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Guest Opinion: Support for Measure C Seriously Divided

Original post made by Get Real on Apr 21, 2010


Several in Menlo Park Community urge NO vote on Measure C

Measure C YES supporters continue to tout the overwhelming support for the school-directed parcel tax measure in individual posts to the Almanac Town Forum Web Link.

Previous Town Forum postings however present a seriously divided community response to the measure. Please check the thread at Web Link for specific comments.

Comments (26)

Posted by Joe, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Apr 21, 2010 at 1:59 pm

Every time this school district goes to the well, the residents have given. This time may be different.

As a resident, I for one am fed up with endless requests for more money, including a parcel tax (or taxes) that has no sunset. How much is too much?

Is there no such thing as doing more with what you have now? Are the schools and their mission going to lose their status near the top of the state rankings if this doesn't pass? I don't think so, arguments of desperation nothwithstanding.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 21, 2010 at 2:08 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

As posted on another thread:

Any unit of local government which needs a parcel tax is, by definition, not balancing its budget.

Deficits mean that revenues are less than expenditures - simple.

Since it is properly difficult to arbitrarily raise taxes that means that expenditures have to be cut. Agreeing to increase salaries and benefits is not cutting expenditures. Failing to properly amortize unfunded pension liabilities as a current year's expense is not cutting expenditures. The Sherson Lehman hit was totally avoidable if the district had practiced sound financial management and pulled its funds from the badly managed County pool.

The taxpayers should not have to pay for poor management.

A family, faced with fixed or falling income, has to reduce its expenditures. In a family only the children have recourse to the parents when they need more 'revenue'. It is time that all units of local government stopped behaving like children and stopped treating their taxpayers as parents with bottomless financial resources.

Parcel taxes are no longer the simple way to solve the problems of undisciplined leadership and poor fiscal management - the taxpayers are going to say NO.


Posted by Publius, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 21, 2010 at 3:03 pm

As posted on another thread:

Thanks Get Real. That is what I have also been saying in my earlier posts. Where are the concessions back from the teacher union and the administrators? Unions in other cities and school districts are giving back in order to help share the pain. Where are the concessions from this district? It seems that the board and the administration want status quo by simply coming back to the public well. MPCSD already get $565.14 in additional property tax revenue and now they want an additional $178? I don't think so.

Vote No on C - Menlo Park Residents for Sensible Spending.


Posted by Get Real, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 21, 2010 at 4:10 pm

Please let your neighbors know to look for this prepaid mail-only ballot. Participation IS important. School districts generally use this format for parcel tax elections since they can count on reaching all school parents via concentrated messaging at schools and part of the general population can be counted on to overlook the ballot. So far, there are less than 5,000 ballots that have been received.

Please VOTE!


Posted by Andrea Luskin, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Apr 21, 2010 at 7:15 pm

Mr. Carpenter,

Although I fully agree with and support your efforts regarding open government and I agree we need pension reform, I respectfully disagree with you on the Measure C parcel tax. California is in the midst of a state budget crisis. The state has always augmented property taxes, albeit in Basic Aid districts not significantly, to fund public schools. Last year and for this coming year, due to the budget crisis, the state's funding has decreased. Additionally, the MPCSD's student population has continued to climb. Due to the recession and the ever-present impact of Prop 13, property tax growth is currently not keeping pace with enrollment increases. To suggest that we should accept some arbitrary insufficient funding level because our state government doesn't know how to manage its finances rather than decide what our priorities are locally, surprises me.

Based on the most recent online study I could find, a July 2009 study issued by the federal government on public education finances for the 2006/7 school year, California's public schools ranked lower than 21 other states for funding per student and was below the national average. 1/4th of the states were allocating from $11,000 to close to $16,000 per pupil for education. The rest, including California, were below $11,000, If in the Menlo Park public school district we were to solely rely on the meager funds from the state and the arbitrary percentage of property taxes that have been designated to go to our public schools, and did not vote to pass parcel taxes (which represent 15% of our current year's budget), even with the generous $2 million donation from the Menlo Park Atherton Education Foundation - MPAEF, for this year we would only have had funds to support a spending level of under $9,100 per student. Coincidentally, even though we're a basic aid district, this is the average amount public schools in the state of California spent per public school child in 2006/2007 and it below the national average for per student spending. Also, for next year, due to the additional $900,000 plus shortfall from the state, lack of federal stimulus funds, and increased enrollment, if we did as you suggested and lived within the budget without utilizing parcel taxes, we would be near the very bottom of the heap nationwide in spending per student. Is this what you really want for Menlo Park - to live within the arbitrary budget the state government has created and to provide a public school education on par with the worst states in the country? If not, please support our schools with local parcel taxes.

