News

Voter Guide: Measure B asks school district residents to increase parcel tax rate

Menlo Park City School District seeks $193 more than current annual rate

Oak Knoll Elementary School first graders snack socially distanced at the start of recess at the Menlo Park school on Sept. 29, 2020. All students had to sit 6 feet apart and face the same direction. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Voters will decide the fate of a proposed parcel tax that Menlo Park City School District (MPCSD) officials say is needed to keep its programming afloat, retain teachers and keep class sizes small.

Measure B on the Nov. 2 special election ballot asks for $598 per parcel annually, a $193 bump from the current rate of about $405. It would raise $4.6 million annually for the district, which serves about 2,800 students in Menlo Park and Atherton, and requires two-thirds of voters' support to pass.

"It's a reasonable amount of money," said Superintendent Erik Burmeister, who noted that he has made sure the district is very transparent with the public, hiring a public information officer and hosting a booth at the Menlo Park Farmers Market once a month for the last five years. "It's not anything more than any kid in any community should have."

The district is community funded, and 88% of its budget comes from local sources, according to the district.

District officials say they listened to voters who turned down the district's past measures A and C, in part, because they were evergreen taxes. Instead, the latest measure would sunset after 12 years, expiring in 2033. This would replace Measure X, a seven-year parcel tax which expires in June 2024. It has been described as a "stopgap" solution and raises $2.83 million annually.

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The district made about $2 million in cuts in the 2021-22 fiscal year budget to help balance its budget. Board President Sherwin Chen said the district "took a scalpel to these expenses," but really "protected the education of our kids."

"We have really thought about Measure B as the second step of Measure X," Chen said. "We met the community halfway. ... Because of the greater faith the community has in the district, we said we are not going to take the easy bait of running a scare campaign."

A Yes on B sign on University Drive in Menlo Park on Sept. 21, 2021. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Measure B proponents argue that district leadership has made smart choices, including being one of the few districts in the state that offered in-person learning for most of the 2020-21 school year. MPCSD "created the reopening plan that many others emulated," proponents note on their website.

If Measure B fails, based on budget analysis, the board has discussed cuts to world language courses, librarian programs and physical education teachers (moving the responsibility to classroom teachers). It would also look at increasing class sizes. Chen noted that the district won't be able to offer more programs as a result of Measure B.

Part of the district's argument for funds is that it has financial challenges ahead, including a potential jump in enrollment from Menlo Park's proposed 3,000 new housing units, almost all within district boundaries. Enrollment has been down in the last two years with families moving out of the district during the pandemic because they want to live somewhere with a lower cost of living since they can work from home, Burmeister said during a Sept. 9 governing board meeting. It is "safe to say this is a temporary decline," he said.

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The district recently lost federal Title 1 funding used to support students from low-income families, which Burmeister called a fluke in that not enough district families filled out the survey required to qualify for the funds. MPCSD lost out on over $600,000 in federal COVID-19 aid because it didn't qualify. As future federal aid is likely to be tied to Title 1 eligibility, MPCSD may continue to miss out on hundreds of thousands of dollars, he said.

English teacher Jacky Schlegel teaches sixth graders at Hillview Middle School in Menlo Park on Jan. 11, 2021. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Mark Hinkle, president of the Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association, said the district is asking for a "whopping increase" in parcel tax funds when its test scores are down.

"With inflation creeping up, people on fixed incomes are going to be hurt by this," said Hinkle, who authored the argument against Measure B. He said with enrollment in local districts holding steady, he doesn't see the need for the measure.

"They're basically saying, 'There may be additional housing and that we may have additional kids,'" he said. "This is pretty speculative."

Hinkle added that he would expect math and English language arts test scores to be higher for the type of funding that the district receives about 16% of students tested below grade level in English during the 2019-20 school year and 17% of students weren't proficient in math.

"If you went into a restaurant (where) 15% of the time you get bad service, would you continue going back to that restaurant? Probably not," he said. He argued that doing well in math is an important skill to make it in the tech world, and that for the amount of money the district is spending, it could do better to educate students. (The district spends about $20,000 per student.)

