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Voter Guide: Portola Valley School District asks voters for a smaller parcel tax in special election

Measure S is on the all-mail May 4 ballot

Students exit a classroom at Ormondale Elementary School in Portola Valley on Oct. 14, 2020. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

A parcel tax measure will again come before those who live within Portola Valley School District's boundaries this spring after voters failed to renew a soon-to-expire tax last March.

Measure S is the only item on San Mateo County's all-mail ballot May 4 election. The district is asking for less money this time around: $471 per parcel annually versus the current rate of $581. It would raise $997,000 annually for the district and requires two-thirds of voters' support to pass. It has an eight year term and would expire in 2029.

District officials are asking taxpayers for less because the district has made $1.3 million in cuts over the last three years, said district Chief Business Officer Connie Ngo. The district saved money by eliminating an assistant principal position at Corte Madera School; eliminating a district office classified staff position; freezing the hiring of the director of learning and innovation; eliminating 30 telephone lines; and reducing its workforce by seven teachers and classified staff positions through attrition, Ngo said.

"The reduction in parcel tax (rates) reflects us listening to the community," Ngo said. "It's what we have determined we need."

Ngo said the district must continue to be prudent and is asking for what it "needs today."

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The current parcel tax, Measure O, expires in June and raises about $1.2 million annually for the district. It funds advanced math, science and technology, reading, writing, 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. The tax also covers 17% of district teachers' salaries, according to the ballot measure.

An Ultimaker 2 3D printer creates an earring at Ormondale Elementary School on Aug. 20, 2015. The printer is used by students to class projects in the school's makerspace, which is funded through parcel tax dollars. Photo by Michelle Le.

Measure P failed to pass last spring just as the pandemic hit. Many people did not go out and submit ballots because of fears they would contract COVID-19, said school board trustee Anne Fazioli-Khiari. Voters are also no longer contending with a "chaotic stock market" and presidential election this time around, she noted.

The district's enrollment has declined. It had 495 students as of Sept. 18, 2020, compared to 548 at the same time during the 2019-20 school year, according to the district.

Mark Hinkle, president of the

Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association, said he doesn't see the need for an extension of Measure O.

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"Clearly a year ago (Portola Valley taxpayers) said 'no,'" he said. "They're asking for a tax extension if there are a declining number of students, there are declining needs for expenses. It's always 'more, more, more.'"

Portola Valley resident Mark Waissar said many Portola Valley taxpayers saw their taxes go up as a result of the "Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017." He added that the trillions of dollars in federal deficits because of the pandemic will cost taxpayers money, too.

"Our children and our children's children will pay the price for our profligate expenditures," said Waissar. "The most important financial lesson we can teach our children is to spend less than we make, give some of the excess to charity, and make a few investments along the way."

Classrooms reopening

Fifth graders at Corte Madera School sit on designated spots six-feet apart during lunch in Portola Valley on Nov. 10, 2020. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

The district was one of the few in the state to reopen for in-person learning this fall, in part because of the parcel tax funding, Ngo said. It spent nearly $1 million for safety measures such as COVID-19 testing of staff, physical distancing markers, cleaning supplies, personal protective gear and more, according to the district.

"We have to plan for these economic uncertainties," she said. "Who could have guessed about this COVID (pandemic)? The parcel tax is why we were able to achieve that. We have to be ready to weather any situation that comes our way."

About 90% of students are back on campus, while the other 10% are learning remotely, Superintendent Roberta Zarea said.

"The pandemic itself has really unified our community; there's so much support for what we're doing in our schools," Zarea said. "There's widespread acclaim for our reopening."

If the measure doesn't pass, the district will need to lay off eight teachers, cut programs and potentially increase class sizes, said Fazioli-Khiari. The district doesn't have a specific plan for cuts at the moment and would begin that discussion after the election, she said.

Hinkle said every district claims that the taxes are needed to fund special programs, but he doesn't understand why the district's costs are so high. The district spends an average of $26,966 per student, according to February data from the state. The state average is about $14,861.

"Yet every district does it for less than they charge," Hinkle said. "Are the expenses in Portola Valley twice the statewide average? How much better of an education are they going to get for double the money?"

