Menlo Park school board recommends consultant to help make parcel tax decision | News | Almanac Online |


Menlo Park school board recommends consultant to help make parcel tax decision

District seeks to renew or replace parcel tax that expires in 2024, citing anticipated future deficit

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."


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24 people like this
Posted by Enough
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 7, 2020 at 10:18 am

So MPCSD is going to spend thousands of dollars, probably 10's of thousands of dollars, to hire a consultant to determine whether or not to add an additional parcel tax measure to the ballot. Let me see if I can help:

Enrollment has been slowly declining in the Menlo Park School district over the past few years (very slight uptick this year +6 students). Since 2012 there has been a slight increase in students about 8% (2719 in 2011/2012 and 2932 in 2019/2020)

revenue from Property Taxes (which is where the vast majority of the MPCSD budget comes from) has been skyrocketing every year for the last decade (at least). Let's just look at the last few years:

Menlo Park: 2019 up 10.5%, 2018 up 11.06%, 2017 up 12.5%, 2016 up 12.5%
Last 7 years 2011 to 2018: Menlo Park is up over 85% ($10,169,244,059 in 2011 to $18,815,611,541 in 2018)

Atherton 2019 up 6.62%, 2018 up 7.06%, 2017 up 7.4%, 2016 up 8.2%
Last 7 years 2011 to 2018: Atherton is up almost 72% (from $6,361,378,177 in 2018 to $10,931,205,053 in 2018)

Here is my source, do the math yourself and let me know if I am wrong: Web Link

So based on the numbers I found the enrollment is up about 8% since 2011 and revenue is up by over 72% (85% for Menlo Park). And now MPCSD wants to add another parcel tax? Why don't you justify where all the money is going now? Why do you need more than you are getting from the property tax increases?

Let's not forget that we are already paying a huge amount for the MP ESD Comb Meas Sp Tax and they ask every parent for a contribution of $1500 per student at the beginning of the school year.

So how about saving a lot of money and just saying NO to adding a new tax to the ballot?

17 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 7, 2020 at 12:50 pm

Here's a novel concept. How about the school board learn to live within its means instead of asking everyone else to pick up the added and unnecessary costs for the education of their children? If they want a private school education for their children THEY should pay for it.

7 people like this
Posted by MPCSD Public Information Officer
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 7, 2020 at 1:50 pm

To clarify, the raises that the MPCSD School Board approved are not tied to parcel taxes. Measure X was communicated and passed as a temporary (4 year) runway of financial stability while the district developed more long-term financial sustainability. In addition to Measure X, the district made $2 million in spending cuts. There were many public input sessions that informed both the amount of Measure X and the cuts that were made. The fact that Measure X will need to be replaced to avoid future cuts has always been clear.

The Board has been developing its Compensation Philosophy for teachers and staff, also with community input, for over a year. The 5% raise that was negotiated with the MPEA and CSEA help MPCSD remain comparable to neighboring districts, and allow us to attract and retain the best teachers and staff possible in this high cost of living area. The raises that the Board approved are not tied to parcel taxes; they were approved because the Board values its teachers and staff and believes in paying educators a competitive wage.

The community is welcome to share its thoughts at School Board meetings. Please find the meeting calendar at our website, go to "Board" at the top of the homepage, then click "Board Meeting Calendar" in the drop-down menu.

7 people like this
Posted by PV Resident
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Feb 7, 2020 at 2:34 pm

Welcome to our world, Menlo Park. Get ready for your school board to spend upwards of $20,000 to push through your bond. Make sure to attend the meetings so that you can watch the presentations; this will show you exactly how the consultant coaches the school board on how to prepare mailings, word the polls, etc. The consultant isn't hired to advise, they're hired to push the measure through. That's how it worked here.

8 people like this
Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 7, 2020 at 3:12 pm

MPCSD Public Information Officer,

You failed to comment on the data from the original poster "enough". I think they make a good point, there has been an 8% rise in students over the last 7 years, Revenue from property tax has increased 80% (Menlo Park and Atherton added together). Inflation does not make up the difference as it averaged 1.49% over the last 7 years. Where is this huge increase of money going and why do you need more? Certainly not to the teachers who are not getting 10% raises every year.

3 people like this
Posted by Jack Hickey
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Feb 7, 2020 at 3:40 pm

I have been following the activities of the "campaign strategy" consultants. The FPPC is aware of these activities. TBW Strategies, TBWB, TBWBH, GodBe Associates, Tramutola, WMCSM, etc. Whitehurst/Mosher has been affiliated with Barnes of TBW since 2007. See Web Link. The YES on Measure X Committee(FPPC#1392686) in 2017 spent >$80,000 on Whitehurst/Mosher. This likely benefited from the "work product" of the earlier MPCSD contract with Whitehurst/Mosher.

