Web Link ("In revised budget, Gov. Brown details costly 30-year plan to fix teacher pensions...The bulk of it...would be the burden of school districts")

Pencil to napkin, estimated per year:

ADD: $2 million additional revenue from the proposed parcel tax that expires in 2021.

SUBTRACT: $12 million pension bill increases when fully phased-in (PAUSD: "Pension costs will increase by an average of $2 million a year over the next six
years.")

EQUALS: $10 million LESS the district will have for salaries and students.


1 person likes this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 24, 2015 at 11:39 am

The PAUSD parcel tax is only a portion of the County Tax Assessment - everyone who owns property is paying county property tax. Every one is also paying California State Tax which carves out a portion for education. The parcel tax is only one limited source of revenue for the schools. The major funding comes from the state.

It should be noted that there is a huge turnover in real estate at this time as the boomers are selling out and moving on. That means that the new home owner is now paying the stepped up rate so there is no lack of funding at this time. Look at the listings from the real estate people at your door - that is all new property tax at the current rates.

Wall Street journal today 01/21/15 - "Maine Proposal Would Tax Property of Big Nonprofits". Nonprofits are exempt from property taxes - that is colleges, hospitals, large charities, schools, etc. We can see in this area we have a growing number of non-profits who are not supporting the overall city, county, and state budgets. We are surrounded by such entities who pride themselves on being a non-profit organization.

Time for Governor Brown to sharpen his pen since the major topic of the table these days is the state budget.


3 people like this
Posted by a fair presentation
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 24, 2015 at 12:02 pm

@don't forget

Your napkin calculation spreads exactly the kind of selective information that the school board has been doing and threatens to undermine the chances for this tax. Property tax revenues are increasing at a rate that more than makes up for the declines in other sources, including the parcel tax. And those increases compound each year. Failing to publicize and show these steady increases in our major source of revenue is pure and simple deception.

I support the tax because I would love to see much more available for the schools, but only if I see more honesty from its advocates and the district. You should ask for no less.


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Posted by don't forget
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 24, 2015 at 12:23 pm

I didn't say the pension part was the entire picture, just a part of it and something only one poster mentioned and somewhat obliquely.

Adding the $2 million parcel tax increase to this year's property tax growth and then subtracting the phased-in annual $12 million pension pass through pretty much gets you to $0 growth pretty quickly.


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Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 24, 2015 at 1:47 pm

The teacher pension plan is not part of the county parcel tax. It is part of the state income tax that is managing the government employee pensions plan at the state level. The Teacher's Union at the state level gets involved in that negotiation. The parcel tax is suppose to cover city extras for the school system to supplement other funding shortfalls. Please do not confuse the pension plan with the parcel tax - 2 different animals.


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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 24, 2015 at 1:56 pm

> teacher pension plan is not part of the county parcel tax

I'm confused. What "country parcel tax" are you talking about?


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Posted by Sarcastic
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 24, 2015 at 3:19 pm

[Post removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by concerned parent
a resident of Ventura
on Jan 24, 2015 at 3:20 pm

First of all, it is important to know that this editorial is written by Bill Johnson who has historically written pieces which criticise the School Board and Superintendent. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, and Mr. Johnson is fortunate enough to have the Palo Alto Weekly to spread his personal opinions. He researches, attends board meetings and the like. He is certainly well informed and does his research to form his own OPINION.

With that out of the way I'd like to caution people who are declaring that PAUSD should be spending this supposed "surplus". Can you imagine the articles that would be published about PAUSD if we have some kind of financial crisis (quite possible with the volatility in world markets), and PAUSD did NOT have a surplus to fall back on? That would be irresponsible. We live in an extremely expensive place, and we need to have a heft "reserve" or we would truly be playing with fire. I'm proud of the way Cathy Mack is conservative with OUR tax dollars.

Its easy to say that you would do things differently, that our schools are top ranked and so we shouldn't have to pay a parcel tax to "improve them". Give me a break...I challenge each of you "anti-parcel tax" folks to spend a day in a 3rd grade classroom and see what it takes to teach writing to a class of 25 kids, who likely are at 5 different levels of capability. We need resources people. The common core demands a TON of our kids. Our kids can't do that without the right supports. We need aides, we need strong teachers who won't leave because they can't afford to stay, we need support for our kids who AREN'T the ultra high achievers,we need to narrow the achievement gap. Like it or not we are in a community where the parents demand excellence. Excellence does not come for free.

Also, I know that taxes pile up and nobody likes to pay taxes. This is a tax that is keeping our town desirable and interesting. $2 a day people. That is what we are talking about here.

Make up your own mind but think about the big picture please.


3 people like this
Posted by angry as hell
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 24, 2015 at 3:28 pm

Until the board makes the district address teen suicide, no more money. Get your priorities right. There is going to be a stampede of people out of Gunn, not because it's poorly funded, but because you have not set the right priorities. Ken Dauber, this is why you were elected. Do your job. Don't be another potted plant.