The district could lose one resource that's particularly important to students dealing with the effects of isolation during the pandemic: mental health support. The parcel tax funds the district's counselors who provide social and emotional support.

"This year more than ever, we're seeing that's what's needed," Zarea said.

Campaigning during a pandemic has looked a little different. Campaign president Linda Kamran said there has been campaign phone banking over Zoom and socially distanced campaigning outside of Roberts Market and the Portola Valley farmers market wearing "Yes on S" face masks.

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.

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.

The county mailed ballots to voters April 3, according to the Elections Office.

For more on the measure and to read the arguments for and against it, go here.

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Voter Guide: Portola Valley School District asks voters for a smaller parcel tax in special election

Measure S is on the all-mail May 4 ballot

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Fri, Apr 9, 2021, 11:28 am

A parcel tax measure will again come before those who live within Portola Valley School District's boundaries this spring after voters failed to renew a soon-to-expire tax last March.

Measure S is the only item on San Mateo County's all-mail ballot May 4 election. The district is asking for less money this time around: $471 per parcel annually versus the current rate of $581. It would raise $997,000 annually for the district and requires two-thirds of voters' support to pass. It has an eight year term and would expire in 2029.

District officials are asking taxpayers for less because the district has made $1.3 million in cuts over the last three years, said district Chief Business Officer Connie Ngo. The district saved money by eliminating an assistant principal position at Corte Madera School; eliminating a district office classified staff position; freezing the hiring of the director of learning and innovation; eliminating 30 telephone lines; and reducing its workforce by seven teachers and classified staff positions through attrition, Ngo said.

"The reduction in parcel tax (rates) reflects us listening to the community," Ngo said. "It's what we have determined we need."

Ngo said the district must continue to be prudent and is asking for what it "needs today."

The current parcel tax, Measure O, expires in June and raises about $1.2 million annually for the district. It funds advanced math, science and technology, reading, writing, 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. The tax also covers 17% of district teachers' salaries, according to the ballot measure.

Measure P failed to pass last spring just as the pandemic hit. Many people did not go out and submit ballots because of fears they would contract COVID-19, said school board trustee Anne Fazioli-Khiari. Voters are also no longer contending with a "chaotic stock market" and presidential election this time around, she noted.

The district's enrollment has declined. It had 495 students as of Sept. 18, 2020, compared to 548 at the same time during the 2019-20 school year, according to the district.

Mark Hinkle, president of the

Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association, said he doesn't see the need for an extension of Measure O.

"Clearly a year ago (Portola Valley taxpayers) said 'no,'" he said. "They're asking for a tax extension if there are a declining number of students, there are declining needs for expenses. It's always 'more, more, more.'"

Portola Valley resident Mark Waissar said many Portola Valley taxpayers saw their taxes go up as a result of the "Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017." He added that the trillions of dollars in federal deficits because of the pandemic will cost taxpayers money, too.

"Our children and our children's children will pay the price for our profligate expenditures," said Waissar. "The most important financial lesson we can teach our children is to spend less than we make, give some of the excess to charity, and make a few investments along the way."

The district was one of the few in the state to reopen for in-person learning this fall, in part because of the parcel tax funding, Ngo said. It spent nearly $1 million for safety measures such as COVID-19 testing of staff, physical distancing markers, cleaning supplies, personal protective gear and more, according to the district.

"We have to plan for these economic uncertainties," she said. "Who could have guessed about this COVID (pandemic)? The parcel tax is why we were able to achieve that. We have to be ready to weather any situation that comes our way."

About 90% of students are back on campus, while the other 10% are learning remotely, Superintendent Roberta Zarea said.

"The pandemic itself has really unified our community; there's so much support for what we're doing in our schools," Zarea said. "There's widespread acclaim for our reopening."

If the measure doesn't pass, the district will need to lay off eight teachers, cut programs and potentially increase class sizes, said Fazioli-Khiari. The district doesn't have a specific plan for cuts at the moment and would begin that discussion after the election, she said.

