School board members learned more about what goes into crafting a parcel tax for the November ballot Tuesday night, but will wait until the state budget is finalized before proceeding with a decision.
Originally, when the Pleasanton Unified School District researched the parcel tax, it was to implement additional programs recommended by the Excellence Committee. That was before the preliminary state budget required the district cut $4.5 million from their budget. The board recently approved borrowing $2 million in reserves and a potential cut list totaling about $2.7 million, and now they are researching a parcel tax to preserve future programs.
Jeff Kuhn, an attorney of Lozano Smith, hired as a consultant by the district, made a presentation to the board, outlining possibilities in creating a parcel tax ballot.
A parcel is described as a privately owned portion of land and could be taxed in a couple different ways. The first would be under a flat rate and the second would be varied rates that would depend on land use, such as residential versus commercial land. Kuhn also added that the district could exempt seniors and people receiving supplemental security income (SSI) from the tax.
Currently there is no time limit for a parcel tax, but one could be implemented.
Superintendent John Casey said it's too early to tell what elements the board will choose to implement.
"There's a general feeling that if we put forth a parcel tax, for the voters to respond it has to be very specific," he said.
Parcel taxes range from $90 to $1,141 per parcel throughout the state. The Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District has a $120 per parcel tax lasting five years and San Ramon Valley Unified School District has a $90 per parcel tax over the same time limit. Districts in Oakland, Moraga and Orinda have permanent taxes ranging from $195 to $395 per parcel.
Jim Ott, president of the Pleasanton school board, has used $150 as an estimate for the price per parcel, but the exact price would be decided once the budget is finalized. The state is scheduled to have an updated budget in May, known as the May revise, but officials have said it might not be finalized on time.
If a parcel tax were to be put on the Nov. 4 ballot, the deadline for the school district to file the ballot measure would be Aug. 8. By that time, the school board would need to have a two-thirds approval for the measure. In order to pass the tax come election time, voters would need a two-thirds approval.
Ott said in looking at the current state of the California budget and citing his background as a board member, he said there is a need for a tax, but he is hesitant about deciding to call for one.
"I personally see the essential need for a parcel tax to ensure that we continue to provide a good education for our students in light of the state's budget crisis," he said. "The only reason I'm holding back from a decision to call for a parcel tax is that if Pleasanton residents are not unwilling to invest even pennies a day to ensure the quality of education we've come to expect, then spending funds to hold an election would not be fiscally responsible."
Parent and longtime school advocate Julie Testa spoke at the workshop and said that there are many in the community who don't trust district spending. She suggested an independent consultant review spending.
Ott said he isn't in favor of spending money on a consultant, saying that they are annually reviewed by a CPA firm and hire consultants and advisors for various projects.
Casey said he is not opposed to the idea, but that it would be up to the board, which he considers to be an independent group of elected officials.
The school board will hold budget hearings from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday night as well as May 20 at the district board room, 4665 Bernal Ave. These sessions are open to the public.