News

Editorial: Trustees, lower the lance and face reality

 

An open letter from the Voice to Mountain View Whisman School District board trustees Greg Coladonato and Steve Nelson:

Dear gentlemen, your views on a flat-rate parcel tax now being considered by your school board to replace the soon-to-expire existing tax without doubt reflect the sentiments of many reasonable people who prize fairness. But unlike most reasonable people, you appear willing to disregard, at great risk to the district's financial health, a recent high court ruling declaring it illegal to exact a tiered-rate parcel tax like the one the district now has in place, which charges owners of larger parcels more than small-parcel owners.

At the Dec. 10 school board meeting, both of you argued that, in the interest of fairness, the district should put a parcel tax measure on the ballot next year that would flout the court ruling, and thereby almost guarantee a legal challenge that would risk halting the flow of the district's badly needed parcel tax revenue after the current tax expires. You want to stand on principle, you said, and launch a court fight when the inevitable lawsuit is filed.

Both of you are educated men, and you both appear to have noble intentions. But can it be that in pursuing your degrees you skipped the World Lit class whose reading list included "Don Quixote"? As you probably know, that's the book that made the expression "tilting at windmills" famous -- a metaphor based on the actions of the hapless gentleman from La Mancha, driven by noble intentions but untethered from reality. His story ends badly.

Gentlemen, your colleagues are also interested in fairness; it is likely that they wish as fervently as you that the district had the option of continuing a tiered-rate parcel tax. But after being advised by the district's legal counsel and its parcel tax consultant that only a flat tax that treats all parcels the same would pass legal muster, they are prepared to approve a flat-rate parcel tax measure for the spring ballot in order to increase the chances that the district will continue to receive the $2 million-plus in tax revenue it has depended on for years. As board member Jose Gutierrez put it, the political question of the tax's fairness must be considered separately from how the district will meet the needs of its students.

There are ways to fight an unfair law, but turning the Mountain View Whisman School District into the state's battleground on this issue by making a political decision at the school board level is not a reasonable way to do so, particularly when the stakes are so high.

Now, the district is at a crossroads: Putting a parcel tax measure on the ballot requires approval of four of the five board members. If the measure is to be placed before voters in May, the board must act soon. That means one or both of you can decide to put your lances aside and join your colleagues in approving a tax measure for the spring ballot that will be legally watertight, or you can continue to tilt at windmills. What will you do?

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Comments

48 people like this
Posted by Bruce Karney
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jan 5, 2016 at 2:19 pm

Well written & right on the money.


36 people like this
Posted by Richard
a resident of Waverly Park
on Jan 5, 2016 at 2:21 pm

I thought this editorial was well thought out and presents a very logical argument as to why BOTH of these School Board members should join with their colleagues to put a parcel tax measure on the ballot that is aligned with current laws governing parcel size and tax allocation. A no vote by either member would be a very unpleasant surprise.


13 people like this
Posted by Bob G
a resident of Waverly Park
on Jan 5, 2016 at 2:56 pm

The assumption seems to be that the illegal tiered rate, if placed on the ballot, would pass and result in expensive litigation. More likely, such a proposal would be voted down to a resounding defeat in the May election. Then, what?


8 people like this
Posted by Tax Not
a resident of another community
on Jan 5, 2016 at 3:24 pm

Well, considering that the REGULAR property tax revenue has been going up, it's time to realize that there is no longer any real NEED for a parcel tax. The parcel tax contributes a very small fraction of MVWSD income as it is. Property tax revenue went up 12% last year due to rising taxable values. It's most likely going to be at at least 15% more next year, which just about makes up for the ENTIRE parcel tax. It could be 20%. That would be a boost of funding, and it would come more from the higher value properties, including business property.


19 people like this
Posted by JLTalley
a resident of North Whisman
on Jan 5, 2016 at 3:25 pm

JLTalley is a registered user.

If I were asked to vote on an illegal parcel tax, I would vote NO regardless of its merit. There's no sense passing a tax that would not deliver cash flow to the desired programs.


