Editorial: Tax would help Portola Valley schools


Note: Ballots must be received by the Elections Office no later than 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 7. This is a mail-only election.

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.

Click here for more information from the San Mateo County Elections Office.

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Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 1, 2013 at 5:03 pm

While I'm a firm believer in education and support our kids getting quality ones, I'm very disturbed that the education funding is so piecemeal -- a parcel tax here, a parcel tax there, some from the state, ERAF (Education Reimbursement Augmentation Fund), etc.

Welcome to California!

Like this comment
Posted by Education Reform
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on May 2, 2013 at 12:17 pm

Perhaps if the 4 school districts in the general Menlo Park area would consider combining into a single school district, the need for "piece meal" bond and tax measures would not be required. The four districts currently have a total of 9 schools at the K-8 level. Why is there a need for four separate districts with four separate administrations and exceptionally high labor costs for these administrators? Do we really need 4 highly overpaid Superintendents of these districts? Take that money and put back into the schools and watch the impact.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 2, 2013 at 12:39 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Why is there a need for four separate districts with four separate administrations and exceptionally high labor costs for these administrators?"

The only reason is so that those administrators have a job. Consolidated school district do a better job of education, which is their purpose, and at a lower per student cost.

Like this comment
Posted by CR
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on May 2, 2013 at 1:13 pm

Too many taxes, and no real proof that the money is now being spent wisely, as Education Reform suggests. Wasn't there another tax measure passed in November 2012? And how much did it cost to do the fancy survey of 'how much more tax people in PV could/would pay to the schools', with graphics, that's on the PVSD website? Profligate spending should not be the norm, and residents should not repeatedly be asked to plug the holes in this local education system.

Like this comment
Posted by Michael
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on May 2, 2013 at 1:22 pm

It's all about local control. PV schools are doing extremely well . If it isn't broke why fix it with some ridiculous plan to save the salary of an administrator.

Like this comment
Posted by Intrigued
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on May 2, 2013 at 1:25 pm

This survey? Doesn't look to me like the passing of this measure is a done deal.

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by PV resident
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on May 2, 2013 at 2:11 pm

My issue with the tax measure is that it replaces two others (one of which was an emergency measure) at a higher fee than the other two combined. The emergency measure was passed when the financial crisis hit and home values (and property taxes) and state funding tanked. Kudos to Portola Valley residents for stepping up in a crisis. This time is not a crisis. Prior folks commented on excess administration which may be valid, but enrollment has been going down in the last 2 years in kindergarten so we have 25% fewer classes (4 classes down to 3)and no discussion on projections in the next few years. Real estate prices are up, homes are selling and some older residents who may have been paying $2000/year in property taxes are being replaced by new residents paying $20,000. I am upset that the school board paid for a study from a consulting firm to determine "what would be the maximum tax that could pass" and what "should be the talking points to get voters to vote for it" rather than do a budget that started with the tax revenue and foundation revenue and incrementally budgeted additional funds that would add value to the school district. I am sure important progams may be lost is this measure fails, but the consulting firm recomended that a message of "math, science, english, art, social studies, class sizes, after school, etc would all be devestated." It sounds to me like the way the FAA used sequestration recently and may backfire on the PV Board as well. I am sure that many folks would argue that we should not cut art, for example. However, if the measure did not pass would you cut art or have 40 kids in a class. The real disservice is the PV school board never outlined what the impact would have been if the funding was cut, continued at the same pace as the last few years, went back to the nonemergency rate, or went for this higher amount. The decision was "more is better" and let's float the maximum tax that the market will bear. I think we need better representation and accountability on the board.

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