School board poised to place parcel tax on May ballot | News | Palo Alto Online |


School board poised to place parcel tax on May ballot

Board members supportive of increase to $868 per year

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.


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43 people like this
Posted by Fed up
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 27, 2020 at 3:39 pm

Hmm... a special election. If my math is right, the first year's revenues would be needed to pay for the election itself.

Hey, what happened to the Measure A and Z money?

54 people like this
Posted by Don't do anything extra
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 27, 2020 at 4:17 pm

Why does the school district ask for more money when enrollment has declined and is projected to decline 11% over the past 10 years, and property taxes funding the district have gone up 70% over the same time period? Maybe they should be asking for 11% less...wouldn't that be appropriate? Maybe it has to do w the extra administrators hired, and that Pausd has more teaching staff although fewer students...or maybe with their use of our tax dollars....

49 people like this
Posted by Independent
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Jan 27, 2020 at 4:30 pm

It's unfortunate the disingenuous comments our school board makes. Spending an extra $500k to avoid voters by using a May special election ballot is telling...yet they all spin it as though it's really something else. I call **! Guess they must be worried about passage and about facing more voters in November or in March.

49 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2020 at 4:32 pm

The PAUSD continually pleads poverty. Every year property taxes are increasing and each time a house changes owners, there is a big increase in property tax. Property tax is the way PAUSD gets most of its funding.

Why should the school district plead poverty when their funding base increases each year?

Why is the school district so sloppy with its money? As a homeowner, I have to be careful with my income and expenditure. If I spend too much I can't go to my employer and say I need more money because I can't manage and expect an increase. Instead I have to be more careful how I spend my money.

It is time we sent a message to PAUSD telling them to be more financially responsible with our money.

37 people like this
Posted by Independent
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Jan 27, 2020 at 4:43 pm

Vote No. They can float a more reasonable proposal and put it on a later ballot.

27 people like this
Posted by Dumbing down the kids with your tax dollar
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 27, 2020 at 6:43 pm

Is PAUSD paying Jo Boaler and her YouCubed to reform its math program? Is PAUSD paying David Foster for his formative assessments? Will your tax dollar be used in reforms that would deteriorate the academic outcomes for all students, especially the underserved students?

This star professor Barbara Oakley seems to know more about issues going on in PAUSD than we Palo Altans do. Give this newsletter a read: Web Link:

13 people like this
Posted by Still a sewer
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 27, 2020 at 7:29 pm

"Star professor" Barbara Oakley is a professor of engineering at Oakland University, a school in SE Michigan with an acceptance rate of 86% and a graduation rate of 46%. Jo Boaler is a professor at Stanford. Enough said.

[Portion removed.]

16 people like this
Posted by Independent
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Jan 27, 2020 at 8:35 pm

Yeah I guess Ken Dauber, Todd Collins, Jennifer Dibrienza and other teacher's union fans would know about corruption.

14 people like this
Posted by Independent
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Jan 27, 2020 at 9:02 pm

Guess that's what you get you cover up for and promote lawbreakers who harmed students - people will think you're corrupt and stupid, or both. Guess they'd be right.

12 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 27, 2020 at 11:43 pm

A large article in the papers this week about how the state is taking money from the Educational sector to put to use in the Judicial Sector. That is throughout the state over most large counties. So the state is using the educational system as the bag man then laundering the money elsewhere? We voted in a person to oversee the education system for the state - we need to hear from him as to how and why this accounting magic is being allowed. This is becoming typical in this state. Time for the state auditors to check in with the man in charge and put him front and center.

Given the continual change over of houses in this city we should be generating a healthy budget for the local schools. If that is not happening then between the local schools and the state we need to find out how the funds are being spent.
I am going to pretend to know how the state, county, and city manage the funds but there should be no reason for the school to be asking for money outside the normal process by which it is generated.

20 people like this
Posted by JR
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 28, 2020 at 7:25 am

To an outside observer, holding a special election in May appears to be an attempt to rig voter turnout. After the Russian collusion in the 2016 election, I am extremely wary of any interference or impropriety in elections, and I'm sure many other Palo Alto residents feel the same way.

