Almanac

Viewpoint - April 17, 2013

Editorial: Tax would help Portola Valley schools

Officials at the two-school Portola Valley district have their hopes riding on a successful outcome of the Measure O election, to be decided by a mail-in ballot that would renew the current parcel tax and increase it by $123, to $581 a year. Ballots are going out now and must be returned by May 7.

Portola Valley schools have enjoyed an excellent reputation for years, with students finishing in the top tier in statewide standardized tests. Residents have responded by consistently approving parcel taxes, including the current tax, passed in separate elections as Measures C and D.

We see no reason to doubt that this proposal will pass. After all, the tax has meant additional funds — nearly $1 million last year — and if Measure O passes, that amount will increase by $265,065, depending on how many seniors opt out, and remain on the books for eight years. It will need a two-thirds majority to pass.

With only two schools — Ormondale and Corte Madera — the funds raised by the tax are extremely important. Without it, the district's students would face deep cuts in all the core programming like reading, writing, math and science. "We cannot afford to let this funding expire," said parent Susan Strehlow, who is working with a group of volunteers who are committed to making sure the parcel tax gains the necessary two-thirds vote and that ballots are returned to the county elections office by 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 7.

Besides core programs, art and music would be helped by the additional parcel tax dollars. The money also would help attract and retain "qualified and experienced teachers" in the district and to maintain small class size, always a critical component of a high-quality education.

Some residents may remember an unfortunate incident last year when then-superintendent Tim Hanretty was found to be embezzling funds and using creative bookkeeping to cover it up. Audits found serious shortfalls in the amount of money that school officials thought they had. The circumstances forced the district to make cuts and seek more help from the schools' foundation.

But all of that is behind the district now, with the court-ordered restitution of $181,750 and improved oversight of district finances. Placing Measure O on the ballot has nothing to do with Mr. Hanretty's activities, according to school board president Jocelyn Swisher.

To protect the long-term viability of the schools, district residents have two options, Ms. Swisher told the Almanac: You can renew and enhance stable local funding that the district controls, or you can let these funds expire and hope for the best.

Clearly the first option makes the most sense for Portola Valley schools. We urge voters to rush their mail-in ballots back to the county, marked with a big "yes" on Measure O. It will guarantee adequate school funding for another eight years.

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