Redwood City Still Only District without Additional Parcel Tax Funding

The most recent May 3 election saw two parcel tax extensions for school districts, but none for Redwood City.

Of the eight school districts that feed into the , the Redwood City school district is the only one without additional funds from a parcel tax. At the May 3 special election, voters approved parcel tax extensions for the San Carlos school district and the Ravenswood school district.

As the state continues to cut school districts’ budgets, districts must find other creative ways to keep themselves afloat. But in Redwood City, a parcel tax has not been one of them. Three times, dedicated residents have placed a parcel tax on the ballot, once in 1993, 2005 and 2009. Three times, it failed.

Of the eight districts, the Redwood City district receives the least amount of funding. The district received base funding of $4,750 in 2009-10 for each of its 9,200 students from a combination of property taxes and state monies based on student attendance. The Woodside Elementary District, in contrast, received approximately $11,400 per student because of the city's much higher property taxes. Including community based funding, like parcel taxes and fundraising efforts, Redwood City received $5,251 and Woodside received $17,320.

“The huge inequity is criminal,” said Superintendent Jan Christensen at a budget forum at John Gill Elementary on Monday. “We’re not trying to insinuate that Woodside should receive less, we’re just trying to show the extreme discrepancy.”

Many of the school districts in this area are “basic aid districts,” which means that these districts collect enough property tax to meet and exceed the minimum amount of funding guaranteed by the state, according to the school’s website.  Basic aid districts, like Woodside, are able to keep property tax revenue that goes above the minimum level, or revenue limit.

In contrast, Redwood City’s property tax revenue is not enough to meet that revenue limit and receives state aid to make up the funding gap, like 90 percent of districts in the state. State aid is based on a complex formula, largely based on student attendance, size, historical spending patterns and other variables. The chart (attached) shows the large inequities between basic aid districts and revenue limit districts.

A $98-100 annual tax would generate approximately $2 million for the district, according to the district’s Chief Business Official Raul Parungao. The 2009 parcel tax measure fell short by just 4 percent, or approximately 1,000 votes, of the two-thirds needed to pass. State Senator Joe Simitian tried to pass a bill in 2009 that would have reduced the necessary 66 percent to just 55 percent, the amount needed to pass a general obligation bond, according to Parungao.

But campaigning for the parcel tax costs money as well. However, the district is not allowed to spend any money on parcel tax campaigns, so the approximately $130,000 spent on the 2009 campaign had to be generated by donations.

“We’ve just been doing more with less,” said district spokesperson Naomi Hunter.

“We’re way too efficient,” Parungao agreed. “We’ve been using technology to compensate for our lost staff.”

The district went from 16 to nine employees in the technology department over the past few years,  he said. To compensate for the lack of staff, Parungao explained that teachers could solve their own computer problems by watching pre-recorded podcasts on their own time without the district having to send over a technician. 


State Impacts on Local District Budgets

The state has also made life difficult for the district.  In March, there were $11.2 billion of state budget cuts, of which schools were not spared, even worse than during the Great Depression.

If the state legislature does not pass the tax extensions, the school year could be shortened to 177 days, less than the standard 180. The school board meeting on Wednesday will address three potential scenarios.

Over the last three years, the district has lost $13 million in funding, but its budget has continued grow, naturally. Four years ago, the district had an $81 million budget with around 8,000 students. The budget has stayed the same but the number of students has grown to 9,200. Student to teacher ratios have grown dramatically from 20:1 to 30:1.

Rather than paying the districts monthly, the state defers payments, forcing the district to borrow millions of dollars. It borrowed $15 million this school year, and Parungao predicts that it will have to borrow $18-20 million in 2011-12. Though the district does eventually receive the money, it must pay interest on the loans, money that could be used to pay a teacher’s salary, he said.

The state earmarks certain funds as supplemental, or “categorical” funds, for things like after-school programming, subsidies for socio-economically disadvantaged families. These funds can only be used for their allotted purpose.

“Yet it’s unclear why the state thinks that an after-school reading program would be better than keeping a teacher who could teach reading during the regular school day,” Parungao said.

