Woodside School board refrains from putting tax measure on November ballot

Board approves budget, gives teachers 4% cost-of-living hike

Unless there's a last minute change of mind, the Woodside Elementary School District won't have a parcel tax on the November ballot.

The one-school district's governing board deliberated putting a $290 parcel tax measure on the November ballot at its June 7 meeting, but after discussing how a crowded ballot could hurt the tax's chance of approval, the board took no action on the item.

That means unless the board reconsiders before the Aug. 12 deadline for the November ballot, the district will delay any parcel tax measure until 2017.

The proposed tax measure before the board would have continued a tax that will expire in June 2017. It contributes a little over $300,000 of the school district's annual $10 million budget.

The board unanimously approved, with no comment from the public and no discussion, a budget for 2016-17.

The board also approved a 4 percent cost of living raise for its teachers.

Superintendent Beth Polito told the board that "there is a concern the November election could be a little crazy." In addition to a long ballot, it could also have "a couple of items that could be against us," she said.

The political consultant hired by the district to advise it on the tax measure agreed. Tom Clifford of Clifford Moss said that "November will be an exceedingly crowded ballot" although "your voters here in Woodside have always supported local measures." He said there could be two statewide school funding measures on the ballot as well.

Board members seemed to agree. "My biggest concern is that if there's 18 measures on the ballot, we'll just get lost," said board member Marc Tarpenning.

Mr. Clifford told the board that the district's wins in previous elections were in elections with low turnouts. He said, however, that the district could save money by being on the ballot in November. Election cost are split among all the jurisdictions with measures on the ballot.

"It would be more expensive to do a special" election, he said.

Board members asked about the two parcel tax measures that failed to get the required two-thirds approval in the Menlo Park City School District last month.

"What happened last month in Menlo Park?" asked board member Sylvia Edwards.

"Politically, my opinion, lack of a sunset," said Mr. Clifford, referring to the fact that the measures had no expiration dates.

Audience members who had been in contact with those who headed the campaign in Menlo Park said they also believed that having a special election had hurt them.

Audience members also urged not putting the measure on the November ballot.

"We have more control over the electorate if there's a much lower turnout," an audience member said. If more parents vote, "the likelihood is they're more likely to say yes," she said. In an election with higher turnout, such as the November election, "we have to work really, really hard to get people who don't have kids currently in the school to say yes," she said.

A three-year budget projection reviewed by the board Tuesday does not include the parcel tax as revenue after its expiration date. It shows that the loss of the parcel tax would still allow the district to maintain the state required reserves of 4 percent of the general fund budget, getting down to 4.35 percent in 2018-19 if revenues do not increase or expenses are not cut.

However, the report by district business official Therese McNamee says the currently projected cost of living increases and program expenses "cannot be maintained if the parcel tax is not renewed. Additional expense reductions will need to be considered."

It was the second time the board had put off scheduling the parcel tax for an election. In January it had originally considered putting the measure on the June or November ballots.

In May, as part of its consent calendar, the school board approved contracts with pollster Godbe Research for $19,625 and with political consultant Clifford Moss for $5,500 a month, retroactive to March 15 for work on a parcel tax measure.

Ms. McNamee's report on the budget approved by the board Tuesday shows the district with $10.06 million in expected revenues and $10.05 million in spending, leaving a reserve of a little over $880,000, or about twice the amount mandated by the state.

The budget report shows that the number of students at the school has fallen by about 9 percent in the past three years, from 452 students in the 2013-14 school year to a predicted 409 students in the 2016-17 school year.

At the same time, the district has seen a healthy increase in property tax revenues, from about $5.5 million in 2013-14 to a projected $6.6 million in 2016-17, an increase of about 20 percent since 2013.

Revenues are down by $576,400 from 2105-16 due to decreases in one-time state revenues, the report says, while spending is down $797,235 from the previous year because of previous spending of one-time funding for instructional materials, professional development and capital expenditures.

