Renewal of a parcel tax, which now generates about $1.2 million annually for Portola Valley School District classroom programs and teaching staff, is on the March 3 ballot.
Measure P would update the district's Measure O parcel tax, which expires in June 2021. It would continue the tax at its current rate of $581 per parcel in its first year, then increase it by 3% in each following year.
This amounts to an additional $17 to $21 per parcel annually, said district Chief Business Officer Connie Ngo. Voters will be asked to extend the measure by eight years. Approval requires a two-thirds voter majority.
All voters who live within the school district boundaries — which go beyond those of the town of Portola Valley — can vote on the bond measure. The district includes Woodside residents who live in the Skylonda and Skywood Acres neighborhoods and off Philips and Family Farm roads, and part of Mountain Home Road. See a map of the school district boundaries here.
The Almanac sat down with Measure P proponents and district officials to discuss the proposed tax. The current tax, Measure O, funds advanced math, science and technology programs; reading and writing programs; art and music programs; reduced class sizes; and retention of teachers for the district's two schools, Ormondale and Corte Madera, according to the district website. District staff asserts that the measure "must be renewed" to maintain these programs.
"It's easy to take our wonderful schools for granted, but it's the parcel tax that makes our schools possible," said Joshua Harmssen, a district parent and co-chair of the Committee to Protect Portola Valley Schools, formed in support of Measure P. "It provides essential funding for programs that we all want and expect for our children. Without it, our schools would look very different."
People move to Portola Valley for these "extras" — offerings such as art, advanced math, science and technology programs and more, said Superintendent Roberta Zarea.
Harmssen said he can't imagine the district's two schools without their music programs, for example. He recounts how his child learned to play the trumpet for the fifth grade play in just a month through Corte Madera's music program.
"We're competing with private schools in the area," he said, noting that the district's programs are a draw to many.
With enrollment in the district declining — it is down 4.5% this school year — some might wonder why the district needs additional money for programming. The district is "community funded," which means it receives most of its revenue from local sources, including property taxes, parcel taxes and donations.
Ngo said the cost of providing a high-quality education continues to increase. The purchasing power of the same amount of money in 2013, when the Measure O parcel tax passed, has changed, she said. Part of the need for new funds is the increasing cost of operating expenses and keeping teachers' salaries on pace with the high cost of living in the area, she noted.
"This is one of the most expensive areas in the Bay Area, and it (the tax) helps retain high-quality teachers," she said.
There is also some confusion in the community about why the district is seeking parcel tax funding after a bond measure, Measure Z, passed in fall 2018, said Nelly Wolfson, the other co-chair of the Committee to Protect Portola Valley Schools. The difference is that Measure Z funded construction projects on campus, while parcel tax funds go toward areas such as educational programming and paying teachers, she explained.
Mark Hinkle, president of the Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association, filed the only ballot argument against the measure. He argues that the district is already spending $27,000 annually per student, 224% above the statewide average, and doesn't need additional funding.
Part of the tax's purpose is maintaining small class sizes. The average district class size for grades K-3 is 19 students, and the average class size for grades 4-8 is 20 students, according to the district.
Measure O passed in 2013 with 69% of the vote. It consolidated two expiring measures: Measure C (with an annual tax of $290 per parcel) and Measure D ($168 per parcel), and increased the rate by $123 per parcel to $581, Ngo said.
For more on the tax measure, go here.