Schools that dip into these supplemental funds for general use—like teachers’ salaries—can face severe penalties from the state. The Newark school district had to pay $300,000 for doing this.

And the state requires districts to scrape together enough money for programs like special education, but does not provide the financial backing to run them. These and other unfunded mandates have left the district pulling money from their base funding that is used to pay teachers’ and administrators’ salaries.

Because the district has contractual obligations with the teachers’ union, it has little room to negotiate salary, if at all.


Dependence on Local Fundraising

As the state continues to slash school’s budgets, schools are increasingly relying on outside fundraising efforts.

The Redwood City Education Foundation, a non-profit fundraising organization for the district, hosted its Friday night, which raised $110,000 last year. For the 2009-2010 fiscal year, the foundation raised $463,000, money that was able to , who otherwise would have been laid off.

This money pays for outdoor education, SMART science and technology grants and Art-in-Action classes. This money allows students like Javier Santos, 13, and his fellow Hoover School eighth graders to take field trips to the Exploratorium.

On May 24, local “Wake Up California!” rallies will be held around the state to inform community members of the state’s funding crisis. From 7:30 to 9 a.m., Courthouse Square will be filled concerned citizens supporting K-12 education.


How to Solve the Funding Crisis?

Parungao highlighted Alameda County as an example, which similarly has 80,000 students. But instead of the 24 school districts that San Mateo County has, Alameda only has four. The county only needs to pay four superintendents, four assistant superintendents, “four me’s,” he said.  Consolidation is a possibility, but the likelihood of districts like Woodside and Las Lomitas agreeing to combine with Redwood City is unlikely because of their much higher funding due to higher property taxes. In contrast, Redwood City has 64.6 percent of students on the free or reduced lunch program, which has a high correlation with the city’s poverty level, Parungao said.

The purely mathematical way to bring more funding to schools would be to increase property value to generate higher taxes, or reduce the number of students in the district, Hunter said.

But on a more pragmatic level, Hunter said she believed that as the funding issue received more “air-time,” community members would continue their grass roots efforts to reform California's education system.

