Community employs several efforts to protect LGSUHSD’s educational quality

May 5, 2024 — by Nicole Lee and Ruiyan Zhu
Courtesy of Paula Wessels
Photos of teachers from both Saratoga High School and Los Gatos High School Campaigning to support Measure A
Through Measure A, the LGSUHSD and Saratoga community hopes to provide competitive salaries for teachers.

To maintain Los Gatos-Saratoga Union High School District’s (LGSUHSD) high quality of education, staff and community members in recent weeks have been asking area residents to vote in favor of Measure A,  which would renew and expand an expiring parcel tax and provide $2.5 million annually for the district.

The Measure A mail-in ballot is due May 7, and must be supported by a two-thirds majority to pass. It will be in place for nine years if approved.

Since 2011, a $49 parcel tax has existed in the district and been renewed once. In the past 13 years, LGSUHSD’s parcel tax has not increased, even with 42% inflation. In comparison, other districts who have adjusted for inflation — such as the Los Altos Union School District — have a parcel tax rate of $892. Even higher, Menlo Park City District boasts a parcel tax rate of $1,452.14.

Courtesy of Committee for Excellence Los Gatos-Saratoga High Schools

An infographic of teacher salary compensations in Santa Clara County.

According to the Committee for Excellence Los Gatos-Saratoga High Schools, funding received by the LGSUHSD district’s $49 parcel tax ranks “dead last” in the county. They say the small parcel tax is one reason  teacher and staff salaries, which used to be near the top of the county in the early 2000s, have fallen behind significantly other local districts. 

The average teacher compensation rate — including salary, extra pay, benefits and pension — for LGSUHSD is $95,774. This is behind county leader Mountain View Los Altos, with an average of $127,083.

The new measure proposes to raise the current LGSUHSD parcel tax by $79 — from $49 to $128 with an annual adjustment for inflation. 

This increase will primarily ensure that teacher salaries stay competitive as well as maintain teaching proficiency. As retiring and new teachers cycle throughout the staff, many parents and residents want to ensure that the LGSUHSD retains its quality education.

In recent years, concerns about falling employee retention rates have risen in LGSUHSD: football coach Tim Lugo and guidance counselor Alina Satake — who had been SHS staff for over 13 and 25 years, respectively — both left for Mountain View in 2022. 

Courtesy of Committee for Excellence Los Gatos-Saratoga High Schools

An infographic of parcel tax rates in Silicon Valley.

Some parents, like Lingling Sun, have pitched in to support Measure A. Sun, who is a parent of a sophomore currently attending Saratoga High, first learned about Measure A at a PTA board meeting a year ago. Since then, Sun has spread awareness about Measure A through WeChat groups and by handing out nearly 20 signboards to her neighbors and friends.

“Teachers shouldn’t have to worry about their salary,” Ling said. “I’ve seen them hold self-made Measure A posters at the corner of the road one morning, which made me almost cry because I know how dedicated they are, how late they stay at school and how passionate they are.”

The PTA and Saratoga Foundation have also given $5,000 and  $10,000 respectively to the “Yes on Measure A” committee. The funding was used to create a website about Measure A and also to buy YouTube ads in support of the measure.

According to campaign chair Paula Wessels, the campaigning group mainly comprises of concerned citizens and parents.

“I’ve had two kids go through all the Los Gatos schools and really have seen firsthand that teachers really inspire hope and ignite the imagination,” Wessels said. “[They] really instill a love of learning, unlocking a student’s potential. We want to keep supporting that.”

According to Wessels, throughout their campaigning so far, the committee has been working with expert consultants who have experience with many parcel tax for education campaigns. 

Additionally, the rest of the initiative has been organized into different subcommittees, including teams for leadership, finance, the endorsements, text, field and visibility. The teams host a standing meeting once a week, and organize as many additional subcommittee meetings as they see fit.

To ensure that they are in compliance with all local and state laws for fundraising and funds use, the campaigning group has also hired a treasurer for the finance team. Wessels says the group appreciates financial support from different vendors, merchants, individuals and school organizations. The endorsements team has also received support from both local citizens and elected officials. 

The text, field and visibility teams are then able to allocate these funds to advertising through robocalls, phone banking, texts, neighborhood canvassing, letters to the editor and social media. 

“It’s really the boots on the ground that make a difference,” Wessels said.

Out of the methods the group has used so far, Wessels believes the most effective method has been canvassing neighborhoods. By using an app to mark houses, the team is able to identify which houses have already been visited and which houses have yet to be approached. 

The parcel tax will not only benefit current and future LGSUHSD students, but will also help older residents maintain housing prices by retaining Saratoga’s reputation in quality education. The committee seeks the support of residents 65 years of age and older to vote YES on Measure A. The benefits to this demographic are increased property value, and they can apply for an exemption from paying the annual tax.

Photo by Nicole Lee 

A poster on a Saratoga resident’s front lawn advocating for Measure A.

So far, there are no known organized campaigns in opposition. However, in a recent editorial, The Mercury News criticized the timing of the election and the ballot wording. Because the May 7 election is a special election, the editorial said it will “depress turnout” when most motivated voters would be school supporters. The editorial also argues that the ballot’s sentence structure does not clarify that there would be a further increase in the amount of tax, a result of adjusting for inflation. 

While concluding with a plea for a no vote on A, the editorial acknowledges that the asked for $128 would not be a large imposition on most residents.

A survey conducted by EMC Research in early January showed that 72% of voters support the measure, but the percentage is still subject to change. 

Currently, the district’s teacher association and district leadership are still negotiating a range of issues for next year, including the specifics behind their salary increase. So far, they are still discussing next year’s contract.

For people interested in supporting the effort, they can vote on May 7 and spread the news.

“The importance of renewing [the parcel tax] is really for the students,” Wessels said. “The passing of the parcel tax will not only ensure and attract and keep top talent, but will also [maintain] and progress our high school programs so that there’s equity learning for all students.”

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