Schools - December 22, 2010

Voters lukewarm on raising Las Lomitas parcel taxes

by Sandy Brundage

The Las Lomitas School District is debating whether to ask voters to increase the district's $311 annual parcel tax next year to help accommodate an unexpected student enrollment surge and restore school programs that were cut to save money.

The district's two schools, Las Lomitas (K-3) in Atherton and La Entrada (4-8) in Menlo Park, need to figure out how to squeeze too many students into not enough space, if growth projections for the next three years hold true.

The latest forecast predicts 77 more students than anticipated by 2012. The net gain is expected to be 121 students by 2013, for a total school population of 1,460.

Raising a parcel tax is a traditional route to securing more operating funds, but a telephone survey of 309 registered voters living in the district suggests the support isn't there yet.

The survey, conducted by the Center for Community Opinion, found support wavering between 43 percent and 56.6 percent for increases ranging from $420 to $300 a year, nowhere near the two-thirds voter approval needed to pass a parcel tax. Researchers concluded that two-thirds of voters would approve a hike of only $186 a year — not enough to meet the schools' needs, according to the district.

Fifty percent of survey respondents gave the district an 'A' for quality, while about 53.6 percent agreed that lack of funding and budget cuts are the biggest challenge facing the schools.

"So we need to figure out how to combine these two pieces of good news into increased support for an additional parcel tax," said District Superintendent Eric Hartwig. "Clearly our voters, along with everybody else in the country, are still reeling from the recession and the gloomy predictions for our state budget. I don't blame them one bit for being cautious."

At least for next year, the district will likely add two temporary classrooms to each campus, Mr. Hartwig said.

"Another point that we're reflecting on is that our message that was presented in the poll may not have been compelling enough for respondents — restoring programs and class sizes, mainly — where in other districts the story has been about saving teachers' jobs," Mr. Hartwig said.

Other options include adding buildings and re-occupying one of two sites leased to private schools, one in Ladera and one near the district office in Menlo Park. The district now takes in $1.6 million in lease revenue from those sites.

The school board will discuss the parcel tax again at its Jan. 12 meeting.


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