School district plans parcel tax election, but is warned about recall

Daily Post Staff Writer

The Menlo Park City School District is heading toward placing a parcel tax renewal on the ballot, but its political consultant says to proceed with caution because the looming gubernatorial recall election may hurt the district’s chances of winning.

The board on March 23 discussed putting a $598 per-parcel measure on the ballot. At its next meeting on April 15, the board will decide on the duration of the tax, though most of the board appeared to want the tax to run for about 10 years.
But when should the district put it on the ballot? Should the parcel tax go on the same ballot this fall as the recall or at another time?

Political consultant John Whitehurst told the school board that recalls get angry voters to go to the polls or return ballots.

“It’s not red versus blue anymore, but anger versus non-anger. And it clouds who turns out,” Whitehurst cautioned the board.

Whitehurst’s warning worried the board, which decided it will wait until the last minute before deciding whether to place the parcel tax measure on the ballot. It is possible, Whitehurst said, that the gubernatorial recall may occur in June or November.

If the board decides against putting the measure on the November ballot, it will likely hold a special election in March or June of 2022.

The board has been looking at the idea of putting a parcel tax on the ballot before its previously approved tax, Measure X, expires in 2024. The need for this new tax is to help balance the district’s budget amid $1.5 million in cuts and increases in pay for teachers and other employees. About 89% of the district’s budget is spent on employees, according to a report from Superintendent Erik Burmeister.

A pollster hired by the district, Andie Morehous of EMC Research, told the board that while residents are supportive of the school district and may pass a tax, it is possible that with enough of an anti-tax campaign, the measure could fail.
One of the reasons residents said they would reject the tax is if school is not back full time by the fall, according to Morehous.

The school district was one of the first in the area to decide to send children back to school at least part-time. More students may be able to return to the classroom as soon as April 19, depending on the results of the board’s April 15 meeting and negotiations with the district’s labor unions.

The roughly 3,000-student district covers parts of Menlo Park, west Menlo Park and Atherton. Its four schools are Encinal, Laurel, Oak Knoll and Hillview Middle School.