Please put this on the ballot in November. It is the right decision for voter enfranchisement, cost, climate change (consider the climate impact of all the additional mailers and extra poll trips), and other reasons. There is no ethical reason to hold a special election in May. Palo Alto is better than such Trumpian tactics.

8 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 28, 2020 at 8:30 am

As typical of the opinion pages of the SJM and SFC someone identifies a problem, charts why it is happening, then throws in some reference to DT hoping that is the dog whistle to action. DT has nothing to do with the Palo Alto School System.

We are in the State of California which is a blue state. The Secretary of State is Alex Padilla. There is a man in Sacramento who was voted in to be the head of the California school systems. So now you are looking at the competence level of these two men to start with, then going down by county and city to track who authorizes this type of activity.

A bond issue is a big deal - there is someone in Sacramento who oversees how bond funds are managed. Look no further than the Santa Clara County school system in east San Jose - Alum Rock - to check in how that bond issue was a money laundering system for a corrupt business located in SOCAL. The Alum Rock debacle has been followed closely in the papers and county legal department.

A parcel tax is another animal that would be added to the property taxes. We already have a property tax item for the school system in PA. The cost to put on a special election is how much? Paid for by who? If it does not win then the PAUSD and county have spent money on nothing.

We are surfacing too many instances of incompetence probably associated with identity politics in this state. The people that actually know how to do something are busy elsewhere.

30 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 28, 2020 at 9:13 am

Unlike some who post here, I'm very supportive of public education. Yet, I still plan to vote NO on the parcel tax if they put it on the ballot. "They" need to do "their" homework and ask themselves how the district could be improved first.

16 people like this
Posted by Esther Grable
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 28, 2020 at 10:09 am

[Post removed.]

14 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 28, 2020 at 10:47 am

My son went to Gunn. Back in the day I believed that we had the best school system. I think back then we did. I keep telling him what is going on here. He lives in the Oakland Hills so we are still ahead of the game here. But not ahead of the game with other peninsula systems. We seem to be getting wrapped up in situations where people want more than what the school system can provide and expecting the taxpayer to fund all types of programs that are outside the traditional set of programs.
Someone has to define what the school system budget is applied to and determine what is required and what has been added to respond to a limited number of political choices. Our priorities are being tweaked on a regular basis.

22 people like this
Posted by Pied Piper
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 28, 2020 at 11:10 am

Hey folks,

Give the school board a break. They need to hire high-priced lawyers, settle lawsuits, reward loyal administrators with generous packages, pay for pension and health benefits through decades of retirement, etc.

Us rich Palo Altans can definitely afford it with our lofty stock options and high priced real estate. Aren't your kids worth a few hundred bucks more per year? Don't you trust PAUSD to make wise decisions (like choosing the best Math programs) with your hard-earned cash?


18 people like this
Posted by Pied Piper
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 28, 2020 at 11:16 am

@Still a sewer
You say:
>> "Star professor" Barbara Oakley is a professor of engineering at Oakland University, a school in SE Michigan with an acceptance rate of 86% and a graduation rate of 46%. Jo Boaler is a professor at Stanford. Enough said.

What crap is that! Next you're going to say Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were college dropouts? Let's judge people *more* by their real achievements, contributions and ideas rather than pedigree, bluster and status.

25 people like this
Posted by Angry PAer
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 28, 2020 at 11:23 am

Whatever. Just say "No! No! No!"

Those people don't know how to use money wisely. Why should we give them more money?

18 people like this
Posted by Old Joe
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 28, 2020 at 12:53 pm

Nope !

Like this comment
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 11, 2020 at 8:49 am

Lots of write-ups now on school systems and bond issues to support local school systems. I went on the State of California pages for the Education Department. Tony Thurmond is the State Supervisor of Public Instruction. If you check out the web-sites available on the state system you have a lot of duplication of effort. And as we tackle bond issues at the district level there is no mention of what the state is suppose to contribute to any one district.

It would be appreciated if when a bond issue comes up there would be an explanation as to which agency is responsible and which agency contributions are affected by the bonds. Each district does not stand alone here. We need to see what happens at the state level and what happens at the district level and how those funds inter-play.

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