Guest opinion: Parcel tax a wise investment in community's future | January 11, 2017 | Almanac | Almanac Online |

Almanac

Viewpoint - January 11, 2017

Guest opinion: Parcel tax a wise investment in community's future

by Rebecca Bloom

Our Menlo Park City district schools are outstanding for a reason — this community consistently invests in our common future, the public school students of Menlo Park. That future — one where our students become well-educated, engaged citizens — is not something to be taken lightly. I am, therefore, writing in support of Measure X, a carefully considered initiative that is the product of extensive collaboration by all stakeholders.

This story contains 541 words.

If you are a paid subscriber, check to make sure you have logged in. Otherwise our system cannot recognize you as having full free access to our site.

If you are a paid print subscriber and haven't yet set up an online account, click here to get your online account activated.

Rebecca Bloom is a community volunteer, writer, editor and retired lawyer. She was a co-chair of the 2010 Measure C parcel tax campaign.

Comments

Posted by Katie Ferrick, a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Jan 10, 2017 at 3:29 pm

Thank you, Rebecca, for your service to our school district over the years and for your leadership of 2010 Measure C. I join you in supporting Measure X.

To help our community learn why this parcel tax renewal at the new rate of $360 with a 7 year sunset and senior exemption is needed now, I've learned over the last several months that MPCSD is faced with three key funding challenges:

1) Reduced Funding. The 2010 parcel tax expires June 2017; loss of $1.6M annually.

2) Enrollment Growth. Since 2010, enrollment has grown by 468 students to 3000, at a cost of more than $6M annually. MPCSD expects to add 300 more by 2025.

3) Increased Mandated Pension Costs. The state of California has required MPCSD to double state mandated district contribution rates to CalSTRS, adding $3M in annual costs by 2020. This is not something the district is able to negotiate or reduce.

These challenges, if not addressed, will result in an annual $5M deficit by 2021. It means immediate cuts to core programs and teacher lay-offs.

The excellent outcomes and programs at MPCSD were built over decades of hard work by hundreds of educators, community volunteers, parents and grand parents. I will volunteer to protect our local public schools and I hope more community members will join me.

Please see more information about the structural deficit FAQ's on the school district website here: Web Link

And, please learn more about Measure X here: Web Link



Posted by Jennifer Bestor, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 10, 2017 at 3:40 pm

Jennifer Bestor is a registered user.

The investment in education that Menlo Park and Atherton voters have made pays off. We attract the kind of neighbors who support bookstores like Kepler’s, theaters like the Guild, and coffee shops like Ann’s. Strong public schools build community.

And, of course, there are property values. By making our residential and commercial property more attractive to educated households, we increase the number of potential buyers. As a realtor told me, if you only have one interested buyer — it’s a buyers’ market. If you have two, you need a good agent. But just one more and it’s a sellers’ market. Our mutual investment in our schools has added another 15% to the standard property value increase. Good for our kids, good for our neighborhoods, good for us!


Posted by Kate Kennedy, a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Jan 10, 2017 at 4:15 pm

Kate Kennedy is a registered user.

Thank you, Rebecca, for your thoughtful and informed analysis of the economic factors which make Measure X so important to the continued excellence of Menlo Park schools. I join you, the MPCSD School Board, and a growing number of community members and leaders in strongly supporting this well-conceived Measure.

Our community has a history of strong support for the schools that are so crucial to educating and nurturing our children. My own children benefited immeasurably from growing up at Laurel, Encinal, and Hillview schools, and as a parent I gained a tremendous amount of happiness and satisfaction from watching them learn and thrive, and being connected with their schools as a volunteer.

I'm so thankful for the experiences we had during our years as part of the MPCSD family, and I fervently hope that children and families coming along behind us, as we graduate from the District this year, will have the same kinds of experiences. That's why I'm supporting Measure X: to ensure that our schools remain strong and vibrant for MPCSD's current and future children and families.

Please visit the MPCSD Frequently Asked Questions page and the Community to Support Menlo Park Schools website to learn more about Measure X, and join me in voting YES on March 7.

Web Link

Web Link


Posted by Caryn Wasserstein, a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Jan 10, 2017 at 5:18 pm

Rebecca, thank you for your support and detailed information regarding Measure X. I appreciate the link to more information too, that is very helpful. We moved to this District eight years ago, before our children were even in preschool, because of the public schools. We paid parcel and property taxes for five years before we had a stucent in the District, and will pay them long after our children have graduated. We have watched MPCSD provide an education that is not only excellent, but one that takes the whole student into consideration. Teachers and staff work diligently with the students and are always striving to support every child. Measure X is clearly necessary to support the students and our overall community.


