News

School board puts parcel tax on November ballot, expecting challenging path to approval

Consultant: Mounting a 'significant advocacy campaign' is going to be crucial

The election for Palo Alto Unified's parcel tax measure that will face voters on Nov. 3 is estimated to cost $500,000, according to the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters. Embarcadero Media file photo by Veronica Weber.

The Palo Alto school board decided Tuesday night to place a parcel tax renewal on the November ballot, partially out of concern that the measure might not pass the first time.

The school district's $836 parcel tax is set to expire in June 2021. The board had planned to put the measure on a mail-in ballot this May but withdrew it after shelter-in-place took effect in March, citing concerns about the challenges a campaign that relies on knocking on doors and community outreach would face during the shutdown.

But now, polling suggests that the parcel tax's path to approval could be rocky. Interviews conducted in June for the district by Gene Bregman & Associates, a public opinion and market research firm, showed that 62% of voters would support renewing the parcel tax — short of the two-thirds required to pass. That percentage rose just above the two-third threshold (to 70%) when voters were told the reasons to support the parcel tax and dropped to 67% when they were told reasons for opposing the measure.

Charles Heath, a consultant, told the board that placing the measure on the November ballot, at the same time as a presidential election with "a lot of crosswinds, a lot of distracting issues" is risky, but waiting until next year would be riskier. If the parcel tax was instead on a March or May 2021 mail-in ballot and failed, the district wouldn't have a chance to mount the measure again before it expires.

Board members agreed and unanimously voted to put the parcel tax on the ballot this November. The Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters estimated the cost of the election is $500,000.

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If approved, the parcel tax would extend for six years at the same rate. It would continue an optional exemption for seniors ages 65 and older, 2% annual inflation adjustments and an independent oversight committee that conducts annual audits.

The $15.6 million that the parcel tax provides annually for the school district pays for hiring and retaining teachers, support staff for struggling students, keeping class sizes small and electives, among other areas.

The board urged members of the public who are interested in running the parcel tax campaign to reach out to district leadership. (School districts legally cannot use public funds to advocate for parcel tax measures.)

"If this is important to the community, if the community feels that having $16 million come off of our budget and losing 100 teachers is a problem, then the community will step up and work on this like they have in the past," said board member Melissa Baten Caswell. "This is a reflection of community values."

In other business Tuesday, the board also unanimously approved a contract with a new child care provider, Right At School, in anticipation of an increase in need for services when elementary schools reopen in the fall. Under the contract, Right At School will operate enrichment programs and other child care services at the elementary and middle schools throughout the year. The board voted to remove a clause that allowed the contract to automatically renew annually.

Parents from Nixon Elementary School, however, urged the district to instead give more classroom space at their school to Kids Choice, an existing after-school program. They worried that changing their children's child care in the fall would exacerbate an already stressful time.

In response, the board directed staff to give the first right of refusal for available space at the school sites to existing child care providers and require that they make a decision within 10 days.

Palo Alto Community Child Care will also continue to provide child care to district students. Clara Chang, the nonprofit's board chair, said the organization is "committed to serving the maximum number of families possible" in the new school year.

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School board puts parcel tax on November ballot, expecting challenging path to approval

Consultant: Mounting a 'significant advocacy campaign' is going to be crucial

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Wed, Jul 8, 2020, 9:33 am

The Palo Alto school board decided Tuesday night to place a parcel tax renewal on the November ballot, partially out of concern that the measure might not pass the first time.

The school district's $836 parcel tax is set to expire in June 2021. The board had planned to put the measure on a mail-in ballot this May but withdrew it after shelter-in-place took effect in March, citing concerns about the challenges a campaign that relies on knocking on doors and community outreach would face during the shutdown.

But now, polling suggests that the parcel tax's path to approval could be rocky. Interviews conducted in June for the district by Gene Bregman & Associates, a public opinion and market research firm, showed that 62% of voters would support renewing the parcel tax — short of the two-thirds required to pass. That percentage rose just above the two-third threshold (to 70%) when voters were told the reasons to support the parcel tax and dropped to 67% when they were told reasons for opposing the measure.

Charles Heath, a consultant, told the board that placing the measure on the November ballot, at the same time as a presidential election with "a lot of crosswinds, a lot of distracting issues" is risky, but waiting until next year would be riskier. If the parcel tax was instead on a March or May 2021 mail-in ballot and failed, the district wouldn't have a chance to mount the measure again before it expires.

Board members agreed and unanimously voted to put the parcel tax on the ballot this November. The Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters estimated the cost of the election is $500,000.

If approved, the parcel tax would extend for six years at the same rate. It would continue an optional exemption for seniors ages 65 and older, 2% annual inflation adjustments and an independent oversight committee that conducts annual audits.

The $15.6 million that the parcel tax provides annually for the school district pays for hiring and retaining teachers, support staff for struggling students, keeping class sizes small and electives, among other areas.

The board urged members of the public who are interested in running the parcel tax campaign to reach out to district leadership. (School districts legally cannot use public funds to advocate for parcel tax measures.)