For more on the measure, go here.

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Voter Guide: Measure B asks school district residents to increase parcel tax rate

Menlo Park City School District seeks $193 more than current annual rate

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Fri, Oct 8, 2021, 11:33 am

Voters will decide the fate of a proposed parcel tax that Menlo Park City School District (MPCSD) officials say is needed to keep its programming afloat, retain teachers and keep class sizes small.

Measure B on the Nov. 2 special election ballot asks for $598 per parcel annually, a $193 bump from the current rate of about $405. It would raise $4.6 million annually for the district, which serves about 2,800 students in Menlo Park and Atherton, and requires two-thirds of voters' support to pass.

"It's a reasonable amount of money," said Superintendent Erik Burmeister, who noted that he has made sure the district is very transparent with the public, hiring a public information officer and hosting a booth at the Menlo Park Farmers Market once a month for the last five years. "It's not anything more than any kid in any community should have."

The district is community funded, and 88% of its budget comes from local sources, according to the district.

District officials say they listened to voters who turned down the district's past measures A and C, in part, because they were evergreen taxes. Instead, the latest measure would sunset after 12 years, expiring in 2033. This would replace Measure X, a seven-year parcel tax which expires in June 2024. It has been described as a "stopgap" solution and raises $2.83 million annually.

The district made about $2 million in cuts in the 2021-22 fiscal year budget to help balance its budget. Board President Sherwin Chen said the district "took a scalpel to these expenses," but really "protected the education of our kids."

"We have really thought about Measure B as the second step of Measure X," Chen said. "We met the community halfway. ... Because of the greater faith the community has in the district, we said we are not going to take the easy bait of running a scare campaign."

Measure B proponents argue that district leadership has made smart choices, including being one of the few districts in the state that offered in-person learning for most of the 2020-21 school year. MPCSD "created the reopening plan that many others emulated," proponents note on their website.

If Measure B fails, based on budget analysis, the board has discussed cuts to world language courses, librarian programs and physical education teachers (moving the responsibility to classroom teachers). It would also look at increasing class sizes. Chen noted that the district won't be able to offer more programs as a result of Measure B.

Part of the district's argument for funds is that it has financial challenges ahead, including a potential jump in enrollment from Menlo Park's proposed 3,000 new housing units, almost all within district boundaries. Enrollment has been down in the last two years with families moving out of the district during the pandemic because they want to live somewhere with a lower cost of living since they can work from home, Burmeister said during a Sept. 9 governing board meeting. It is "safe to say this is a temporary decline," he said.

The district recently lost federal Title 1 funding used to support students from low-income families, which Burmeister called a fluke in that not enough district families filled out the survey required to qualify for the funds. MPCSD lost out on over $600,000 in federal COVID-19 aid because it didn't qualify. As future federal aid is likely to be tied to Title 1 eligibility, MPCSD may continue to miss out on hundreds of thousands of dollars, he said.

Mark Hinkle, president of the Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association, said the district is asking for a "whopping increase" in parcel tax funds when its test scores are down.

"With inflation creeping up, people on fixed incomes are going to be hurt by this," said Hinkle, who authored the argument against Measure B. He said with enrollment in local districts holding steady, he doesn't see the need for the measure.

"They're basically saying, 'There may be additional housing and that we may have additional kids,'" he said. "This is pretty speculative."

Hinkle added that he would expect math and English language arts test scores to be higher for the type of funding that the district receives about 16% of students tested below grade level in English during the 2019-20 school year and 17% of students weren't proficient in math.

"If you went into a restaurant (where) 15% of the time you get bad service, would you continue going back to that restaurant? Probably not," he said. He argued that doing well in math is an important skill to make it in the tech world, and that for the amount of money the district is spending, it could do better to educate students. (The district spends about $20,000 per student.)

For more on the measure, go here.

