News

Palo Alto voters to decide on schools parcel tax

Measure O would continue tax that has been in place since 2001

If approved this fall, Measure O would renew an $836 per parcel tax that provides $15.6 million annually to Palo Alto Unified. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Before the Palo Alto school board voted this summer to place a parcel tax renewal on the November ballot, a consultant warned that mounting a significant advocacy campaign would be crucial to its passage given the high-stakes distractions of the coronavirus, school closures and a presidential election.

The board decided to put Measure O on the Nov. 3 ballot partially out of concern that it might not pass the first time. This gives the district one more shot — though a risky one — at approval in spring 2021, just months before the $836 per parcel tax is set to expire in June.

If approved, Measure O would extend the tax for six years at the same rate. It provides about $15.6 million annually to the district to support hiring and retaining teachers, keeping class sizes small, offering a wide range of electives and employing mental health counselors and reading specialists, among other areas.

The "Yes on O" campaign team has been attending Zoom PTA meetings and distributing lawn signs and mailers in the hopes of getting the word out about what's at stake, particularly to voters without children in Palo Alto public schools, if the parcel tax doesn't pass. According to the campaign, if the parcel tax fails, about 100 teachers, as well as counselors and other staff, could be laid off.

"Palo Alto Unified schools would look unrecognizable next year without it," said parent Robyn Reiss, a Measure O campaign committee member. "The class sizes would balloon. Lots of electives would be cut. It would just feel like a different district."

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Polling conducted this summer 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 (66.7%) 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 then told reasons for opposing the measure.

The official rebuttal against Measure O, filed as in past years by the Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association, argues that "This is not the time for 'taxation as usual.'

"Individuals, households and businesses have all had to adapt to this crisis by cutting costs and being more careful about spending their limited funds on only the most essential activities.

School boards need to do their share by focusing their efforts on controlling costs and by prioritizing only the most essential things," the rebuttal states.

School board President Todd Collins, who has been campaigning for Measure O in his personal capacity, said if Measure O fails in November, the board will immediately have to decide whether to mount the parcel tax again in either March or May. There would also likely be debate over whether the decision should be delayed until whoever is elected to the board takes office in December, he said.

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Both of the ballot options — in March and May — butt up against the district's budget adoption timeline in ways that would put pressure on both staff and the board, Collins said. Any staff members who may be laid off have to be notified with pink slips by March 15. If the parcel tax is on the early March ballot, pink slips might not have to be sent out but the board would still have to prepare budget cuts in case the measure failed. If the parcel tax is on the May ballot, pink slips would have to be sent out to teachers and staff members in March.

"If we miss in the fall, the board's going to spend its time not figuring out what to do after we start recovering from COVID but instead figuring out how to cut $16 million from the budget," Collins said. "That's an all-consuming task, not just for the board but for the whole organization."

If the parcel tax fails, the board would be tasked with considering whether to draw down on reserves to lessen the financial blow or to adjust the budget to a lower level of funding, with consequences for class sizes, support services and non-core courses like art and music that Collins called "dire."

"Everything would be on the chopping block and much of it would be cut back," he said.

Some community members have questioned why the parcel tax is needed at this level when enrollment is declining in the district. Enrollment has declined by about 5% in the last five years.

Collins said the district decided to keep the rate the same for this exact reason; past parcel tax renewals came with increases of about 20%.

With less than a month until Election Day, Measure O has surpassed its fundraising goal with about $112,000, including pledged donations.

If approved, Measure O would continue an optional exemption for seniors ages 65 and older and low-income people with disabilities. It would also continue the 2% annual inflation increase. The measure requires annual audits and an independent oversight committee made up of local community members who review and publicly report on the use of the funds.

By law, parcel tax funds can only be used for voter-approved purposes, which in this case doesn't include administrator salaries, for example.

Palo Alto voters first approved the parcel tax in 2001 and renewals in 2005, 2010 and 2015. The parcel tax has failed once, in 2004, when it coincided with a general election and the district asked for a significant increase.