The report says that salaries and benefits make up most of the district's general fund budget. Salaries and benefits have increased from 79.9 percent of the budget in 2013-14 to a projected 84.3 percent in the 2016-17 school year.

The three-year budget forecasts that amount increasing to 84.8 percent by 2018-19. Much of the increase is due to an annual increase in retirement costs of about 2 percent each year. The state mandates most of the costs of retirement plans for school districts.

The one-school K-8 district has five administrators: a superintendent, two principals, a business official and a director of special education. There is a full-time equivalent of 42.6 teachers for the coming year, down one position from the current year, and the equivalent of 12.7 other non-management employees, the budget says.

The one-position reduction is probably linked to the district's hopes to soon be able to stop covering the salary of a teacher it tried unsuccessfully to fire and who has been on the payroll but not working since April 2015. "We anticipate reaching settlement on open litigation regarding employee dismissal," the budget report says.

The district should also save considerably on legal fees. After initially budgeting $25,000 on legal fees for the 2015-16 school year, the board increased that budget by $225,000 and had spent most of the $250,000 by the end of the 2015-16 budget year.

While the budget document does not specify how much will be spent on legal services in the coming year, Ms. McNamee's report does say that services and other operating expenditures are expected to drop by 22.65 percent in 2016-17 "due to reduction in legal fees and leased equipment."

Ms. McNamee's report projects property tax revenue to increase in the future at a slower rate than in past years, with 5.5, 4.5 and 3.5 percent tax revenue increases over the next three years.


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2 people like this
Posted by Woodsider
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Hills
on Jun 16, 2016 at 2:27 pm

Woodsider is a registered user.

"We have more control over the electorate if there's a much lower turnout," an audience member said. If more parents vote, "the likelihood is they're more likely to say yes," she said. In an election with higher turnout, such as the November election, "we have to work really, really hard to get people who don't have kids currently in the school to say yes," she said

Is this the position of the WES School Board and Superintendent Polito as well? Are they in favor of making sure that this issue is presented to the least number of voters or the most? Seems to me that your job is to reach out to the citizens of this small town and convince the broadest number of voters that what you are seeking is the right thing to do. Not paying a lot of money to a consultant (which could be used instead for school programs) and "sneaking" this tax issue onto a ballot during an election you hope will be lightly attended and stacked with favorable voters....a lazy and divisive proposal.

4 people like this
Posted by Dan
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jun 16, 2016 at 3:36 pm

The school board represents the entire community, not just the parents. The entire community is eligible to vote in school board elections. It pays the taxes to fund the schools.

Elections are intended to reflect the will of the community. Manipulating the rules so that one special interest gets its preferred electoral outcome is not the way a democracy should work.

If some parents want greater Woodside school funding, they can donate to the schools directly.

Like this comment
Posted by Questions
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jun 17, 2016 at 7:47 am

Can we talk about why the district has lost 9% of students in the past 3 years, and many teachers, but gained an administrator?

Other local districts are gaining students?

While there is always a percent that transfer to private schools or move away, it seems there are fewer families with kids moving to Woodside, and more transferring/moving than before?

Woodside is a very intimidating place to move to if you are not in the .01%. It could be more welcoming. Rents have increased on rental properties to a burden that few can afford.

Are the schools accommodating and supportive to those with learning differences?
Are more moving away due to the prospect of an avg performing local high school (as opposed to top rated)?
Is the budget going to decrease with the loss of students?
I have no answers, only questions.

Like this comment
Posted by WES Parent
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jun 17, 2016 at 9:58 am


These are good questions and worth asking at a school board meeting - unfortunately the board is in recess until summer is over. The next meeting date is not listed on the school website yet.

I do know that only 5 students are leaving WES for private middle school next year which is quite low in historical standards.

I also know that WES does an amazing job catering to students with learning differences as well as providing differentiated curriculum for all students.

My biggest concerns are the number of teachers who are leaving WES and the seeming lack of accountability for mishandled (and expensive) human resources issues that have occurred under the current leadership.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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