Please Vote YES on Measure C.

Given the way public school financing has worked (not worked) since the passage of Proposition 13, drawing on local parcel taxes has been vital to providing an acceptable public school education.

In regards to your comment about the Lehman bankruptcy, the Menlo Park school district along with all the other public schools in San Mateo County were legally bound to invest their funds in the County pool. And, as a matter of fact, if you read through the timeline on this you'll see that the district contacted the Treasurer's office prior to the collapse precisely because they were carefully managing the funds, but weren't able to legally pull the funds from the pool.

Respectfully,
Andrea Luskin


Posted by James, a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Apr 21, 2010 at 10:01 pm

I support good schools and education. I also support good financial management and looking ahead so that wise decisions can be made.

Two questions: 1 - at what point will the electorate realize that taxes on top of more taxes really don't solve anything? Government shouldn't spend money they don't have. One doesn't have to look too far to see how well the State or Menlo Park manage money.

Question 2 -- when are we going to hold the school system (not just Menlo Park schools) financially accountable? Every time there is a deficit they stretch out their hand and we give them money. They have learned how to play the game well.

The point -- enough with taxes! Government agencies needs to manage our money better not looking for more ways to take it from us.


Posted by Publius, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 22, 2010 at 10:25 am

Ms. Luskin,

Thank you for posting your argument for supporting Measure C. However I would like to challenge some of your comments/assumptions.

First, please stop using Prop 13 as the wows for all the states and local financial problems. In fact, Prop 13 has done what it was intended to do – stop the state and local governments from raising property taxes at will. Yes, there are loop holes in the current law, however to think we can solve our fiscal problems by just raising taxes on the back of businesses is short sighted. We do not need to make this state more business unfriendly than it already is.

Second, I would make an argument that districts like Menlo Park has done better in the long run with its current status as a basic aid district (or better named "excess revenue" districts).
Many do not remember (as most living in the Menlo Park area with kids are not natives) that in the 1970's there were a series of California Supreme Court cases starting with Serrano v. Priest, (Web Link) which found that California's education budgeting system of using local property taxes inheriting lead to unequal access to education based on race and social economic status. This lead to the state passing legislation that moved the funding model to the state rather to the local system. Somewhere over the years however, this model has shifted back to the system of basic aid and state funded districts. This has lead to the exact same unequal access to educational opportunities as before Serrano vs. Priest with wealthy districts like Menlo Park, Portola Valley, Palo Alto, leveraging the wealth of the property values to fund their schools at a MUCH higher per student cost than those districts with lower property values and lower incomes. And low and behold we are back to racial and social economic discrimination.

Third, regarding lack of Federal Education dollars, California was INELIGIBLE for hundreds of millions in federal grants issued by the Obama administration because of current state laws and teacher union contracts and recent attempts by the Governor to amend the education laws was met with VERY STIFF resistance by the CTA. Everyone is welcome to read the following press release (Web Link).

Fourth, the cuts proposed by Ranella are not catastrophic by any stretch as compared to other districts in the area. Credentialed teachers as librarians are a luxury, paid class room aides are a luxury, Vice Principals at the smaller schools are a luxury. 20 student class size is a luxury. When the economy improves, maybe some of those cuts can be restored. Our children will NOT SUFFER. They will go to college and be successful in what life they choose.

Finally, California's rank being lower than 21 other states, for a state with the diverse population and thus educational issues related to such a diverse population, being 22 out of 50 states is not a bad achievement given the challenges. Now if you at the MPSCD with regards to per student spend as compared to all the other districts in the state, I would venture to guess that MPSCD ranks in the top five percent for spend.

Now for my questions that have not been answered by the Measure C supporters:

1. Has the MPCSD Teacher Union and the district administrators made any real concessions? During these times, asking for a 5% or 10% salary reduction and a 15% reduction for administrators would be a good faith effort on the part of the district. Cities and municipal agencies are asking this of their employees.

