Parcel tax vote likely for Portola Valley school district | January 16, 2013 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


Schools - January 16, 2013

Parcel tax vote likely for Portola Valley school district

by Renee Batti

Voters are likely to be asked this spring to renew and boost the Portola Valley School District's parcel tax, which last year raised close to $1 million for the two-school district.

The tax, approved by voters with the passage of Measure C in 2004 and Measure D in 2010, will expire in spring 2014. The district hopes to place both measures on the ballot in May for an eight-year renewal, and raise the combined amount district residents are assessed to a maximum of $656 — a 43 percent increase.

Currently, the combined tax from both measures is $458 per parcel. Measure C assesses $290 per parcel annually; the assessment for Measure D is $168 per parcel each year. That has added up to a robust supplement to the school district's budget over the years, last year bringing in $987,296, according to Sandra Lepley, the district's interim chief business official.

The school board will consider adopting a resolution placing the parcel tax measures on the ballot on Wednesday, Feb. 6. A public hearing on the matter will precede the vote. The meeting begins at 6 p.m. in the district board room.

The school community was rocked last year by revelations that then-superintendent and chief finance officer Tim Hanretty had embezzled more than $100,000 from the district, and significantly misrepresented the amount of money the district had at its disposal. After extensive audits were performed and austerity measures put in place, the district closed the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012, with a $31,000 deficit and no money in its reserve fund.

But the district's plan to ask voters to renew and possibly increase the parcel tax "has nothing to do with Tim Hanretty's actions," school board President Jocelyn Swisher said in an email to the Almanac. "Through restitution (court-ordered at $181,750 to include attorney and auditor fees and other costs) and improvements in process and oversight, we feel that those issues have been addressed."

Instead, the parcel tax issue "relates to the long-term stability of our school district," she wrote. "We have two options: we can renew and enhance stable local funding that we control; or we can let these funds expire and hope for the best. "This community has a long history of investing in quality local schools."

Ms. Swisher said renewing the tax is a top priority for the district — a means to ensure "that we never find ourselves overly dependent on Sacramento for protecting the quality of our local schools."

School districts across the state have had to severely cut or eliminate educational programs and increase class size through the years because of significant reductions in state funding.

In announcing the public hearing, the district said the ballot measures would generate revenue earmarked for educational programs, with emphasis on math, science, reading, writing, art and music, and would also be used to maintain "qualified and experienced teachers" and minimize class size increases.

The measures would also maintain the current exemptions for certain senior citizens and disabled people, the district said.