Tuesday: Woodside Elementary district board ponders parcel tax

Dec. 6 meeting follows 3:30 p.m. Rudy Driscoll event

A measure to replace a $289 parcel tax expiring at the end of June 2017 will be on the agenda of the Woodside Elementary School District's governing board when it meets on Tuesday, Dec. 6, in the Wildcats Room of the school at 3195 Woodside Road.

Before the meeting, the school will honor Rudy W. Driscoll Jr., a former school board member and school parent who died in June 2015 at the age of 47. The event starts at 3:30 p.m. in the school's amphitheater.

The board meeting will start when the event is over.

Superintendent Beth Polito said voters have previously approved four parcel tax measures in the distric, with the first in 1984 and the fourth in 2009. The expiring parcel tax currently generates about $300,000 for the district's general fund, about 3 percent of the district's budget, she said.

The board will consider a recommendation from a district Parcel Tax Renewal Committee about the amount and duration of a possible ballot measure, Ms. Polito said. Committee members are Staci Cole, Jennifer Zweig, Chandler Evans, Emm Shaw and Devon Kohler, the superintendent said.

The board earlier agreed to a special, all-mail election on April 4, 2017. The district's costs to put the measure on that ballot will be about $20,000, she said.

The district has also hired polling and campaign consultants. A June report from pollster Godbe Research said a poll of 118 likely district voters showed only 52.2 percent, well below the 66.7 percent needed, said they would likely or definitely vote for a 12-year, $290 parcel tax with an exemption for those 65 and older. The report said the poll, conducted by landline, cell phone and email, had a fairly high margin of error of plus or minus 8.73 percent.

After those polled were told of the district's reasons for the parcel tax, the approval rate increased to 57 percent.

In November, the school district had 2,357 registered voters. The district's boundaries include only about half of the town of Woodside, most of it west of Interstate 280. The Emerald Hills neighborhood and parts of Canada Road east of I-280 are also in the district, but the parts of Woodside west of Philip Road, including part of Mountain Home Road, are in the Portola Valley School District.

Last year the board considered putting a measure on the November general election ballot to extend the tax for eight years at the existing rate of $290, but decided to postpone action. Ms. Polito said the district gets about 63 percent of its operating budget from property taxes and about 20 percent from an annual grant of close to $1.8 million from the Woodside School Foundation.

The district spends approximately $21,000 per student, she said, "which allows for small class sizes, robust student support, and credentialed full time staff in art, music, design, transitional kindergarten and the library."

She said staff costs, including annual salary increases given for longevity and training, plus pension costs, tend to outstrip annual increases in property taxes.

In September, Ms. Polito said the school, which serves students from transitional kindergarten through eighth grade, had about 400 students. The school also has a tuition-based preschool on its grounds.

The district's budget for the current 2016-17 school year, approved in June, projected $10.06 million in expected revenues and $10.05 million in spending for the fiscal year, leaving a reserve of a little over $880,000, or about twice the amount mandated by the state.

The number of students at the school has fallen from 452 students in the 2013-14 school year to this year's 400 students, a drop of about 12 percent. During that time the school's property tax revenues increased from $5.5 million in the 2013-14 fiscal year to a projected $6.6 million in 2016-17, a 20 percent increase.

During that time, the June budget report says, salaries and benefits increased from 79.9 percent of the budget in the 2013-14 fiscal year to a projected 84.3 percent in the 2016-17 year. A three-year budget forecasts that amount increasing to 84.8 percent by 2018-19, including an annual state-mandated increase in retirement costs of about 2 percent each year.

This year's budget includes five administrators -- a superintendent, two principals, a business official and a director of special education -- plus the full-time equivalents of 42.6 teachers and 12.7 other non-management employees.

The three-year budget projection made in June did not include the parcel tax as revenue after its expiration date. The projection showed that the loss of the parcel tax revenue would still allow the district to maintain the state required reserve of 4 percent of the general fund budget, getting down to 4.35 percent in the 2018-19 school year if revenues do not increase or expenses are not cut.

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