Read the Santa Clara County Voters Guide on Measure O:

Find more election coverage on the Palo Alto Unified School District here.

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Palo Alto voters to decide on schools parcel tax

Measure O would continue tax that has been in place since 2001

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Wed, Oct 7, 2020, 2:26 pm

Before the Palo Alto school board voted this summer to place a parcel tax renewal on the November ballot, a consultant warned that mounting a significant advocacy campaign would be crucial to its passage given the high-stakes distractions of the coronavirus, school closures and a presidential election.

The board decided to put Measure O on the Nov. 3 ballot partially out of concern that it might not pass the first time. This gives the district one more shot — though a risky one — at approval in spring 2021, just months before the $836 per parcel tax is set to expire in June.

If approved, Measure O would extend the tax for six years at the same rate. It provides about $15.6 million annually to the district to support hiring and retaining teachers, keeping class sizes small, offering a wide range of electives and employing mental health counselors and reading specialists, among other areas.

The "Yes on O" campaign team has been attending Zoom PTA meetings and distributing lawn signs and mailers in the hopes of getting the word out about what's at stake, particularly to voters without children in Palo Alto public schools, if the parcel tax doesn't pass. According to the campaign, if the parcel tax fails, about 100 teachers, as well as counselors and other staff, could be laid off.

"Palo Alto Unified schools would look unrecognizable next year without it," said parent Robyn Reiss, a Measure O campaign committee member. "The class sizes would balloon. Lots of electives would be cut. It would just feel like a different district."

Polling conducted this summer 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 (66.7%) 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 then told reasons for opposing the measure.

The official rebuttal against Measure O, filed as in past years by the Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association, argues that "This is not the time for 'taxation as usual.'

"Individuals, households and businesses have all had to adapt to this crisis by cutting costs and being more careful about spending their limited funds on only the most essential activities.

School boards need to do their share by focusing their efforts on controlling costs and by prioritizing only the most essential things," the rebuttal states.

School board President Todd Collins, who has been campaigning for Measure O in his personal capacity, said if Measure O fails in November, the board will immediately have to decide whether to mount the parcel tax again in either March or May. There would also likely be debate over whether the decision should be delayed until whoever is elected to the board takes office in December, he said.

Both of the ballot options — in March and May — butt up against the district's budget adoption timeline in ways that would put pressure on both staff and the board, Collins said. Any staff members who may be laid off have to be notified with pink slips by March 15. If the parcel tax is on the early March ballot, pink slips might not have to be sent out but the board would still have to prepare budget cuts in case the measure failed. If the parcel tax is on the May ballot, pink slips would have to be sent out to teachers and staff members in March.

"If we miss in the fall, the board's going to spend its time not figuring out what to do after we start recovering from COVID but instead figuring out how to cut $16 million from the budget," Collins said. "That's an all-consuming task, not just for the board but for the whole organization."

If the parcel tax fails, the board would be tasked with considering whether to draw down on reserves to lessen the financial blow or to adjust the budget to a lower level of funding, with consequences for class sizes, support services and non-core courses like art and music that Collins called "dire."

"Everything would be on the chopping block and much of it would be cut back," he said.

Some community members have questioned why the parcel tax is needed at this level when enrollment is declining in the district. Enrollment has declined by about 5% in the last five years.

Collins said the district decided to keep the rate the same for this exact reason; past parcel tax renewals came with increases of about 20%.

With less than a month until Election Day, Measure O has surpassed its fundraising goal with about $112,000, including pledged donations.

If approved, Measure O would continue an optional exemption for seniors ages 65 and older and low-income people with disabilities. It would also continue the 2% annual inflation increase. The measure requires annual audits and an independent oversight committee made up of local community members who review and publicly report on the use of the funds.

By law, parcel tax funds can only be used for voter-approved purposes, which in this case doesn't include administrator salaries, for example.

Palo Alto voters first approved the parcel tax in 2001 and renewals in 2005, 2010 and 2015. The parcel tax has failed once, in 2004, when it coincided with a general election and the district asked for a significant increase.

