Cupertino school district retracts parcel tax measure

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Zoe Morgan/Town Crier
Less than two weeks after deciding to put a parcel tax before voters in November, the Cupertino Union School District board voted Aug. 12 to retract the measure.

Voters won’t be deciding on a parcel tax measure from the Cupertino Union School District in November after all.

Last week, the board of trustees decided to pull the measure, citing the cost of placing it on the ballot. The Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters Office estimated that ballot placement would cost $2.4 million.

“As a district, the cost was way more than we anticipated and it’s not something that’s worth the risk for us,” district COO Jeff Bowman said.

The district covers part of south Los Altos, and nearly 700 Los Altos students attend district schools.

The board initially voted to approve the parcel tax at its Aug. 1 meeting. The $125 tax would have raised $4.3 million annually for five years and helped alleviate tight budget conditions.

However, at the time board members and district administrators said they expected the cost to be more in line with what they had paid in the past. According to the Registrar of Voters Office, the cost of the district’s May 2014 parcel tax measure was just under $200,000.

Bowman told board members at an Aug. 12 special meeting that the district had budgeted for $700,000 to $1 million in fees, well below the $2.4 million quote it later received.

Ultimately, the board voted unanimously to pull the measure from the ballot. Board members Sylvia Leong and Phyllis Vogel were not at the special meeting, so the vote was 3-0 with Lori Cunningham, Jerry Liu and Satheesh Madhathil in attendance.

Unexpected cost increase

Part of the reason for the cost is because the parcel tax was going to be the only measure on the ballot. When multiple jurisdictions place items on the ballot, the cost is split.

“If there’s a sole entity holding an election, then the cost is going to be born on their shoulders,” said Eric Kurhi, spokesman for the registrar of voters.

The election also was going to have polling places, rather than being a mail-ballot election. That increases the cost, Kurhi said. The 2014 parcel tax measure was done by mail.

At last week’s meeting, board members had questions about why the high cost was coming as a surprise.

Liu asked Bowman about the process that led here. The district had hired an outside consultant to help guide them through the bond process. Liu wanted to know why the high cost wasn’t seen ahead of time. According to Bowman, the contractor was also surprised at the cost increase.

All of the board members agreed that $2.4 million was too high a cost to pay for a bond that would raise $4.3 million annually.

“Certainly I don’t think we should spend $2.5 million for an election that raises $4.3 million (annually),” Liu said.

Although no official decision has been made, the board plans to put the measure on the March 2020 ballot. Because that would overlap with the presidential primary election, the cost would likely be lower.

“Certainly the need of passing a parcel tax based on our budget hasn’t changed,” Bowman said. “But at the same time, we want to be good stewards of public funds.”

According to Bowman, the board will likely make a final decision about placing the parcel tax on the ballot in November. The deadline to submit a measure to the county is Dec. 6.

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