Menlo Park City School District board members gave their superintendent the green light to pursue a contract with a political consultant to advise them on renewing or replacing a parcel tax that district staff say is only a "temporary solution" to the district's anticipated financial woes.
During a Jan. 28 school board meeting, trustees voted 5-0 to hire Whitehurst/Mosher Campaign Strategy and Media (WMCSM), for consulting services related to a potential parcel tax and/or bond election, according to the district.
Superintendent Erik Burmeister will now work on a contract with Whitehurst/Mosher and bring it back to the board for approval, said Parke Treadway, the district's public information officer.
The district's parcel tax, Measure X, which passed in 2017 with an initial rate of $360 per parcel, expires in 2024. The rate for 2019-20, adjusted for changes in the San Francisco Bay Area's consumer price index, is $386.38 per parcel.
District officials have said that that it will be necessary to put a measure before voters to renew or replace Measure X at a higher taxation rate to help address a future deficit that could result from last year's 5% teacher salary hike.
The board has not yet decided on the timing for renewing or replacing the tax measure, but during an early January board meeting, Burmeister noted that there are several factors that make the upcoming November election a challenging one for passing a ballot measure. That ballot, he noted, will be crowded with tax-related propositions, and it would be a "completely different election" from any the district has faced before.
He and board members noted that a November ballot measure to amend Proposition 13, which governs property taxes in California, might affect the district's funding, making it difficult to accurately assess the need for a parcel tax.
Whitehurst/Mosher has proposed a monthly retainer charge of $5,000 for a minimum of three months, according to a report prepared by staff for the Jan. 28 meeting. Services covered by the retainer would include choosing an election date that would "maximize" voter approval of a measure; community outreach; crafting a ballot measure; attending district meetings; preparing reports and policy research; and polling, the report says.
The district's parcel tax and bond board subcommittee, made up of trustees Mark Box and Scott Saywell, interviewed four consultants and narrowed the field to two finalists: San Francisco-based TBWB Strategies and Oakland-based Whitehurst/Mosher.
"The subcommittee was impressed by both, ultimately feeling as though Whitehurst/Mosher would best meet the district's needs primarily because they are familiar with the District having advised us and the Measure X campaign to a successful result," the report says.
Burmeister noted at the early January meeting that November 2022 is probably the latest the district would be able to put a parcel tax measure on the ballot without some "significant budget cuts."