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.
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.