The proposal is to replace the existing annual $493-per-parcel tax with a $589 tax, a $96 increase that will generate an estimated $1.8 million more for the Palo Alto Unified School District. Unlike a bond measure, funds from a parcel tax can be used for faculty and staff salaries, principally to minimize increases in class size, preserve "core programs," reduce potential teacher layoffs, and help close a yawning gap in the district's budget.
The existing parcel tax has been generating about $9.4 million a year, or approximately 6 percent of the district's overall budget, so the new tax should produce about $11.2 million by current estimates.
The existing tax, approved by 74 percent of voters in 2005 (well above the two-thirds approval required), is a six-year tax with an exemption for senior homeowners. It will expire in 2011 unless replaced by the Measure A tax. The replacement tax would also be for six years, and continues the senior exemption.
The 2005 vote occurred in the face of minimal opposition, with the ballot argument written by an official of a libertarian organization. The strong approval was a bounce-back from a defeated parcel-tax proposal in November 2004, which fell less than 1 percent short of two-thirds. A combination of overconfidence, ignoring opposition arguments and campaign-volunteer distractions due to the larger national election undermined the effort.
This time there is no organized opposition, with no opposing ballot argument in the official voters' handbook put out by the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters, which oversees the election. There have been the expected critics of any new tax voicing their opinions on the Town Square forum of www.PaloAltoOnline.com, but Measure A supporters have maintained a solid presence there also, correcting misinformation and promoting the importance of Measure A.
The campaign is conducting phone banks, held a special rally last Saturday that featured State Sen. Joe Simition, Stanford football coach Jim Harbaugh and Mayor Pat Burt, and has set up a website: www.supportpaloaltoschools2010.org.
But both campaign leaders and volunteers realize that overconfidence may be the biggest threat, along with the unfamiliarity of the all-mail-in-ballot election for many voters.
So they are pulling out all stops in trying to raise voter awareness of how important this election is to maintaining the quality of education Palo Altans expect and our children need.
A huge benefit of the parcel tax revenues is that, unlike sales tax revenues, the money comes directly to the district and cannot be subverted to other uses, such as filling the state's multi-billion-budget gap between projected revenues and expenditures.
Assigning blame for the shortfalls, locally, regionally or statewide, is a fruitless exercise, except in the sense that the next time the state has an economic boom we should remember the timeless truth that what goes up must come down. Things occur in cycles, and we need to strengthen our mechanisms of setting boom-time funds aside for bust times. That should be the long-term take-home lesson for all government officials and civic leaders.
But for immediate needs of schools, Palo Alto is not alone in turning to parcel tax measures to bolster sagging revenues, or cuts in state funding. Menlo Park School District voters are deciding Measure C, also a vitally important supplement to its funding, and other districts around the state are proposing similar measures.
"As compelling as the parcel tax was in 2005, it's much more compeling now," Palo Alto campaign Co-Chair Thayer said.
Measure A has been endorsed by dozens of organizations and individuals, from government officials to average citizens, parents and citizens who care about educating the next generation of students.
The Weekly agrees that this is a pivotal commitment to our schools, our community and our children. Vote YES on Measure A.
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