Read the Santa Clara County Voters Guide on Measure O:

Find more election coverage on the Palo Alto Unified School District here.

Comments

Citizen
Registered user
College Terrace
on Oct 8, 2020 at 10:11 am
Citizen , College Terrace
Registered user
on Oct 8, 2020 at 10:11 am
39 people like this

Pausd just netted $10 million due to school closure savings, and emergency relief funds.

It has refused to report this school year's enrollment, which is reportedly down 7%.

It doesn't need the money, fewer students.


NeilsonBuchanan
Registered user
Downtown North
on Oct 8, 2020 at 10:56 am
NeilsonBuchanan, Downtown North
Registered user
on Oct 8, 2020 at 10:56 am
2 people like this

We are in topsy/turvy times with confusion coming from every direction. When I step back from the turmoil, I see a necessity to invest in future generations. I can easily support this parcel tax.

I have equal concern for more equitable resources flowing to nearby school districts who have fewer resources and greater needs.


I'm Voting YES On O
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 8, 2020 at 11:39 am
I'm Voting YES On O, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Oct 8, 2020 at 11:39 am
6 people like this

I'm not sure how the district can respond to Covid without these funds. Now or through recovery.

This is a hard time for all of us, our children and parents and teachers all affected. The teachers are working long hours to recreate entirely new lessons for online learning AND they are trying to plan for the probability of also having to be in class. Parent are making a lot of demands, understandably. But how earth do they think PAUSD will be able to deliver on any of it without this money? Read the budget.

Cuts will come anyway. Property taxes are going to fall--a revenue change that we know is coming but has lagged because it takes time for people to apply for reassessments, but it's clearly coming. This is a very bad time to let the parcel tax fall away.

Stay the course. This is a renewal of a tax that has provided PREDICTABLE funding to the district over many years. I'm voting YES On O. My kids are now out of the district, but still support excellent public school education. I'm in.


Gunn Papa
Registered user
Greater Miranda
on Oct 8, 2020 at 11:55 am
Gunn Papa, Greater Miranda
Registered user
on Oct 8, 2020 at 11:55 am
22 people like this

It sounds like we are supposed to treat the parcel tax as a permanent tax. Not making a judgment, but I think supporters should just come out and say this.


Citizen
Registered user
College Terrace
on Oct 8, 2020 at 3:35 pm
Citizen , College Terrace
Registered user
on Oct 8, 2020 at 3:35 pm
34 people like this

PAUSD already spends more than $22k/student/year.

Taxes are already too high, and the teacher's union and other public employee unions seek to pass Prop 15 too, to make taxes even higher and direct more money their way. Our property taxes are sufficient without a parcel tax. Property taxes themselves increased 7% from last year and are up 82% over the past decade.

No on measure O.


No on O!
Registered user
Barron Park
on Oct 8, 2020 at 5:06 pm
No on O!, Barron Park
Registered user
on Oct 8, 2020 at 5:06 pm
27 people like this

Vote No on Measure O!  

The enrollment has been dropping in the past few years, and this year alone, is reportedly down 7%; 

PAUSD just netted $10 million due to school closure savings, and emergency relief funds.

Measure O is less than 7% of the district's budget. With much fewer students, PAUSD doesn't need the money. 

Parcel tax is not supposed to be permanent.  


They'll always want more
Registered user
Fairmeadow
on Oct 8, 2020 at 8:53 pm
They'll always want more, Fairmeadow
Registered user
on Oct 8, 2020 at 8:53 pm
30 people like this

Todd Collins even says that if the measure fails, they'll need to decide when to put it on the ballot again.

So, I say vote NO. If circumstances improve, let the district come back with a new proposal.

Didn't we just approve a $650M Capital Bond last election?

The district is saving money with the schools being closed.
Enrollment is going down
Property tax growth continues to outpace inflation/raises
Many people are trying to cut back on expenses anywhere they can
School district lies about their own economic reality to scare us into approving.
PIE donations continue to grow

Let's see what really happens if they lose this $16M. Do we really think the district will implode having to cut 7% of its budget? I bet they can come up with a good deal of savings just by culling through the administrators at 25 Churchill. Then look at school administrators. Why is it that the only thing they talk about cutting is teachers? Obviously, that's what scares people into voting yes.

