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Menlo Park district puts the brakes on possible November parcel tax measure

Consultant to explore possible dates for renewal or replacement of funding source

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Menlo Park City School District officials appear to be leaning against placing a measure to renew or replace an existing parcel tax on the November ballot.

But the school board at its Feb. 13 meeting directed district consultants to continue examining that date along with other possible election dates, and return to the board next month with a recommendation.

During the meeting, staff and board members discussed the merits of different options for putting a parcel tax measure before voters. The existing tax expires in 2024.

The discussion followed a presentation by Whitehurst/Mosher Campaign Strategy and Media, a political consulting firm district hired to advise the district on the parcel tax. Whitehurst will study the potential of various election day options – ranging from the November ballot to special elections as late as 2022 – to optimize voter support and minimize costs to the district.

"I still think it's important to see the data for those time periods, and let's keep November 2020 in the mix," said board President Stacey Jones. "But right now I'm not hearing a lot of confidence in that date."

At a January meeting, Superintendent Erik Burmeister warned board members that the Nov. 3 ballot will be crowded with tax-related state propositions, and it would be a "completely different election" than any the district has faced before. He and board members are unsure how a measure on the November ballot 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.

The "split-roll" initiative would amend Proposition 13 to increase taxes on certain commercial and business properties, but not on homeowners. About 40% of the $12 billion it would generate would go to public schools, according to EdSource.org.

Board Vice President Sherwin Chen said at the meeting that he "finds it very hard" to make a case for putting a parcel tax measure on the November ballot, and would rather know the effects of the changes to Proposition 13 before having voters make a decision.

The tax in question is Measure X, which passed in 2017 with an initial annual rate of $360 per parcel. The board last year had preliminary discussions about putting a measure before voters to renew or replace Measure X at a higher taxation rate to help address deficit spending that could result from last year's teacher salary hike.

According to a staff presentation prepared for an October meeting, with implementation of a 5% raise for district teachers during the 2019-20 school year, the district's required reserve funds will drop below the minimum amount specified in board policy – at least 15% of total annual spending – within two years without a higher level of tax revenue.

District consultant John Whitehurst agreed that presidential elections are not the best times to place a parcel tax measure on the ballot. They bring out more voters, but cost more, and attention to the tax measure could be overshadowed by the national race.

Board member David Ackerman said that November isn't an ideal time to place a measure on the ballot regardless of whether there's a presidential election. He argued that community members won't be actively campaigning as much during the summer months leading up to an election, making it more difficult to inform voters about a measure.

Compensation

At the same meeting, the school board without comment approved, by a 5-0 vote, principles of compensation to help attract and retain district employees other than teachers and some other certificated staff. The approved principles are similar to the "teacher compensation philosophy" approved by the board last year – principles that emphasize maintaining teacher compensation at a higher level than that of neighboring districts.

The groups that will be affected by the newly approved policy include: classified employees represented by CSEA; unrepresented certificated employees, including psychologists, counselors, occupational therapists, and site and district administration; Early Learning Center preschool teachers; and assistant teachers.

Last fall, the district's teachers represented by the Menlo Park Education Association received a 5% raise after the school board approved the teacher compensation principles. The board last approved raises for all district employees in June 2017, when it authorized a 2% pay hike for the 2017-18 school year and a 3% increase for 2018-19, according to the district website.

New chief business officer

The school board voted 5-0 to hire Marites Fermin as the district's chief business officer at the same meeting. Fermin's contact begins on Feb. 27 and runs through June 30, 2021, with the potential for renewal. Fermin will make $202,565 annually, according to her contract.

"I'm delighted that I'm here to work with you and collaborate with the team at Menlo Park City School District," she said during the meeting.

Fermin will take over some of the duties performed by Ahmad Sheikholeslami, the district's former chief business and operations officer, said Parke Treadway, the district's public information officer, in an email. Sheikholeslami left the district at the end of October for the Pleasanton Unified School District.

Fermin's focus will be the business and financial management of the district, Treadway said. The operations duties that Sheikholeslami performed are now under a new position called director of maintenance, operations and transportation. Ruben Trabanino, the district's former supervisor of maintenance, custodial and grounds, filled the operations position in December. This returns the district to a similar business and operations organization it had prior to Sheikholeslami's role, Treadway said.

Video of the meeting can be viewed here.

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Comments

7 people like this
Posted by Enough
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 25, 2020 at 2:21 pm

They don't want to put a parcel tax on the ballot when they expect high voter turnout because it won't pass. What they want is a ballot that has very low voter turnout and they will directly contact people who would normally vote for the tax to get them to vote, while hoping everyone else is not aware of it and stays home.

I will state this again, in the last 7 years property tax revenue has increased by 80+%. Enrollment by less than 10%. Teachers salaries have not increased by that much. Where is the money going? Quit saying the parcel tax is for improving our schools or for the teacher salaries and justify where the money is going!


2 people like this
Posted by @Enough
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 25, 2020 at 4:18 pm

To answer your question, the extra money is going to pensions.


4 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 25, 2020 at 7:39 pm

"To answer your question, the extra money is going to pensions."

Exactly. And the board knows damn well if they're honest with the voters about where all the money is going there will be zero chance another parcel tax will pass and they will have to start learning how to live within their means. Novel concept I know, but most of the rest of us have to do it.


Like this comment
Posted by Enough
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 26, 2020 at 2:18 pm

And the fact that they keep lying to the voters telling them it is for school improvements, teacher salary, etc. is one of the reasons I won't vote for another parcel tax. It is bad enough that we are stuck with these unfunded pensions for teachers who have been with the district but the new teachers are getting the same thing and exaserbating the problem. Why can't the district negotiate something like 401K's for new teachers that don't make this problem worse. In the mean time NO to any new parcel taxes and shame on the board for trying to sneak them past voters.


Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 26, 2020 at 7:42 pm

"Why can't the district negotiate something like 401K's for new teachers that don't make this problem worse. "

Can you say "teachers' union"? That's why. That and the board doesn't have the stones to stand up to them.


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