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May 18, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Editorial: Parcel tax boost is a vital need Editorial: Parcel tax boost is a vital need (May 18, 2005)

Measure A on June 7 ballot is a critical "quality" test for Palo Alto schools and students even though it falls short of restoring recent school-budget cuts

Voters in the Palo Alto Unified School district rarely will face a more critical challenge than they will on June 7.

They will be asked to replace the existing $293-per-year parcel tax with a $493 tax -- admittedly a substantial jump in difficult economic times. But it is an increase that will help sustain the district's smaller class sizes and restore some of the $6.5 million in budget reductions the district has had to make in the past two years.

This is not a blank-check proposal. The estimated $9.3 million per year the parcel tax would generate will fund the district's class-size-reduction program for kindergarten through 10th grade, as well as restore staff positions that include counselors, deans, librarians.

Supporters hope to rebound from a heartbreakingly narrow defeat last November of a $521 parcel tax proposal, which failed to reach the needed two-thirds voter approval by less than 1 percent. Overconfidence, ignoring opposition arguments and distractions of the larger national election were cited as factors in the defeat.

Critics have assailed the district, accusing it of wasteful practices, paying its teachers and administrators too much and tolerating the continuance of such costly programs as the court-ordered Tinsley desegregation program. Opposition leader Wayne Martin makes some of the highlights of the opposition case clearly on the opposite page -- supplementing his arguments with spread sheets and white papers on his Web site.

But somehow the arguments against Measure A seem to stem from his conviction that teachers are simply paid too much and the district has been wasteful.

We do agree with Martin that the district could do a better job of projecting anticipated tax revenues, and we clearly believe in efficiency and careful spending of public dollars.

Martin's other arguments seem based on unlikely circumstances -- such as whether a judge might reconsider the Tinsley desegregation case, which has added diversity to Palo Alto classrooms for several decades -- and on mischaracterization of tax revenues as "excess property taxes."

In the raising of the issue of "outsider students," he and other opponents ignore the realities and benefits of such programs. They include Stanford students in the mix -- and unfairly, at that, as the percentage of district property taxes from Stanford lands exceeds the percentage of students from Stanford. Yet playing with statistics to make a point is nothing new in politics.

The important thing to remember this time around is that without a new parcel tax the district will need to cut directly and deeply into classroom and educational programs.

Recent cuts have slashed support services and thus far have had minimal direct impact on classrooms. Yet those cuts have in fact eroded quality. Counselors and librarians are not frills, but essential to a well-rounded, superior-quality district.

Vote yes on Measure A on June 7.

Editorial: 'We are sick and tired of burying our friends' Editorial: 'We are sick and tired of burying our friends' (May 18, 2005)

Death of former Gunn High School star athlete carries obvious messages, and sorrow

Last year, Charles Marlo Jenkins III was a star athlete at Gunn High School, demonstrating flair and prowess on the football field.

But his life came to a sudden end Sunday after a 4 a.m. crash when he lost control of a vehicle traveling about 100 miles an hour on Middlefield Road in Midtown Palo Alto.

Police reported he and a friend -- who was severely injured -- were coming from another friend's 21st birthday party, and both may have been drinking.

Counselors were available to shocked friends and former classmates at Gunn. Students and parents throughout the region will note the story. Perhaps some young person will use better judgment. Perhaps some future partygoer will prevent a friend from driving away from the party when intoxicated.

"We are sick and tired of burying our friends," one fellow student said of Jenkins' death and that of other crash victims in recent years.

But in this case there can simply be no sensible answer to the lingering, final question, "Why?"

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