Comments

Atherton Resident
Registered user
Atherton: other
on Oct 8, 2021 at 1:51 pm
Atherton Resident, Atherton: other
Registered user
on Oct 8, 2021 at 1:51 pm

No on B. Residents have spoken on prior measures A and C. The "potential" of 3000 additional housing units does not translate to 3000+ students nor does it mean the units will be built immediately. Look at your expenses, trim administrative costs and work within a budget.


MPCSD resident
Registered user
Atherton: West Atherton
on Oct 8, 2021 at 5:23 pm
MPCSD resident, Atherton: West Atherton
Registered user
on Oct 8, 2021 at 5:23 pm

I'm extremely supportive of providing some ongoing parcel tax funding if it's necessary, as it has been in the past, to maintain high-quality education in our MPCSD.

However, given the length of the term, 12 years, and the number of unknowns, I'm surprised at the size of the ask - approximately 50% more per parcel annually - from around $400 under the current tax to $600 plus inflation in future yrs.

Admittedly, the language in Measure B does state that if the funds aren't needed in the future that the rate can be adjusted downward, but we all know this will never happen.

Given:

- Our school district receives 18 cents on the dollar of property taxes collected in the area and those taxes continue to rise year-over-year, including this pandemic year where an additional $10 billion was generated throughout the county including over $2 billion in Menlo Park and Atherton (see links below),
- The number of students declined slightly over the past couple years,
- The number of new students generated from new construction is unknown and a few years out,
- Increased Covid expenditures are mostly behind us,
- Title 1 funding can likely be regained this next year with some concentrated outreach efforts from the District,

I'd like to understand why Measure B is being proposed at a rate 50% higher than the current Parcel Tax and for such a long term. Do the expected ongoing Pension expenses and rainy day fund levels really warrant such a large increase?

Please note this question is in no way a reflection of my thoughts about the performance of the District. I think Sup. Burmeister and staff did an incredible job keeping school open and kids and teachers as safe as possible, both physically and emotionally, this past year.

Web Link
Web Link


Scott Lohmann
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Oct 8, 2021 at 6:10 pm
Scott Lohmann, Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Oct 8, 2021 at 6:10 pm

Big Supporter of Superintendent Burmeister and his administration. They have had to navigate around Covid, have had demands for higher wages, have had to deal with affordable housing shortages for teachers, have had to compete with other ed districts while interviewing the same pool of candidates and have had to deal with a highly demanding community. He and his team have done a great job keeping the district performing at a high level. In my opinion, homeowners should be thankful that our schools continue to perform. A small uptick in our property taxes earmarked specifically for schools is a very small price to pay, for an investment (our homes) that I know appreciates mainly because of our schools. BTW - I hate taxes, I am a Conservative, but this is again, an investment. Thanks MPCSD!


Menlo Voter.
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Oct 8, 2021 at 6:49 pm
Menlo Voter., Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Oct 8, 2021 at 6:49 pm

A very big NO on B. The district still has not shown a true need for the money. Climbing property tax revenues and shrinking/flat enrolments do not equal a need for more money. A possibility of more housing does not equal actual added housing and until then there is no need for additional money.


Menlo Park Resident
Registered user
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 8, 2021 at 7:05 pm
Menlo Park Resident, Menlo Park: Downtown
Registered user
on Oct 8, 2021 at 7:05 pm

I sincerely hope residents in Menlo Park with support Measure B and our fantastic school district. The <$600 is very reasonable when we think about the leverage Menlo Park schools can get and the impact these funds can generate. Anyone who have children in the school district, have neighbors, friends and families currently in Oak Knoll, Laurel, Encinal and Hillview can attest to the quality of the education and the richness of the school communities. Don't forget - seniors on fixed income and disabled residents can apply for an exemption from the tax. They will not be required to pay the tax and their property prices will benefit from a desirable school district. We really need to vote Yes on Measure B!