Don't fall for the district's scare tactics.


House poor
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 9, 2020 at 2:38 am
House poor, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Oct 9, 2020 at 2:38 am
14 people like this

As someone whose taxes went up by five figures, suddenly, with the 2017 tax increases on blue state homeowners, which also made it impossible to refinance, I really can't afford this. That tax increase -- just the increase -- is now larger than what we live on every year after mortgage, medical and income tax. I also had to spend over $4,000 to get my kid tested for dyslexia since the school district wouldn't do it.

Our town is a place of dizzying wealth disparity. We've never even been able to replace the paper on our windows. These taxes are not a small amount to us.

I believe in supporting our district, but I wish they would run capital campaigns first. Instead, the district lets billionaires renovate the school their kid will go to, rather than standing by the old-fashioned notion of equity districtwide, and thus they have to ask for this tax.

The tax was originally presented as a short-term need. Last time it never even went to what was promised. The promises in a ballot measure cannot be enforced, and an oversight committee has no real teeth to make sure the money is spent well. That's not what they do, they just make sure that if the district says the spent the money on a building, there's a building.

If Prop 15 passes, and I hope it will, then there will be increased funding for our schools and no need for this extra tax. Please vote NO on O.


Prop 15 is no substitute for Measure O
Registered user
Fairmeadow
on Oct 9, 2020 at 9:42 am
Prop 15 is no substitute for Measure O, Fairmeadow
Registered user
on Oct 9, 2020 at 9:42 am
Like this comment

My understanding is that Prop 15 passing will mean just $1 million or so to PAUSD each year. The bulk of funds go to districts that need it more. In contrast, the parcel tax - the one that Measure O proposes to extend - yields around $15 million for PAUSD. It is Palo Altans funding Palo Alto schools, which at this point is what the state and county assume.

Housing costs here are outrageous and no longer worth it imo. If you can't sell and move, then consider what shape you want the schools to be in. If enough people won't fund Measure O then our schools (and property values) will suffer.


No on O!
Registered user
Barron Park
on Oct 9, 2020 at 9:45 pm
No on O!, Barron Park
Registered user
on Oct 9, 2020 at 9:45 pm
15 people like this

The PAUSD 14th Day Enrollment Report, 2020-21 came out today, October 9. We are down 8% this year, continuing a declining trend.

What's the need for a parcel tax that represents 6% of the PAUSD budget when PAUSD has lost 8% of its enrollment? ($15.6 million projected revenue from the parcel tax/ $267 million 2020-21 projected annual budget)

Interesting how timed this was to come out after the weekly article on the parcel tax.

Why is PAUSD announcing its enrollment in a parents only email on a Friday night rather than as an agenda item at a public board meeting, as it has done every year for the past 5 consecutive years? The 10th-14th day enrollment report is not on the Oct. 13th board agenda - Web Link.

Vote No on Measure O!


The Voice of Palo Alto
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Oct 19, 2020 at 11:38 am
The Voice of Palo Alto, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Oct 19, 2020 at 11:38 am
1 person likes this

I will be voting “YES” on Measure O and YES on Measure S and I EXPECT everyone else to vote YES also. Measure S isn’t the greatest plan but I am looking forward to an increase in parcel taxes for all! As far as Measure O, it’s time Palo Altans quiet down, stop complaining, pay those taxes, and most importantly support our great teachers, students, and schools. Time to pay up and enjoy the tax increase. It’s a small price to pay to be able to live in our great city. Again, please vote YES on Measure O and YES on Measure S.

I’m so tired of seeing “No on Measure O” because it rhymes although “Yes on Measure S” also rhymes and I like it because it makes it easy to remember. Just remember to vote YES on both. Thanks.


Name hidden
Greater Miranda

Registered user
on Oct 19, 2020 at 5:14 pm
Name hidden, Greater Miranda

Registered user
on Oct 19, 2020 at 5:14 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


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