Hinkle said every district claims that the taxes are needed to fund special programs, but he doesn't understand why the district's costs are so high. The district spends an average of $26,966 per student, according to February data from the state. The state average is about $14,861.

"Yet every district does it for less than they charge," Hinkle said. "Are the expenses in Portola Valley twice the statewide average? How much better of an education are they going to get for double the money?"

The district could lose one resource that's particularly important to students dealing with the effects of isolation during the pandemic: mental health support. The parcel tax funds the district's counselors who provide social and emotional support.

"This year more than ever, we're seeing that's what's needed," Zarea said.

Campaigning during a pandemic has looked a little different. Campaign president Linda Kamran said there has been campaign phone banking over Zoom and socially distanced campaigning outside of Roberts Market and the Portola Valley farmers market wearing "Yes on S" face masks.

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.

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.

The county mailed ballots to voters April 3, according to the Elections Office.

For more on the measure and to read the arguments for and against it, go here.

Comments

PV Resident
Registered user
Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Apr 9, 2021 at 3:02 pm
PV Resident, Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
Registered user
on Apr 9, 2021 at 3:02 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. (It's #3)

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 an 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, our schools and kids and also say "enough." Vote NO.


SMB
Registered user
Portola Valley: other
on Apr 11, 2021 at 10:16 am
SMB, Portola Valley: other
Registered user
on Apr 11, 2021 at 10:16 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 10:35 am
MB, Portola Valley: Westridge
Registered user
on Apr 11, 2021 at 10:35 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 10:53 am
PV Resident, Portola Valley: Westridge
Registered user
on Apr 11, 2021 at 10:53 am

My family and I moved to Portola Valley for the outstanding public schools. As a parent and an educator, I firmly support Measure S to ensure that students receive high-quality instruction offered by skilled teachers.


pv123
Registered user
Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Apr 11, 2021 at 10:56 am
pv123, Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
Registered user
on Apr 11, 2021 at 10:56 am

Our schools are one of the gems of our community. I am so appreciative of the holistic education my kids get in our schools. From maker projects to music to the exceptional foundation in the critical math, language arts, and reading subjects, my kids are getting an amazing education that teaches to the whole child. I can’t imagine our community without this level of excellence in our schools. We are a definite YES on S in our family.


PV School Supporter
Registered user
Portola Valley: Los Trancos Woods/Vista Verde
on Apr 11, 2021 at 11:24 am
PV School Supporter, Portola Valley: Los Trancos Woods/Vista Verde
Registered user
on Apr 11, 2021 at 11:24 am

I grew up in Portola Valley and moved my family back here in large part because of the wonderful, small school district. We have an amazing community in PV and the incredible schools are an important factor in bringing new families into our neighborhoods. I support Measure S for the kids - keep our local schools strong!


KA
Registered user
Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Apr 11, 2021 at 1:09 pm
KA, Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
Registered user
on Apr 11, 2021 at 1:09 pm

Strong schools were a key part of our decision to move to the area a few years ago. Our kids are thriving in the schools and we are so grateful they've been able to attend in person for much of the past year. We will be voting YES on S so our schools can maintain high standards that benefit the community.


Skylonda Person
Registered user
Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Apr 11, 2021 at 4:19 pm
Skylonda Person, Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
Registered user
on Apr 11, 2021 at 4:19 pm

The only reasons my daughter wants to get up in the morning and go to school all boil down to the funding that Measure S ensures: Advanced Math, Science, Band, Art and the Maker Lab. Those are her favorite classes and her motivation to get into the car without a fuss every day when her dad drives her down the hill to Corte Madera. Without Measure S, any one of those could be on the chopping block. And without those programs, school is .... well, let's just say it would be a tough sell to get her out of the house at 8:30 am. In our household, we're voting YES on Measure S because we love it when our kid loves school.


Sarah D
Registered user
Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Apr 11, 2021 at 8:51 pm
Sarah D, Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
Registered user
on Apr 11, 2021 at 8:51 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.


CC
Registered user
Portola Valley: Westridge
on Apr 11, 2021 at 9:40 pm
CC, Portola Valley: Westridge
Registered user
on Apr 11, 2021 at 9:40 pm

I'm voting yes for S! Having strong schools is key to both our kid's success and the value of our property. It's not an increase in our taxes and there are reasonable exemptions. It seems like a well thought out measure.


