Measure B is a long-term financial solution that allows Menlo Park City School District (MPCSD) to continue delivering superior education at a reasonable cost, and one with meticulous accountability to the taxpayers. I say this as the leading voice against previous parcel tax measures; I even drafted the argument against measures A and C in 2016. In contrast, I fully support Measure B.
California's elementary and secondary education financing system is complex and difficult to understand. When Proposition 13 was passed in the '70s, the focus was on funding "basic" education for all. As a result, many districts ended up relying on local funding, such as property taxes, to provide a higher standard of education. In Menlo Park, it was determined that 18 cents from each property tax dollar would go toward the school district, and unfortunately, this percentage is unchangeable. That's why, four decades later, property taxes cover only 62% of the district's budget, and why parcel taxes were introduced to bridge the gap.
The complexity of these early supplemental funding solutions was further challenged by poor communication to voters about them. And the efforts to educate voters were primarily targeted toward district parents, not taxpayers.
As a taxpayer, I presented my concerns about parcel taxes in order to change the basic philosophy: Make parcel taxes work for our community's education system and for the economy. When new district and school board leaders ushered in an approach that put taxpayers at parity with parents, the communication, understanding, and collaboration about supplemental funding grew.
Over the last five years, MPCSD streamlined and simplified the district's finances while navigating the complex laws that dictate funding for our education.
In the lead-up to Measure B, I reviewed the plans and budgets with the experience formed over decades of serving on boards, ethics and finance committees in academia, the public sector and the corporate world. As a member of the Vision for Outstanding Public Education Committee, I helped to formulate and refine the district's long-term goals and the financial plans for how to achieve them.
Most recently, with my grandchildren now attending schools in the district, I've seen firsthand the phenomenal quality of the staff, and the value of my tax dollars at work. MPCSD delivers credible value for the dollar, with strong academic performance despite spending the least per student compared to competitive neighboring districts: Woodside, Portola Valley, Las Lomitas, Hillsborough, and Palo Alto.
I empathize with taxpayers' concerns around the ambiguity of future enrollment and the hesitancy to approve a measure that incorporates these uncertain, though likely, risks. Think about it this way: As a shareholder, would you have confidence in a board that didn't have a long-term plan that took into consideration both present and future risks? Measure B allows the board to move forward in a period of ambiguity with a hard cap, and the flexibility — and responsibility — to reassess if they don't need the entire Measure B amount in any given year.
The importance of the quality of leadership to run an efficient and successful organization should not be overlooked. It's something I saw firsthand, as a member of the military, while serving in the federal Office of Management and Budget, in boardrooms and educational institutions. We have great leadership across the school district, from the administration to the staff as well as a solid school board, elected by the people and tasked with district oversight.
Finally, we also must acknowledge that much of the political and economic turbulence in our society is because of poor education. A healthy democracy demands well-educated students. The strength of our economy is contingent on productivity, and our productivity can only be increased by education. Data shows that with a strong education system, communities see an economic benefit; for example, a 2010 Stanford study found that for every dollar the government invests in education, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grows by $20.
These are key factors that I have considered, and which I encourage others to consider, when deciding to support this parcel tax. Measure B will empower the district's leadership to provide economic growth for our community through investing in our children; and well-educated children are the greatest asset for the future of our democracy.
Peter Carpenter is a Menlo Park resident.