Speakers at a public-input session Monday on a possible new parcel tax for the Menlo Park City School District almost universally favored another tax, and several suggested asking voters to approve a high enough tax to avoid budget cuts. A second public-input meeting was on Oct. 25.
One of the more surprising comments during the Oct. 24 session came from Peter Carpenter, an Atherton resident who had strongly opposed two parcel taxes that failed to gain the needed two-thirds approval on the May 2016 ballot.
Mr. Carpenter said he believes that three existing permanent parcel taxes were put in place by taxpayers to help improve the school district. "The board and the staff have done an excellent job of delivering on that community commitment," he said.
Mr. Carpenter said he recommends the board put a measure on the next general election ballot, next March, and ask for the amount needed to avoid cuts, $515 per parcel. He recommended the tax be for a fairly short term of about six years.
"I think it can be done but it has to be a community-wide effort."
Jen Woolosin, the parent of two students at Laurel School, urged the school board to do whatever it could to protect the district's teachers and small class sizes that ensure "every child in the classroom is getting what he needs."
"Please take care of our teachers," she said, and encouraged the board to go for a March election to avoid giving teachers layoff notices. "We would not want to lose any of these phenomenal teachers that we have," she said.
Scott Saywell, one of four school board candidates and father of two Laurel School students, said he has talked to hundreds of district residents during his campaign. "By definition, as a community-funded district, our community decides the size of our budget," he said. "Our community really ... supports our education system," and will step up to vote for a parcel tax, he said.
He suggested the district do more to inform the public about the budget impacts of pension costs, which are mandated by the state
Laura Lane, mother of an Oak Knoll School student, said she finds the school "such a safe place for kids." She said the students feel safe to be themselves and express themselves and therefore, to learn.
"That's what we want our kids to feel," she said. "I hate the thought of cutting anything."
Kelly Morehead said her family, like several others, "actually moved here specifically because of the quality of the schools."
"I think you should go out and ask for the full amount," she said, adding that it is only $300 more than what is being paid now. "That, by my math, is about 86 cents a day. So if everybody wanted to reduce their coffee from a grande to a tall, I think we could cover that," she said.
Hongran Stone, the parent of two Oak Knoll School students, told board members some of the challenges they face. "My neighbor who has a kid in Oak Knoll didn't know we have a budget deficit" in the school district, she said.
Teacher Jeffrey Mead said many people also don't know that teachers also contribute to their own retirement and "I'm surprised at how many people don't know that we don't collect social security."
He said teachers need to help campaign for the new parcel tax. "If this is going to benefit us and save our jobs, we should be out there too," he said.
Jennifer Bestor, a Menlo Park resident who formerly had a child in the district, reminded the board that the district has a number of disadvantaged students who would feel the burdens of any cuts first. "It is the children who have the least in this district who will suffer," she said.
Sarah Leslie, an Oak Knoll School parent, said voters need to be aware of how many volunteer hours go into programs at the district schools, including by those without children in the schools. "People feel this is a community institution and they want to help out," she said.
At District.MPCSD.org, the district's website, videos of the budget meeting will be posted. Assistant superintendent Erik Burmeister said a list of answers to frequently asked questions will also be posted soon.