If the district is asking for a seven year tax, then a seven year salary reduction seems to be reasonable. To counter the argument that we need to pay some of the highest salaries to attract the best teachers, with 23,000 teachers across the state laid off, I doubt any reduction in salary or benefits would cause teachers to leave when there are zero jobs other places, not to mention there are a lot of excellent teachers looking for work.

We already contribute an additional $500 plus in school parcel taxes, (which in my opinion is contributing to the growing disparity in equal access to education). It is time to stop coming to the public well with another $178 parcel tax which although positioned as seven year tax in reality never seem to drop from the tax roles

I urge all undecided voters to consider adding another tax that will go to support the status quo. Please join me and other concerned residents to vote NO on Measure C.


Posted by anotheryesvoter, a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 22, 2010 at 11:03 am

Undecided voters please learn more about why it is so important to vote yes on Measure C at www.keepourschoolsstrong.org

Another Yes on Measure C Voter!!


Posted by Publius, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 22, 2010 at 11:34 am

Yes voters, please do look at the site and see all the fear mongering that has been posted. If you read the "what will failure of Measure C mean" one would think our children will fail. Remember voters this site is hosted by a very vocal group of Menlo Park parents that want to retain what they have even though just about every other school district, city, and municipal agency is being required to tighten the belt.

Please send a message to the district by voting No on Measure C. Stop coming to the public well each time you need money.


Posted by Alan Miller, a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 22, 2010 at 1:15 pm

Holding children hostage so the previous generation can argue about who made the mistakes does not sound like family values. It's just like the war - support the troops, whether you agree with the war or not. Argue about funding the war (government tax policy in general / Prop 13 etc.) but don't fail to fund the troops in the field (the students). They don't get to vote.


Posted by new guy, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 22, 2010 at 1:36 pm

Sure they don't get to vote, but we let renters vote, and we let 65 and older vote (and tell them they won't have to pay!)

Just be honest with yourself. You wish to have and spend "other peoples money."

If it were "really" about students, then the unions would make sacrifices for the good of the students, accept pay cuts to maintain teacher levels, etc. but this is not the role of unions. The role of unions are to advocate so their members receive more than they would without a union. This has led us to the state we are in today.

Voting no is not stating we are against students in any way. Voting no is a statement that indicates that more should be done before you ask people for their money.

In my profession, the only time things get emotional is when the facts do no support the case. The campaign for voting yes is purely emotion based (with some insufficient charts thrown in). Additionally they throw in some marketing speak (50 cents a day), but don't say that means every day (including weekends and holidays) for the next 7 years (with additions for inflation on top of that!!!). I do not get paid every day, so why should I pay taxes every day?

I do understand though, once people (top admins) make their 150K a year and up, they lose sight of reality, feel entitled to it, and therefor have little insight to how the other half live.

As long as they can get more, they will spend it, every penny as is clearly observed.


Posted by Keri, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Apr 22, 2010 at 3:33 pm

I'd like to give a parent's perspective on Laurel School & the MP schools. We've been in the district 3 years and have been VERY impressed with their conservative, thoughtful use of funds. They do their very best for this city! Ken Ranella is amazingly responsive to the needs of families in MP. I strongly urge all other MP residents to remember one big reason why our property values are what they are - schools with great reps, great ratings. This happens only when the schools get what they NEED to keep going. If this measure does not pass, the schools reps will suffer and the STAR ratings will suffer because the teachers will not be able to give the students the attention they get now (20ish students per class to what ...?). The cost of measure C is not high, when you consider the great benefits you will be getting in return. For you, your neighbors, your children, their children ... thanks for caring.


Posted by Plubius, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 22, 2010 at 3:51 pm

Dear Keri,

Do you have any facts to back up the claim you made that " If this measure does not pass, the schools reps will suffer and the STAR ratings will suffer because the teachers will not be able to give the students the attention they get now (20ish students per class to what ...?)."

I would bet that test scores would remain the same in the district or at least within +/- 1%.


Posted by Shari Conrad, a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Apr 22, 2010 at 3:56 pm

We have an opportunity to keep our neighborhood schools strong. This parcel tax will go directly into the operating budget of our local public elementary schools. I feel much better about $178/year going directly to the schools than I feel about the check I just sent to Sacramento. I am upset that the State of California has not done a better job in managing its finances, but I am not willing to let it significantly impact our kids in our local neighborhoods when we can reduce the impact for less than 50 cents/day.