Posted by Menlo Voter., a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 10, 2017 at 6:19 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

"Measure X is clearly necessary to support the students and our overall community."

Not if you and yours are going to continually posit the argument that the problem is anything other than increased demands from Calpers. Some of those costs can be solved by salary control. Keep trying to tell me it's because enrollment is greater than tax growth. which is demonstrably false, and I WILL NOT VOTE FOR X. We're not stupid. Stop treating us like we are.


Posted by Katie Ferrick, a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Jan 10, 2017 at 11:13 pm

Hi Menlo Voter--

I'm here to help get the facts in the hands of voters. Happy to talk with you directly-- let me know how I can reach you.

The three main drivers of the structural deficit include all the things you mentioned:

1) Reduced Funding. The 2010 parcel tax expires June 2017; loss of $1.6M annually.

2) Enrollment Growth. Since 2010, enrollment has grown by 468 students to 3000, at a cost of more than $6M annually. MPCSD expects to add 300 more by 2025.

3) Increased Mandated Pension Costs. The state of California has required MPCSD to double state mandated district contribution rates to CalSTRS, adding $3M in annual costs by 2020. This is not something the district is able to negotiate or reduce.

Please see more information about the budget and school funding on the district's FAQ's here: Web Link


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 11, 2017 at 5:17 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Salary costs TIMES pension rate = pension cost.


MPCSD has TOTAL control over its salary costs in that MPCSD determines how many people it will employ and MPCSD determines, usually via negotiation, how much each of those employees will be paid.

When you go to the grocery store the State does not control what you buy but it does charge you sales tax based on which items you bought and how much they cost.

Honesty in this campaign is essential if the proposed parcel tax is to receive the 2/3 support of the voters.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 11, 2017 at 5:40 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

When will MPCSD and the unions announce a 1-2 year stand still agreement on compensation?

Remember that the entire 2016 PAUSD parcel tax , which was sold on the basis of making program improvements, went to salary increases.

"To preserve excellence in academic programs, including science, engineering, math, reading, writing, arts, and music with local funding that cannot be taken by the state; reduce class sizes; attract and retain qualified teachers; and advance health, well-being, and equitable opportunities for every student, shall the Palo Alto Unified School District renew its expiring parcel tax for six years, increase the rate by $120, and continue exemptions for seniors, annual two percent escalation adjustments, and independent oversight?"

"The Palo Alto school board approved Tuesday night in a 4-to-1 vote a 12 percent base salary increase for teachers over three years, with all but one board member arguing that that level of pay hike is necessary to help the district retain and attract high-quality teachers."




Posted by Menlo Voter., a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 11, 2017 at 7:27 am

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Katie:

I'm not going to waste my time cutting and pasting the extensive work and posts by others pre measure A and C losses. Property tax income EXCEEDS enrollment growth. that was repeatedly shown to be the case. Especially, when you leave out the enrollment of teachers children. So. please stop trying to claim that as a reason as it's factually inaccurate.

And again, as noted pension costs are based on salaries which ARE within the control of the board which has shown ZERO inclination to exercise that control. In fact, voting an across the board pay raise for all employees even when they knew they couldn't pay for it. Solid financial management? I think not.

I am inclined to vote for Measure X, but I don't like being treated like a rube. Keep making the claims you're making and you'll lose my vote.


Posted by Mpcsd parent2 , a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 11, 2017 at 11:30 am

We live in one if the most expensive districts.
It is already difficult to hire and retain highly qualified teachers.
As much of the rest of Silicon Valley watches salaries grow, why do we expect teachers to be the ones to have their salaries frozen?
Insofar as our district is in the business of providing education, it is "solid financial management" to pay at least market rates for what is probably the district's most important assets -- its teachers.

Moreover, the Sacramento-mandated pension payments that are a primary driver of the current shortfall in the district's budget are to pay for decades of Sacramento not properly funding the pensions of teachers working years ago.
Going forward, we can demand that Sacramento be more diligent about payments to pensions for current teachers being made on an ongoing basis, but we should not be asked to penalize our current teachers, and therefore our schools, to make up for the past misdeeds is Sacramento.


Posted by Jack Hickey, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jan 11, 2017 at 11:34 am

Jack Hickey is a registered user.

