Viewpoint - March 10, 2010
Editorial: School cuts or school taxes?
In just a few weeks, voters in the Menlo Park City and Portola Valley school districts will decide whether to approve a modest parcel tax to help their schools get through a spurt in enrollment and financial meltdown that were not of their making.
In these troubled economic times, it was not easy for the districts to approve the effort to add even a slight tax burden to property tax bills. The Menlo Park district found some voter resistance in the $300 range, so lowered its request to $178. Portola Valley is asking for $168. We expect voters in both districts to support these reasonable levies in order to keep their schools operating at the current high level.
Loss of state funds, growing enrollment hit Menlo Park
Here is why Menlo Park has decided to seek help from voters:
• The district will lose about $1.4 million in state funding for the 2010-11 school year.
• Kindergarten enrollment, a precursor to all other grades, continues to run at about 350 students, which will include 34 Tinsley transfers students next year. In comparison, the district's third grade class is 279 students, and fourth is 326, significantly under the kindergarten enrollees.
• There is little room to reduce overhead expenses after the district cut more than $500,000 last year, including a requirement that bus drivers perform janitorial duties during their down time.
Just in case district residents and school parents did not understand what would be lost if the proposed parcel tax does not pass, Menlo Park Superintendent Ken Ranella laid out, in a Feb. 25 presentation, a painful list of program cuts and staff reductions that would be necessary to balance the district's budget. The district's schools boast some of the highest test scores in the state.
The possible cuts, including elimination of more than 17 teaching positions, were not good news to many of the parents attending. Class size, the closely watched barometer of a school's well-being, would go up under Mr. Ranella's worst-case scenario.
But as everyone present at the meeting knew, the superintendent's dire predictions will come to pass only if voters turn down the parcel tax, something they have not done in recent memory. In fact, if polling done by the district is accurate, the tax will pass easily among voters who support quality elementary and middle school education.
On March 10, the school board is expected to support Mr. Ranella's suggestion to issue preliminary pink slips to at least eight teachers by March 15, although it is highly unlikely that anyone will be fired, unless the tax fails. With May 4 the day that ballots must be turned in for the Measure C mail-in election, the district should be able to celebrate a parcel tax victory before the May 15 deadline to make the teacher lay-offs permanent.
Right now, district residents pay the district $565 a year for a bond issue and previously approved taxes, which would jump to $743 if the proposed seven-year tax passes in Menlo Park.
Class size, core programs are Portola Valley issues
Portola Valley voters will receive a mail-in ballot the week of April 5, and be asked to approve a four-year, $168 parcel tax that would help replace a $550,000 budget shortfall for the coming school year. Income from the tax will make up only $345,000, but school officials say further structural reductions can cover the difference. The district says the parcel tax funds will help keep core programs intact and class sizes low.
If the tax does not pass, the district would lay off all classroom aides and eliminate all library positions at both of its schools.
The tax would be added to the $290 annual tax passed in 2004 that is due to expire in 10 years.
The Menlo Park and Portola Valley school districts — whose students consistently score at the highest level on state standardized tests — have made their cases for these relatively small parcel taxes that will help them get through the current economic downturn. Both districts have made substantial cuts in administrative costs and undoubtedly will have to cut more, even if voters approve the parcel taxes.
Certainly, approval of these taxes is a no-brainer for parents whose children attend the districts' award-winning schools. But homeowners without children also benefit from living in one of the best school districts in the state. It is no secret that parents with young children want to live in top-performing school districts.
We urge Menlo Park and Portola Valley school district voters to support their district's parcel tax on the ballot that will be mailed out in early April. Vote "yes" and return the ballots to the San Mateo County Elections Office by May 4. Even in tough economic times, education is one of the best investments we can make.