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Posted by mental health?
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 24, 2015 at 3:44 pm

Angry as hell,
I echo your sentiments. Believe me. I am RIGHT THERE WITH YOU. But we NEED the money to have RESOURCES to make a change that will actually help. We need excellent social emotional foundations and clearly the district has a lot of work to do, and there are people on this, working hard to help with tragedies we are seeing. But we need to pass the parcel tax to have money to HELP. Lets see...maybe Max McGee will lay out a play for this and the potential increase will be used for mental health.


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Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 24, 2015 at 4:09 pm

[Post removed due to numerous factual inaccuracies.]


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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 24, 2015 at 4:23 pm

> there is a PAUSD element of the county tax bill

Yes, I understand.

However, the County is both the tax collection agent and a taxing government agency at the same time. Since public education funding in CA is incredibly convoluted, I'd like to suggest that we use the most precise terminology that we can when talking about school taxes and revenue streams. Would prefer that we call this parcel tax the PAUSD parcel tax. Oh, and there can be more than one parcel tax imposed at a time by a given agency--so it's wouldn't hurt to actually identify the tax you are talking about by Agency/Tax Id/Year.

Sorry, but it's clear from some of the comments that not everyone is on the same page here.


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Posted by don't forget
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 24, 2015 at 4:38 pm

Resident 1,

"The pension for teacher's comes out of the state wide fund"

Yes, but the fund is money that comes from the state, teachers' pay, and districts' bank accounts.

$74 billion MORE will be flowing into the California teacher pension fund to make it solvent on top of what is normally contributed each year. And California just shifted who is contributing what: state (from about 3% to 6% of each teacher's pay), teachers (from 8% to 10%) and school districts (from 8% to 19%).

Pencil to napkin, that means, when in full swing, thousands more out of each teacher's take home pay and a new $9 million dollar bill PAUSD will be paying each year.


1 person likes this
Posted by Barron Park dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 24, 2015 at 4:48 pm

Marie wrote: "PAUSD's funding is high only in comparison to other CA districts. Compared to districts with comparable academic achievements on the East Coast, we spend much less, even though the overall cost of living for our teachers is much higher."

I would like to see some hard data on this. It doesn't feel true.


5 people like this
Posted by Ashamed long-term Palo Alto resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 24, 2015 at 5:00 pm

I am frankly ashamed of what I am hearing from some of my fellow palo altans. Are we really debating an $8-10 increase per month to support our schools, our children/youth, and our property values? If you have ever had a child or grandchild in the palo alto schools, if you are a homeowner who has seen great increases in your property values, or if you are a renter or senior (neither of whom has to pay this tax), how can you possibly oppose this?!

The Weekly editorial asks some good questions, as it should. And the school board and Dr. McGee obviously need to address the concerns; however, I am sure that the Weekly will come around and support this parcel tax as it historically has because Bill Johnson knows that it has been a vital funding source for our schools for 14 years now and a failure would be a devastating blow.

We should be proud and appreciative of our schools which consistently rank in the top in the State. Most of you probably moved here because the public schools are on par with the private schools, which frankly is an amazing accomplishment considering that PAUSD has roughly $14,000 per student/yr compared to the average private school which has $35,000 per student.

Please, folks, count your blessings & be careful what you wish for. Does this parcel tax not pass, we will be looking at class sizes the same as Redwood City and many other neighboring cities where Kinder classes have 30 students in each. And trust me, this will end up costing all of us a lot more than 2 Lattes a month in depreciation to our property values.


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Posted by angry as hell
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 24, 2015 at 5:15 pm

@mental health
There is no plan believe me. [Portion removed.]

Max is not Jesus. Everyone loves to say max will fix it. Max is going to somehow fix it all. Max does not have a magic wand. He is not dumbledore. [Portion removed.]


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Posted by xPA
a resident of another community
on Jan 24, 2015 at 5:26 pm


Someone asked for hard data on spending.
PAUSD spending is quite low in comparison, especially given the need to pay people a living wage in Bay area.


Web Link

Web Link


Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 24, 2015 at 5:44 pm

@Ashamed
I agree with most of your points. However, I believe it's an exaggeration to claim that the parcel tax results in the difference in class sizes between PAUSD and Ravenswood. It's these types of distortions and hyperbole that the Weekly and others are criticizing. Let's have an open and honest discussion of the district's finances. I think that the district can then make a compelling case to the Weekly and the community for the tax.


4 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 24, 2015 at 6:50 pm

Throwing money at people with no accountability as to how it is being used does not make sense. There is a huge turnover in houses at this time which is stepping up the tax base for the city, county, and state.
We have brought in new people to manage the school system and we all need to be aware of what they are doing now and how they plan on proceeding. The PAUSD county tax is only one of the funding sources for the school system. [Portion removed due to factual inaccuracies.]

I think we all need to understand the whole breakdown of the funding pools so that we can make good decisions on how to proceed. I would hate to see some of the funds going into a general fund site that has no accountability as to how it is being used. [Portion removed.]


3 people like this
Posted by Senior
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 24, 2015 at 8:42 pm


A lot of senior citizens are not millionaires and couldn't possibly afford to buy their own house at today's prices. Many have lived here for many decades and many don't have big incomes. Property taxes are a big deal. The school property tax is a flat rate, and it is the same no matter if it is for a big multimillion McMansion or a small older tract house. It is unfair to have the tax be a flat rate for everyone, and it should be based on the value of the property. It is entirely fair to give seniors the option to opt out of something they can't afford. The wealthy parents with children in the schools should pay a larger share, as they are getting the largest benefit.


