|Facing huge state budget cuts that threaten elementary and middle school programs and small class sizes, the Mountain View Whisman school board voted last week to seek a 69 percent increase in the current parcel tax when it comes up for renewal on the June ballot.
If it passes, the tax would raise $1.7 million a year to fund "essential programs," smaller class sizes and to attract and retain teachers.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed cuts in education, if approved by the Legislature, would hit the district hard, taking away an estimated $3 million.
"Our first priority will be to respond to state budget cuts without them having an impact on essential programs," said Craig Goldman, the district's chief financial officer.
Mountain View residents passed the original parcel tax in 2003, when the district faced similar cuts for school libraries and arts and music programs.
"The parcel tax saved all those programs," said Charles Heath of Tramutola, a consulting firm helping to prepare and pass the measure.
Board members originally hoped the new tax would continue to fund special programs for English language learners and at-risk students in the middle schools, as well as hands-on science programs in the elementary schools, according to Goldman. But with the threat of state budget cuts, the additional revenue will likely be used to fund more fundamental programs.
Parcel tax revenue can only be used for programs listed on the ballot measure, and may not be used to pay administrator's salaries or benefits.
"We fully intend to return to our old vision," Goldman said. "We plan to hold onto as many programs as we can from the old parcel tax."
If renewed, parcel tax rates would jump 69 percent, with the biggest property owners -- with lots of more than 44,000 square feet -- paying more than $1,000 per year per parcel, according to Heath. On the other end of the spectrum, yearly taxes on properties of 8,000 square feet or less would jump from $75 to $127 (see chart).
In addition to higher rates, the new parcel tax would last eight years, up from the previous five-year tax. Residents receiving Supplemental Social Security income would be exempt from the tax.
Heath said the renewal is important because the district receives most of its funds from the state and only receives additional income from its parcel tax; private donations, largely from the Mountain View Educational Foundation; city grants for technology; and outside leases on district property.
The high school district, a basic aid district which is funded mostly by local property taxes, faces smaller losses of around $830,000 if the governor's proposal passes, according to a district official.
A survey of 400 Mountain View residents conducted by Tramutola has determined that 75 percent of local residents will support the tax. Members of the school district community are positive about the measure, said Heath, who says he has run focus groups and talked with the local Chamber of Commerce.
"In our experience working on these measures, when you have cuts of this magnitude, people understand the need for parcel taxes," Heath said.
In reaction to the state budget proposal, both the high school and elementary school boards are planning to send letters of opposition to Sacramento. Also, the Mountain View Whisman board approved a seniority list last week to help determine the order of termination among certified employees. Though administrators said they are not anticipating layoffs, education code requires the district to be prepared with a seniority list.
BY THE NUMBERS:
Following are yearly tax rates for the old and new (not yet approved) parcel taxes, based on lot size:
(Square Footage -- Old Rate -- New Rate)
0-8,000 sq. ft. -- $75 -- $127
8,001-14,000 sq. ft. -- $150 -- $254
14,001-22,000 sq. ft. -- $200 -- $339
22,001-28,000 sq. ft. -- $300 -- $508
28,001-44,000 sq. ft. -- $400 -- $677
More than 44,000 sq. ft. -- $600 -- $1,016
The measure would allow for parcel tax proceeds to be used for the following:
* Teacher retention and recruitment
* School libraries
* Lower class sizes
* Music and arts programs
* Outdoor education
* Student leadership classes
* Support for English language learners
* Extracurricular sports programs
* On-site intervention specialists
* Intersession programming during school breaks
* Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) programs
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