Here in central Menlo Park and Atherton, base property taxes funded $8,700 of the Menlo Park City School District's $14,300 cost to educate each elementary school child last year. In the Las Lomitas District just west of us, they provided $11,200 per child. In Portola Valley and Woodside, they provided about $15,500; in Emerald Hills/Redwood City, $5,000; and in Palo Alto, $12,500.
Most people realize that local districts receive dramatically different amounts of property tax based on underlying property values. Logically, more expensive areas pay more tax on each parcel than others, so their "wealthy" school districts must get more, right? Not necessarily. Of the two Menlo Park-Atherton districts, Las Lomitas actually has a slightly lower average and median property value.
When you look at local per-child school funding, five other key factors kick in:
• Uplift from nonresidential property, i.e., commercial, agricultural, and vacant parcels within the district.
• Downward pressure from a high proportion of early Proposition 13 base years.
•The allocation of property tax revenue that actually flows to a school district district vs. other local services (city, county, fire).
• Any residual Redevelopment Agency debt-service commitments borne by the school district.
•The number of children in the district.
Although underlying property values — especially house prices — are similar, these factors result in MPCSD's receiving $2,500 less per child than Las Lomitas. How do these additional factors favor one district over another?
First, Las Lomitas has enjoyed a lot of recent commercial expansion along the Sand Hill Corridor, providing a nice uplift from commercial property tax revenues.
Second, it has a much smaller proportion of pre-1985 base year properties: just 14 percent of Las Lomitas' single-family residences carry the most-advantaged pre-1985 property tax bases, versus 22 percent in MPCSD.
Furthermore, Las Lomitas actually receives a larger percentage of the taxes collected — 20.9 percent vs. 18.6 percent for MPCSD. (0.5 percent just because it never had a redevelopment agency within its jurisdiction. MPCSD will continue to see a portion of its property taxes removed to service the debts of the city of Menlo Park's Redevelopment Agency for years.)
Finally, there are few multi-family residential properties in Las Lomitas and three of the largest ones changed ownership recently (hence they make a much higher property-tax contribution). Those that exist include senior, executive and student housing, and thus send a smaller number and proportion of children to the Las Lomitas district. (And only 17 percent enjoy the most tax-advantaged pre-1985 bases, compared with 36 percent of apartment buildings in MPCSD.)
Had MPCSD had Las Lomitas' allocation rate alone, $1,000 more per child would flow to the district. Had residential property owners in MPCSD sold their properties at the same rate, $600 more would flow to the district per child.
Woodside and Portola Valley enjoy even higher base values, higher allocation percentages, no redevelopment agencies, and, although they enjoy little commercial property uplift, they also have (virtually) no multi-family residential property to add student headcount. All of these factors contribute to their significantly higher property tax funding per child.
Redwood City has lower property values, a higher allocation percentage, proportionally more significant commercial uplift, but higher Redevelopment Agency debt service to bear, and a large percentage of children from lower-valued multi-family residential properties. Only $5,000 of base property tax funds each child. That district did, however, receive state funding, supported by property tax from Atherton, Menlo Park, Woodside, and Portola Valley, which brought its comparable per-student total to $8,600.
The difference, lest you scratch your head (as one sure could as we split hairs here), is that the property tax has been taken to satisfy other of the state's debts to local municipalities and does not flow directly to Redwood City Elementary (or Ravenswood or other low-revenue districts in San Mateo County). It did so originally, from 1992 - 2004, and some still does in other counties.
Can we change any of these factors? Probably not.
We are left to decide what quality educational experience we will offer our neighborhood children. I originally bought in MPCSD assuming we'd move to the "better" Palo Alto school district when our kids were ready for school. However, the community made a significant investment to improve our schools, including significant parcel taxes and donations. So when my child was ready, we could stay in a place where he knew every neighbor's name. Thank you, neighbors.
Now, let's keep our community the kind of place where families want to buy — and want to stay. Measure X on the March ballot would renew a parcel tax that expires at the end of June. The parcel tax revenue has been critical in maintaining district programs at a level we as a community have long supported. I urge you to vote yes on Measure X.
This story contains 835 words.
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