In a discussion that took up most of a six-hour meeting, the Menlo Park City School District's governing board agreed on Nov. 9 that it will probably put a parcel tax measure on the ballot in March in an attempt to balance the district's budget before it is forced to give layoff notices.
What board members couldn't agree on was how much of a parcel tax they should ask for. They will meet again on Thursday, Nov. 17, at 7 p.m. in the Hillview Middle School Performing Arts Center, 1100 Elder Ave., to discuss that issue.
Board members are juggling the desire to make sure they propose a parcel tax that will be acceptable to at least two-thirds of the voters and the reality that if they ask for anything less than $515 per parcel they will have to make cuts to balance the budget.
Without a new parcel tax, the district projects a budget shortfall of $5.3 million by the 2020-21 school year.
"I don't like the cuts, they're not comfortable," said board member Stacy Jones. "I don't want to make cuts, but I also don't want to be in the position where we have to slash and burn because we didn't pass a parcel tax," she said.
Board members had a massive amount of information to process, including transcripts of all the public comments they received between Sept. 27 and Oct. 31 on the budget issues. There were 469 online comments and 77 from board meetings.
The board also got an overview of detailed plans for cuts in programs. Five scenarios ranged from the passage of a new $515 per parcel tax requiring no budget cuts, to not replacing the parcel tax that expires on June 30, 2017, which requires $4.5 million in budget cuts over the next three school years.
In the no-parcel-tax scenario, class sizes would be increased by an average of two students in kindergarten through fifth grade and by three students in sixth through eighth grade, the teachers' work year would be shortened and the contracts of the principals, assistant principals and department directors would be shortened by five days per year. Teacher salary increases would be half a percent smaller than usual, the schools would stop giving iPads to each middle school student, the middle school's "mini-course" week would go away, art teachers and librarians would be replaced with aides and science and most classroom aides would be eliminated. Hillview Middle School would offer fewer electives (and those offered would have larger class sizes) and the district would eliminate the job of one custodian.
The board is also scheduled to meet again on Nov. 30 to approve details of a measure that would appear on the March 7, 2017 ballot. Dec. 9 is the deadline to submit measures for that ballot.
The board's decision is complicated by the fact that even though two new board members were elected on Nov. 8, they will not take office until after the deadline for the March ballot. Even who those two board members are was not clear at the time of Wednesday's meeting because the second, third and fourth place candidates were very close and the ballots of nearly 25 percent of registered voters countywide were still uncounted.
Members of the current board agreed that they want the incoming board members to approve of the timing and amount of any parcel tax.