7 people like this
Posted by Enough!
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 24, 2015 at 11:08 pm

@ Ashamed long term resident

I, too, am a long term resident, and I remember the time, not so long ago, when elementary classes had 28 students each. And guess what? Palo Alto schools were just as good then as now, if not better. There were more parents volunteering in the classroom at the time maybe, but it worked. I put in many hours volunteering myself at the time, as well as more recently. Actually, I still volunteer in PAUSD even though my children have long graduated from our high schools.

To present an increase in the number of students per class as a dire option is actually fear-mongering. Smaller class sizes has much less to do with student success than it does with teacher comfort.

For my family, it is not trivial to have these tax increases. We are not seniors yet and cannot opt out of them. At the same time, my spouse is a federal worker who has not seen a real hike in years (unlike local government and school employees BTW). We cannot afford all these taxes. It makes a real difference to us. And we feel the money is squandered in this district.


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Posted by Dan
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 25, 2015 at 12:01 am

Really makes me laugh when people who are paying a very small tax relative to many others, complain about "fairness" in the tax system. Its not "fair" for everyone who lives in the same community to pay the same amount, but its fair for the person living across the street in a similar house to pay 5-10x larger tax? Life isn't fair, and neither will taxes ever be. I don't see why they need a 20% increase in the base tax when they already have 2% increase per year + base property taxes have also been going up every time a 2mil+ house turns over and they have a recent big bond for facilities improvement. There seems to be some budgeting problem if you were off by 20% ~ 5 years ago. btw ... its mostly the family commitment to education that makes the difference, not the school funding.


5 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 25, 2015 at 12:33 am

Okay I just dug out my PAUSD sixth grade class photo (elementary was K-6 in 1965) and counted 33 students. 17 girls, 16 boys. One teacher. Happy memories. Fifth grade was also 33 students, one teacher. I count 28 children in my 1959 kindergarten class photo.


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 25, 2015 at 6:32 am

@ musical....look at the bright side...you're 5 years away from opting out of the parcel tax!

;-)


7 people like this
Posted by who doesnt pay
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 25, 2015 at 12:51 pm

Much is made of seniors being exempt. But the big local non-profits who are rich and benefit from our schools but don't pay, include
Stanford University and Hospitals
Chamber of Commerce
PAHousing Corp
who else?


9 people like this
Posted by No vote
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 25, 2015 at 6:35 pm

PAUSD doesn't need the increase and I also won't be voting for renewal. The parcel tax money is spent with even less accountability than the PiE money. With the PiE money, the school has to be able to sell it every year so PiE makes sure that each school's message connects with their community. Parcel tax, not so much, but both monies combine to take pressure off the general fund, which is needed to pay the superintendent, the other administrators, and the teachers. That's where the money goes. The teachers's union will phone banking side by side with management to get this tax passed because it is in their financial interest. Students and achievement is not driving it.


5 people like this
Posted by History Buff
a resident of another community
on Jan 25, 2015 at 8:19 pm

> “it would have irresponsible to hire a superintendent without going to see him at work, and interview his peers and subordinates.”

I’ve hired lots of people from all over the US and never felt the need to go out to their work site to get references. That’s what the phone, email, Skype are for.

What's irresponsible is sending even one person to Illinois to check out the new superintendent.

Yes, bonds and parcel taxes pay for different things, but the Paly theatre and media center and the Gunn aquatic center will require extra staff and maintenance.


3 people like this
Posted by Phil
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 25, 2015 at 8:21 pm

I'll pay it.


5 people like this
Posted by Crescent park mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 25, 2015 at 8:32 pm

It is surprising to see so many people against a very modest raise in the parcel tax. Please remember that the parcel tax keeps our class sizes lower than in most surrounding cities. The low class sizes probably have at leather some effect on our property vales.

Further, due to prop 13 - Californians are number 34 in the nation for percentage of property tax that we pay. So claiming we are "overtaxed" is simply inaccurate. I would bet that the raise in the parcel tax is not a significant fraction of anyone's home value.

Please look at the big picture when you vote. Is it worth this additional amount to jeopardize the value of your home? Personally, I think it is not.


7 people like this
Posted by Gunn Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 25, 2015 at 8:54 pm

No Parcel Tax!

No Parcel Tax without change! No more waiting for Gunn to implement TA and a block bell schedule. No more. Our community has had it with delay, no excuses, no politics. Now. Your property values will not increase on the backs of our teens. We have the answers. Our children in South Palo Alto deserve the bell schedule and counseling resources of the children north of Oregon Expressway. Implement the Gunn Advisory Council plan now! No parcel tax without change. Let Camille, Melissa, Ken, Heidi and Terri know that you are not giving them one more dollar of your hard earned money without change. No more spending money on lawyers fees and communications managers. Every dollar on the kids. No more delay and denial. Our children are hurting, hurting themselves, and we have the answers. Smaller schools, more counseling, implement the homework committee plan,

Grandparents - I know you want this for your grandchildren. You are afraid when you read the headlines. We have the answers. No more blame the kids. No more blame the parents. Your dollars make a difference. Hold the district accountable. Call, write, show up at Board meetings. Counseling, block scheduling and adherence to the homework guidelines. We can do this and it WILL make a difference!


