It's official. On Feb. 1, the governing board of the Menlo Park City School District unanimously approved putting two parcel tax measures on a special May 3 mail-in ballot.
The district says that without the new parcel taxes it will soon spend down its reserves. Enrollment is projected to continue increasing in the district through 2025, but because Menlo Park is a "community funded" district receiving most of its income from property taxes, it does not receive more funds when more students enroll.
Measure A is identical to a parcel tax set to expire in 2017 and Measure B is tied directly to increases in student enrollment.
Both measures propose permanent taxes, with no expiration dates. The maximum parcel tax if both measures are approved is $1,320.20 per parcel per year, adjusted for any inflation.
This year, property owners in the district pay a total of $851.60 in parcel taxes to the district, in four separate parcel taxes, which appear as one on the tax bill.
Three of the parcel taxes are permanent and one will expire at the end of June 2017. If the two new measures are approved, property owners will pay five separate parcel taxes, all of them permanent.
The parcel tax due to expire is currently $201.38 and provides about $1.58 million annually to the district. Measure A would make the expiring $201.38 tax permanent.
Measure B proposes a $2.20 per parcel tax for each student who enrolls beyond the district's current 2,938 students. If the student count in the district rose by 71 students, the increase predicted for next school year, the tax would be $156.20. The measure has a cap of 213 additional students, or $468.60, adjusted for inflation.
Because the second measure is totally dependent on enrollment, the parcel tax total could vary year to year. If the 7l student prediction is correct, and both measures are approved, the 2017-18 tax bill per parcel would be $1007.80, adjusted by the amount of inflation this year.
The proposal allows those 65 and older to apply for an exemption from the tax. The new taxes could increase annually with increases in the consumer price index as the existing taxes do.
Alex Evans from EMC Research, a consultant the district hired to helped craft the ballot measures, said his firm found that the district is seen positively by voters who participated in three focus groups.
"There's high satisfaction with Menlo Park in general," he said, and schools are seen as "a major contributor to the quality of life in Menlo Park." That opinion, he said, leaves voters willing to give the district the benefit of the doubt. "They start out saying, I'm probably going to say yes," he said.
"You're going to voters from a really good position about your brand," he said.
Only one member of the public spoke at the Feb. 1 meeting. The speaker, who identified himself only as Steve, from Delfino Way, asked why the district makes seniors apply each year for their exemption from the parcel taxes.
"A lot of your seniors are 80 and 90. Some have dementia," he said. "It seems like a somewhat harsh way of doing it."
Board members said they would look into how other districts handle the senior exemption and consider changing the application process.
The speaker also asked if commercial properties could be charged more than residential properties. Board members said that legal cases have shown that parcel taxes must be the same for each parcel and cannot differentiate between types of property.
Now that the district board has approved the parcel tax measures, all campaigning must be done privately and paid for with private funding. Jody Buckley and Scott Hinshaw are heading the citizen's committee that will campaign for the parcel tax measures.
The district, like the Las Lomitas, Woodside and Portola Valley districts, is funded almost entirely from local sources including property taxes, parcel taxes and donations. Such schools used to be called "basic aid" districts but are now labeled "community funded."
Community funded districts do not get more money when they get more students. In the Menlo Park district, enrollment has grown 38 percent since 2005, when it had 2,133 students. This year the district has 2,940 students. A consultant recently projected that the district will have 3,151 students in 2020 and 3,280 in 2025.