10 people like this
Posted by new guy
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 7, 2020 at 4:49 pm

Funny how the first comment here simply posts facts and wonders why the need for more. Also funny how the "free" advice from the "consultants" is to not place then next parcel tax ask on the November ballot due to the number of other measures asking for tax increases.

The truth is our local government (state, country, town) revenues are probably the highest they have ever been (record revenues), but for some reason, they are asking for more. I guess we are all rich now.. This new parcel tax campaign is not about a 5% raise, there is now a "teacher compensation philosophy" that emphasizes giving teachers pay increases that are higher than what neighboring districts offer. So public schools now have come full circle, fist no metrics, then came full metrics and "standards", now compensation is no longer tied to any metrics, it is a philosophy. I wish I could have this kind of power in the real world. Perhaps I can explain to the IRS my philosphy on tax rates.

Nice to see that we have a "public information officer" to make sure those here don't persuade the public to vote against their wishes.

5 people like this
Posted by oldguy
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Feb 8, 2020 at 6:31 am

First and foremost, I agree with the initial post: with revenues nearly doubling, where has the money gone? Or were the kids really, really, really suffering 7 years ago (most of these kids went on to do well in high school and are attending excellent colleges).

Second point: teacher salaries. Why so high? The work is not demanding. 8th grade math and science, arguably the most difficult subjects, are not that difficult! Are teachers "struggling" to live here? Then move, or stop shopping at Whole Foods, or buy a used car. Most people can save money and live more economically if they choose to, but it's so darn easy to blow $60 by picking up a couple of pizzas and drinks. And Giants games are do or die, don't you understand?

My son went thru the district, I met the teachers. Nice folks, not particularly gifted, but they loved the paycheck and summers.

4 people like this
Posted by Simon
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Feb 8, 2020 at 6:54 am

Q: Where had the money gone?
A: Fixed benefit pensions for life

Until residents pressure elected officials at all levels to change the existing system so be more in line with the private sector, pension costs for public employees will continue to rise. And so will our taxes.

School board members claim they can do nothing because the rates the school districts pay are set by the state. We need to hold them accountable for working with other districts and collectively working with our elected star officials.

6 people like this
Posted by Max
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 8, 2020 at 9:03 am

Compensation Philosophy: Where were you all when the board lead all the input sessions? I watched all the videos and didn’t see you speaking about your opinion on paying teachers more. Did you send input to the board expressing that teachers shouldn’t receive higher salaries? There were ample opportunities to lead the board in a different direction. From what I gather, the board is, in part, trying to retain high quality teachers.

We have a teacher shortage in California, folks. If teaching is so easy, then why aren’t college graduates choosing it as a profession? Perhaps it’s because after receiving a FIVE-year degree, yes, teachers must attend an institution of higher learning for FIVE years, they want to have a quality of living that allows them to live near their workplace, like everybody else. Teachers in MPCSD are not making enough to buy homes in Menlo Park, but they are not even making enough to live NEAR Menlo Park. One could say that neither are lots of workers, but those other workers are not in high demand due to a shortage and they are not necessarily required to complete a five-year degree.

If the board is committed to attracting the best teachers and keeping them, this is good for our community. I don’t have children in the district, but I don’t want our children to have teachers who chose education because they weren’t smart enough to do anything else. I want our children, our future work force, to be educated by talented professionals who had their pick of professions and CHOSE teaching because it is important. We can’t have our profession dependent on educators who have big hearts and who are willing to commute for an hour+ or are willing to rent forever because they love their students and their jobs. There are not enough of those teachers around and we’ll end up with individuals who chose career paths for the wrong reasons (i.e. longer vacations)

Those writing in this blog should take a broader view of education. Supporting public education is not about giving your own children excess programs, it’s about providing our future leaders with skills to sift through the media, think critically, solve environmental problems and the like. This isn’t going to happen from hiring any Joe Schmoe person off the street. Support education in MPCSD and be a part of developing a talented future work force.

9 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 8, 2020 at 5:33 pm

"Supporting public education is not about giving your own children excess programs, it’s about providing our future leaders with skills to sift through the media, think critically, solve environmental problems and the like."

Tell that to the school board and the people with children in the district. They seem to think that any program they want isn't "excess", it's "needed". Sorry, a basic education is all they need. No bells. No whistles. Just competent teachers. And the board needs to figure out how to live within its budget without constantly going to the voters with their hand out. Income to the district from property taxes has risen at a huge rate, far outstripping attendance growth, yet still they want more. I call BS. It's time for the board to act in a fiscally conservative manner. If that means cutting "needed" programs that don't involve basic education, then so be it. I'm tired of paying for the district's poor financial management.

