Almanac

Schools - April 17, 2013

Ballots in mail for Portola Valley school district voters

by Renee Batti

Ballots have begun to make their way to voters' mailboxes for the May 7 measure that would extend the parcel tax for the Portola Valley School District, and raise it by $123 per parcel annually.

The ballots will continue to be mailed by the county elections office through April 27, and must be returned by to that office by 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 7.

Measure O would renew the existing tax of $458 per parcel for eights years and authorize increasing the tax to $581. It needs support by two-thirds of the voters to pass.

"If Measure O is not passed, funding that our schools have counted on for many years will expire and many of the richly rewarding programs, such as reading, writing, math and science offered at Ormondale and Corte Madera, would face deep cuts," according to parent Susan Strehlow, who heads the volunteer committee working to pass Measure O.

"Our community has high expectations of our schools — we cannot afford to let this funding expire," she wrote in an email to the Almanac.

The two-school district has raised almost $1 million annually with the current tax — nearly 10 percent of its budget. District officials estimate that if passed, the renewed and increased tax would add about $265,065 on top of that. The exact amount is uncertain because property owners who are 65 and older can apply for an exemption, as can people with disabilities who are receiving supplemental security income (SSI), if they live on the property.

No one who lives in the district submitted a ballot argument against Measure O. Two anti-tax advocates — Mark Hinkle of the Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association and Harland Harrison of the Libertarian Party of San Mateo County — submitted an argument urging voters to "first see what state funds are restored, before seeking additional funding from property owners, business owners and tenants."

"The economy is tough for most of us, but apparently not for district teachers," they wrote. "Let's insist they set a better example of monetary prudence, for our children," by voting against Measure O.

Revenue from the tax would be earmarked for educational programs, with emphasis on math, science, reading, writing, art and music, and would also be used to maintain "qualified and experienced teachers" and small class size.

"I have a daughter at Corte Madera who is very interested in math and science, but also enjoys playing in the band and expanding her writing and critical thinking skills," Ms. Strehlow said. "Not only is it important to have those programs available to her, but it is equally important that we retain the highly qualified and trained teachers that inspire her."

Ms. Strehlow said a committee of more than 20 parents, community members and teachers is behind the campaign to pass the measure, and "we have had an overwhelmingly positive response from our community." The Portola Valley School Foundation has also been involved in supporting and funding the campaign, she said.

The school district suffered a substantial blow early last year after learning of the embezzlement of more than $100,000 and creative bookkeeping by former superintendent Tim Hanretty. Audits confirmed that the district had significantly less money than the school board was led to believe, forcing the district to make cuts and prompting the school foundation to step up its funding efforts.

But placing Measure O on the ballot "has nothing to do with Tim Hanretty's actions," school board President Jocelyn Swisher said in an earlier email to the Almanac. "Through restitution (court-ordered at $181,750 to include attorney and auditor fees and other costs) and improvements in process and oversight, we feel that those issues have been addressed."

Instead, the parcel tax issue "relates to the long-term stability of our school district," she wrote. "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. "This community has a long history of investing in quality local schools."

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