I've watched the school board manage the budget for several years and I find them a group of intelligent and thoughtful individuals who try to make kid centered choices while being conservative with their funds.

Please support our local schools with Yes on C!


Posted by Plubius, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 22, 2010 at 3:57 pm

Dear Alan,

I don't think anyone who is voting no on this measure are holding Children hostages and I hold it as an affront when people use the "would someone please think of the children" when trying to justify school funding and taxes.

Still no one has answered my original question about teacher and administrator salaries.


Posted by Joanne, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 22, 2010 at 4:08 pm

Please explain to me how I could possibly support Measure C when the school district has plans to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on cutting down 5 heritage trees at Oak Knoll School (an environmental tragedy in itself) and replace the trees with a grassy soccer field complete with sprinkler system? Would you spend $$ to cut down your trees in order to put in a backyard swimming pool or tennis court when you didn't have the financial resources to provide basic needs for your family? You wait - if the measure does not pass, the district will find a way to keep the teachers and provide for programs. It's happened before.


Posted by Private school goodies at taxpayer expense, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 22, 2010 at 4:47 pm

What's new? So these affluent parents can save private school tuition and obtain preferred treatment for their brood. See it time and again so they can tool around in their $50K plus luxury SUV's.
Makes it possible with manipulation of the election process, slick mailers, catchy phrases, veiled threats of failing educational standards.
All on the come, so the regressive additional parcel taxes fall on those already burdened by excessive taxes.
No on C. They don't need the extra money. they need better facility management and fiscal restraint. Administrative salary reductions.


Posted by Steve, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 22, 2010 at 7:14 pm

Joanne -
I believe the money for putting in the soccer fields at Oak Knoll came from the Measure U bond passed in 2006. That money was specifically allocated for improvements to the physical structure - it can't be used for salaries or operational purposes. A Citizens Bond Oversight committee watches to make sure money's from the bond are spent as they were intended.
Measure C, by contrast, can only be used
1. To employ and retain classroom teachers
2. To maintain small class sizes
3. To preserve essential educational programs
Not cutting down the trees and delaying the soccer fields would do nothing to solve the financial problems the district faces. That's why Measure C is necessary.


Posted by Plubius, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 22, 2010 at 7:42 pm

I noticed that in the FAQs on the support Measure C site, it states

"Measure C would add $178 to this amount for only the next 7 years. The cost is adjusted annually to reflect inflation."

Question:

Does this mean that the $178 is only for the first year and will be adjusted for inflation each of the next 6 year? If so, what will this inflation rate be based on?


Posted by Get Real, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 22, 2010 at 7:58 pm


As Steve points out, Measure C funds are targeted for operational expenses only. However, having Measure C passed simply frees up funds from unrestricted sources to be spent wheresoever the school board and superintendent desire.

We should also pay note to the Bond measure Steve refers to. Menlo Park tax payers have funded over $110,000,000 in bonds to support capital developments at the schools. Look on your parcel tax bill---it is a hefty additional chunk---and will continue to be so for the next 30 years.

And there is the $565 parcel tax we pay (inflation adjusted every year, with NO end date) for school operations.

Menlo Park will continue to have excellent schools with Measure C failing.

Please join me in voting NO on Measure C.


Posted by Laura Steuer, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Apr 24, 2010 at 8:59 am

I'm a parent of an elementary-aged daughter, and although she has always attended a private school, I will absolutely be voting YES on Measure C. Providing quality public school education is not something we should be equivocal about: the foundation of a developed society is well-educated citizens. Just as police and fire services are seen as basic infrastructure, so should strong
public schools. The fact that our state government is such a mess that they can't provide this basic service, and that California ranks near the bottom of state spending per student nationwide, shouldn't prevent us from doing the right thing locally. We can provide high quality schools in Menlo Park and passing this Parcel Tax will help us do so. Of course, strong schools are good for everyone's property values as well.

Laura Steuer
Menlo Park


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 24, 2010 at 9:34 am

Laura states:"We can provide high quality schools in Menlo Park and passing this Parcel Tax will help us do so."

I suggest that we can, do and will provide high quality schools in Menlo Park WITHOUT new taxes. The school district needs to learn how to live within its guaranteed tax income. Simply coming back to the taxpayers again and again for new taxes as a means of balancing its budget is poor management.


