Parcel tax on May ballot

February 10, 2011 — by Emily Williams

During a public hearing on Feb. 1, the school board voted 5-0 in favor a measure to put a parcel tax on a mail-in ballot that will returned in May.

For several months, the board has been considering this proposed parcel tax, which would cost residents $49 a year, as a source of much needed revenue for both Saratoga and Los Gatos High School.

It will be the first time residents in Saratoga will be asked to support a parcel tax to support the high school district.

The proposed tax will last for six years and it is expected to raise $4.8 million in that time span.
It would earn $800,000 a year for the high schools.

On Jan. 20 and 25, town hall meetings took place in both Saratoga and Los Gatos to present the budget for the 2011-2012 school year to the community.

The meeting turned into a question and answer session between the community and the board regarding the tax. The community needed answers to questions, and superintendent Cary Matsuoka said he thought that people left the meeting ready to support the proposed parcel tax.

Support from the community and organizations like Saratoga High Foundation, PTSO and Sports Boosters encouraged the board in their decision to put the parcel tax on the ballot.

“We need the parcel tax,” Matsuoka said. “Without it, our future budget will be very difficult.”

The district has done some serious research regarding the parcel tax, hiring two different consulting companies to help determine whether a tax was worth it.

EMC Research, a polling company, conducted surveys in the community and concluded that
there was majority support for an $49 tax. According to the company, even though people think the school system is excellent, they don’t realize the district’s need for funding. Another misconception among voters, according to the survey, was that 43 percent of people incorrectly believe that there is some sort of parcel tax already in place in the district.

“A lot of members of the community don’t actually know the need of the school for money,” board representative junior Anshu Siripurapu said. “A lot of voters don’t realize the financial crisis that the district is in. Kids need to go out and educate the public about what is actually needed.”

EMC concluded that a $49 tax would most likely pass, though on a small margin. Some community members pushed for an $89 tax instead, but according to the survey, the larger amount would have a much smaller chance of passing. Matsuoka feels that the risk of failure is too high to risk at this point.

“Any cash the district can get is welcome cash,” Siripurapu said.

There is some community resistance according to the survey, but no organized group has yet been vocal in opposing this tax.

The other company, TBWB, works specifically with school campaigns and advised the district to hold a special election on May 3 with a mail-in ballot for the highest chances of success. Although this method is more expensive for the district, Matsuoka believes it will ensure the highest chance of success for the measure.

Meanwhile, the board will have to present a budget in March that assumes that the tax will not pass. The district faces a $942,000 deficit for the coming year, and even the passage of the parcel tax does not mean the end of the district’s financial woes.

The school board compiled a list of cuts that they will have to make next year, assuming that the tax does not pass. The cuts will focus on reducing the number of classified employees, cutting from the special education department, reducing administration at the district office, decreasing utility usage and eliminating non-essential overtime pay.

Although the board is putting all its effort into keeping the cuts away from the classroom, district-wide class sizes will increase by .25 students, which will eliminate four sections if the Parcel Tax doesn’t pass.

“We are doing everything we can to protect the student’s classroom experience as you go through high school,” Matsuoka said.

According to Siripuripu, if the tax does not pass, then the cuts will be deep and may impact students much more than previous cuts. Matsuoka pointed out the the cuts for next year will come on top of the $3 million in cuts last year.

“It’s not like last year’s money has come back,” Matsuoka said.

The campaign will be run through donations, with $75,000 of the $160,000 needed already raised. Siripuripu said that in order for the parcel tax to pass, the school community must actively get involved by donating money, talking to residents and volunteering.