With the district's current parcel tax set to expire in mid-2017, the board of the Woodside Elementary School District is trying to decide if it wants to put a new parcel tax on the ballot in June or November of this year.
On Dec. 16 the district's governing board heard from a political consultant and a pollster who would help craft the tax measure.
The current tax, which expires at the end of June 2017, is $281.52 per parcel per year. Those 65 and older may apply for a tax exemption.
The board has yet to decide how much a new tax would be, or how long it would last. It also must decide when to put the measure on the ballot.
While board members did not have many questions about hiring Clifford Moss, a political strategy and communications firm, at $5,500 per month, some balked at a bid for more than $20,000 from pollster Godbe Research.
Taxpayer funds can pay for consultants before a measure is approved by the board, but once it is on the ballot, private money must pay for campaigning.
Charles Hester, Godbe's director of business development, told the board that the advent of cellphones has changed polling, and made it more expensive.
"People have just completely abandoned their landlines," he said, so the company is now doing a survey using a combination of Internet plus landlines and some cellphones. But cellphones must be hand dialed, so that brings up the cost, he said.
Board members questioned the need for a poll at all. "Is the polling really going to tell us that much?" asked board member Kevin Johnson.
Even if the polling shows voters not supporting a new tax, said board member Silvia Edwards, "we're still going to put it on the ballot because we need the money."
Board member Marc Tarpenning even questioned whether a poll involving calling voters might backfire.
"Maybe it will just antagonize our voter community," he said.
Board member Marc Tarpenning also raised the issue of the bond election held in June 2014. "I'm sure people will say we just passed a bond, and now they want more money," he said.
He suggested emphasizing the exemption for residents who are over 65. "That I think is the key to this," he said. "We can't change the fact that we just raised money."
The proposal from Tom Clifford of Clifford Moss hinted at the fact that the district recently lost a bid to fire a tenured teacher that could cost it more than $350,000.
"Woodside Elementary School District has a great story to tell," Mr. Clifford's proposal says, going on to mention bond measures passed in May 2009 and June 2014. "Like many districts, however, Woodside has had some bumps in the road that may (or may not) come up in the course of a parcel tax renewal effort so careful planning is both merited and necessary," he concluded.
Another "bump" was brought back to the district voters attention in November when an appeals court upheld an order that former district finance director Tim Hanretty must repay the district nearly $2.7 million. In 2012 he pleaded no contest to charges that in 2007 he forged documents and borrowed $2.6 million for the district although the board had authorized him to borrow only $632,000. The loan was not noticed or questioned until 2011 when a board member asked why the district had so much debt.
The source of the repayment will probably be Mr. Hanretty's $41,000 a year state pension. He retired before pleading "no contest" to embezzlement and other charges, just months before a state law went into effect that would have substantially reduced his pension because of the felony convictions. So far, the district does not have a repayment agreement with him, Superintendent Beth Polito said on Jan. 7.
In the end, the school board did not vote on hiring either consultant, and Superintendent Polito said on Jan. 7 that neither consultant had yet been "hired officially."