"If this is important to the community, if the community feels that having $16 million come off of our budget and losing 100 teachers is a problem, then the community will step up and work on this like they have in the past," said board member Melissa Baten Caswell. "This is a reflection of community values."

In other business Tuesday, the board also unanimously approved a contract with a new child care provider, Right At School, in anticipation of an increase in need for services when elementary schools reopen in the fall. Under the contract, Right At School will operate enrichment programs and other child care services at the elementary and middle schools throughout the year. The board voted to remove a clause that allowed the contract to automatically renew annually.

Parents from Nixon Elementary School, however, urged the district to instead give more classroom space at their school to Kids Choice, an existing after-school program. They worried that changing their children's child care in the fall would exacerbate an already stressful time.

In response, the board directed staff to give the first right of refusal for available space at the school sites to existing child care providers and require that they make a decision within 10 days.

Palo Alto Community Child Care will also continue to provide child care to district students. Clara Chang, the nonprofit's board chair, said the organization is "committed to serving the maximum number of families possible" in the new school year.

Comments

common sense
Midtown
on Jul 8, 2020 at 9:50 am
common sense, Midtown
on Jul 8, 2020 at 9:50 am

I wish the reporter would report on promises made on previous parcel tax ballots; for example the last parcel tax ballot promised reduction in class sizes, mental health, etc. Based on a parent study several years ago, we know that class sizes were not reduced. We do know that the money was used to give everyone salary increases, and that management expected to get the same raises that they were negotiating with the union.

Of course we don't want to do anything which would degrade kid's education, but at some point there has to be accountability for what's happened over the past 4-5 years.


Accountability
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 8, 2020 at 10:48 am
Accountability, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 8, 2020 at 10:48 am

@common sense

When our district asks for money, no matter how poor they have been at managing it and how badly they have performed or broken promises in the past, the community just rolls over and gives it to them. Why even fight it?

I personally will never vote yes for another money ask from the district until there is an ombuds-position with power available to families and children, that doesn't answer to the district, just serves as a check and balance on the district on behalf of families. (Like it will matter.)


Budget Reality
Downtown North
on Jul 8, 2020 at 11:22 am
Budget Reality, Downtown North
on Jul 8, 2020 at 11:22 am

PAUSD's challenges have nothing to do with money or budget. We spend more than any other district in the state, well over $20k per kid per year , and fail to serve any student who isn't plain-jane vanilla.

Please vote no. Not because education doesn't matter, but because it won't help.

What WILL help is telling PAUSD to get their act together and better serve students with the massive budget they already have.


School not open but want $$
Old Palo Alto
on Jul 8, 2020 at 1:55 pm
School not open but want $$, Old Palo Alto
on Jul 8, 2020 at 1:55 pm

Terrible online teaching from March - May and no in-person school for kids this Fall. Don't expect to vote "yes".


Tom
Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 8, 2020 at 2:34 pm
Tom, Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 8, 2020 at 2:34 pm

So let me get this, they want more money and our kids are mostly being taught at home? This will go down well for November


Anonymous
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 8, 2020 at 4:24 pm
Anonymous, Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 8, 2020 at 4:24 pm

Please vote no. The Board of Education, Superintendent and his assocuates should work with the finances they have already. We are heavily taxed already here.


Downfall
Fairmeadow
on Jul 8, 2020 at 7:03 pm
Downfall, Fairmeadow
on Jul 8, 2020 at 7:03 pm

I will vote NO on this tax. The distance learning my HS student received from March onward was almost non-existent. I have relatives in other states whose HS children had full synchronous distance learning up and running in less than a week. The distance learning was an utter failure on the part of PAUSD and I see no reason to reward the district with more $ after this fiasco.

Every time these taxes come up someone (like Melissa Baten Caswell in the article) paints a doom and gloom scenario if the tax is not approved. Somehow I don't think there will be much of an impact to our kids' education either way whether the tax passes or fails, PAUSD cannot change its underperforming and unaccountable ways so why give them the money?


Covid-19 ready
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 8, 2020 at 7:10 pm
Covid-19 ready, Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 8, 2020 at 7:10 pm

@Downfall,

Good news. You won't need to go to another state to get fully synchronized learning. San Mateo High School District (the entire county) has already committed to this.


musical
Palo Verde
on Jul 8, 2020 at 7:31 pm
musical, Palo Verde
on Jul 8, 2020 at 7:31 pm

Where did Bregman & Associates find 62% supporting this parcel tax?
Are 62% of Palo Alto voters over age 65? Comments here so far look unanimous.


Resident
Downtown North
on Jul 8, 2020 at 7:45 pm
Resident, Downtown North
on Jul 8, 2020 at 7:45 pm

I vote "yes" in the past but given how poorly Don Austin has handled this pandemic along with the PAUSD Board, this time the vote is a resounding "no"

The mismanagement of money and finances by this board while spending and asking for more money is too much for any tax payer. They spend the most per child but can't even provide what other districts are providing since March.