Posted by no on C, a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Apr 24, 2010 at 11:30 am

I love how the parcel tax proponents invariably trot out the same cast of characters: the retired school supporter, the realtor, the private school parent (you certainly have demonstrated your confidence in the public schools!)

All these issues have been hashed and rehashed in multiple threads. Measure C is beginning to sound even less appealing than three-day-old gruel.

As a district parent with private sector cost-cutting experience, I see so much waste in the schools. I don't think the board and sup know what it truly means to adapt to a changing economic environment. The schools are going to have to let some employees go, that's just the harsh reality of the times. Blame the unions for requiring the schools to lay off the best and brightest rather than the overpaid warhorses with tenure.

The failure of Measure C will also require the district to reverse the trend of recent years and bring volunteer parents back into the schools. That will not only reduce costs, it will increase the sense of community that has been lacking. A win-win!


Posted by Nancy, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 24, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Vote NO on Measure C!
We are talking about passing another parcel tax for the Menlo Park Schools. Here are some facts to think about:
1. The superintendent of only 4 Menlo Park schools earns over $230,000.
2. Experienced, tenured teachers earn over $100,000.
3. In recent years, class size has been reduced from a manageable number of 24 - 26 students to 18 - 20 students per classroom. Fewer students would come close to private tutoring.
4. High costs of administration costs taxpayers for miniature school districts, which could be consolidated into one terrific district:
Menlo Park: 4 schools;
Los Lomitas: 2 schools;
Woodside Elementary: 1 school;
Portola Valley: 2 schools
When the last expensive parcel tax was passed, I thought there would be no more. Now, the school board is asking us for more tax money. When will we have the next parcel tax? Is there any end?
Vote a strong NO on Measure C, and let the school board know that there is an end to which taxpayers are willing to put up more money!


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 25, 2010 at 3:14 pm

Here is some interesting insight on what is wrong with the way our schools are being run:

City Journal Steve Malanga explains just how beholden California governments have become to the unions.

Consider the California Teachers Association. Much of the CTA's clout derives from the fact that, like all government unions, it can help elect the very politicians who negotiate and approve its members' salaries and benefits. Soon after Proposition 13 became law, the union launched a coordinated statewide effort to support friendly candidates in school-board races, in which turnout is frequently low and special interests can have a disproportionate influence. In often bitter campaigns, union-backed candidates began sweeping out independent board members. By 1987, even conservative-leaning Orange County saw 83 percent of board seats up for grabs going to union-backed candidates. The resulting change in school-board composition made the boards close allies of the CTA.

But with union dues somewhere north of $1,000 per member and 340,000 members, the CTA can afford to be a player not just in local elections but in Sacramento, too (and in Washington, for that matter, where it's the National Education Association's most powerful affiliate). The CTA entered the big time in 1988, when it almost single-handedly led a statewide push to pass Proposition 98, an initiative—opposed by taxpayer groups and Governor George Deukmejian—that required 40 percent of the state's budget to fund local education. To drum up sympathy, the CTA ran controversial ads featuring students; in one, a first-grader stares somberly into the camera and says, "Pay attention—today's lesson is about the school funding initiative." Victory brought local schools some $450 million a year in new funding, much of it discretionary. Unsurprisingly, the union-backed school boards often used the extra cash to fatten teachers' salaries—one reason that California's teachers are the country's highest-paid, even though the state's total spending per student is only slightly higher than the national average. "The problem is that there is no organized constituency for parents and students in California," says Lanny Ebenstein, a former member of the Santa Barbara Board of Education and an economics professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara. "No one says to a board of education, 'We want more of that money to go for classrooms, for equipment.' "


Posted by YES on C, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Apr 30, 2010 at 9:46 am

To the person who thinks we want our SUV rather than a private school. Please. We drive a 10-yr-old car and a 12-yr-old car and are saving to replace one. If we are lucky, our cars will last long enough so we won't have to finance the next (pre-owned) car. We have a brood of one. We are just trying to make ends meet and no, we don't want to have our child in private schools. We would like to do our best with the best public schools we can have a tiny bit of influence on. We volunteer at the school to help when we can. Yes, there are a few in the big ol' SUVs, but please don't generalize about the lot of us.


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