The Menlo Park City School District community is appealing to voters once again to support a parcel tax, 10 months after two tax measures went down in defeat. Since that ballot-box failure, school district officials have shown they are willing to respond to the concerns that appeared to have led to the defeat. And now voters have a measure before them that has an expiration date and a lower price tag, and is the result of a resolutely transparent process.
Measure X would replace the $207 per-parcel annual tax that expires at the end of June. That tax raises about $1.6 million annually. Measure X would increase the existing tax by about $153 per year, and would sunset in seven years. Ballots are in the mail now, and polls will be open on March 7 for voters who prefer a voting booth.
These details represent a happy departure from those of last year's tax election, when the district chose to place Measures A and C on a mail-only ballot rather than on the June or November ballot – less expensive options that were likely to have attracted more voters. Those measures had no sunset clauses, and had they been approved, all of the district's parcel taxes – there would have been five – would have been permanent.
We welcome district leaders' fresh approach to placing Measure X before voters this time around. It is a carefully thought-out tax measure that would keep much-needed revenue flowing to help fund the district's rigorous, often-innovative educational programs.
In response to opponents' criticisms over last year's measures, the district's leaders took extra steps to involve the community and inform voters of the need for parcel tax revenue. The district expanded its website to include an interactive budget tool to help the public understand school funding, and videos of board meetings, including the 10 meetings held between September and December that sought community input on a tax measure.
The district has come up with a spending-reduction plan to put into place even if Measure X passes. That plan includes eliminating six to 10 staff positions, and making $927,000 in spending cuts for the current fiscal year, and $1.3 million in cuts over the next two fiscal years.
But district leaders are in the process of coming up with a plan to quickly implement should Measure X fail. They say that loss of the tax revenue could result in elimination of some 30 positions, among other things.
We hope there will be no need to make these drastic and painful cuts. Because of complicated factors that long ago set the formula for property tax revenue distribution to local school districts, base property taxes in the Menlo Park City School District now fund only $8,700 of the $14,000 needed annually to educate each district student. That $8,700 base tax figure compares with $11,200 per child in the Las Lomitas School District, which also serves Menlo Park and Atherton children; and about $15,500 per child in the Woodside and Portola Valley districts.
Parcel tax revenues have allowed the district to enhance its funding of an outstanding educational program, and recruit and retain some of the best teachers in the Bay Area. The community has invested in its schools over the years by supporting nearly every parcel tax measure as other funding sources have become less reliable. We urge voters to now support Measure X.