35 people like this
Posted by eric
a resident of another community
on Jan 5, 2016 at 3:44 pm

With due respect to the Voice for a well-written editorial, I don't think Coladonato in particular should be assumed to have "noble intentions". Seems he may once again be flexing his Libertarian party activist muscles, MVWSD be damned.

Bob G is correct above. If this parcel tax were perceived at having a slim chance of passing, the same interest groups that dictated the last Council outcome would launch a full-on assault on this measure rather than risk a court challenge. Even though the status quo would very likely remain (invalidating any tiered tax that MV did pass), squashing a local parcel tax is cheaper than a court fight. Coladonato and Nelson must know this.

Probably irrelevant, though. These two trustees have eroded community support for the district to the point that I believe any parcel tax to be doomed, unless Nelson steps down.


15 people like this
Posted by Vote no
a resident of North Bayshore
on Jan 5, 2016 at 3:44 pm

Vote NO on any new tax, the govt. is awash with money. And property taxes are way too high as they are right now.


17 people like this
Posted by @ vote No
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jan 5, 2016 at 4:01 pm

You clearly have not been to any of the public meetings to see the actual budget of the School District.

Property taxes are high, but remember, some of those are going away...since the School District parcel tax is expiring.

You can vote No all you want, but your claim is false. The Government - in this case, you have to mean the School District as that is who this money will benefit - is NOT awash with money.


24 people like this
Posted by Liza L.
a resident of Waverly Park
on Jan 5, 2016 at 4:03 pm

Thank you VOICE!

I only hope when they read this, they take it to heart and do the right thing....for the students.


16 people like this
Posted by SP Phil
a resident of Shoreline West
on Jan 5, 2016 at 4:54 pm

Tax Not, property tax revenue does not go up "due to rising taxable values": it goes up very slightly each year (no more than 2 percent), and rises substantially (or declines!) only when a property is sold, which resets the basis for property tax.

"Proposition 13, adopted by California voters in 1978, mandates a property tax rate of one percent, requires that properties be assessed at market value at the time of sale, and allows assessments to rise by no more than 2 percent per year until the next sale."


3 people like this
Posted by Curious
a resident of another community
on Jan 5, 2016 at 5:08 pm

Did Coladonato campaign for or even support the previous (tiered) parcel tax?


7 people like this
Posted by reader
a resident of Waverly Park
on Jan 5, 2016 at 7:00 pm

"That would be a boost of funding, and it would come more from the higher value properties, including business property."

Incorrect.

Business properties are generally leased from corporations that own the property, and since they are not sold they are generally not reassessed. Plus a lot of new building is in the North Bayshore area which is a special tax district which has chosen to give some of its money to the schools.


14 people like this
Posted by Wrong Wrong Wrong
a resident of another community
on Jan 5, 2016 at 8:16 pm

At least 3 of the posts above exhibit an incorrect knowledge of the way school financing works. It's true that the aggregate total assessed valuation in MVWSD was up by 12% last year, regardless of the 2% per year prop 13 limit. The delay in increases for business property is not forever, and we have seen a lot of increased business property value in MVWSD, due mainly to incredible amounts of construction (which is always assessed as increased value the year it is finished) and turnover (which means property held to the 2% is suddenly unleashed in value).

You don't have to rely on public meetings to get budget info. It's on ed-data.org for every district in the state, though it lags 18 months in being available.

In 2013-2014 MVWSD had total revenue of $51 Million but only spend $46 Million. Of the revenue, only $2.5 million was from the parcel tax. In 2014-2015, the revenue increased but the reports on ed-data are not out yet. For this current year, 2015-2016, it's a fact that the ad valorem tax revenue from property ( NOT PARCEL TAX, BUT AD VALOREM) was up 12% more. UP UP UP. The public meetings with crying poor are faulty sources of data. They have a lot more money than they admit.

However, they do ADMIT to having millions and millions in Shoreline District revenue funds unspent as of yet. That revenue per year is another $2.5 Million per year by itself, and that's going up as well.

What possible reason can there be to focus on $2.5 Million out of $51 Million to $60 MIllion in total revenue when expenses are much less than revenues.