3 people like this
Posted by strings
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 25, 2015 at 9:01 pm

Why not save the money by getting rid of a few people like Charles Young? All he does is produce documents showing that he's overwhelmed by whatever is on his plate at the moment and make life hard for families of the most vulnerable students.

I'll vote for a parcel tax if we fire Charles Young, Brenda Carrillo, and Holly Wade. Did I miss anyone?


5 people like this
Posted by No vote
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 25, 2015 at 10:04 pm

I agree with the release of Charles Young, Brenda Carrillo, and Holly Wade. The effect of their work has been disastrous in many respects, which may be why Max McGee immediately took over supervision of Wade from Young when he arrived, taking care of two matters with one stone, so to speak. Comments in these forums about Young, in particular, have met with deletion, which has been strange. Fortunately, this post is based on facts, so it may be safe.

I also got a chuckle about preserving home values by voting for the tax. That's the same doom and gloom Kevin Skelly supporters used, but it may be that satisfaction in the superintendent's office is higher now. If our home values go down because we refuse to raise our tax in May, or renew later, the school board would be more than happy to put it on the next ballot to magically make our values spike up again, and we would be happy to vote for it again, too. In the meantime, our latest student suicide shows us that our district will at some point have to change strategy. It's just not working. One student suicide is too many for a district, but the total from 2009, and just at Gunn, tells us that the parcel tax is not needed right now. We don't need to spend more money on additional trainings, personnel, or anything else, we need to admit the painfully obvious priority of keeping all our students alive and thriving. Everything else is a lower priority.


1 person likes this
Posted by Also a resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jan 26, 2015 at 11:16 am

If this parcel tax is on the voting list in May, I think this parcel tax should be only voted by the people will be affected by it. Senior citizens or people who only rent in Palo Alto should NOT vote because you don't pay for it. Exclude these two group of people and let's see how it goes. If it still pass, I will pay for it, but I just don't think it is fair to allow these people who is not paying for this parcel tax to vote for it. Sure, they will all vote yes, as it not their money.


3 people like this
Posted by Also a resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jan 26, 2015 at 11:26 am

I remember years ago when this parcel tax first came out, senior citizen was not exempted, it did not pass at all. Then PAUSD changed it to add senior citizen can be opted out, vote again, it passed :-(, go figure out why. I am not agaist any senior citizen who opted out this parcel tax as many only have fixed income, but I don't think it is fair to allow them to vote for it. We, the people who will pay for it, should decide our OWN fate, not dictated by others...


5 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 26, 2015 at 1:44 pm

I am tired of seeing comments about seniors. Guess what - when our children were in school we coached Little League and Soccer, we participated in school activities to support our children's classes - field trips, etc.
At this time we have made all of the gains and errors for setting up the after-school sports leagues.

Not our call when the school board sold some grammar schools and put two story homes on those properties to make more money. Always some angle going to get more money.

For the amount of time donated to the school system to support their activities we have help create the environment that so many people buy homes here for.

So current parents - what are you doing to contribute to the overall environment - coaching? Organizing events? Helping in the classroom?
Or just griping?


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Posted by xPA
a resident of another community
on Jan 26, 2015 at 2:56 pm

Calm down resident1.
No one thinks ill of seniors who need to opt out of the parcel tax.
However you are extremely misinformed about the large commitment of time and money many parents make in the classroom and the in supporting athletics.
This commitment is even harder for 2 income families. For example, look at school trips, buses are long gone and every parent needs a TB test and extra insurance. You might want to investigate the "voluntary" contributions required for participating in extraciricular activities.
I suggest you visit the schools.
PAUSD schools definitely need more funding. Labor is very expensive in the Bay Area. I wonder how housing costs affect the price of labor in the area? I wonder what contributes to the low housing turnover? Let me think about it





6 people like this
Posted by crescent park mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 26, 2015 at 7:29 pm

I agree that some people in high positions need to go. It seems from everything I have seen that the new superintendent is a huge improvement so hopefully some change will happen in many ways!!

I also agree that the suicides should be a top priority but I don't see how the end of the parcel tax would help. The parcel tax directly funds extra teachers. Obviously we need these teachers and even more support to help the students. I also don't understand why Gunn's system has not changed.

Instead of getting riled up over a truly modest increase in a parcel tax - why don't you responders go to Board meetings and demand change around the very important issues that have been raised here. Maybe a new editorial should be written including the true issued at stake in PAUSD.


4 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 26, 2015 at 8:08 pm

Sorry for hijacking this thread, but I hope that as many people as possible will attend the PAUSD board meeting on Tuesday evening and speak up at Open Forum to get PAUSD to immediately make changes in light of the suicides and attempted suicides in our high schools.


