|Mountain View Whisman school officials searching for ways to compensate for expected cuts in state funding will get some relief from their own parcel tax, which is showing a surplus of $166,000 in unspent funds this year.
The unused revenue from the tax -- approved by Measure J in 2004 -- is due to the late start of some programs and to price changes for some services and programs, a representative from the parcel tax's oversight committee told board officials at last week's meeting.
"Normally we try to spend all the money, so we can say to the public we spent it as planned," committee member Steve Sherman told the board. Still, he said, "It's hard to be upset about that during the current circumstances."
Sherman added during his presentation that the tax funds went to programs already approved by the committee, and that less than 1 percent of the tax revenue was spent on administrative costs associated with Measure J.
The leftover funds will help the district as it faces a $100,000 shortfall this year and a possible $2.7 million in cuts for the 2008-09 year.
"When you budget, you are making an estimate," said Craig Goldman, the district's chief financial officer. "This is not unusual. In fact, we prefer to be under budget."
Mountain View voters passed Measure J during the last state budget crisis in 2004 to help pay for after-school sports, send fifth graders to science camp and retain small class sizes. Under Measure J, residents paid as little as $75 a year for smaller properties of up to 8,000 square feet, ranging up to $600 a year for properties over 44,000 square feet. The tax is set to expire in June 2009.
Some of the savings from the tax were a result of the district spending less money than planned for teachers on special assignment, "zero elective periods" and English language learner programs. Fourth, fifth and sixth grade class size reductions started later than expected, and the district did not spend more than $100,000 put aside for these programs.
Goldman said he is also investigating why the district did not use the $17,000 allocated to purchase string instruments, but thinks the instruments were purchased with other funds.
"Let the parcel tax raise money for things one no one else wants to," trustee Ellen Wheeler said during the board meeting.
Measure C campaign begins
The report comes after board members agreed to put a new parcel tax measure, Measure C, on the upcoming June ballot.
School officials said that if Measure C is not renewed, local elementary and middle schools would be devastated by budget cuts.
That is why district supporters have already started to campaign for Measure C, which will tax local property owners to raise close to $3 million for teacher retention, school libraries, small classes and music and art programs.
School officials also plan to raise school bus fees and cut back on supply costs, but have not finalized cuts.
"Clearly we need to get cuts under control," Goldman told trustees at last week's board meeting.
Friends of the district are starting to recruit volunteers and seek donations. The group is planning campaign tactics with Tramutola, an Oakland-based consulting firm that worked on the original parcel tax. Meanwhile, volunteers will begin door-to-door voter outreach, mailing and phone calls in April, according to organizers.
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