COVID-19 Ready has posted: Good news. You won't need to go to another state to get fully synchronized learning. San Mateo High School District (the entire county) has already committed to this.

Why can't our district provide this when we're spending so much per child? If our last Parcel tax went to salary raises, what is the point of digging into our pockets. It's time there is proper accounting of salaries, and the work done.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 8, 2020 at 8:58 pm
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 8, 2020 at 8:58 pm

Political organizations are paid to produce results. So announcing that the idea has support is just part of their marketing strategy. Of course they want you to think that everyone else is for more taxes. It is called herd mentality and group think.
Sorry - you are not selling more taxes right now.


Kathy
Greater Miranda
on Jul 9, 2020 at 11:39 am
Kathy, Greater Miranda
on Jul 9, 2020 at 11:39 am

Property tax collections, financing PAUSD, have risen significantly (> 40%) over the past 10 years, with an additional 6.8% bump in 2019. Enrollment at PAUSD has declined and is projected to decline 14% over the decade through 2023. Why should the parcel tax remain at the same level? Just because? Property tax collections have been ensuring robust revenue growth already. There aren't as many students to serve. The parcel tax need not be at the same high level ($836/year). Not to mention PAUSD's poor performance --- not providing instruction to our MS/HS students in the spring. Get what you paid for? Not so much.


rsmithjr
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 9, 2020 at 8:07 pm
rsmithjr, Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 9, 2020 at 8:07 pm

The parcel tax is an unsustainable way of supporting the district. Some issues:

1. The amount of the tax has increased at an alarming rate, with the new cost to be $838 per year. This tax has gone up at a high rate of velocity over the years. [Sorry I cannot find the table. It is not something that the PAUSD publishes.] How long can this continue?

2. Being close to $1000/year is likely to cause some hesitancy.

3. The district has used to techniques to get this passed. a. Using a mail ballet, as was planned for this last spring. Consultants have told the district that this approach is the best since people who take the time to vote in an off-election are more interested in the schools. (Compare to voter suppression.) b. Allowing seniors to exempt themselves from paying. Note that seniors who own in PA are very likely to be able afford to pay, but those YES votes from seniors who exempt themselves do pile up.

4. The district is not really clear about what the tax will be used for. In reality, it is treated as part of the general fund, with some careful language and good accounting. There is no independent person or group with an official capacity to monitor this. I suspect that it goes for salaries. NOT THAT THAT IS BAD! But we should be told.

5. If this really is a permanent and increasing way of funding an ongoing shortfall, the PAUSD needs to find some other way to address this.

I haven't decided how I will vote. My time and money will be spent on the national election. Choose for yourself.



Once and for all
Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 13, 2020 at 8:53 am
Once and for all , Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 13, 2020 at 8:53 am

PAUSD will get no more of my support no matter the source - parcel tax or PiE.


Accountability
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 13, 2020 at 12:01 pm
Accountability, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 13, 2020 at 12:01 pm

There is one critical difference between 2015 and today, district accountability and the pandemic aside, which is that in 2017, the federal government passed a massive tax increase on the lowest rungs of homeownership in the most expensive (blue) states in the country, and gave the money to the richest everywhere. While the administration thus ran massive deficits before the pandemic to give money to the richest, it was a sudden and life-altering tax increase to the homeowners struggling the most in blue high-cost-of-living states like CA. As homeownership long term is the only way to stabilize costs in Silicon Valley, a parcel tax is now grossly unfair in a city that has such extreme wealth inequality and such high cost of living.

Look at this Pew Research study on wealth inequality in this country since 1970. Scroll down and look at the striking charts that show how much of both income and wealth have gone from the middle and lower income brackets to the wealthiest. The 2017 tax changes were blatantly that exact phenomenon in a Petri dish and the media don’t even mention it, maybe because they also never use cost-of-living adjustments in assessing issues just as our federal government doesn’t in assessing policy.
Web Link

So a couple in Palo Alto making $150,000 is the equivalent of $20-$30,000 in much of the country including a lot of big cities (it’s a struggle), yet how much of the stimulus would they have gotten to them versus people in other parts of the country whose income at those higher ranges under the cutoff is the equivalent of a seven-figure income here? Especially since studies of who spent their stimulus checks showed it was those in the lower incomes who did. (Did those economists take cost of living into account and look in different regions?)

I think it’s time our district at least made an effort to run capital campaigns for donations from the richest Palo Altans first before parcel taxes. We have the most billionaires per capita. They should imagine what it’s like to live on the equivalent of $20k per year (except that because no one takes cost-of-living into account, the people in that situation aren’t eligible for assistance - it’s why the middle class have been disappearing from higher education all across the country for years, and the richest and the poorest are going at higher rates.)

If you are living on $20,000/year for a family of 4 after your high housing and taxes, and not eligible for any help, a parcel tax like this, after the feds just suddenly raised your taxes by $10,000/year, is brutal. First ask the ones who *can* pay to donate. I would have thought that would be a far better use of volunteer time this election season.

The seniors are generally in a better position to pay but can exempt themselves. They all think anyone who owns here is richie rich, so these measures never lose.


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