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May 11, 2005

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Publication Date: Wednesday, May 11, 2005

School district voters reject parcel tax School district voters reject parcel tax (May 11, 2005)

** Atherton's struggling Selby Lane School dealt a blow.

By David Boyce

Almanac Staff Writer

Things had been looking up at Selby Lane School, a K-8 school located in west Atherton but serving mostly Redwood City students, many of whom were struggling with low scores on standardized tests.

Since 2002, test scores had been rising. In September 2003, a new principal with a reputation for improving student performance took over.

In March 2004, Atherton residents helped launch the Selby Education Foundation, which raised $75,000 to get the prestigious and rigorous International Baccalaureate Organization program off the ground for students in sixth grade and part of seventh grade.

That progress is now threatened after the May 3 failure of Measure V, a mail-in ballot that would have levied an annual parcel tax of $85 on each residential property in the Redwood City School District and between $200 and $2,500 on each commercial parcel.

About 700 Atherton homes in Lloyden Park and west Atherton are in the district. The measure was approved by 61.63 percent of the voters, missing by 5 percentage points the required two-thirds majority.

The district had threatened to cut its budget by $3.5 million for the 2005-06 school year if the measure didn't pass, and now the cuts will likely go ahead, officials said. "I hope to God it isn't more than that," said Christopher Bohl, a school board member.

Selby Lane is one of 16 elementary schools in the Redwood City district and the only district school located in Atherton.

The money would have maintained K-3 class sizes at a 20-student maximum, assisted gifted and struggling students, avoided teacher layoffs and a shutdown of music programs, and avoided deep cuts to school library hours and staff.

The foundation anticipated parcel-tax funding for the IBO program, intended in part to attract Atherton parents to Selby Lane and improve nearby property values, said foundation president Jenny Redo. But key to IBO accreditation is steady financial support -- by definition not foundation money. "We're sort of trying to figure out Plan B," said Ms. Redo.

The voters' rejection "hurts all of our students," said Selby Lane Principal Bernie Vidales. "There's definitely a sense of sadness at school. 'Stunned' is another (sensation) that was felt immediately," he added. "But you know, we need to get back on the horse and rethink what we're doing and what we want to do and what we can do with what we have at hand."

"Public schools are a reflection of this community and that's something this community is going to have to live with," said Mr. Bohl. "Only in California could you get 62 percent and be considered losers."

Jerry Carlson, president of the Atherton Civic Interest League -- which supported the measure -- expressed concern that Selby Lane and the district could lose momentum. "I'm a little concerned about the effect this may have."

Some Atherton parents have been talking about options other than Redwood City public schools, said Ms. Redo.

"I'm very gratified by the result," said Measure V opponent and Libertarian Jack Hickey, who said he wondered if public school districts don't already have more money than they need.

Mr. Hickey said he opposes state laws requiring children to go to school and advocates property tax rebates for parents opting for private schools and for wealthy homeowners wishing to redirect their property tax revenues to families who choose private schools.
Seeking statistics

A precinct-by-precinct breakdown of the vote tally will be available this week, said San Mateo County Elections Manager David Tom. District officials and Measure V backers said they are looking forward to seeing those details with an eye toward bringing the measure back for another try.

Backers of Measure V said they were worried about voter apathy in an off-year mail-in election. Turnout was 35.3 percent. Of 44,672 registered voters, 15,773 voted, with 9,721 voting for the measure and 6,052 against.

Parents, teachers and staff worked phone banks to remind people to vote, but many calls went to answering machines, said Mr. Bohl.

With the rejection, the district remains the only elementary school district between Burlingame and Mountain View that does not have a parcel tax.

A pre-election survey had predicted success with a $100 per parcel tax instead of the $85 the school district chose to go with, said Mr. Bohl. "We do think we worked really hard and ran a good campaign," he said. "We want to know why people voted no and why people didn't vote."

The high cost of gasoline and confusion with an upcoming parcel tax ballot for the town of Atherton could have led people to just say no, said Mr. Carlson.

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