Almanac

Schools - February 10, 2010

MP district to seek $178 parcel tax

• Revenues are down, but enrollment is up in the K-8 district.

by Andrea Gemmet

Voters will be asked to help the Menlo Park City School District bridge a projected $2 million budget shortfall with a $178 annual parcel tax.

The school board voted Feb. 2 to put a seven-year parcel tax measure on the ballot on a May 4 special mail-in election. The $178 tax is expected to raise enough to save teachers' jobs, but not cover the entire shortfall, said Superintendent Ken Ranella. Budget cuts and dipping into reserve funds should make up the difference, he said.

The $178 parcel tax would be in addition to the $565 in annual parcel taxes paid by property owners in the K-8 school district, which includes much of Menlo Park and Atherton.

Like current parcel taxes, there would be an exemption for senior citizens. However, the other parcel taxes have no expiration date, while the proposed tax would expire in 2017.

The district has a projected $30 million operating budget for the 2010-11 school year.

"We're not asking the community for the full amount of the deficit or need. We recognize that these are tough times, and we will tighten our belts as well," Mr. Ranella told The Almanac. "What we're really trying to do is ensure that we can maintain services to our kids, even though there will be other kinds of reductions."

Raising enough to bridge the entire projected shortfall would have amounted to a $303 annual parcel tax, but board members didn't think that would pass, said Jeff Child, the board president. Asking voters for $178 was deemed a safer number that would be more like to be approved.

"We think it's a number that makes sense. It's 50 cents a day," said Mr. Child. "It's not nothing, but to protect our schools and the quality of our schools, that's a reasonable number."

Cuts in state funding, flat property tax revenues and surging enrollment are to blame for the district's budget woes, said Mr. Ranella. As a basic aid district, Menlo Park doesn't get additional funding from the state when enrollment rises. State funding cuts amount to $1.4 million, and property taxes in the district are tracking at a 0.83 percent increase, Mr. Ranella said.

"This is as grim as it can be for us right now," he said. "We could probably withstand this time of reduced revenue, but we're growing and not getting funding with our growth. There are more children so we need more classes and more teachers. We have to accommodate that, or our whole program starts to erode."

Without the parcel tax, the district is looking at $800,000 in cuts to certificated personnel, which includes teachers, administrators, librarians and school nurses, Mr. Ranella said.

To make up the entire shortfall, the district would need to take about $800,000 from its reserves as well as make $1.2 million in cuts in the 2010-11 school year and another $850,000 to $1 million in cuts in 2011-12, he said.

A special meeting to go over potential budget cuts is set for 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 25, at Laurel School, 95 Edge Road in Atherton. Preliminary layoff notices have to be given to teachers by March 15, so officials must plan next year's budget without counting on the parcel tax revenue, Mr. Ranella said.

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