4 people like this
Posted by Sunshine
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 26, 2015 at 9:00 pm

I support our schools. They are good, but could be better. However, I am opposed to the parcel tax.
I oppose the parcel tax because it is a flat tax per parcel. It is not based on the value or size of the property. This is a most unfair tax. I must pay the same amount on my minimum size lot and small older home as someone who has a 7-8 n bedroom home on half an acre or more.
Any tax should be based on the size and value of the property. It should not be the same tax for all owners and all size properties.


10 people like this
Posted by Zero Population Growth
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 26, 2015 at 9:06 pm

How about taxing people on the number of kids they have? Also, tax all churches that oppose birth control.


15 people like this
Posted by No vote
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2015 at 10:00 pm

Increasing and renewing the parcel tax in 2010 did so little to stop our Gunn students from committing suicide. The extra money may or may not have helped fund numerous half-measures since 2010, and we don't need extra staff, new equipment, more surveys, one more special administrator, or even a paid public relations employee to cut out newspaper articles to determine what I have just written is a win or a loss. We are in a repeat of the 2009-12 time period because we did not want to admit that we have a problem. One suicide this school year was one too many, and to watch a debate about parcel size, senior exemption, or the extra pennies per student another district spends is surreal as our youth continue to seek suicide. I'm am voting no on the parcel tax. This district doesn't need money to fix this, it needs leadership, but it looks like we will be getting another circus of half-measures just like we had 2009-12. There would be no doom or gloom if we took away the parcel tax completely.mthenschool board would freak out, Cathy Mak would use the same slides to show that we're in danger, and PiE would help lobby in the background with their undue influence, but nothing speaks louder about priorities than a student suicide, except multiple student suicides such as we had a few years ago, and the ones we are having now. Things would not get worse without the parcel tax, they already are worse.


3 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 26, 2015 at 10:01 pm

I'm seeing tons of postings on the teen sucides.

These events really break my heart, and I feel so sorry for family and friends of these tragedies.

I am also seeing a lot of posts about the pressure from school, and changes in schools.

Some of them resonate with me. I went to PALY way back when there was really not a lot of pressure, at least I never felt it much, took it seriously or gave into it. It makes me think that I am so glad I am not a young man in today's world, because I am not sure at all that I would not have had a much harder time in our contemporary environment.

What I am not seeing though is a reasoned approach to what is causing these events. Are there commonalities between these kids who are deciding to leave us, and how many other marginal kids are there that may not decide to act out to the final degree, and is anyone looking at or studying what or why is bringing this about?

How do we know these are not family, community, personal, bullying or other problems, and is it too hard for a whole school system to look at these personal and family issues and draw conclusions and make hypotheses about what can be improved?

I hope I am using terminology that is not a problem to express this idea, I am just concerned that a lot of though, energy and words are going into this, a lot of political statements and criticisms are being made about specific people in specific jobs and I just wonder if it is fair or productive?


1 person likes this
Posted by paloaltoparent
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 26, 2015 at 10:11 pm

paloaltoparent is a registered user.

No one wants to pay increased taxes, but the parcel tax needs to be supported. Current parcel taxes brings in $12M+ and pays for some 66 teachers district-wide. It is great that property taxes to the schools increased by some $8M this year over year, but we also have to start making up for $2M of income we won't be getting from the Cubberley lease (fortunately those $$ will stay in Cubberley, but it won't help us in the next 5 years). We also will have to pay $2M/year more into the pension fund. Sorry not to have a source (I'll check around), but I've read that the first 2% to 3% of property tax increases go to pay for cost of living adjustments. With our modestly but consistently growing enrollment, our property tax increase is more or less accounted for.

Palo Alto is clearly a district that needs to take responsibility for funding itself. The state funding direction is clear and declining. We need to increase funding to get beyond status quo. We need to stay ahead by offering more. Superintendent McGee has shown focus on the right priorities and I trust him to implement social/emotional and academic programs that will produce results. I have not been a fan of all our spending choices here in the District, but I'm also not prepared to vote down $12M+ in school funding at the price of a couple of chai lattes a month.


1 person likes this
Posted by Supporting this tax
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 26, 2015 at 10:38 pm

You can count on my vote to support this parcel tax. We moved here for the schools -- we can not say enough about the education our children are getting at Duveneck, Jordan, Paly. This parcel tax is still in its infancy....more information will surely emerge and answer questions for those who are worried or critical about he increase.


1 person likes this
Posted by For it
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 26, 2015 at 10:39 pm

I hope this newspaper endorses the parcel tax in future publications. It is so cavalier of this paper to think it might be in the best interest of our STUDENTS to give negative press on an issue so important. I read that around 60 teachers in PAUSD (and a higher % of them will come from elementary) will be fired right away if the tax fails. Can you imagine that? Its fine to ask for more information on how the increase will be used but using the paper to prematurely bash it is so dangerous. Some people will go to the polls having read only this article and will vote no. Shame on you Weekly for not being more patient and getting the facts before blasting this critical parcel tax in your paper. Your editors know that the board is working on a clear presentation about how the dollars will be spent. You purposely jumped the gun in order to create confusion and to try and scare the district into doing what the owner of your paper personally wants. I am losing respect for this paper.


