Mountain View Voice

News - April 15, 2011

Los Altos district asks voters for new $193 tax

Parcel tax on May 3 ballot would offset falling revenue, proponents say

by Nick Veronin

Mountain View voters living within the Los Altos School District's boundaries are being asked to approve a new $193 annual parcel tax to benefit local schools. Measure E will appear on the May 3, all-mail ballot.

Proponents say Measure E is needed to address education cuts that have come as a result of federal, state and local budgets being slashed. The parcel tax will raise $2.3 million for the Los Altos School District over the course of its six-year life.

Jay Gill, one of the proponents of Measure E, said that the district has done all it can to combat the funding cuts, but has run short on options. "Any additional cuts will hurt what our children get programmatically," said Gill, who has an eighth-grade student in the district.

"We've got a significant cut in funding for next year," said Superintendent Randy Kenyon. "We've lost over $4 million — potentially $5 million — from the state."

About 1,000 students living in Mountain View attend the district's seven elementary and two middle schools — roughly 25 percent of the entire student body. Homeowners in the district already are paying $597 a year for a parcel tax passed in 2002, and a bond issue assessment of about $600 per year on a home with an assessed value of $1 million.

While Gill and Kenyon both say the parcel tax is imperative, an opposition group, led by Los Altos Hills resident Ron Haley, disagrees.

Haley, a libertarian, believes that salaries for teachers and administrators in the district are too high. If only teachers would be willing to take cuts, he said, then the district wouldn't be in this predicament.

In March, the district issued pink slips to 52 teachers, warning that 42 full-time equivalent positions could be cut at the end of the year. Officials from the district saw that as a sign that the parcel tax was needed. Haley viewed it as further evidence that the average overall compensation package for teachers in the district — at an average salary of around $75,000, plus benefits, comes out to about $99,000 — is far too high.

Gill and other supporters of the proposed tax point out that the average teacher in the district has 15 years of experience. Furthermore, Gill said, those numbers may seem high when comparing them to poorer districts around the Bay Area, but not when compared to other top-performing districts, like the Los Altos School District.

In fact, according to Gill, the highest salary in the Los Altos School District is lower than what can be found in nearby high-ranking districts. "When you really look at the numbers, these are reasonable salaries," Gill said.

"We have great teachers," Kenyon said. "There are many veteran teachers. It does create stress on the budget, but we value quality teachers and we want to retain them as long as they're performing at a high level."

The district is exploring a structured system for furlough days and has been working on making appropriate cuts to the benefits packages of administrators, teachers and other school employees, Kenyon said. But that isn't going to be enough to save all the positions.

Gill added that the $2.3 million that the parcel tax is projected to raise will not cover the district's entire budget gap — which could top $5 million next year. "The teachers want to be a part of the solution," he said. "We are asking that the community be a part of the solution, as well."

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