For the first time in decades, voters in the Menlo Park City School District have failed to approve a school finance measure. Two parcel tax measures on a special May 3 election ballot received less than the two-thirds majority needed to pass.
Members of the public will have a chance to air their views about what the district should do now that the tax measures have failed at a school board meeting Tuesday night, May 10.
Measure A, which would have renewed a parcel tax that will expire at the end of June 2017, received 2,819 "yes" votes, 59.2 percent of the total, and short of the 66.7 percent needed to pass. The "no" vote was 1,945.
Measure C, which would have added an annual $2.20-per-parcel tax for each student who enrolls beyond the district's current 2,938 students, received 2,560 "yes" votes, 53.8 percent of the total, also short of the 66.7 percent needed. The "no" vote was 2,199.
The measures were opposed by an informal coalition that used mostly social media to question the district's need for additional money. There was also substantial opposition to the fact that both measures, like the district's three existing parcel taxes, have no expiration dates.
Even a last-minute email appeal for yes votes to district residents from Facebook's chief operating officer and local resident Sheryl Sandberg, who also donated at least $10,000 to the campaign, failed to change the outcome.
The school board had said the additional money is needed to help the district cope with the fact that its student population is growing faster than its revenues. Superintendent Maurice Ghysels said the day after the election that he has initiated a district hiring freeze.
"The board will address options to reduce our expenditures related to district operations, compensation, class sizes, and essential programs, as well as discussing parent donations," he said.
If a new parcel tax measure is to be put on the ballot for the Nov. 8 general election, the board must submit it by June 30.
"We are disappointed in both the results and the false information spread by our opponents without correction during the campaign," school board president Jeff Child said on election night. "We will examine our options in the next several months to determine future operating plans."
Mr. Child said the district will "continue to focus on providing a great education for the 2,938 students" in the district.
Atherton resident Peter Carpenter, who had led much of the opposition to the two taxes, said he wants the district's board to "understand the depth of misunderstanding and mistrust in the community."
He said the board should prepare a single parcel tax measure for the November general election that supersedes all the district's current permanent parcel taxes, with a six-year expiration date.
He also asked the district to "commit to doing everything possible within the next six years to creating a unified elementary school district serving Woodside, Portola Valley, Menlo Park, Atherton, East Palo Alto and the adjacent unincorporated areas of San Mateo County."
-=B The measures==
Measure A was identical to the parcel tax expiring at the end of June 2017, but without an expiration date. The expiring parcel tax is currently $201.38 a year per parcel and provides about $1.58 million a year to the district. It was originally passed in 2010 and can increase annually by the amount of the Bay Area consumer price index.
Measure C was directly tied to increases in student enrollment. If the enrollment rose by 71 students, the increase predicted for next school year, the tax would have been $156.20 a year per parcel. The measure had a cap of 213 additional students, or $468.60 a year per parcel, plus an annual increase for inflation.
The parcel tax total could have varied year to year. If the 71-student prediction had been correct, and both measures had been approved, the 2017-18 tax bill per parcel for all five parcel taxes would have been $1,007.80, plus the increase in inflation from 2016.
Property owners in the school district now pay four parcel taxes, including the tax which is about to expire. The taxes appear as one on tax bills, and total $851.60 for the 2015-16 tax year.
The maximum parcel tax with both measures and with 213 additional students would have been $1,320.20 per parcel per year, plus the amount of any inflation.
According to the language of both measures, the parcel tax money could be spent only for teachers, to maintain low student-to-teacher ratios, to preserve "comprehensive educational programs" and, if money remained, for purchasing classroom equipment, supplies and materials. None of the money could be spent on administration costs.