School Board to consider two parcel tax measures for November ballot

School Board (from earlier meeting in January; L.Ryan)

Putting the Piedmont Unified School District’s long-standing parcel tax before voters for renewal is a given. But voters could be asked for approval of two measures as soon as November if the board approves the staff recommendation it heard at its meeting May 8.

One measure would renew the existing parcel tax, charging a flat rate of $2,656 per parcel for an eight-year period. A second eight-year measure would add a levy of 25 cents per square foot of a building. The first measure would bring $10.5 million to the district, the second would realize $2.6 million, or a combined $13.1 million, according to the staff report.

A survey conducted for the district in March concluded that passage of the renewal is a virtual certainty, as it has been for various forms of the parcel tax for some 30 years.

The survey also showed that community support for schools remains steadfast, even though Piedmont residents already pay the highest parcel tax in California, with 93 percent of respondents rating it as the most significant community issue. But even with the generosity of taxpayers, the district is struggling with rising costs and decreasing state revenue as district enrollment declines.

The second measure would raise an additional $2.6 million to address the shortfall, but its passage is much less certain, based on the results of the survey. Although not asked if they preferred one over the other, respondents to the poll were slightly more receptive to the idea of a graduated tax, than to one based on square footage. The rate of positive responses also declined as the tax rate increased.

“I think it’s a good idea to have two measures, [one flat and one progressive],” said Megan Pillsbury. “It’s important to let community members know we heard their desire for a flat tax — or for a square footage tax. This seems like a nice compromise.”

Board members were generally receptive of the dual measure proposal, but some had reservations.

Board member Sarah Pearson said that “Given the financial situation in the district, the need is obvious here,” but added, “I’m a little uncomfortable that the 25 cents per square foot is more than what voters were told. I would be open to entertaining a smaller amount. I’m optimistic it will pass, but I would feel better if they had polled the higher numbers.”

About the second measure, Board member Cory Smegal said she doesn’t think the district has been “explicit enough about the need for additional funds,” noting that the financial outlook for academic year 2020-21 is “looking grim.”

“It’s not like (the parcel tax renewal alone) is going to keep us whole. [Without added funding,] we’re going to have to be cutting every year.”

Board Member Cory Smegal

There was also discussion about split parcels, properties that are partly in Piedmont and partly in Oakland, as well as whether church parcels should be subject to the tax, which is done by the Oakland school district, according to Booker.

The presentation this week on how the ballot measures might shape up was the first of two scheduled ballot measure discussions. “We’re hoping the board can give direction on May 22 so we can come back June 12” for a vote on putting the measures on the ballot for the November election, Booker said.

He said the reason for the accelerated timeline even though the current tax doesn’t expire until  until June 30, 2021 is that “If it fails for some reason we have enough time to come back” with a revised measure in a subsequent election.

An earlier version of the story incorrectly stated: “Respondents to the poll were more receptive to a flat tax, than to one based on square footage, and positive answers also declined as the tax rate increased….’I think it’s a good idea to have two measures,’ said Megan Pillsbury. ‘It’s important to let community members know we heard their desire for a flat tax. This seems like a nice compromise.’”

One thought on “School Board to consider two parcel tax measures for November ballot

  1. In contrast to the reporting above, clearly taxpayers are more receptive to a square foot tax of building than the current flat rate levy. Dr McLarney’s April 24 Tax Survey report states at p18: “More tax rate sensitivity for flat rate / less tax rate sensitivity for square foot version (und. added).” Dr. McLarney also confirmed this verbally to a question I posed.

    At p7 voter results are shown as a preliminary test with no positive or negative arguments presented. The survey polled a $3,056 flat rate and a $1.25 square foot tax; both garnered close 73-74% definite/probable approval. However this was not an equivalent comparison as $3,056 is a 15% increase over the current $2,656 levy. The later May 8 Staff Report stated the current $2,656 generates $10.4M and an additional tax of 25 cents square foot will generate $2.6M in additional revenue, a 25% increase. The $1.25 tax therefore generates 25% more revenue than the current $2,656 levy for a total of $13M.

    Conclusively, the Final Ballot test is shown at p15 thru 17. The Final shows definite/probable votes after all positive and negative ballot arguments are presented within a 5% margin of error. The 25% revenue increase of $1.25 square foot polled at 73.5%. The 15% increase flat rate of $3,056 polled at 62.1%. 66.67% is needed to pass. Unquestionably a $1.15 square foot tax, equivalent to the $3,056 tax, would poll higher than 73.5%.

    The School District’s own survey indicates a single $1.15 square foot tax should be put before voters.

    Rick Schiller

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