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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 26, 2015 at 11:35 pm

What? If this tax election in May fails, the way I read it we will still have a 2% higher parcel tax for next fiscal year. Am I wrong? Why would 60 teachers be fired immediately? Looks like an easier chance to pass a tax in May of 2016, when it would actually be needed. Probably could even pass a higher dollar amount.


1 person likes this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 26, 2015 at 11:42 pm

One person above made a comment about the low turnover of homes. Not true = homes are turning over at a very high rate - and when they do the property value of the property increases to the current sales value of the home. Recognize that all homes are Proposition 13 - so if you buy in at the current rate then you also will benefit from Proposition 13 as you will have established the baseline for your home. Each home baseline is at the most current sale price.

Kudos to the PACC tonight on analysis of property design and value - yes they are truly data driven. I am impressed beyond belief. So we need the same type of data for the school system to understand their funding pools and how those funding pools are used. Are they managing so those in the classroom are getting what they need to do their jobs - or is that money getting spent at some other level of activity. There is a very strong teacher's union - how do they fit into the funding schemes? We need the data published so we can make informed decisions.



2 people like this
Posted by Also a resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jan 26, 2015 at 11:45 pm

We should support the community we live, but parcel tax is just an unfair tax. It taxes only part of citizens in this community. As said in another post above, one little condo vs a huge mansion vs a 20 unit apartment complex pays the same ONE parcel tax. Many people rent home/apt in Palo Alto for kid education, but these families pays nothing...and yes, they will vote YES for any parcel tax. Can we find a more fair way to generate money for school, like mandatory $300 per student per school year if you want to send your kid to PAUSD? I know there is a voluntary donation program, but 40-50% families never donate although they live in a big house, does not seem "poor". Please find a fair way to generate money. An unfair parcel tax only makes some people who actually willing to support school to vote NO now.


10 people like this
Posted by No vote
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2015 at 11:58 pm

The sky is falling! Did you folks just read that? 60 fewer teachers! No, another anonymous poster says 66! Are those part-time or full-time? Remember, we were warned by the same folks in 2012 that we had to re-elect the same board that was woefully underperforming and that we should not even had thought of having an expectation of a mature superintendent. The district survived just fine.The parcel tax can many should go away, at least for this election. I love that the Weekly is being blamed for questioning the parcel tax. They are not that influential.


1 person likes this
Posted by Coming Together
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 27, 2015 at 7:53 am

What I find encouraging w/regards to this parcel tax is that supporters of it have not always been in the same "camp". We have disagreed on school board candidates and a variety of issues and yet on THIS issue we know that it's right for our students and for our school district and we are working side by side on getting it passed. We can come together and see that this tax, and the benefits of the increase, outweigh any negativity or cynicism that is being brought by distractors. Let's not get discouraged. Let's move forward with information that can shed light on not just what we will lose if this doesn't pass but of all the wonderful things that await for our students WHEN it passes.


2 people like this
Posted by Mother of 4
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 27, 2015 at 8:40 am

This increase is critical to maintaining and expanding the education and services our children receive in PAUSD. Voters need to fully understand the many layers involved with public school funding and how property tax variances can immediately impact the day to day life of a student. This is not the time to cry foul on district transparency or past mistakes...my children do not deserve to be punished by the past. The future is at stake here! The future of our children and the future of our cities reputation. Folks, property value is tied directly to public school rankings = That's a FACT!


2 people like this
Posted by Be Reasonable
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 27, 2015 at 9:30 am

Our schools are not awash in funds - but PAUSD provides an extraordinary level of teaching and programs. They do this with far less dollars than comparable districts in other States receive. We ask a lot of our schools and without a renewal of the parcel tax to start our class sizes will grow from 23 to 27. With 27 squirming third graders our classrooms will be a challenging place to learn.

Families and businesses come here for the schools and not everyone brings more dollars to the district. PAUSD's enrollment grew 1,100 students in the past 5 years. While PAUSD's revenues grew they did not keep pace with the CPI and we are thus trying to do more with less. Parcel tax revenue now exceeds state funding not because of the increases in the Parcel Tax but because State funding has declined to about 7% of the District budget. The PT is the only source of funding that is consistent, controllable and available for use in our schools.

At the end of the day do we want to send the message to our teachers and community that we do not place the highest value on education of our children? It seem silly to limp along when we can do more for our children.


2 people like this
Posted by Duveneck and Paly Dad
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 27, 2015 at 10:45 am

I support this parcel tax, and reading through the comments I find it hard to believe that people whose home values have benefited from both Prop 13 and the local school district would begrudge the schools fewer than one hundred dollars a month.

If you have issues with PAUSD or the way it is allocating money there are plenty of ways to get involved with that, including the recent school board elections.

Withdrawing money and support for the schools seems a lot like cutting off your nose to spite your face.

If you have really hardened that much against the community and its kids perhaps its time to "cash out" and flee to the foothills or the Midwest.


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 27, 2015 at 10:48 am

As many of you know, PAUSD is a "basic aid" school district. In other words, the majority of operating funds comes from local property taxes, not from State education funds.

