Los Altos School District administrators are putting their noses to the grindstone to address 10th-site and facility planning budget shortfalls, as well as the threats inflation and the end of one-time pandemic funds pose to the overall health of the district budget.
LASD officials have already begun conducting research on a prospective campaign for a new parcel tax, which would replace the parcel tax that is set to expire in mid-2025. In 2016, voters renewed the 2011 parcel tax – the first time voters approved a second parcel tax on top of the one originally introduced in 1989 – at $223 per parcel, which in total generated $2.8 million annually for the district, or 5.4% of revenue at the time.
According to a mailer sent out to residents, LASD officials are considering adding an additional $72 to the current parcel tax for a total ask of $295. This number, which represents the 2016 tax adjusted for inflation, would generate $3.7 million annually, or 4.4% of projected revenue.
In a study session last week, Dave Olson of Backstrom McCarley Berry & Co., the district’s municipal adviser, advised trustees that they should be considering at least one bond measure to meet the facility needs of the district.
“You have a lot of facility needs here,” Olson said. “If you’re going to meet those facility needs, a general bond election – or two or three – is going to have to be part of the solution.”
Olson said LASD’s 10th campus requires an additional $150 million to complete, while each junior high school will need between $40 million and $70 million for upgrades.
The district’s seven elementary schools will likely need $15 million to $25 million each for facilities, in addition to possible special projects that should be funded, like emergency repairs. This puts the low-end monetary need above $300 million, and the high end reaches close to $500 million.
Because of the bond constraints put in place by 2000’s Proposition 39 and the potential risk in asking voters to approve such a large amount of money in one election, Olson suggested dividing the amount of funding needed over several election cycles.
“The bottom line is that developing bond sizes, whether for an authorization or a series of bonds, is as much an art as it is a science,” Olson’s presentation stated.
LASD ranks low among other elementary school districts in the county in terms of how many bond elections it has held since the 1980s. The district’s relative general obligation bond tax rate also ranks lower than any other school district in the county, statistics that might encourage voters to digest the idea of new bonds.
In advance of the choices, administrators must update their Facilities Master Plan to reassess the needs for each school and better understand the costs for the work. They are looking to develop a timeline of the work throughout the next school year.
The 10th site, located at California Street and Showers Drive in Mountain View, is set for construction in 2025. The project is moving forward with the California Environmental Quality Act process, The board is expected to certify the Environmental Impact Report by early next year. Planners are currently working with neighboring property owners to create a protected bike lane at the western property line.
Later on at LASD’s regular board meeting, district staff reviewed additional reductions and efficiencies in response to the slowing economy and increased costs the district faces, including LASD’s effort to make staff salaries more competitive with other Santa Clara County schools.
Trustees discussed budget reductions of $2.8 million for the current school year and approximately $4.3 million for next year.
“The goal is to maintain strong programs and services and restore reserves to 8-10%,” said Erik Walukiewicz, associate superintendent of business services.
Based on LASD Budget Review Committee projections, 17 classified and eight certificated positions will be eliminated through attrition, meaning jobs held by employees who are retiring or resigning will not be renewed. Two licensed vocational nurses will be laid off,
a decision previously made by the board in March.
Of the classified positions lost, nine will be special education aides. Services hit by non-staffing-related budget reductions include the Tech Refresh program, books and supplies, the Community Health Awareness Council contract and certain contracted services.
“Anytime we make reductions, we are always mindful of the education programs, so we want to try to have little impact on anything going on inside the classroom,” Walukiewicz said in response to some board concern about potential impacts of the reductions.
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