Local voters have long supported the Palo Alto Unified School District to ensure we can provide a world-class education for all students. In fact, in 2010 more than 79 percent of voters supported the district's parcel tax proposal Measure A a proposal that was very similar in terms of timing, content and process to the measure our board of education approved last month for voters to consider this spring.
I pledge to make myself and my staff available to answer any questions that the community has related to our budget or the parcel-tax proposal.
By law, Measure A will expire next year and, if not renewed, our schools will lose close to $13 million, or about 7 percent of the school district's 2015-16 budget that is used to:
Attract and retain qualified teachers.
Keep core class sizes as small as possible.
Support advanced programs in science, mathematics, and technology.
Provide staffing for electives for high school students, including art, music and social sciences, that are important for a well-rounded education.
Given the impending expiration of our local school parcel-tax funding, we developed a detailed plan for continuing this important funding while also addressing current challenges and opportunities in our school district. First and foremost, this plan aims to preserve important programs that the parcel tax has supported for the past 13 years. For example, the current parcel tax funds about 80 teachers and 12 support staff. Parcel-tax revenue also is used to help offset losses in state funding, increasing costs and additional expenses related to current and future student enrollment growth.
While our local economy is thriving, home values are rising and revenue from property tax is increasing, additional revenue has been offset by a few factors beyond our control. First, over the past six years, enrollment in PAUSD schools has grown by more than 1,100 students and is projected to grow by another 700 students over the next five years. However, our schools receive no additional per-pupil funding to teach these additional students.
Moreover, state-mandated increased contributions to the pension systems and loss of lease revenue to support operations have also had an impact on our budget. In fact, when adjusted for inflation, PAUSD funding per student has not grown since 2008-09 and is below levels spent in many high-performing school districts in our region. Also, the board-mandated 10 percent reserve fund level is similar to statewide averages for school districts, and below that of some neighboring districts as well as reserves maintained by the city of Palo Alto.
Some members of the community have voiced concerns about the district's being too conservative in property-tax-revenue projections. I agree; moving forward, we will provide two projections, both a conservative and a moderate projection for property-tax growth. Even using aggressive projections of future property-tax-revenue growth, we would run a deficit if we provided only cost-of-living compensation adjustment for employees in order to retain quality staff. In other words, because of the impact of growing enrollment, the reduction of lease revenue and the addition of new state-mandated costs, our parcel-tax funding is critical for continuing to protect our current programs.
In addition to simply maintaining our renowned academic excellence and long history of sound fiscal management, we must provide more supports for students students struggling with health and wellness issues as well as with academics.
At the same time, our students and community have asked us to invest further in innovative and meaningful programs to further engage our students in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) and to prepare them for college and 21st-century careers. Specific examples of programs and services in these areas are listed on our website.
It is with this vision in mind that the board of education voted unanimously to place a parcel-tax renewal measure on the ballot this spring. If approved by local voters, this measure will extend the current parcel tax for six years and increase the rate by $120 $10 per month.
Because none of the money from this measure can be taken away by the state or by other school districts, all the money raised by this measure will stay here in our local community to be used by our local schools. It is important to note:
These funds cannot be used for administrators' salaries, benefits or pensions.
An independent oversight committee and mandatory annual audits will make sure the money is spent properly.
Senior citizens will continue to be eligible for an exemption, and PAUSD will offer exemptions to all persons eligible under the law.
Extending the parcel tax is a critical decision our community must make this spring. All registered voters in Palo Alto Unified School District will receive a ballot in early April to vote on this measure. Ballots must be returned to the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters by May 5.
I look forward to sharing the details of my vision and our plan with our community. If you have any questions or comments about this measure, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 650-329-3737.
Glenn "Max" McGee is superintendent of the Palo Alto Unified School District.