For the past several years, there has been a movement on the part of local school districts to ask property owners for money to supplement both state and local funding. It stems for the most part in the state’s inability to provide consistent funding mechanisms for local school districts.
The extra money, in the form of parcel taxes, helps smooth out the rough edges from year to year and provides a needed buffer from the ups and downs of the economy. Additionally, the money is local and stays local. This year, the state created a new budget policy called the Local Control Funding Formula which seeks to provide more emphasis on local governance while the state supplements districts with high numbers of English learners, low-income students and foster children. With that in mind, it may be easy to say that there may not be a need for local parcel taxes. And in some cases that may be true. But that is not the case for the Belmont-Redwood Shores Elementary School District.
The district is facing a very real issue of booming enrollment and the approximately $2 million it receives from two current parcel taxes provides a way for the district to keep student to teacher ratios low while providing students with a full range of educational opportunities. Two voter-approved bonds in 2010 helped add capacity, but money is still needed to make sure new classrooms are staffed.
The district’s budget is around $30 million, so the current parcel tax money of approximately $2 million is fairly significant. Combined with around the equivalent amount in foundation support, and that shows the community is willing to put education first.
The district is now asking voters through Measure R to combine the two current parcel taxes totaling $174 a year into one 10-year measure that would go into effect July 1, 2015. Some may argue that the district should wait to see what the impact of the Local Control Funding Formula will be before renewing these taxes, but there are good reasons for doing so now. First of all, the district’s budget is reviews in three-year increments by the county Office of Education to ensure solvency and having this renewal on the books now would ensure a sense of stability for about a decade. In addition, the district is merely asking for a renewal that will add no dollars to local taxes. It keeps the status quo while ensuring that this much-needed money will be there in the future.
Besides, the district’s growing enrollment is a serious issue and is being met as best it can. In the last six years, enrollment has grown 46 percent. Adding to fiscal uncertainty as the two current taxes sunset would divide the district’s attention on what should be its primary focus — and that is the education of its students.
The arguments for Measure R are clear. It will keep the district’s current tax rate as it is, it will retain local control, help meet enrollment growth and maintain a sense of stability for the next decade.