4 people like this
Posted by Max
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 8, 2020 at 6:39 pm

Menlo Voter,

We agree on my point, Supporting public education is not about giving your own children excess programs, it’s about providing our future leaders with skills to sift through the media, think critically, solve environmental problems and the like."

But we disagree on something. A "basic education" with a "competent" teacher is going to yield a basic future work force with basic skills. I am suggesting that while we don't need bells and whistles, I believe a society that grows children into a highly skilled and talented work force made up of individuals who can think critically and solve real problems is essential. That's not going to come from any average teacher. An average teacher is going to teach our students the three R's, reading, writing and arithmetic. We need students who can do a lot more than compute math problems and decode text. We need students who can read the plethora or news feeds and figure out what's real. We need students who can address the issues facing our planet, not just do basic algebra. And to get these types of students, we need very skilled teachers who can teach our youth, teach a youth that are different and changing in their abilities due to a variety of societal factors.

At the end of the day, folks are going into teaching. That is a problem and it's everyone's problem. I support the board in doing what they need to do to get the best educators they can and to keep them. Having a warm body in the classroom educating the future CEOs of California isn't good enough for this tax payer.

The board is developing a Vision for Outstanding Education precisely because they don't want a "basic" education. This is the time to send in your comments about what kind of education you value for our future work force.

9 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Feb 8, 2020 at 7:50 pm

The real problem is the money is going towards pensions, not our children's education. Somehow, the political consultants never recommend honesty while campaigning for the parcel tax, do they? It's always "for the children" and "teacher compensation" when it's really for rising pension costs.

As to why people are not speaking out at these meetings? They don't want be personal targets of the board's cheerleading squad.

2 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 8, 2020 at 8:26 pm


The US work force is one of the most productive work forces in the world. Most of those extremely productive workers are the product of an "average" education. If the parents of children who, like you, want something more than an "average" education they can damn well pay for it. I'm tired of being asked to pay for more than our property taxes will pay for. Especially, since the income from those property taxes has risen at a much larger rate than enrollment. There should be plenty of money for "extras" given all the extra income flowing to the district.

Not only do pay raises for teachers increase immediate costs for labor, they greatly increase the cost for pensions. Calsters/Calpers has grossly over estimated the income from investments for years and are only now officially recognizing the shortfall. Calsters/Calpers is now demanding higher contributions from the district to cover the shortfall. Increase wages and you increase the shortfall.

We can thank our politicians, school boards, etc. of the past. They pretended fiscal responsibility by keeping pay raises lower, all the while jacking the retirement benefit through the roof. Thus "kicking the can down the road" for someone else to deal with after they were long gone. It's time to stop giving raises that just make the shortfall worse until we figure out how to fix it.

8 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 8, 2020 at 8:30 pm

"As to why people are not speaking out at these meetings? They don't want be personal targets of the board's cheerleading squad."

Exactly. Watch what happens any time anyone tries to take on the powers that be or question the status quo. The smears and the whisper campaign against that person kicks into high gear.

2 people like this
Posted by Jack Hickey
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Feb 11, 2020 at 10:23 pm

And, the district wants to spend tax dollars to front the campaign by hiring Whitehurst/Mosher. Their ought be a law!

5 people like this
Posted by Enough
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 13, 2020 at 12:55 pm

I just pointed out the numbers because they don't make sense to me. Huge increase in revenue from Property Taxes in the last 7 years, small increase in the number of students. They are already getting a large additional amount from the "MP ESD Comb Meas Sp Tax" and they ask every parent for a contribution of $1500 per student at the beginning of the school year. Where is the money going and why do they need to take more from the residents of the district?

Personally I don't have an issue giving teachers raises, they are not huge raises and they deserve them. How much has the administration gotten in raises over the past few years?

As for the programs, the kids do get language, art and music which I don't think is too bad. There is extra help for reading and I am sure some other topics, but that is not bad either. There are lots of other programs, after school, but the parents must pay for those themselves.

To me the district has not justified the parcel tax, and spending tens of thousands of dollars for consultants to try to make a convincing argument for voters to approve it just tells me they already have too much money.

If it ends up on the ballot they will get a No vote from me and I will talk to as many people as I can about it.

Like this comment
Posted by moretransparency
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Feb 15, 2020 at 1:25 pm

Enough and others:

If anyone is interested in pursuing this discussion further, please email me at I am particularly interested in bringing greater transparency around parcel taxes, pension funding, teacher compensation, etc. For what it's worth, the ask of parents is now $2,000 (not $1,500 as has been repeated above). I am examining this issue from both the top down and bottom up. Would love to collaborate.

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