Jan. 11 – Piedmonters will likely be back at the ballot boxes in 10 months to vote on renewing the School Support Tax.
The parcel tax currently raises just over $10.4 million for Piedmont’s schools. Each of the city’s 3,921 taxable parcels are assessed $2,656 annually. Voters passed the latest one in 2013. It will expire June 30, 2021.
Since 1985, parcel taxes have been levied to help the schools maintain programs and services. Over the ensuing three decades, the reliance on this tax has grown significantly. The district is not fully funded by the state and depends substantially on community fund drives and taxes. The tax money goes toward: attracting, training, and retaining teachers; maintaining small class sizes; instructional programs and services, including art and music; world language; advanced placement; libraries; classroom technology; and student counseling.
The district’s chief financial officer reported in December projected shortfalls of $1.9 million for the 2019-2020 budget and a $2.4 million deficit the following school year. Declining student enrollment and pension costs are among the reasons for projected deficits.
At the January 9 school board meeting, trustees and district Superintendent Randall Booker discussed a timeline for engaging the community in discussions about renewing, and possibly increasing, the amount of the schools tax, and placing it on the November 5 ballot. In February the district will begin efforts to poll the community to gauge interest and how to construct a renewal of the tax.
In the past, the tax rate varied by parcel size, but a California Court of Appeals ruling a few years ago (Borikas v. Alameda Unified School District) provided for a uniform flat tax rate that applies to every property.
The meeting’s one public speaker on the topic, Rick Schiller, said he supports a progressive tax rather than a flat rate.
He also claimed that some parcels in town are not taxed and asked that be researched further. And while Piedmont has no current school tax exemption for seniors, he pointed out that San Marino, a town in Los Angeles County similar to Piedmont, has provisions for an income-based exemption on its parcel tax.
The School Support Tax, also known as Measure A, currently allows for an annual increase of no more than 2 percent above the previous rate.
Trustee Sarah Pearson said discussions about the tax should include questions about the rate cap still being renewed or changed. Also, the discussions of the duration of the tax should include the possibility of an evergreen tax, she said.
Superintendent Randall Booker said the current tax funds are not enough to keep up with the increasing costs of employee retirement benefits unless the district adjusts expenditures or changes class size.
“One could argue we’re about $1 million to $1.5 million short,” he said. “I’m not saying we need a tax of that amount, but we have problems.”
Trustee Cory Smegal said she thinks that number is low.
Booker said the timeline for the tax campaign is generous enough to allow time for a second campaign if the first one fails. And, he said, if a second try fails, there will be time to work on cost reductions within the district.
Booker said there are lots of ways to structure the tax, such as keeping it the same amount and duration as now, or increasing the rate or separating it into two taxes. The next board meeting, on January 23, will provide more detailed information on current law about school parcel taxes. The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. at City Hall at 120 Vista Ave.
In the following months community polls will be taken to gauge responses to the proposal and the school board will hold multiple meetings to solicit public opinion about the amount and the duration of the tax. The district will confer also with parent clubs and community groups.
In other news, Piedmont High School is now fully staffed, with three new teachers onboard.
The superintendent announced the hiring of Spanish instructors Jessica McMillan and Piedmont resident Violeta Gomez-Fierro, and physics teacher Keith Callerame. All classes at the school are now fully staffed.
Booker said it was challenging finding candidates for the jobs for a number of reasons that include a shortage of credentialed teachers, leading to multiple school districts vying for the same candidates. Part of the reason for the shortage is the “extreme” cost of living in California and in the Bay Area. Teachers’ pay isn’t keeping up with burgeoning costs, Booker stated, causing the district to lose eight teachers, some moving out of the area or the state, last spring and summer. Three more teachers have left for shorter commutes or higher pay.
Also complicating the hiring process was the timing: Some teachers notified the district of their resignation in June and July, leaving only a few weeks to recruit candidates.
The district posts teaching vacancies on Ed-Join—an online job portal that serves all districts in California. It is the primary site where teaching candidates search for positions. The district and the Association of Piedmont Teachers are discussing new ways to better attract teaching candidates for Piedmont schools. Booker asked for the community’s input if they know of any teacher candidates who can apply to join the district.
Jessica McMillan holds a bachelor of arts degree in Spanish, and a second bachelor of arts degree in liberal studies with a concentration in Teaching English as a Second Language. She has a master’s degree in La Formacion de Profesores de Español Como Lengua Extranjera (the training of teachers of Spanish as a foreign language). She previously taught at Stone Ridge Christian High School in Merced.
Violeta Gomez-Fierro holds a bachelor of arts degree in business administration with a minor in Spanish from the University of San Diego. She also studied aboard, earning a postgraduate degree from Les Roches International School of Hotel Management in Marbella, Spain. She is a native Spanish speaker and a resident of Piedmont.
Keith Callerame holds a bachelor’s degree in astronomy and a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in physics. He has taught at Diablo Valley College, Peralta College and Tilden Preparatory School.