Cupertino school district parcel tax set for March ballot

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Town Crier File Photo
The board from the Cupertino Union School District, above, voted unanimously to place a parcel tax measure on the March 2020 ballot.

The Cupertino Union School District Board of Education voted unanimously last week to place a parcel tax measure on the March ballot. If passed, the $125 tax per parcel would raise approximately $4.3 million annually for five years, beginning July 1.

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

Voters were originally slated to weigh in on the proposal this month, but the board rescinded the measure in August after learning from the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters that ballot placement would cost approximately $2.4 million.

The board initially voted Aug. 1 to put the measure up for a vote in an election this month but reversed course less than two weeks later after receiving the cost estimate from the county.

This time around, the district solicited a cost estimate from the county ahead of time. Per the county’s calculation, the district is projected to pay $286,211 to place the measure on the March ballot.

One of the main reasons for the lower cost is because other measures, including the presidential primary, will be on the ballot in March, Registrar of Voters spokesman Eric Kurhi said.

“A special election is going to cost far more than any election you can either consolidate with other cities or jurisdictions that are running an election, or in this case an election that is already occurring,” Kurhi said.

According to district COO Jeff Bowman, the measure is the same as the one the board originally planned to put up for a vote this month.

“There are no changes from what we brought last time,” he said. “The biggest change is just the cost in doing the election this time is significantly less than what it would have been last time.”

The text of the measure states that the funds can be used for:

  • Teacher retention.
  • 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 cannot be used for administrator salaries, benefits or pensions.

Filling in the gap

District officials argue that the measure is necessary to help alleviate tight budget conditions.

“As a district, we work really hard to manage our budget to the best of our ability, and I think we do that,” Bowman said. “What we don’t have is the same level of funding that nearby districts have.”

In California, the state calculates education funding based on the number of students in each district. If a district doesn’t receive enough property tax revenue to reach this level, the state provides extra money. However, if a district receives more property tax revenue than the level the state calculates, it gets to keep the excess.

A number of local school districts, including the Los Altos School District and Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District, fall into the latter category – their property taxes exceed the state calculation and thus they get to keep the extra.

Cupertino, on the other hand, doesn’t receive enough property tax revenue to hit the state funding level, so the state fills in the gap. The lack of additional property taxes means the district ends up with less money per pupil than many of its neighbors, Bowman said.

According to board president Phyllis Vogel, the district’s low funding means it relies on the local community to provide additional support.

“We really depend on our community, who has been so supportive in the past, to help us out,” she said.

The measure requires a two-thirds vote to pass. In May 2014, voters approved Measure A – a $250 parcel tax to support the district, which expires in June 2023. That measure passed with 78.74% support.

Seniors and those with disabilities would be eligible to request exemptions from the parcel tax on the March ballot, as is the case with Measure A. Those who currently receive Measure A exemptions would automatically qualify for an exemption from the new measure, without needing to reapply.

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