MPCSD, with the support and encouragement of MPAEF and PTO's, has persuaded voters to fund schools and programs which go far beyond a BASIC education. Bonded indebtedness incurred by the district is now more than $131,000,000. Service on that debt does not show up in the districts budget, nor does the debt incurred by the district for state bonds issued to provide "matching" funds for district projects.

The Gann Expenditure limit approved by 74.3% of voters in 1979 Web Link) amended the California Constitution to:

Limit the growth in appropriations made by the state and individual local governments.
1. The limit in the rate of growth is the percentage increase in the cost of living and the percentage increase in the state or local government's population.
2. Require state and local governments to return any funds to taxpayers in excees of the amount appropriated for a given fiscal year.
3. Require the state to reimburse local governments for the cost of complying with state mandates.

Measure X contains a provision which allows the district to increase their Gann Limit, if necessary, so they can spend the revenue which it produces.

Web Link
Teachers have a 189 day work year with 180 days of instruction. See: Teacher contract: Web Link

Voters, just say NO to Measure X. Let MPAEF and the PTO's sustain the embellishments for which you are already being taxed. A NO vote will allow your parcel tax bill to drop to $684, a YES vote would raise that tax to $1,044 per parcel. The ad-valorem tax servicing the bonds would be unchanged.


Posted by Menlo Voter., a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 11, 2017 at 6:37 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

"As much of the rest of Silicon Valley watches salaries grow, why do we expect teachers to be the ones to have their salaries frozen?"

Because they have a pension unlike most anyone else in the private sector. Not to mention the unfunded portion of that benefit that grows ever larger and is still payable long after a teacher retires, THAT is why we expect teachers to have their salaries frozen. The value of the perk they receive is "unfrozen." It continues to grow until they die. That used to be the trade of for working in the public sector, you didn't get a great wage, but you got a fantastic pension. Not so now. They get both a great salary and a fantastic pension.


Posted by Jack Hickey, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jan 13, 2017 at 12:06 pm

Jack Hickey is a registered user.

Real cost per ADA
Web Link

MPCSD bond debt information from Ahmad Sheikholeslami on 5/17/2016:
Web Link
At the time of that report, outstanding debt was $136,957,418.85.
Original voter approved debt from Measure U(2006) was $91,099,998.60
Original voter approved debt from Measure W(2013) was $23,000,000.00
So, the original $114,099,998.60 has ballooned into $136,957,418.85!

I urge supporters of MPCSD to make generous donations to MPAED rather than contributing to the parcel tax campaign. And, I ask you to give property owners a break by voting NO.


Posted by saraleslie, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 13, 2017 at 3:59 pm

Thank you, Rebecca, for your thoughtful editorial.

In understanding this issue, it's helpful to me to remember that parcel taxes are really only necessary because of the restrictions situation set up by Prop 13. Were taxes to rise at reasonable rates annually, we wouldn't be in this mess. But no politician these days will touch Prop 13. Our robust housing market and property taxes are not enough to sustain our schools. This is even as we spend less per student than neighboring districts, much less than other states, and ask parents for $1,000s in gifts to the MPAEF.

So we to turn to parcel taxes. In effect, we are putting a minor tax increase where it should be already--on homeowners--and excluding seniors so as not to strain those on more limited incomes. Sounds reasonable to me.

We're not talking about subsidizing private schools. This is about providing a quality, public education which, as a country, we've decided is a right we will extend to all students.


Posted by Jack Hickey, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jan 14, 2017 at 9:48 am

Jack Hickey is a registered user.

saraleslie said:
"In understanding this issue, it's helpful to me to remember that parcel taxes are really only necessary because of the restrictions situation set up by Prop 13. Were taxes to rise at reasonable rates annually, we wouldn't be in this mess."

Parcel taxes in MPCSD,currently at $874.56, DO rise at reasonable rates. They are CPI adjusted annually. And, property tax revenue from MPCSD's share of the 1% ad-valorem General Tax, limited by prop 13 to no more than 2% annual increase, has been more than sufficient to exceed the district's Gann Expenditure Limit. That Limit is adjusted annually by the percentage increase in the cost of living and the percentage increase in the state or local government's population.

This is not about "...providing a quality, public education..." it's about taking a basic public education, and turning it into a "world class" education. That's a noble goal, but not one which should be financed by MORE property taxes beyond the limits established by the Gann Expenditure Limit.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 14, 2017 at 10:07 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

In less than a month mail in ballots will be in the hands of the voters yet:

1 - There has be no active outreach to the non-parent voters
2 - There are no yard signs
3 - There has been no commitment by the unions not to grab all of the parcel tax proceeds as salary increases (as happened last year with PAUSD and its parcel tax) leaving nothing to protect and provide the special programs that the MPCSD's parcel tax claims as its purpose.

