Los Altos schools need Measure E | April 15, 2011 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |


Mountain View Voice

Opinion - April 15, 2011

Los Altos schools need Measure E

As the state comes closer to a financial meltdown, local school districts are struggling to insulate themselves from a worst-case scenario. This is certainly true in the Los Altos Elementary School District, which over the last two years has lost more than $4 million in state funding and could lose another $4 million — and possibly $5 million — for the next school year. Since 2006-07, state funding to the district has plunged from 14 percent to 5.9 percent of the budget and could be as low as 2 percent in the coming year.

This comes at a time when local property taxes, the district's main funding source, have been flat and next year are projected to grow by only 1 percent. Federal stimulus funds, which provided some one-time grants to the district, are not likely to be replaced due to current deficit-reduction mode in Washington.

The district saw the crisis coming and decided to ask parents and residents for help in the form of Measure E, a modest parcel tax of $193 — about $16 per month — a year that will help replace some, but not all of the lost revenue. The tax would raise $2.3 million a year, would remain in force for six years and could not be used for administrators' salaries. Senior citizens will be able to opt out of the tax, if they wish.

Of the just-over 4,000 students in the K-8 district, about 1,000 live in Mountain View. These families and all others in the district already are paying $597 a year for a parcel tax passed back in 2002, and another assessment for a bond issue that amounts to about $600 a year on a home with an assessed value of $1 million.

Another key revenue source for the district is provided by parents and others who contribute to the Los Altos Education Foundation. The foundation's annual gift to the schools this year is $2.3 million, a $500,000 increase over last year, which is made possible in part by parents responding to a request to contribute at least $1,000 student.

We agree with proponents of Measure E, who say they do not want to lose the formula that has made Los Altos elementary schools among the best in the area. For starters, district students score in the state's top 1 percent on standardized API test, just two points behind Hillsborough at No. 1. And despite this success, the district spends less per student than the average of the top 15 districts in the Bay Area ranked by API score.

And although the district pays its teachers relatively high salaries, averaging $75,000 plus benefits, Los Altos foundation officials say the pay is lower than nearby districts with high-ranking test scores. Retaining teachers who have spent years in the district and paying them a good salary is well worth the money, foundation officials say.

Management of the district is another high point, with Los Altos spending only 1.5 percent of its total budget on administrative overhead, or about half of what is spent by other Santa Clara districts and well below the maximum of 9 percent recommended by the state.

In this challenging time for public education, it makes sense to approve Measure E, a modest additional parcel tax that will help the district preserve its academic excellence and low class sizes. The mail-in ballot should have arrived to all households in the district. We recommend voting yes on Measure E.


Posted by Marcia, a resident of another community
on Apr 22, 2011 at 6:52 am

We have such great schools in Los Altos! The state is such an unreliable source for our funding. They’ve cut the whole education system for billions of dollars the last few years. Many feel that our teachers are overpaid when in fact they are not. My husband and I have voted yes. The parcel tax is a small price in comparison to what our children are getting. Look at Cupertino, they're parcel taxes are so high. Vote yes!

Posted by David, a resident of another community
on Apr 29, 2011 at 12:38 pm

Property tax revenues to LASD rose 8.72% annually for 10 years from 2001-2010. Where did all that money go? Why couldn't they have saved some for the inevitable hiccup in property appreciation? Why did they promise lucrative benefits and put off funding them even when times were good and revenues rose rapidly?

Teachers only work 180 days a year so $100,000 in average compensation including benefits is frankly a good deal. Is it too much to ask District employees to pay more than 5% of the cost of generous health and other benefits for not only themselves but their family members? Why should taxpayers pay 95% of these costs for the whole family of employees, and allow them to retire early with full benefits as well? I really wish I could get free health care that I could keep even if I retire well before age 65. Most of us have to work until we qualify for Medicare or risk having no affordable health insurance. The District is accruing a liability of more than $1.2 million a year for retiree health benefits and this number is rising rapidly. They are hiding behind an economic slowdown and pretending this is not a problem of their own making from years of mismanagement.