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Ballots mailed this week for Woodside Elementary parcel tax measure

$290 per parcel tax measure is a mail-only ballot

Registered voters in the Woodside Elementary School District should receive ballots in the mail this week asking if they want to renew a $290-per-parcel tax or let it lapse.

The tax measure, called Measure Z, is the only item on the mail-in-only ballot, which must be returned by April 4. The tax is identical to a parcel tax expiring June 30.

It would be adjusted annually for the local consumer price index and would expire in eight years. To pass, the measure must be approved by at least two-thirds of district voters.

Members of the Measure Z campaign committee say the parcel tax is needed to maintain Woodside Elementary School's programs.

Betsy Hobson, the grandmother of district students, said the district is "lucky" because of its community. "I don't think anybody wouldn't agree that we are the luckiest district in the world because of the support we get from the community," said Ms. Hobson, a former school board member. "Our program is spectacular, and we want to keep it that way."

But the district's projections show that even without the parcel tax, the district will be able to maintain its projected level of spending through 2018-19.

Superintendent Beth Polito said defeat of the parcel tax would mean a loss of about $300,000 a year, which would reduce reserves or force the district to cut two employees.

The district's annual revenues amount to about $10 million. The Woodside School Foundation donates about $1.8 million a year, about 20 percent of the budget. About 60 percent of funding comes from property tax revenues (not including the parcel tax).

Claire Pollioni, president of the school district's governing board, said the parcel tax, which has been renewed four times since it was first put in place in 1984, has helped the district "maintain or expand our curriculum and programs while keeping our class sizes small."

She said the board is "mindful of the fact that changes to the state of California's pension system will result in a significant impact on our district's expenses" and could impact the budget and reserves. She said renewal of the parcel tax "will help the district to meet our pension obligations, maintain our programs and class sizes, and continue to offer an excellent education to the district's children."

The parcel tax measure will be the fifth district school-funding election since 2001. Voters approved parcel tax measures in 2001 and 2009, and bond measures in 2005 ($12 million) and 2014 ($13.5 million).

According to state figures, the district, which has only one school, spent $24,901 per student in 2015-16. Only 24 schools in the state spent more per student, most of those in tiny districts. Only two had more than 100 students, and 18 had fewer than 50 students.

Since the 2013-14 school year, Woodside Elementary School's enrollment has fallen from 452 students to the current 401, a drop of 11.2 percent. During that time, the school's property tax revenues rose from $5.5 million in the 2013-14 fiscal year to a projected $6.6 million in 2016-17, a 20 percent increase.

Over that period salaries and benefits increased from 79.9 percent of the budget in the 2013-14 fiscal year to a projected 84.3 percent in the 2016-17 year. A three-year budget forecasts that percentage increasing to 84.8 percent by 2018-19, including an annual state-mandated increase in retirement costs of about 2 percent each year.

The district recently discussed eliminating one administrator when one of its two principals left, but Superintendent Polito said she decided both were needed. Until three years ago the district's superintendent was also its principal. The combined salary and benefits of the two principals in 2015 was $330,821.

According to the state's Ed-data.org website, in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available, Woodside had an average class size of 15.5 students, had a ratio of one credentialed teacher per 10.5 students, and one administrator per 109.5 students.

Those numbers are all improved from the 2010-11 school year, when the district had an average class size of 17.6 students, 1 credentialed teacher per 14.2 students, and one administrator per 151 students.

See an earlier Almanac story on the parcel tax.

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