Enough
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Oct 8, 2021 at 9:13 pm
Enough, Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Oct 8, 2021 at 9:13 pm

The arguments being made by Burmeister and the district just don't hold. If you look at their arguments, like losing Title 1 funding they are not sharing the real story. The district is appealing the loss of Title 1 money because they believe they lost it incorrectly. So they are either spending money on legal fees to appeal the decision and believe they can win or they don't believe they can get that money, the argument they are making for Measure B, and are waiting tax payer money on the appeal. I wonder which it is.

3000 new housing units have not been built; they have not even been planned and certainly have not been approved by the city. The district is trying to imply they have a financial burden from those imaginary 3000 housing units but in reality there will be added property taxes if they are built and even if they are built it will be years before they are occupied.

Property tax revenue in the last 10 years for Menlo Park and Atherton has gone up more than 60%. The district gets a percentage of that property tax revenue so they have been getting more and more money every year already without an increase in students. The district likes to say there are more students but they are now including the children in the ELC which did not exist 10 years ago and is a paid preschool that the parents are charged for (a full day student costs the parents $22,000 a year).

I am voting No on Measure B because to begin with I don't believe they are being honest with the residents of Menlo Park. They are getting a lot more money every year without more students. They are trying to scare people with arguments that just fall apart if you dig into them. I would give Burmeister and the district a D- on their arguments for Measure B. I also wonder how much this election, which only has Measure B on the ballot, is costing the tax payers. They didn't want a high voter turnout so they were willing to wait until it was just this on the ballot.


Menlo Voter.
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Oct 9, 2021 at 7:38 am
Menlo Voter., Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Oct 9, 2021 at 7:38 am

I'm hoping the district's attempt at slipping Measure B through by putting it on as a special election and costing tax payers money for nothing, backfires since we all have mail-in ballots and people won't have to go to the polls to vote. That's what the district has always counted on in the past when they've pulled this special election BS. This time all anyone has to do is mark a ballot and drop it in the mail. Don't even have to leave the house.

Vote NO on B. The district is LYING about the need for more money.


Public Education Supporter
Registered user
Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Oct 9, 2021 at 9:21 am
Public Education Supporter, Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
Registered user
on Oct 9, 2021 at 9:21 am

I can't think of a better investment in our community's future than to support our local public schools. MPCSD has demonstrated incredible competence and stellar student outcomes for decades because our community is willing to support local education.
Yes on B.


Anonymous
Registered user
Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Oct 9, 2021 at 9:42 am
Anonymous , Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
Registered user
on Oct 9, 2021 at 9:42 am

I am fully in support of measure B to support supplemental funding for our school district. If you’re a parent with kids in the district, you see the benefits that our district provides (including amazing counselors, who have helped kids tremendously both before and during the pandemic). If you’re a homeowner with or without school-aged kids, your property values have likely increased over 20% over the past year, in part because we live in a school district that families want to join. Less than $600 a year is a small price to pay for the benefit of a great school district. Please consider this an investment for our entire community.


Menlo Parent
Registered user
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 9, 2021 at 12:48 pm
Menlo Parent, Menlo Park: The Willows
Registered user
on Oct 9, 2021 at 12:48 pm

Voting yes on Measure B benefits us all, for our children's education, our strong community and of course our property values. I am a father of two children in the school district so my current opinion is in favor of this measure, but my opinion would be the same 5 years ago and it will be the same when my children are no longer in the school system. We and a great many other Menlo Park residents moved here in large part because of the great public school district. We joined a community that believes in the fundamental need of a good education for everyone's children. Voting yes or no on Measure B boils down to whether we value education in our community.

The argument that the school district isn't performing well so we should cut their funding is very shortsighted and ignores reality. Look at any of the high-performing school districts in our area-- they all spend MORE per child than Menlo Park does. Look anywhere around the world, and when more money is spent on education it produces better educated, more productive members of our society and benefits society as a whole. Isn't an extra $200 a year worth that? Consider the long term effects of cutting funding to our school, and it benefits no one. Voting yes on B benefits us all.


