It may seem like deja vu for residents of the Portola Valley School District — another spring parcel tax measure, just over a year after voters narrowly rejected a measure that would have renewed the current parcel tax that is set to expire this June.
But things have drastically changed since the last time a parcel tax was on the ballot in the district on March 3, 2020. Schools soon shuttered and pivoted to distance learning due to COVID-19, leaving children homebound and limited to online communication with their teachers and classmates. About seven months later, Portola Valley was one of the first public school districts in San Mateo County to get the green light to reopen for in-person instruction, which it did in a phased approach beginning in mid-October.
With COVID-19 vaccinations ramping up and talk of the California economy fully reopening in June, there's hope that school life can begin to return to some semblance of normalcy statewide this fall. But that continued transition will be hampered should voters fail to support Measure S, a district parcel tax initiative on the all-mail ballot May 4. According to district officials, eight teachers would need to be laid off and programs cut should Measure S not receive the necessary two-thirds support from voters. The current parcel tax, Measure O, raises about $1.2 million annually and helps pay for teacher salaries, reduced class sizes, and programs such as advanced math, science and technology, and art and music.
District officials say the new parcel tax initiative is indicative of an effort to listen to the community and only ask for what's necessary, as Measure S would implement a tax of $471 per parcel annually versus the current rate of $581. So for $110 less per year, Portola Valley voters can help local schools retain their renowned programs and teachers, which benefit the entire community regardless of whether you have a child in the district. One could argue that it's more important than ever before to keep class sizes small, have teacher continuity and fund academic programs that have enriched the lives of so many children, especially ones like science and music that heavily rely on in-person interactions and have been harder to engage in virtually.
Opponents of the measure argue that the parcel tax is unnecessary because enrollment has declined in the district, meaning there should be fewer expenses. But the enrollment decline will not necessarily continue, nor does a decrease in enrollment automatically translate to a decrease in expenses at a time when schools are spending money on air filters, cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment to help create a safe environment for students and staff amid the pandemic.
It's hard to complain about being overtaxed by the district when voters are being asked to approve a decrease from the current rate, and the well-respected local schools are a big factor in keeping the town's property values high. The Almanac recommends a yes vote on Measure S.