The school board will likely approve at its Tuesday meeting putting an increased parcel tax to voters in a special mail-in election this May.
Board members voiced support for the new parcel tax at their Jan. 14 meetings. If passed by voters, the parcel tax would increase by $48 to $868 per year, per parcel, for six years, with senior exemptions and a 2% annual inflation adjustment.
The current parcel tax, which voters approved in 2015, generates over $15 million annually for the district — nearly 7% of Palo Alto Unified's overall budget. It expires at the end of the 2020-21 fiscal year. The funds support smaller class sizes, professional development, school libraries, updated instructional materials, high school electives and counseling services, among other programs.
Mounting a special mail-in election would cost $740,000, according to the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters.
Kathy Jordan, a parent and former school board candidate, has criticized the proposal for incurring this cost and questioned the timing of the parcel tax renewal. Placing a six-page ballot measure on the November ballot instead of May would cost about $249,000, not including candidate statements for school board seats, according to the Registrar of Voters.
"Off cycle, special elections are by design off the radar for voters, designed to ensure low voter turnout," Jordan wrote in a Jan. 14 email to the board. "Using our tax dollars to game the system in this way is a disservice to voters and taxpayers."
Board member Ken Dauber pushed back against her criticisms at the Jan. 14 meeting. The additional $4 per month for taxpayers is a "very moderate increase given the value we're going to get," he said, and the timing is preferable during a presidential election year.
"If we want to have a fully informed electorate then having an election at the time when we're not in the middle of a presidential election — maybe the most heated presidential election in memory — is a good strategy for doing it," he said.
President Todd Collins said the county registrar significantly changed the way it charges the district for ballot measures in recent years, resulting in a higher cost regardless of when the election takes place.
"It would be more expensive no matter when we went to the polls," he said.
Board member Melissa Baten Caswell proposed at the Jan. 14 meeting that the district add more specific language to the parcel tax about supporting professional development given a district reserve for teacher training is close to depleted, a suggestion her colleagues supported.
In other business Tuesday, the board will hear an updated report on students earning D/F grades, which the district is using as one measure of its progress against a goal to increase the percentage of minority and low-income students who meet academic expectations.
Across all middle and high schools, both the number of D/F grades earned and the number of students earning them have since declined — and at a more rapid rate than over the same time period last year, with the exception of Palo Alto High School. A staff report notes, however, that "disparities in planning and alignment of resources contributed to mixed results" across schools and that "outlier positive results are largely attributed to commitments of site leaders."
Approaches at the schools include checking in with failing students weekly or requiring that they check in with teachers, working on attendance issues, providing targeted tutoring to students and entire staffs coming together to analyze and reflect on student data.
"As sites continue to monitor student learning from quarter to quarter and semester to semester, it will be incumbent upon leadership teams to explore monitoring of student progress through the lens of instruction — teacher, content area, discipline, tracks, subgroups, implicit bias, etc.," the report states.
On the board's consent calendar for Tuesday are three major personnel changes: the resignation of Paly Principal Adam Paulson, a change in position for Gunn High School Principal Kathie Laurence and the promotion of Sharon Ofek, assistant superintendent of education services for the secondary schools.
The Tuesday, Jan. 28, board meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave. View the agenda here.