Publius
Registered user
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 12, 2021 at 4:47 pm
Publius, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
Registered user
on Oct 12, 2021 at 4:47 pm

I am torn on this latest parcel tax. I voted for the last tax because the district showed a real effort in reducing cost; it was 5 years in length; and was pretty much a renewal of an expiring parcel tax. Here are some of my issues with this ask:

1) This is a 12-year parcel tax. I believe these taxes should be 5 to 6 years at most. This provides an opportunity for the community to reaffirm or reject their continued financial support of the district and to force change if needed. Also, I do not have much faith that the district will NOT come back in 5 years and ask for another parcel tax. If I knew this was the last ask for 12 years, maybe I would say “YES”. Also, they do increase every year. Some say, “well, it forces the district to go on the campaign trail every few years”. So be it. If you want to fund a district with parcel taxes that is the price to pay.

2) All the communication from the parent committee supporting Measure B has stated this is a renewal. Well yes, but…. They are loosely using renewal when in fact it is a renewal with a $193 increase added. Maybe I missed it but in all the fliers I have received, as well as on the website, I do not see this spelled out specifically. The committee needed to be a little more transparent.

3) Finally, once again this election is being held on an off-cycle year which only help the “yes” side as the people who tend to vote during these special elections are those who are passionate about the cause. I understand the MPCSD Board was caught in a hard place of placing on the Presidential election of 2020 or waiting for the 2022 mid-term, but that is when these parcel requests should be put before voters, so you get a true view of voter sentiment. The board needed to dip into reserves for 2022 in order to place this parcel tax a regular election cycle both for cost and voter participation, not back to special elections tricks like was done in the past.

For these reasons, I am not sure I can vote yes on this tax.


Observer
Registered user
Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Oct 13, 2021 at 2:51 pm
Observer, Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
Registered user
on Oct 13, 2021 at 2:51 pm

Having been involved with earlier tax campaigns, I'm familiar with how the sausage is made.

Tax elections are almost always scheduled so that they're the only issue on the ballot. Before universal mail-in, it was easy: you identified supporters early, reminded them to cast ballots, and hoped everyone else would just forget about it. It's harder now, especially given the level of public scrutiny and discussion, for example, here on TownSquare.

I recognize the tone of many of "yes on B" posts because I've worked from that playbook. "It's for the kids!" "Your home values will fall!" (spoiler alert: they won't.) I know the proponents have good intentions, but the district doesn't give them much to work with either.

This is a well-educated community and most residents do value education. Unfortunately, at least for the district and the many dedicated parent volunteers, voters are also smart enough to ask tough but legitimate questions. Avoiding those questions only reinforces the concern that the district isn't being fully open about their forecasts or finances. People want to support the schools; they don't like feeling as though they're being lied to or manipulated. That's not so hard to understand.


new guy
Registered user
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 13, 2021 at 3:15 pm
new guy, Menlo Park: Downtown
Registered user
on Oct 13, 2021 at 3:15 pm

Current parcel tax = ~$400/yr - 5 yr term

New parcel tax (Measure B) = ~$600/yr = 12 yr term

New DOES NOT EQUAL current!

Please stop redefining our language. This is not the definition of "renewal" no matter how hard you spin this.

While it is not clear if they are outright "lying", what is clear is that they (district leadership) clearly have done everything they can to get your money. This includes: hiring consultant firm (for messaging and dollar amount recommendation, waiting for an election slot with nothing else on ballot), spending money on the measure campaign (yes, I know money was "donated" for this), and money for the actually election (ballots, counting, etc). Kind of wonder where all the outrage is for yet another election (did we not have one like a few weeks ago?) That "everyone" was mad about, cuz of the French Laundry lobbyist event.


Menlo Voter.
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Oct 13, 2021 at 8:36 pm
Menlo Voter., Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Oct 13, 2021 at 8:36 pm

lying: adjective

ly·​ing | \ ˈlī-iŋ \

Definition of lying
: marked by or containing untrue statements : FALSE
a lying account of the accident

New guy: based on the definition above, I'd say the board is lying. It's why I voted no. I hate being lied to. Makes me feel like I'm being treated like I'm too stupid to figure out I'm being lied to. Especially, when the lies are so easily discerned.


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