3 people like this
Posted by Wrong Got It Right
a resident of Rex Manor
on Jan 5, 2016 at 9:21 pm

Wrong Wrong Wrong got it Right Right Right!

He or She knows his or her stuff!

Parcel Tax is a mute point compared with the remaining spoils!

Lay off Greg and Steve...please.


12 people like this
Posted by Jon
a resident of Monta Loma
on Jan 5, 2016 at 11:12 pm

Why would anyone want to give more revenue to a dysfunctional district!!


24 people like this
Posted by Old Steve
a resident of Rex Manor
on Jan 6, 2016 at 12:25 am

Folks, Expenses will also increase due to state mandated pension cost increases. Parcel tax funds specific programs and positions. We already lose good teachers due to high costs. Not renewing the parcel tax would directly impact all our good work on the achievement gap. Real estate values track closely with perceived school quality. Take your frustrations out on the board and district if you must, but don't whine if you wind up taking less than asking price when you sell your house. We can also choose to elect a different board majority, as three seats will be up.


7 people like this
Posted by Achievement Gap
a resident of another community
on Jan 6, 2016 at 12:56 am

The very LAST thing that parcel tax dollars are spent for is to improve the achievement gap. There is a LCAP document required by the state to address any achievement gap issues. You can find it here: Web Link

If you look in there, you'll find only two mentions of parcel tax funds. One is for Gifted and Talented programs and one is for educational enrichment (music, art and PE). Ironically, MVWSD is subject to a lawsuit regarding PE along with many other districts. PE is not optional and is required to be offered for a minimum number of minutes per week out of core funding. Anyway, MVWSD only talks of spending $50K on the Gifted and Talented stuff and $336K on Art, Music and PE from Parcel tax funds. This document is supposed to reflect the efforts to address educational needs of disadvantaged kids, defined as ESL, low income and foster children. That isn't supposed to come out of Parcel Tax and this document demonstrates that.

In any event, when you have $60 Million in revenue, saying that it's ironclad that certain programs funded by Parcel Tax for $2.5 Million will be eliminated absent that parcel tax, even if other sources of funding increase by an even greater amount...


16 people like this
Posted by Cfrink
a resident of Willowgate
on Jan 6, 2016 at 8:26 am

Cfrink is a registered user.

One of the realities of the Parcel Tax is that it covers salaries of teachers in our district. If we lose that money, we will likely have to make some difficult choices about faculty. I don't think that will happen but who knows. As for Mr. Nelson and Mr. Coladonato, their positions are ones that are driven by an interest in doing better for our students and the district. While I don't always agree with their methods, I do appreciate that they asks the questions even though some of the questions make us uncomfortable. I believe they are doing their homework on this issue and when the time comes they will not disappoint the district. As most point o ut, the writing is simply on the wall for this issue…a progressive parcel tax won't pass legal muster at this time. Exploring the options for other progressive scenarios is understandable. Perhaps the timing is a bit unfortunate. In the end as a District, we will get this done as we have little choice. Our children need this money. Let's do the right thing.


36 people like this
Posted by Jocelyn
a resident of Rex Manor
on Jan 6, 2016 at 11:05 am

VOICE

This isn't the first time Mr. Coladonato has shown poor judgment and a lack of respect for the people he represents.

I applaud The VOICE for calling attention to Mr. Coladonato poor choices which threaten Mountain View residents fiscally and legally.

Unfortunately, I don't expect him to respond to your call to re-evaluate and head warnings. I've personally called him out for prior conflicts of interest (before to his role as MVWSD Board member) and he demonstrated an inability to recognize any wrongdoing despite the facts that he clearly acted in self-serving ways at the expense of others.

He's a classic narcissist in my opinion and now all of Mountain View is paying the price. I fear he will do what serves his agenda- at any cost- as he's not demonstrated an ability to serve the people of Mountain View justly and fairly, even when directly confronted.

The VOICE should never have endorsed his run for the school board.

