Almanac

Schools - January 30, 2013

Portola Valley schools: Survey shows support for tax hike

• But the survey suggests the $198 increase the board wants might not pass.

by Renee Batti

A survey of likely voters suggests that if the Portola Valley School District asks residents to renew and increase two parcel tax measures this spring, it would probably succeed, but only if the proposed increase is more modest than school officials had originally hoped for.

Through the existing Measure C and Measure D, which both expire next year, the two-school district raises nearly $1 million annually. District property owners now pay a total of $458 per parcel per year.

In an effort to make funding for the schools — Ormondale and Corte Madera — more stable, the school board wants to boost that amount, and recently notified the public that it's considering a ballot measure that would increase the total annual tax by up to $198 per parcel — to a maximum of $656, which would be a 43 percent increase.

But the district-commissioned telephone survey recently performed by Godbe Research shows that the number of likely voters who would or might support a $198 increase fell far below the required two-thirds majority needed to approve a parcel tax.

The firm's Brian Godbe told the school board at a Jan. 23 special meeting that the survey results showed a sufficient number of voters are likely to support an increase of $123 to $129. An annual increase of $129 per parcel would raise an additional $278,000 for the schools, the district's interim chief business official, Sandra Lepley, told the board.

Last year's parcel tax revenue supplemented the district's budget by $987,296, according to Ms. Lepley. The revenue is earmarked for educational programs with emphasis on science, math, reading and writing instruction; attracting and retaining qualified, experienced teachers; supporting arts and music programs; and maintaining small class size.

School board President Jocelyn Swisher told the Almanac that renewal of the parcel tax is important to the long-term stability of the district. "We have two options: we can renew and enhance stable local funding that we control; or we can let these funds expire and hope for the best."

School districts across the state have had to severely cut or eliminate educational programs and increase class size through the years because of steady reductions in state funding.

In addition to the amount of increase the district will ask for, the board also must decide how many years the tax will be in place, and whether to add or eliminate areas to be supported by the tax revenue. A public hearing on the matter is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 6, in the district's board room, 4575 Alpine Road in Portola Valley.

The board must approve the ballot measure that week if it is to appear on the May 7 mail-in ballot, and is likely to vote on a resolution outlining the terms of a ballot measure at the meeting, following the public hearing.

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