Posted by Publius,
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 16, 2010 at 10:38 am
Posted from "MP school board OKs teacher layoffs"
Thank you "teacher" and "exasperated" for your contributions, however once again I must highlight the realities verses the passions that I read in many of these comments. I will not go down the path of arguing what teachers should or should not be paid. Let just suffice to say that everyone usually feels under paid and over worked. Instead, let's look at the numbers. This will also highlight the inequity in the current system.
First, I took the liberty to look at the salary grades for the districts in the area, as this is public information. Below are the numbers from four districts. What I have done is to list the start salary (right out college with a BA) then I listed the max salary a teacher could make. To also be fair, I put in the 10 year salary for a teacher with a BA plus 45 educational units. These numbers however do not include all of the stipends given for masters, doctorates, or National Board Certification. These tend to be about $1,500 per degree/certification per year. Here are the numbers. Any one is welcome to go to these any district to view salary schedules.
$50,942 (Start BA)
$101,029 (22 year BA+90)
$78,399 (10 years BA+45)
$51,422 (Start BA)
$100,751 (25 years BA+90)
$78,689 (10 years BA+45)
$43,817 (Start BA)
$79,325 (23 years BA+75)
$60,741 (10 years BA+45)
$43,879 (Start BA)
$85,395 (23 years BA+90)
$66,328 (10 years BA+45)
Now that we have the data for the salaries, let look at the overall theme that "Reality Bites" tried to bring up, although with a little too much passion. Below I have calculated the hourly rate of pay for teachers in the four districts. Here are the assumptions made, I am sure there are some minor inaccuracies so please only comment on the assumptions if they are way off.
First, I believe the school year mandated by the state is 180 days, I added 10 days for to allow for teacher work days before and after the school year. Second, I used an 8 hour day to calculate the hourly rate. Again for argument sake, this is a standard work day, I know most people do not work a standard 8 hour day but this is the true whether you are a teacher or a white collar professional. Third, I used 2080 hours (56 weeks a year, less two weeks' vacation and another 2 weeks' paid holidays) and times that by the hourly rate to calculate what that salary would be for someone working in the year around job. Below is the break out.
$78,399 / 190 days = $412.63/day / 8hr = $51.58/hr
2080 *$51.58= $107,286
$78689 / 190 days = $414.15/day / 8 hours = $51.77/hr
2080 * $51.77 = $107,682
Ravenswood School District
$60,741 / 190 = $319.69 / 8 hours = $39.96
2080 * $39.96 = $83,117
Redwood City School District
$66,328 / 190 = $349.09 / 8 = $43.64
2080 * 43.64 = $90,764.63
So, here is what I see, the "haves" are paying very good salaries while the "have not's" are having trouble attracting the best and brightest as they cannot compete with the "haves". This does not even look at the benefits package at these districts. Conservatively, I figure they comprise about an additional 30% of the salary. Let be realistic, people are attracted to the best paying salaries.
Here is an idea I have not heard, why doesn't the school board negotiate with the teacher union to reduce the salary bands by 5% to 10% for certificated employees and 10% to 15% for administration. Again, using the 10 year number (I assume this is a good middle number, although I would venture to say that is low for the MPCSD) and that there are 100 teachers in the district, at 5%, that would be $3,920 per teacher saving for a $390,200 savings and at 10% that would be $784,000 savings. Add in the saving of 10% to 15% of administration salaries, you could get close to $1M. Teachers could then be part of the solution to help save the jobs of their fellow teachers. Even if the salaries were at par with Ravenswood or Redwood City, I hardly think we would see teachers leave for these districts as working conditions are not nearly as posh as in MPCSD.
So MPCSD board, why don't you first exhaust all these options. You can renegotiate the contract. Cities, counties, municipal agencies all across the country are asking for their unions to help offset budget issues before coming to the taxpayers again. Companies in the valley have for years used the practice of either eliminating pay raises or cutting salaries by X% as a way to contain costs and/or save jobs. Come knocking when we are talking about cuts that compare with those being proposed in Ravenswood, Redwood City and other like districts in the state.