Jocelyn
Mountain View Resident


34 people like this
Posted by recall Coladonado
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 6, 2016 at 12:40 pm

Will not be voting for any Board Parcel Tax until Mr. Coladonado is off the board. I do not feel that he is fully aligned with the long term needs of the district and the community. He needs to be off the board so that the members can regroup as to why they are trustees.


7 people like this
Posted by Put Simply
a resident of another community
on Jan 6, 2016 at 1:43 pm

MVWSD is not spending $5 Million of revenue received each year. How do you get off saying the $2 Million parcel tax pays teacher salaries? It looks like it's just adding to the pile of money that ends up just sitting there.


37 people like this
Posted by Listen to the Voice
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jan 6, 2016 at 9:33 pm

I hope the trustee butt heads are listening.


9 people like this
Posted by Otto Maddox
a resident of Monta Loma
on Jan 7, 2016 at 2:23 pm

Oh hell on.. not one more penny in taxes!

Measure G money hasn't even been fully spent and we're already talking about more money.

Enough is enough already. Make due with what you have.


14 people like this
Posted by eric
a resident of another community
on Jan 7, 2016 at 3:46 pm

@Put simply and @Otto Maddux:

I think you need to make sure you are comparing apples to apples. The "unspent" pot of $5MM is reserves. CA schools are REQUIRED by law to budget reserves. MVWSD does more than required (at least they used to- may not be true anymore)-- I find this prudent, and during the recession when the state was monkeying around with monies due local districts, these large reserves were helpful and very important. Completely reasonable to argue whether these extra reserves make sense, but I personally find this a good business practice. Measure G monies are for construction only, by law.

If the parcel tax is not renewed, programs will suffer. That is just a fact. Whether this board of trustees should be trusted with these funds is a very reasonable question.


22 people like this
Posted by concerned
a resident of North Whisman
on Jan 8, 2016 at 3:04 pm

I think the district will be unable to garner support from its residents and move forward in any meaningful way until Greg and Steve are off the board. Over and over they have shown that they only care about themselves. They don't listen to the many people who have talked to them both publicly and privately. I know a recall vote is expensive, but maybe it would be worth it. The damage being done is simply too great. If you don't believe that these two are by far the biggest culprits in the district dysfunction, then go to a board meeting - or watch one on TV. It's appalling.


10 people like this
Posted by PACT parent
a resident of Rex Manor
on Jan 10, 2016 at 4:56 am

@concerned of North Whisman
You wrote:
"I think the district will be unable to garner support from its residents and move forward in any meaningful way until Greg and Steve are off the board."

Indeed, I have heard a great many parents now saying they will vote against any Parcel Tax until after the November election. There will still be time for a new Board to put a new Parcel Tax on a later ballot before our current Parcel Tax runs out. So, there is nothing to lose and much to gain by delaying the passage of a new Parcel Tax until we see which Trustees remain on the Board. We could potentially remove 2 elected Trustees in November and confirm the newest Trustee Gutierrez.

THEN without the tag-team of Nelson/Coladonato working from nearly identical scripts, and perhaps retiring Wheeler? We might have a chance.
At least by voting in 2 new people with Gutierrez we send a strong message to Coladonato.

"Over and over they have shown that they only care about themselves."

One with his eye on future higher political office by using our district as his proving ground to show how much power he can wield to get anything he wants.

The other just wanting to prove himself right and that his belief that bullying tactics will get you anything.

"They don't listen to the many people who have talked to them both publicly and privately."

Listen, they do, make positive changes in their behavior in favor of our kids, not so much.

"I know a recall vote is expensive, but maybe it would be worth it."

That's a pipe-dream, just like trying to get Nelson to resign. No resignations by either of these guys will ever happen and no recall will work.

"The damage being done is simply too great."

Unfortunetly, all we can do is delay the Parcel Tax and make our voices heard loud and clear at the Board meetings and write well-written commentary as letters to the editor or guest opinions to the Voice.

"If you don't believe that these two are by far the biggest culprits in the district dysfunction, then go to a board meeting - or watch one on TV. It's appalling."

It's far worse in-person.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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