I admit that I don't know the exact numbers, but I would guess that the bulk of the PAUSD budget is based upon property value/taxes already. The parcel tax (at least to me) is a fixed fee (I know, it goes up each year) that all property owners put in ... and we all receive equal benefits from our public schools - whether you have child in the system or not. Our *society*, especially on a local level here in Palo Alto, benefits from a great education. Those wonderful benefits are not doled out on a property value basis...we all benefit no matter what size home you live in.


1 person likes this
Posted by Also a resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jan 27, 2015 at 11:30 am

No one is totally against giving money to support local school, however, please do a much fair way as the current parcel tax is unfair. Sure, home owners need to pay for local school, but also those families who move to Palo Alto solely for their kid's education in PAUSD. Just because they do not own a house in Palo Alto, it should NOT grant them a totally free education here, while other home owners support them. Many of these families own home in other town but have a 2nd rental home/room here just to have a address for school. How do we address this? Should they also share the burdens of funding of PAUSD? Please have a fair way to collect funding!!! Without changing to a more fairness way, you will lose many voters who would say yes otherwise.


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Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 27, 2015 at 11:34 am

Property Taxes are paid to the county of Santa Clara. They use a mystery formula to allocate those taxes - some of which shows up on your tax bill. The PAUSD parcel tax is specific to PA - but how much are you actually getting and how is it used.

Last nigh the new PACC members raised the bar on disclosure of data. We need to know how much the school system actually gets, how much the union gets, how much does the county retain for administering the property tax operation, etc.

Every one is expressing opinions on individual perceptions of what is going on but we do not have the actual data.

We should expect the school board to break down the budget by category so we have facts.


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 27, 2015 at 11:35 am

Those owning a second home in PA are paying both property tax and parcel tax...and they are paying property tax on their other house - which PAUSD receives a very small portion as well What is unfair?


1 person likes this
Posted by Also a resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jan 27, 2015 at 11:41 am

Renter, not home owner. Some only rent a room for a PA address :-(

Collecting fund for each student who attend PAUSD!


3 people like this
Posted by rssident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 27, 2015 at 11:53 am

The SF Chronicle reported that many people in SF have to buy a garage space for their car which is separate from their home. Those people are getting two property tax bills. Property tax is a very convoluted operation no matter where you go.

I am sure that Santa Clara County has it's hands full with all of the building that is going on within the county - including new schools or refurbishment of older schools. The amount of time and people required to think through and reallocate the county resources is probably happening faster then they can handle.

Time to get Cubberly spun up as a school - it was a good high school. All of the discussion of classroom size and travel across Alma could be alleviated to a great degree and we have the student count to justify reinstatement of the school. It needs to happen - the faster the better.


3 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 27, 2015 at 4:19 pm

>> Crescent Park Dad
>> Those wonderful benefits are not doled out on a property value basis...we all benefit no matter what size home you live in.

Hardly, that statement is distorted on the face of it. Constraining our scope of analysis for a second to homeowners, the more property values go up and the more Palo Alto becomes desired - those "wonderful benefits" as you call them are not equally distributed in the least. So why should they be equally taxed?

If property values go up 10%, then someone with a 10 million dollar home benefits ten times more than someone with a million dollar home ... but in this parcel tax the payment is equal ... this as I called it earlier, it is regressive -that is the person making ten times more pays 10 times less than they should have.

There is no excuse for the regressively for this tax, especially since, and this is an estimate that, in general, people with ten times the income have more children.


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Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 27, 2015 at 4:50 pm

Does anybody have current data regarding how much the PAUSD is spending on high school athletic programs:coaches salaries and benefits, facility maintenance, etc?


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 27, 2015 at 5:44 pm

I don't know the numbers but can give you some insight...

First, please don't forget that the fields, gym, pools, etc. are used by all of the student population during the school day - they are not for the exclusive use of sports teams. Therefore the costs to run any HS athletic complex goes beyond any single sports team's use. PAUSD requires two years of PE at the HS level.

The fields and gyms are rented out to city programs, club programs (e.g., PASA swimming), leagues, etc. The city provides field maintenance in exchange for field use. I know that at Paly the pool rentals are approx. $80-100/hour and the pool is rented out to PASA and local water polo clubs year-round. During the summer the Paly pool is rented out all day, every weekday and on most weekends. In between water polo and swim seasons, the pool is rented out to local clubs for 2-4 hours each evening and then on weekends for competitions. The football field is rented out to the local Pop Warner programs. The field is also rented out to local fitness (boot camp) programs. Baseball is rented out to the various leagues. The soccer and lacrosse fields are rented out to the local clubs for practice and competitions. The tennis courts are rented out to a tennis instruction camp all summer. Basketball camps at the gyms. Also note that both the Gunn and Paly football fields and the Paly pool were all donated.

Sports coaches are not full-time employees (contractors) - they do not receive benefits. (They do have to pass background checks). Of course, if a PE or academic teacher is also a coach, then they have benefits through that channel. It is fair to say that the majority of Paly coaches are not Paly teachers/staff. For example, none of the water polo coaches or swimming coaches (both genders and both levels) are Paly teachers/staff. I think the same can be said for many sports - volleyball, baseball, soccer, lacrosse... Only 2 of the 8 Paly football coaches work at Paly/PAUSD.

