News

Editorial: Vote yes on Measure S

Portola Valley district's tax measure lowers the current rate and supports schools at a crucial time

Ormondale Elementary School first grade teacher Adam Ahlbach speaks to his students before they head out for recess in Portola Valley on Oct. 13, 2020. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

It may seem like deja vu for residents of the Portola Valley School District — another spring parcel tax measure, just over a year after voters narrowly rejected a measure that would have renewed the current parcel tax that is set to expire this June.

But things have drastically changed since the last time a parcel tax was on the ballot in the district on March 3, 2020. Schools soon shuttered and pivoted to distance learning due to COVID-19, leaving children homebound and limited to online communication with their teachers and classmates. About seven months later, Portola Valley was one of the first public school districts in San Mateo County to get the green light to reopen for in-person instruction, which it did in a phased approach beginning in mid-October.

With COVID-19 vaccinations ramping up and talk of the California economy fully reopening in June, there's hope that school life can begin to return to some semblance of normalcy statewide this fall. But that continued transition will be hampered should voters fail to support Measure S, a district parcel tax initiative on the all-mail ballot May 4. According to district officials, eight teachers would need to be laid off and programs cut should Measure S not receive the necessary two-thirds support from voters. The current parcel tax, Measure O, raises about $1.2 million annually and helps pay for teacher salaries, reduced class sizes, and programs such as advanced math, science and technology, and art and music.

District officials say the new parcel tax initiative is indicative of an effort to listen to the community and only ask for what's necessary, as Measure S would implement a tax of $471 per parcel annually versus the current rate of $581. So for $110 less per year, Portola Valley voters can help local schools retain their renowned programs and teachers, which benefit the entire community regardless of whether you have a child in the district. One could argue that it's more important than ever before to keep class sizes small, have teacher continuity and fund academic programs that have enriched the lives of so many children, especially ones like science and music that heavily rely on in-person interactions and have been harder to engage in virtually.

Opponents of the measure argue that the parcel tax is unnecessary because enrollment has declined in the district, meaning there should be fewer expenses. But the enrollment decline will not necessarily continue, nor does a decrease in enrollment automatically translate to a decrease in expenses at a time when schools are spending money on air filters, cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment to help create a safe environment for students and staff amid the pandemic.

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It's hard to complain about being overtaxed by the district when voters are being asked to approve a decrease from the current rate, and the well-respected local schools are a big factor in keeping the town's property values high. The Almanac recommends a yes vote on Measure S.

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Editorial: Vote yes on Measure S

Portola Valley district's tax measure lowers the current rate and supports schools at a crucial time

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Fri, Apr 9, 2021, 11:56 am

It may seem like deja vu for residents of the Portola Valley School District — another spring parcel tax measure, just over a year after voters narrowly rejected a measure that would have renewed the current parcel tax that is set to expire this June.

But things have drastically changed since the last time a parcel tax was on the ballot in the district on March 3, 2020. Schools soon shuttered and pivoted to distance learning due to COVID-19, leaving children homebound and limited to online communication with their teachers and classmates. About seven months later, Portola Valley was one of the first public school districts in San Mateo County to get the green light to reopen for in-person instruction, which it did in a phased approach beginning in mid-October.

With COVID-19 vaccinations ramping up and talk of the California economy fully reopening in June, there's hope that school life can begin to return to some semblance of normalcy statewide this fall. But that continued transition will be hampered should voters fail to support Measure S, a district parcel tax initiative on the all-mail ballot May 4. According to district officials, eight teachers would need to be laid off and programs cut should Measure S not receive the necessary two-thirds support from voters. The current parcel tax, Measure O, raises about $1.2 million annually and helps pay for teacher salaries, reduced class sizes, and programs such as advanced math, science and technology, and art and music.

District officials say the new parcel tax initiative is indicative of an effort to listen to the community and only ask for what's necessary, as Measure S would implement a tax of $471 per parcel annually versus the current rate of $581. So for $110 less per year, Portola Valley voters can help local schools retain their renowned programs and teachers, which benefit the entire community regardless of whether you have a child in the district. One could argue that it's more important than ever before to keep class sizes small, have teacher continuity and fund academic programs that have enriched the lives of so many children, especially ones like science and music that heavily rely on in-person interactions and have been harder to engage in virtually.

