CUSD parcel tax headed to November ballot

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Zoe Morgan/Town Crier
In November, Voters will get to weigh in on a $125 parcel tax that would benefit the Cupertino Union School District. The tax would raise $4.3 million annually for five years.

The Cupertino Union School District Board of Trustees voted last week to place a parcel tax on the November ballot, aiming to help alleviate a tight budget.

The $125 tax would raise approximately $4.3 million annually for five years and would take effect July 1, 2020. The measure needs two-thirds approval from voters to pass.

The Cupertino Union School District includes Montclaire Elementary School in Los Altos, and serves parts of south Los Altos.

In recent years, the district has faced tight budgets and made multiple rounds of cuts. Because of the way state funding is calculated, Cupertino receives less money per student than many surrounding districts.

According to data released by the school district, in the 2017-2018 school year Cupertino received $8,390 in per-pupil funding, whereas the county average totaled $10,963.

“We have to make sure that people understand that in order to continue to provide the quality education we do, we need more cash and the state’s not giving it to us,” board president Phyllis Vogel said at last week’s meeting.

In May 2014, voters passed Measure A – a $250 parcel tax to support the district, which expires in June 2023. That measure passed with 78.74% support.

If voters approve the parcel tax on the November ballot, it would be in addition to the Measure A money. Seniors and those with disabilities could request an exemption from the tax, as is the case with Measure A.

According to the text of the ballot measure, the added funding would go toward:

• Retaining teachers.

• Core academic programs in reading, writing, math, engineering and science.

• Keeping schools safe, clean and maintained.

• Art and music programs.

• Teacher training and support.

• Keeping teacher salaries competitive with surrounding districts.

The money could not be used for administrator salaries, benefits or pensions.

Facing tight budgets

One of the reasons Cupertino administrators and board members say the district needs additional funding is because of the way the state funds schools.

According to the district’s COO Jeff Bowman, the district doesn’t get as much funding as other districts in the area, making finances tight.

“We’re doing everything we possibly can to utilize our dollars that we do receive from the state to the best of our ability,” Bowman told the school board.

For every California school district, the state calculates funding based on the number of students in the district, with extra funding for high-needs students – English Learners, low-income students and foster youth. The funding level also varies by grade level.

If a school district’s local property taxes are lower than the level the state calculates, it provides the district with the extra money. However, if a district has excess property-tax revenue, it gets to keep it.

Many local districts, including the Los Altos School District, are in this category – their property taxes exceed the state funding level.

However, Cupertino’s property taxes don’t hit the state’s funding level, so the state provides additional funding. The lack of additional property taxes means that Cupertino ends up with less money per pupil than many other local districts.

Part of the reason for this predicament is because Cupertino is the largest K-8 district in Northern California, with more than 17,000 students. The state’s funding formula is based on that size, while the district’s property-tax revenue doesn’t account for it.

Enrollment has also declined by approximately 1,000 students in the past two years, Superintendent Craig Baker said. That means the district receives less money under the state formula.

“We’re even just trying to make up for all the money we’re losing because of the declining enrollment,” Baker said at the board meeting. “It’s a very complicated situation we’re in and (the parcel tax) is very, very necessary for this community.”

In the past few years, the district has faced continued budget cuts.

“We’ve really been trimming any area we possibly can,” Bowman said, “because we’re trying to keep the impact far away from the classroom.”

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