Portola Valley neighbor
Registered user
Portola Valley: Los Trancos Woods/Vista Verde
on Apr 11, 2021 at 9:54 pm
Portola Valley neighbor, Portola Valley: Los Trancos Woods/Vista Verde
Registered user
on Apr 11, 2021 at 9:54 pm

We are wholeheartedly appreciative of the public school community and quality education offered in Portola Valley. As is true for many families, the excellent public school district and small class sizes were key in drawing us to the area. In order to keep our schools strong, we are enthusiastically voting Yes on S!


Sarah Wernikoff
Registered user
Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Apr 12, 2021 at 8:44 am
Sarah Wernikoff, Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
Registered user
on Apr 12, 2021 at 8:44 am

All 3 of my kids attended PV schools, and like so many others were a key reason we choose to move to PV 15 years ago. Our schools offer great teachers, a rigorous and well-rounded curriculum, and low student/teacher ratio. Measure S does NOT increase taxes; it is an investment in our community and will help keep property values strong. Vote Yes on S!


Joshua Harmssen
Registered user
Portola Valley: other
on Apr 12, 2021 at 9:22 am
Joshua Harmssen, Portola Valley: other
Registered user
on Apr 12, 2021 at 9:22 am

My children have been a part of this district for 7 years and love the community fostered here in Portola Valley. Community is exactly what we are trying to preserve here with this measure. This District offers this community a valuable service that is reflected in the quality of education and that shines in the many interests our children leave here with and often times bring back! To me this is more than a money issue and how it is allocated (which is clearly stated) but more about richness and depth of our kids educational experience.


Neighbor
Registered user
Portola Valley: other
on Apr 12, 2021 at 5:26 pm
Neighbor, Portola Valley: other
Registered user
on Apr 12, 2021 at 5:26 pm

I agree with the original post, and I'm very irritated at the sudden and coordinated flood of "vote yes!" messages right afterward.

Here's the bottom line: We are tapped out. If you continue to threaten the music and arts programs every single time you want more money, you're going to get zero response. That's bullying, and it's misleading the public. Please explain why, in a community of this size (tiny), with a small number of students and an enormous amount of tax base, the PVSD is constantly pleading poverty. I fail to see why a school district that spends twice the amount per student than almost every other district in CA, cannot seem to allocate funding so that the music and arts programs are stable parts of the curriculum.

Stop trying to compete architecturally with larger communities. That's a start right there.


Caroline Diarte
Registered user
Portola Valley: other
on Apr 12, 2021 at 8:58 pm
Caroline Diarte, Portola Valley: other
Registered user
on Apr 12, 2021 at 8:58 pm

PVSD is doing an incredible job and is offering a world-class education to our children. My 4 kids have attended schools on 3 continents and PVSD offers an education that compares very favourably to top schools in other countries. My husband and I have carefully reviewed the district budgets and projections; Measure S is an absolute necessity to sustain the quality of education of which Portola Valley can be so proud.


Sara Atkins
Registered user
Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Apr 14, 2021 at 8:01 am
Sara Atkins, Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
Registered user
on Apr 14, 2021 at 8:01 am

I have two kiddos at Ormondale and one more on the way. This school is what brought us to Portola Valley in the first place. There is no place like it and if we lose the funding that provides for the programs that make it so special, our children will suffer and so will our property values!


Karl
Registered user
Portola Valley: Westridge
on May 3, 2021 at 11:12 am
Karl, Portola Valley: Westridge
Registered user
on May 3, 2021 at 11:12 am

How much have home values climbed in the last ten years? And how many homes have been resold with a tax readjustment that's dramatically higher? Yet, somehow, schools still don't have enough money. Sure, I support education but I'm disgusted with never ending taxes, public debt and questionable "teachers" that brainwash kids with garbage like critical race theory and white fragility. Even the Priory (which just raised its tuition by 25% this year) employed one of these diversity Marxists. Stop the insanity! Any new taxes is an easy NO!


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