BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer
The Palo Alto School Board tonight (July 7) voted unanimously to ask voters in November to extend the current $836-per-parcel tax for another six years.
However, the tax won’t pass unless there is a campaign in favor of the tax, according to pollster Gene Bregman, who was hired by the school district. According to a poll Bregman conducted early last month, only 62% of voters would pass the tax, which needs 66.7% approval.
But after telling voters about the tax, 70% of poll respondents would pass the tax, and 67% would pass the tax after hearing what potential opposition campaigns to the tax would say.
Pollsters read to respondents a number of arguments opponents might use in a campaign. The argument that changed people’s minds was about how high taxes are right now and potential increases to property taxes due to the ballot initiative to change Prop. 13, although the change would only involve commercial property.
School Board President Todd Collins said he was “heartened” by Bregman’s poll results, saying he expected a less favorable outcome. However, he noted that aside from a failure in 2004, Palo Altans have supported parcel taxes for the school district.
Sixteen years ago, in 2004, voters rejected a $521-per-parcel tax. It only got 66% of the vote and at the time the threshold needed for passage was 66.7%. The next three times the school board went for parcel taxes, they passed with more than 70% of the vote.
In June 2005, voters approved a $465-per-parcel tax with 73% of the vote. In May 2010, voters approved a $589-per-parcel tax with 79% of the vote. And in May 2015, voters approved a $758-per-parcel tax with 77% of the vote. That measure expires next year.
Voters approved a $460 million bond, Measure Z, for the district in November 2018. The bond costs $394 for every million in assessed value.
Board members Jennifer DiBrienza and Melissa Baten Caswell both pointed out how important it will be for a committee of volunteers to campaign on behalf of the parcel tax extension.
The tax will initially be $836-per-parcel but will increase by 2% each year for the six years of its duration. Seniors can file for an exemption from the tax.
The existing tax is set to expire on July 1, 2021, and brings in about $15 million a year, which is about 7% of the district’s budget.
The district has cut positions in order to save $4.2 million due to decreased revenue from the city of Palo Alto, because it is leasing less of the Cubberley Community Center, and about $1 million less in revenue from the state. The district is at the same time, having to spend money because of coronavirus safety precautions for employees and students when they come back to the district’s campuses.
The board had initially voted earlier this year to hold a special election on May 5, but on March 17, canceled that election, citing the ever-changing response to COVID-19.
At that time, the board was considering asking voters for $868 per parcel, however, Chief Business Officer Carolyn Chow is now recommending that the board place a continuance of the current $836 per parcel tax on the ballot.
Placing the measure on the ballot costs $500,000, according to an estimate from the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters.