The Palo Alto school board unanimously passed just after midnight on Wednesday a $758, six-year parcel tax that will come before voters on a mail-in ballot this May.
The renewed tax -- which comes with a $120 hike from the current rate of $638, includes annual 2 percent increases and allows for senior exemptions -- will generate an estimated $14.7 million in revenue to pay for district investments in student health and wellness efforts, academic supports for struggling students and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) instruction.
The parcel tax will support family and student counseling services, physical wellness efforts, expanded nursing services at Palo Alto elementary schools, an expansion of summer school, early literacy support, "expert" tutoring, after-school and weekend programming, class size reduction in STEAM electives, support for differentiated instruction at the elementary and middle school level, advanced research in a range of disciplines and computer science curriculum beginning in middle school.
Before the board's 5-0 vote, Superintendent Max McGee described the $120 increase as imperative in light of a $10 million reduction in general operating funds, loss in lease revenue (particularly a $1.86 million annual boost from the Cubberley Community Center lease) and reserve levels that have already been tapped into and must be maintained.
"We cannot innovate and grow in the areas that our community, students, parents and teachers are seeking without making an additional investment," echoed Nana Chancellor, co-chair of the Support Palo Alto Schools 2015 parcel tax campaign.
The increase, she said, "will actually go to new and existing programs, rather than to help fill a financial hole in order to stay at status quo as prior campaigns (did). Basically, with an increase, we get to add a few new much-needed pieces to the puzzle while leaving all the current pieces still in place -- new pieces that I'm hearing our students, faculty and parents are united in asking for and that our superintendent and school board members are wanting to provide. This is not the time to cut resources. It's the time to unite and pitch in a little bit extra."
Before the parcel-tax came before the board, more than 30 Palo Alto high school students, parents and community members spoke in public comment about their desire for immediate, effective change when it comes to student wellness. Suggestions for new efforts were abound, with ideas for peer-to-peer mentor programs, more frequent check-ins with Adolescent Counseling Services representatives, mindfulness seminars and "happiness" classes, among others.
"The number of people that showed up earlier in the evening here and the ideas and enthusiasm around this is really important for us to pay attention to," said board President Melissa Baten Caswell. "If we were to just keep the parcel tax the way it was, or the way it is, we would not be able to invest in any of these new ideas. For me, this is about being able to invest in the programs that our community would like us to invest in."
Voters last approved an increased tax in 2010 under Measure A, which started in July 2010 with a rate of $589 per parcel and also included 2 percent annual increases.
If approved, the new parcel tax will go into effect immediately and replace the current tax, which is set to expire in June 2016. A special mail-in election will be called for May 5.
Palo Alto Council of PTAs President Susan Usman told the board Tuesday that her organization has voted to support the parcel-tax campaign both financially and with volunteers.