Parcel tax passes: What's next for Menlo Park City School District? | March 15, 2017 | Almanac | Almanac Online |

Almanac

Schools - March 15, 2017

Parcel tax passes: What's next for Menlo Park City School District?

by Barbara Wood

While voters in the Menlo Park City School District overwhelmingly approved a $360 parcel tax measure on March 7, the district's work to avoid a projected $5 million deficit is not over.

On Friday, San Mateo County released the semi-official results showing 79 percent voted yes on Measure X, well in excess of the 66.7 percent necessary for passage. A total of 5,747 voted yes and 1,531, no. Just 42 percent of registered voters cast ballots.

The measure authorizes the district to impose for seven years an annual tax of $360 per parcel.

Last May, after two parcel tax measures failed to gain the needed two-thirds voter approval, the district held a series of public meetings to discuss how to both cut expenses and increase revenues. The school board ultimately decided on a combination of the two, asking for a parcel tax purposely not designed to solve all its budget woes. Now the district must decide how it will cut spending.

On election night, Erik Burmeister, the district's assistant superintendent who will become superintendent on July 1, said the district's work is far from over. "I'm grateful that the community has given us this vote of confidence," he said, "and I'm committed to using not only their financial resources responsibly, but also their trust."

"I look forward to a continued conversation about the impact great schools have on our community," Mr. Burmeister said.

The school board's first task at this week's March 14 school board meeting was to go over a list of resignations, retirements and job share requests received by human resources, "which will free up some space in the organization," he said. "We're still cutting" teacher positions, he said, but "we're likely not going to have to lay anybody off."

However, there may be a few layoffs of non-teaching employees, Mr. Burmeister said. Between two and four non-teaching positions will be eliminated, he said, but at least one of those is currently vacant.

The school board meeting was scheduled for Tuesday, March 14, after the Almanac went to press.

Go to AlmanacNews.com for updates.

Because kindergarten enrollment for fall 2017 recently closed, the district will soon be able to forecast what its fall enrollment will be, Mr. Burmeister said. That information will help to determine if the 13 temporary teachers on the rolls will be able to return in the fall, Mr. Burmeister said.

Details of other spending cuts will probably wait for the board's April meeting, he said, when the district is more clear on its staffing for the 2017-18 school year.

Mr. Burmeister was among the crowd of backers of the tax measure who gathered at Mama Coco Cocina Mexicana in Menlo Park on Tuesday night, March 7, to watch the election results come in.

From the beginning, when the first results were announced at 8:05 p.m., the measure led by far more than the 66.7 percent approval margin needed to pass.

Measure X campaign chair Stacey Wueste said the committee worked hard to convince the community to support the measure.

"We spent a lot of time in the late summer and early fall with a lot of community listening meetings," Ms. Wueste said. The meetings helped the district to "understand where the community was" and everyone to better understand the financial condition of the school district, she said.

The campaign had eight co-chairs, a steering committee of 50 and hundreds of volunteers, she said.

School board president Stacey Jones praised the district staff for remembering their priority was "business as usual in educating the kids" even as they worked to educate the community about the district's financial situation.

Next, she said, is work on spending cuts. "We still have a big shortfall," she said.

School board member Caroline Lucas, who had opposed the two 2016 parcel tax measures, but backed Measure X, said she is grateful for the community's support. "It will provide us time to partner with the community to establish a longer-term financial plan," she said.

The tax, she said, "is in no way a long-term solution for the budget shortfall." She promised "to use the time the voters have provided us to focus on developing a long-range financial plan that is viable for the district. I welcome input and encourage the community to engage in this process."

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