I know that one aquatics team receives $3500 for the entire coaching staff. That's usually 3-4 people. That comes out to less than $5/hour when you add up practice time, prep time, travel to events and time spent at events.

Paly families are asked to "donate" $150 per season. Discounts are given to families with multiple siblings. There is also a "scholarship" program for the families that can't afford the $150. The sports boosters also raise a lot of money to pay for the sports through game concessions, Stanford football parking, the tree lot and the golf tournament. The sports boosters essentially raise the money to pay for uniforms, equipment, officials, transportation, etc. Using water polo as an example (again), the two boys' teams bring in approximately $6000 in participation fees. Coaches' stipends are $3500...leaving $2500 to cover other team costs, with the boosters covering the rest (if necessary).

Sorry for rambling - but thought I'd try to answer the question ASAP.


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Posted by Optimistic
a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 9, 2015 at 1:46 pm

There is a lot of talk here on regressive verse progressive taxes. Why not use-based? Have those who use the schools pay extras like parcel taxes by the number of kids they put in the system. Also, PAUSD teachers who are allowed to bring kids from out of district into PAUSD at no cost to them could maybe chip in a little bit too. So my type of parcel tax is scaled to the number of baby parcels the stork delivers to your house. :)

My point is that with all of the "donation" requests from the school (AKA guilt-driven fees), PIE donations, parcel taxes, and so on, we're creeping up to simply paying tuition for public schools which - incidentally - if you dig into it a bit are not as great as the realtors want their clients to think. Their apparent performance is propped up by relatively well-educated and well-off families, lots of private resources like tutors and summer courses, and, of course, a ton of pressure on the kids.

I believe what we need here are vouchers so those of us wanting to opt-out can get our money back (>70% of PAUSD funds, or about $10,300 per student, comes from local property tax)! Good luck with that concept, right?

Incidentally, after being away for a few years in government service and paying tax on our empty Palo Alto house, we jokingly calculated that we put a few kids through high school while we payed tax in another state too.


2 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 9, 2015 at 3:16 pm

As mentioned here and in other threads. California state law restricts all school districts to raising additional tax revenues via the parcel tax. They cannot add a "use tax", "progressive" tax, income tax, etc. ...it is against the law.

Parcel taxes/bonds are the only option allowed. Period. End of story.

BTW - I find that the students and their families do pay additional "use fees" when they arrive every fall...they are asked to "donate" to various programs - library, PTA, PIE, music, etc. Families/individuals not enrolled in a PAUSD school do not receive these requests.

I don't care what you vote or why you vote. But at least be informed on the basics here. It's parcel tax or no tax.


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Posted by Optimistic
a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 10, 2015 at 9:21 am

Of course we're saddled by the "basics" of CA law. That's exactly the point. We need to change the laws to make things more sensible!


2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 10, 2015 at 9:34 am

Not sure how it would be made completely fair. My elderly neighbor lives in a large house that she raised her children in. Her one person home is probably worth more than most of the others on this (part of) the street. She probably pays the least amount of property tax too. Would you really want her to pay more on her fixed income than the smaller houses filled with children that pay much higher property taxes and the families are struggling to pay their mortgages and bills? Just because her home appears to be worth more than the smaller houses, would it be fair for her to pay more? And what about another home where the owner is living in a nursing home paid for by the income of her home rental? Should that home pay less than a similar home next door owned by a similar sized family where the only difference is that one is rented and the other is owner occupied?

I don't like the parcel tax, but I believe it is fair if we have to have it.


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 10, 2015 at 12:29 pm

And who is to say what a home is worth until it is sold on the open market?

Until a house is sold, every "expert" in the world can guess all they want - but the only real data is the result of a sale.


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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 10, 2015 at 3:01 pm

@CPD, even that data is not real unless truly an "arm's length" sale.


4 people like this
Posted by Sometimes the right thing to do is say NO
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 11, 2015 at 2:10 pm

Since this editorial admonishes caution on the parcel tax, and I have decided as a parent that this ask is too large under the circumstances, and the election is one of the only ways to send the administration a msg they cannot ignore--

I would like to ask everyone voting NO, for any reason, to PLEASE, write a simple one or two sentences to explain why you voted NO, what would make you vote differently next time, and put it in an envelope and mail to the district and the Weekly. If you send it anonymously, please explain why you felt you had to send an anonymous note.

Please note that this is a MAIL ONLY ballot, so no one has an excuse not to vote. You must have the ballot mailed in time to arrive at the registrar by election day OR (I think) postmarked by election day and arrive within three days of mailing.

If you vote NO, please send your brief comment explaining why to:
PAUSD
c/o Why I voted NO
25 Churchill Avenue
Palo Alto, CA 94306

and

Palo Alto Weekly
c/o Why I voted NO
450 Cambridge Ave
Palo Alto, CA 94306


We all support the schools and our kids. There does seem to be a desire to send a message the district can't ignore. If that is the case, please take a few moments to send that message, so the district gets it, and the post-election analysis will be accurate, AND the district can understand what it needs to do in order to get a bond passed if it fails. If it passes, hopefully if the Weekly gets enough mail from families, the district won't just claim it shows everything is hunky dory, as is likely to happen if so.


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

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