The proponents better stop talking to themselves and start connect with the other voters or this parcel tax, which I support, will fail. And the unions better get on board or the more informed citizens will start opposing a salary increase tax.


Posted by Menlo Man, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 14, 2017 at 8:46 pm

Just curious what your position is Peter on teacher salary increases if the parcel passes?

Let's be reminded that MPCSD teachers have received a paltry 2.5% salary increase over the last two school years. Peter that is a 1.25% salary increase in 2015-16 and 1.25% in 2016-17, FAR below the Bar Area CPI.

Your tone in your last few posts suggests that MPCSD teachers are going to receive some huge windfall of taxpayer money if the levy passes. Peter let's lay off (no pun intended) the characterizing of teachers as greedy or opportunistic, you've already beat that drum to death....


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 15, 2017 at 10:13 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Fact:

On May 5, 2015, voters approved a Measure A Parcel Tax assessment of $758 per parcel with an annual two percent escalation for six years. Parcel Tax funds allow Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) to preserve excellence in academic programs, including science, engineering, math, reading, writing, arts, and music with local funding that cannot be taken by the state; reduce class sizes; attract and retain qualified teachers; and advance health, well-being, and equitable opportunities for every student.

Web Link

Fact:
May 24, 2016, 8:26
Palo Alto school board approves 12 percent pay increases for teachers

Web Link
*********


Last year the MPCSD teachers reopened their contract as soon as the Board decided to put the two 2016 parcel taxes on the ballot. And the Board was negotiating these increases even before the votes were counted. And since a public entity cannot engage in regressive bargaining the Board was forced to give the increases even after the parcel taxes failed.

So what guarantee do the MPCSD voters have that the this year's Parcel Tax won't simply be a pass through to the teachers with a concomitant loss of funding for student programs?


Posted by Taxed, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 15, 2017 at 4:41 pm

Jack,


As for incremental annual tax increases. I bought at 2.5M, 10 years ago, my taxes are now 38k a year.

Seems like they've gone up every year, Not frozen at prop 13 as some people might think.

Anyone know how much a teachers salary is in Menlo Park?


Posted by Jack Hickey, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jan 15, 2017 at 5:40 pm

MPCSD salaries:

Web Link


Posted by Jennifer Bestor, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 17, 2017 at 3:34 pm

Sorry. I’d forgotten about this thread! Doesn’t it all look different in light of the salaries and spending at the Fire District — the highest in the entire STATE — which Mr Carpenter keeps holding up as the apotheosis of fiscal probity?

Where to begin?

Taxed — thank you for your contribution to our local services. About a third of it goes to subsidize those who brag about how they bought over fifty years ago and how Prop 13 ‘protects’ homeowners.

Peter Carpenter — Why did Palo Alto Unified’s actions suddenly show up in this thread — and the fire district thread? Surely no one wants the Almanac editorial staff to make the same error they did last year, the one that led them to apologize publicly for confusing MPCSD’s record with that of other public boards? Or do you?

For someone who claims to support the parcel tax, why keep kicking the district? What if they did spend it on salaries? Teachers STILL woudn’t make a fraction of what our firefighters are taking home. And teachers can’t live a hundred miles away. And don’t we elect officials to decide on the right mix of salary/headcount?

Saraleslie, yes. Despite the fact that poor Taxed sees $13,000 a year of his money going to subsidize so-called ’taxpayer advocates’, we unfortunately live in a district where that is not enough to even the national average per-student spending. Hence parcel taxes.

And an interesting thing about the Gann Limit — I had no recollection of a Gann Limit override bill for MPCSD (of course, there would be one for the explicit amount of a parcel tax — what would be the point of raising extra funding you couldn’t use?) — but I searched on Menlo Park Gann Limit and saw that, yes, there has been a … oops! can it be? yes! … Menlo Park FIRE DISTRICT override (actually, two of them!), but no sign of MPCSD having to apply for one.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 17, 2017 at 3:37 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"why keep kicking the district?" Only in your imagination.


Posted by Jennifer Bestor, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 17, 2017 at 3:39 pm

The School Board just instructed the superintendent to bring them a resolution authorizing 10 terminations and 20+ lay-off notices … yet somehow the Greek chorus of nay-sayers is still screaming about salary control? Hello?! Why are people who accuse school supporters of treating them “like fools” constantly provoking us all to do so?

