News

Menlo district school board gets advice on ending budget woes

 

Note: This is an expanded version of an earlier story.

Speakers at two public-input sessions about a possible new parcel tax for the Menlo Park City School District almost universally favored another tax, with several people suggesting a tax high enough to avoid all budget cuts.

But district officials acknowledged at the end of the meetings, held Oct. 24 and 25, that most of those they have been hearing from, besides teachers, have students in the district. In the previous parcel tax election, however, fewer than 15 percent of registered voters had children in district schools.

Assistant Superintendent Erik Burmeister said that of nearly 250 people who had posted comments on the district's website regarding the district's finances using an online form, more than 80 percent currently had students in the district, about 6 percent previously had students there, and close to 5 percent had children who may eventually attend district schools.

One voter without a district student who spoke was Peter Carpenter, an Atherton resident who had strongly opposed two parcel taxes that failed to gain the needed two-thirds' voter approval in May 2016.

Mr. Carpenter recommended that a $515 parcel tax measure with a term of about six years be placed on the ballot in March. "I think it can be done, but it has to be a community-wide effort," he said.

After the meeting, Mr. Carpenter said his recommendation came from a belief that "the entire community needs to decide the issue of how much we are willing to support MPCSD and I think that decision needs to come before the teacher (layoff) notification date."

Mr. Carpenter said he has not, however, decided how he will vote.

Scott Hinshaw, co-chair of the May parcel taxes campaign, had a different take. "I believe we can find a compromise in our community, but it is going to require a bit of belt-tightening and sacrifice on all our parts -- parents, the schools, the board, the teachers and the community," he said.

Among his ideas: the suggested annual contribution to the district's foundation and parent teacher organization be raised by $250 to a total of $2,000 per student annually. "If we are able to do this and 70 percent of our families participate, this will add $500,000 in revenue to our schools every year," he said. He also suggested the Menlo Park Atherton Education Foundation give the district an extra $100,000 per year for the next three years from its $2.9 million endowment.

Mr. Hinshaw also asked the district to spend some of its "economic uncertainty" reserves in the coming year to allow it to avoid issuing teacher layoff notices and to help in retaining and attracting teachers.

For district teachers and staff, he suggested a three-year salary freeze, citing the district's contract with Erik Burmeister, who will become superintendent in July, which keeps his salary flat for three years.

Mr. Hinshaw also asked voters to consider that "our community has accumulated a staggering amount of wealth in property values over the last 10 to 20 years in the hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars." Mr. Hinshaw said property tax revenues have grown, but not "enough to keep up with enrollment outpacing our neighbors."

"Out of the hundreds of millions of dollars in appreciation we have had, I don't think it's a big ask for a few hundred dollars for our schools," he said.

District parent Jen Wolosin 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."

School board candidate and district parent Scott Saywell said he has talked to hundreds of district residents while campaigning.

"By definition, as a community-funded district, our community decides the size of our budget," he said. The community will support a parcel tax, he said.

He suggested the district do more to inform the public about the budget impacts of state-mandated pension costs.

Kelly Morehead said her family, like several others, moved to the district because of the quality of the schools. "I think you should go out and ask for the full amount," she said.

District parent Hongran Stone told board members they face communication challenges. "My neighbor who has a kid in Oak Knoll didn't know we have a budget deficit," she said.

Teacher Jeffrey Mead 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 many disadvantaged students who would feel 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 understand how many volunteer hours go into district schools, including from volunteers without children there. "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.

Comments

5 people like this
Posted by Stephanie
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 1, 2016 at 7:40 pm

Teacher Jeffrey Mead 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.

As far as saving teacher jobs: if saving jobs was important than why didn't the union take the safe move, postpone the raise and secure the jobs of the nontenured teachers? They could have created more security for ALL the teachers not by completely forgoing the raise, but simply by postponing it....(until after the structural deficit had been addressed/resolved)

That would have been the fair thing to do for the newly hired teachers. Everybody gains job security and everybody waits for the raise, instead of everybody gets a raise, but some teachers might not be around to enjoy it because it was given before passing a new tax and now cuts are a real possibility. I don't understand that reasoning but it's where we are now.

"Assistant Superintendent Erik Burmeister said that of nearly 250 people who had posted comments on the district's website regarding the district's finances using an online form, more than 80 percent currently had students in the district".

What is the plan to solicit input from the other 80% of the community who are not district parents?

What is the plan to share the results with the public that have come in thus far?

What will be the criteria used to decide next steps?

How will the results of the Panorama Survey be shared?
What is the minimum number of respondents needed for the board to feel comfortable that it reached enough of the community to take an action on its critical questions?

At what point will the district try a different outreach method/marketing strategy to reach more parents? They may appear uninterested but we don't want them to show opposition to a parcel tax AFTER a measure has been placed on the ballot. This needs to be ascertained NOW.

Thank you Barbara for your coverage of our district. You are helping get some news out and dialogue started.


4 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 1, 2016 at 8:22 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

"What is the plan to solicit input from the other 80% of the community who are not district parents?"

Guaranteed there isn't any plan. The board doesn't want it. They just want to put another parcel tax on the ballot and push parents to vote for it. It will be interesting to see if they try the "stealth" route again.


4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 1, 2016 at 8:29 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

A stealth vote on a new parcel tax that attempted to succeed by focusing only on the parents of students will fail.

The community has been awakened and the community will only support a new parcel tax if that parcel tax is understood and time limited to ensure accountability.


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

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