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?