$50. Yup, that’s the per-student amount of “Some of the increased pension costs can be solved with salary control.” Since I don’t engage in rhetorical arm-waving and arm-chair quarterbacking, let me walk you through the numbers. $10,000 a year of per-student costs is staff salary. The raise that was given at the end of last year was 2.5% — and a retroactive 2.5% BONUS for the year before. Going forward, that’s $250. The new CalSTRS pension rate, at full deployment, will be 19.1%. Call it 20% and we get $50/child.

The parcel tax -- $360/child -- cannot be covered by no raises.

Now, why did the Board give that raise — retroactively, at the end of the year, after the parcel tax loss? First, the county controller’s office revised its property tax estimate upwards. Second, the Board made the judgement call that fewer, better staff were a better solution than more staff. Guess what? That is the judgement call we elect them to make! And, in light of the ever-tightening national market for teachers AND escalating local housing costs, a logical one. And what about the bonus? Well, retroactively awarding it ensured no compounding.

Any businessperson knows that they have to make a constant quality vs. quantity trade off. And constant carping at the school board to make decisions that look good — rather than working well for the children of this community — is a perfect example of exhorting them to “behave like a business,” then criticizing them for doing so.


Posted by Jenson, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 19, 2017 at 8:14 am

The teachers make enough money before the last raise. Teachers listed in the link by Mr Hickey show teachers all easily over 100,000.00 including benefits. How much more is enough? Im sorry but I do not want to pay for school teachers that make good money already. My kids are out of the school district and Im done. if the proponents of this new parcel tax want to raise more money then donate it yourself. Stop putting it on the back of tax payers of Menlo Park or exempt all residents that are over 55. The problems of the last election push have not been fixed but here comes the same rhetoric again. Live within your means and stop crying. $100,000.00 for a 9 month job....thats rough


Posted by That was answered, a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Jan 19, 2017 at 6:54 pm

Peter Carpenter wrote:
"On May 5, 2015, voters approved a Measure A Parcel Tax assessment...to preserve excellence in academic programs, including science, engineering, math, reading, writing, arts, and music"

Jennifer Bestor responded:
"Why did Palo Alto Unified’s actions suddenly show up in this thread"

Because it's very relevant example of a possible outcome of the parcel tax. That's why.

The Union's seizing of tax money (with the PAUSD school board's complicity) was sold to the taxpayers to be for ACADEMIC PROGRAMS (like MPCSD), but turned into RAISES.

Bait-and-switch. What is to stop the exact same thing from occurring in MPCSD?

Mr. Carpenter even pointed out the purpose of referencing PAUSD in the post you responded to:
"what guarantee do the MPCSD voters have that the this year's Parcel Tax won't simply be a pass through to the teachers with a concomitant loss of funding for student programs?"

That is a very reasonable and very good question.


Posted by Menlo Voter., a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 19, 2017 at 7:29 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

"The Union's seizing of tax money (with the PAUSD school board's complicity) was sold to the taxpayers to be for ACADEMIC PROGRAMS (like MPCSD), but turned into RAISES."

Just like MPCSD, EXCEPT, the parcel taxes they counted on to pass this money on in raises FAILED. That's what happens when you mismanage money, ie, "counting chickens before they're hatched."

Personally, before voting for Measure X, I would like reassurance that the board isn't going to give away the increased funds in raises for staff. They make more than enough money as it is. And please don't tell me "we have to pay this much to retain our great teachers." They're already top paid in the state. Just where are they going to go to make more money?


Posted by Jack Hickey, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
12 hours ago

Jack Hickey is a registered user.

In another topic on the subject of parcel taxes which has been closed Web Link, Jennifer Bestor stated that "You yourself know that RCSD does not allow you to exempt yourself from tax on a contiguous second parcel." I responded "RCSD DOES allow my senior exemption to apply to my 2 contiguous parcels. That's because I requested it."

After reviewing my tax bills, I discovered that RCSD had taxed me $67 on one of the parcels for the past two years. I sent the following e-mail to Superintendent John Baker:
Superintendent Baker, I recently discovered that I have been taxed for Measure W on parcel # 057-022-080 for the past 2 years. My senior exemption previously has been applied to my contiguous parcels, 057-022-070 and 057-022-080, upon which my home is located. Please apply that exemption to Measure U, and reimburse me for the $134 erroneously collected.

Thank you, Jennifer, for bringing this to my attention!

I suggest that taxpayers check their tax bills carefully. Mistakes happen.


Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Email:


Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields