Members of the governing board of the Menlo Park City School District continue to struggle with how to balance the district's budget, which is currently projected to be $5.3 million in the red by the 2020-21 school year.
Board members spent four hours trying to figure out the details of a parcel tax on Thursday night, Nov. 17, following a Nov. 9 meeting during which they spent about the same amount of time on the topic. They are scheduled to vote on a parcel tax on Wednesday, Nov. 30, but they have also reserved a board meeting date for Dec. 5 in case they need it.
After the Nov. 17 meeting, it looked like the Dec. 5 date will probably be needed. Board members failed to reach a consensus on how much of a tax they will ask for. They also need to decide on an expiration date for the tax, and the wording of a ballot measure. Even the date of an election was in question.
The board members are juggling several variables, including how much they are willing to cut from the district's current budget, and how far out into the future they want to see balanced budgets projected. Several of the proposed scenarios project a need to return to the voters for more money in just a few years, when the district falls below the 15 percent reserves required by board policy.
While district officials have given board members a list of more than $4 million in cuts that could be made in both current and projected spending, several board members said they favored an option that would add only $523,000 in future cuts to the $900,000 that was cut before this fiscal year's budget was adopted. The $523,000 in cuts would all be made in the 2017-18 budget year.
That option, chief business official Ahmad Sheikholeslami said, helps to keep the "best student experience" by leaving most district programs intact.
The proposed $523,000 in cuts include the elimination of five jobs: the director of curriculum and instruction, an administrative assistant, a custodian, an accountant (all existing positions) and a part-time clerical job that is currently open.
Three people would be laid off and one would move into a position that will come open with a retirement, Assistant Superintendent Erik Burmeister said after the meeting.
The district would continue to offer the once-a-year mini-courses at Hillview Middle School only to eighth graders (a change that was put into place this year that saves $53,000 a year), and would cut its budget for professional development, online subscriptions, and money given to each school for things such as materials, professional development and some instructional aides.
If a parcel tax measure has not been approved by the time the district must submit its 2016-17 budget next June, it will be required to make further budget cuts to make up for the $1.6 million a year in current revenue that will be lost when the existing $207 a year parcel tax expires June 30.
"We have to have a plan in the wings, ready to go if the voters turn down" whatever measure is put on the ballot, Mr. Sheikholeslami said.
If the vote on a parcel tax is delayed until Dec. 5, new board members David Ackerman and Caroline Lucas will be sworn in that day and will be able to vote on the measure.
The district invited the two new board members to sit at the table with the rest of the board at the Nov. 17 meeting, and Mr. Ackerman did so. Ms. Lucas, however, sat in the audience and said she preferred not to join the rest of the board at meetings until she had participated in board member training on Nov. 19.
The board members are under deadline pressure because Dec. 9 is the last day to get on the March 7, 2017, ballot. That is the only election date available to them that keeps them from possibly having to give layoff notices to district staff on March 15.
Both the Wednesday, Nov. 30, and Monday, Dec. 5, meetings are scheduled to start at 6 p.m. in the Hillview PAC.
If the Dec. 5 meeting is not held, the new board members will be sworn in at the board's regular December meeting, Tuesday, Dec. 13, at the Hillview PAC.