Opponents of the measure argue that the parcel tax is unnecessary because enrollment has declined in the district, meaning there should be fewer expenses. But the enrollment decline will not necessarily continue, nor does a decrease in enrollment automatically translate to a decrease in expenses at a time when schools are spending money on air filters, cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment to help create a safe environment for students and staff amid the pandemic.

It's hard to complain about being overtaxed by the district when voters are being asked to approve a decrease from the current rate, and the well-respected local schools are a big factor in keeping the town's property values high. The Almanac recommends a yes vote on Measure S.

Comments

Bigmon78
Registered user
Portola Valley: Westridge
on Apr 9, 2021 at 12:37 pm
Bigmon78, Portola Valley: Westridge
Registered user
on Apr 9, 2021 at 12:37 pm

YES on "S"! Come on folks, let's make sure this passes. From a purely selfish point of view, good schools support strong property values.


PV Resident
Registered user
Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Apr 9, 2021 at 4:21 pm
PV Resident, Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
Registered user
on Apr 9, 2021 at 4:21 pm

In '98 voters approved a 30-yr bond, with buildings done in '02. In HALF the promised lifetime of those buildings, we were told they were in disrepair and needed $48m upgrades and new construction…that the schools were in poor shape when our eyes told a different story. So either the district can't construct schools well OR they can't maintain them OR they skewed the picture to present a crisis that didn't exist.

Here's your property tax bill for the next decade:
- $17m bond from '98
- $7m '02 bond for budget overages
- $50m '18 bond
- Unbudgeted Phase 2 of '18 bond
- Interest on the above. Original forecast for 2018 interest was $47m
- PLUS annual budget dramatically in excess of state & national levels

That's about $140m of construction for 25 years across two major projects that each promised to be 30-year solutions. $280k/student.

US average cost of a new school is under $50k/student. Average lifetime is 42 years. Most school districts can build buildings that exceed the promises and the bonds they put to voters. Portola Valley does not.

The parcel tax is from the same taxing authority, the same people who told you in 2015 that our schools were crumbling. Now they're telling your our classrooms will fail without this tax.

Average CA spend per student is $12-18k per year. Here it's nearly $30k. Somehow, that's not enough.

Enrollment
2009 741
2010 711
2011 709
2012 671
2013 652
2014 628
2015 628
2016 626
2017 608
2018 574
2019 548
2020 495

We have lost 30% of our students but the budget (and buildings) only get bigger

A NOTE TO SENIORS, SEQUOIAS AND PRIORY RESIDENTS
There's a tax exemption for seniors. It's cynical economic gerrymandering to get your vote. It literally costs you nothing. Same for renters and Sequoias/Priory. When you vote, please think of ALL OF US. Look at the numbers above. Think of the millions and millions of spending ON THE MERITS.

You can love our community, schools and kids and also say "enough." Vote NO.


SMB
Registered user
Portola Valley: other
on Apr 11, 2021 at 10:34 am
SMB, Portola Valley: other
Registered user
on Apr 11, 2021 at 10:34 am

As an involved parent and community member I am so proud to call Portola Valley home; its schools are a reflection of what makes Portola Valley the connected and caring place it is. We are voting Yes on S!


MB
Registered user
Portola Valley: Westridge
on Apr 11, 2021 at 10:34 am
MB, Portola Valley: Westridge
Registered user
on Apr 11, 2021 at 10:34 am

Strong schools benefit everyone whether you have children at district schools or not! Yes on S!


PV Resident
Registered user
Portola Valley: Westridge
on Apr 11, 2021 at 11:01 am
PV Resident, Portola Valley: Westridge
Registered user
on Apr 11, 2021 at 11:01 am

Measure S protects the incredible education our children receive while actually decreasing the taxes we've been paying. I am voting Yes on S to ensure that students continue to receive an amazing education facilitated by highly-skilled teachers.


PV School Supporter
Registered user
Portola Valley: Los Trancos Woods/Vista Verde
on Apr 11, 2021 at 11:48 am
PV School Supporter, Portola Valley: Los Trancos Woods/Vista Verde
Registered user
on Apr 11, 2021 at 11:48 am

Yes on S! Let’s keep our schools strong so our whole community thrives and Portola Valley remains a wonderful place to raise a family. We have a small school district that is able to provide an incredible, balanced TK - 8th grade education for our children - past and present students have had this benefit, let’s keep our schools strong with arts, language, and small class sizes for future students too


Sarah D
Registered user
Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Apr 11, 2021 at 5:23 pm
Sarah D, Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
Registered user
on Apr 11, 2021 at 5:23 pm

Vote Yes on S! This means renewing a reduced parcel tax on which our Portola Valley schools rely to deliver an enhanced and quality education for our kids. Our family is so appreciative that our schools have specialist teachers in Spanish, Art, Drama, Counselling, Music, Band and Library as well as reduced class sizes and a rigorous, enriched curriculum across the board. And, kudos to the District for navigating this past pandemic year so impressively and opening for our kids. We are so thankful for our excellent local schools and our amazing extended school community. Thank you, PVSD, you have our support all the way.


Let's Really Help Schools!
Registered user
Portola Valley: Los Trancos Woods/Vista Verde
on Apr 12, 2021 at 3:07 pm
Let's Really Help Schools!, Portola Valley: Los Trancos Woods/Vista Verde
Registered user
on Apr 12, 2021 at 3:07 pm

As pointed out by the many commenters, Portola Valley already has high quality schools. A fact of life is that large amounts of resources are required to make even marginal improvements to high quality goods, services and program. Rather than waste more money having a special election for the sole purpose of once again seeking a parcel tax which was just rejected by the voters, why not propose a parcel tax to raise money to be spent on schools where a little money can make a big difference instead. Let's send the money to East Palo Alto, Oakland or Richmond where it would really provide a benefit. Then I could vote for the tax. And I hope all of those wanting it for the sake of the good of the community can lift their eyes a bit to see the greater need in the broader community in which we live.

Portola Valley kids already have every possible advantage with their education and their lives. The live in an affluent community; have parents who care about, and participate in, their children's education; and role model the value of college. These are the key factors for education success. Continuing a parcel tax in Portola Valley will do little or no good there but could do so much elsewhere.


PVSD Parent
Registered user
Portola Valley: Brookside Park
on Apr 16, 2021 at 11:23 am
PVSD Parent, Portola Valley: Brookside Park
Registered user
on Apr 16, 2021 at 11:23 am

@Let’s Really Help Schools: Thank you for being engaged in this discussion, and for suggesting alternative approaches to the tax measures for our local school district. When we first moved to PV over ten years ago, I too assumed our schools were adequately funded. However, it wasn’t until I volunteered for the district, that I better understood how our property tax dollars are allocated. Our property tax dollars are collected for county-wide school needs, not just our local school needs. Additionally, the Portola Valley School District is considered a “low needs” district within San Mateo County. Therefore, “higher needs” districts (such as the ones you mentioned), receive a higher percentage from our tax dollars. Please visit this website to understand more: Web Link Thank you again for being engaged because the more we have cordial open and healthy discussions, the better!


PV Resident
Registered user
Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Apr 23, 2021 at 4:59 pm
PV Resident, Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
Registered user
on Apr 23, 2021 at 4:59 pm

This vote is not:
- Do you like kids?
- Do you value education?
- Do you care about PV schools?

It's:
- Do you think spending nearly 2x the CA average per student should be sufficient?
- Do you trust the school's financial management?

The "covid argument" makes no sense. We've already bought ppe, zoom, filtration and hand sanitizer. How can the Almanac support a recurring annual tax for a once-in-a-century pandemic? Plus, the federal stimulus includes a massive Elementary School Education Relief fund. The dollars are already on their way.

The vast majority of the budget is teacher pay, which averages $130,000. That's an ok salary in the bay area but it's the tip of the iceberg. When they retire they get half of that plus medical for the life of the last surviving spouse. Someone who starts teaching at 22 can retire at 42. If they or their spouse live til 87, total lifetime comp is 2,600,000 for active years, plus 3,000,000 in retirement. Therefore their effective compensation for active years is $275,000. They have lifetime financial security and healthcare guaranteed (do you?). $130,000 looks a lot better when you don't have to save a penny for retirement or health emergencies, and you can't be fired. They're not underpaid. We don't have an income problem. We have a spending problem and there's no incentive to manage spending if we keep approving these.

The vast majority of income comes from property taxes. Have you looked at how much homes are selling for these days? The increases are way beyond inflation and other costs. The growth in that line item alone should be adequate for any growing costs in our shrinking schools. We've lost over 30% of our students in the past decade yet the budgets and the debt keep going up.

I love the community, our kids and our schools. Our schools will be great either way, just like our school buildings could be great either with or without the extra $100,000,000 of debt we were sold two years ago. Join me and vote NO.


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