Jack Hickey May 07, 2011 at 04:01 PM
As a long time opponent of the continued funding of a school system which is, 1. held hostage by powerful unions, 2. encumbered by an archaic education code and a myriad of categorical programs, and; 3. founded on compulsory attendance which has no place in a free country where liberty is cherished, I must offer alternatives. My Performance Accountability Voucher for Education (http://pave2010.com/) is one. Property tax credits to enable Choice in Education is another. Regarding parcel taxes, see: http://www.almanacnews.com/square/index.php?i=3&d=&t=5851
Jean Isaacs May 08, 2011 at 04:54 AM
Redwood City has come close in the past to passing a parcel tax - but vocal opponents like Jack Hickey have mislead voters with their own questionable "facts". Mr Hickey is of a Libertarian bent - which means he is opposed to taxation, and is seemingly opposed to funding for public education (as indicated by his comments). Unfortunately, we have enough residents in Redwood City that think in the same narrow way as Mr Hickey about a community obligation like funding our education system adequately, which is why we cannot pass a parcel tax in this city - unlike many of our more enlightened neighboring communities.
Jack Hickey May 09, 2011 at 04:28 PM
Jean Isaacs avoids addressing the 3 points in my post and my proposed solutions to the problem. Instead, she attacks the messenger.
Steve Hayes May 09, 2011 at 05:28 PM
To Mr. Hickey's points- "Powerful Union" - generally we are concerned about unions when compensation is high. The actual average teacher salary in RWC is $68K which is not high - actually it is right on the State average yet RWC teachers face much higher housing costs (than the average State teacher) since they live in the Bay Area - SO THE POINT IS BOGUS! "Compulsory Attendance" yes that is fundamental - all kids should be driven/required to go to school even if people like Mr. Hickey thinks it is unimportant. ANOTHER BOGUS POINT! There is always room for improvement in education and anything else for that matter - not funding the system during a financial crisis is no solution. Second rate communities do not support their own schools. Is that how RWC wants to be viewed?
Jack Hickey May 09, 2011 at 06:37 PM
I'm concerned about unions when they defeat the prupose of charter schools, use union dues to fight ballot measures which threaten their existence such as education vouchers, etc. My proposals which seek to promote "choice" in education, presume that parents act in the best interest of their children. And, given half of the amount spent by the government schooling system, which is well in excess of $10,000/year per child, could procure/provide a better education for their children. Education is important. Compulsion is counterproductive. The following, part of my Performance Accountability Voucher for Education (http://pave2010.com/) should clarify my view of the issue: Sec. 1. INTENT OF THE PEOPLE b. The Principles of Subsidiarity and Accountability being the essence of this Article, it is the will of the people that the Legislature shall enact no laws restricting how, where, why or when the education of the people occurs, and, unless otherwise provided for in this Article, all monies expended by the State or any of its agencies for the education of the people shall be allocated in the form of Performance Payments made directly to the student, parent or legal guardian, or to their assignees, for subject-related performance.
Jean Isaacs May 09, 2011 at 06:46 PM
Mr Hickey states that I am "attacking the messenger" instead of addressing his proposed solutions. In reading the proposed solutions, they clearly stem from his basic ideological premise, which is against government involvement in funding public education: "Proposed amendment to the California Constitution: The purpose of this measure is to restore full responsibility and authority to families for the education of their children." "Neither the State nor any of its creations shall engage in the operation or regulation of primary, secondary or technical schools. The Legislature shall provide for a phaseout of public schools..." Under his proposal, families would initially receive a voucher to aid them in paying for schooling. "And, as voucher support is phased out over 20 years, families will regain full responsibility for the education of their children. Government will no longer have a role in education." It appears that Jack Hickey's world view is very individualistic. This differs from my world view of being part of a broader community wherein there is a shared responsibility towards helping to educate the young members of that community - who will become the future workers, business leaders and civic leaders.
Georgia Jack May 10, 2011 at 12:42 AM
I prefer to not engage with Mr. Hickey's tilting at windmills approach to life. Instead, let's focus on reality - which is that our Redwood City schools receive less dollars per student from the State of California, and are expected to have the same results, as surrounding communities. As with many things in this world, most of the time a better outcome is derived when there is a greater - not lessor - investment. In our capitalistic society it is imperative that we invest in educating our youth - they are the economic future of California - a state that has fallen from the fifth largest world economy 10 years ago to eighth. And Redwood City's own future growth also greatly depends on the next EDUCATED generation to start business here. See the Rumor Round-up blog post for further information on this topic.
Jack Hickey May 10, 2011 at 06:03 AM
Jean Isaacs accurately quotes portions of my website. (http://pave2010.com/) However, she fails to address the questions in sentences following "The purpose of this measure is to restore full responsibility and authority to families for the education of their children." The questions are: "Does anyone out there disagree that parents have a fundamental obligation to feed, clothe and shelter their family? Why should feeding their mind be excluded?" There are many support groups, religious or otherwise, who voluntarily accept a "... shared responsibility towards helping to educate the young..." I applaud their efforts. Government should not interfere. I do not look kindly upon those elected custodians of taxpayer dollars who engage in pseudo-philanthropy to the detriment of self respecting charitable organizations. Nor will I countenance the political advocacy engaged in by Education Foundations and Parent Teacher Groups using tax deductable contributions. I ask again for a response to my stated premises that the government schooling system is: 1. held hostage by powerful unions, 2. encumbered by an archaic education code and a myriad of categorical programs, and; 3. founded on compulsory attendance which has no place in a free country where liberty is cherished,
Sarah Fuhs May 10, 2011 at 06:04 PM
It's absolutely mind boggling to me that our community members oppose this. It's insane that a city with our demographic - both low and high income families - don't see the value in contributing to our children's education. It's been said, and said, and SAID, but how do those opposing a parcel tax expect our children to have the same education, opportunity, success and as all kids in nearby neighborhoods? We're talking about less than $100 per year to enhance our entire community. Wake up Redwood City!
Claire Felong May 10, 2011 at 07:46 PM
I feel that we should have additional property taxes to support education but I do not think it should be a parcel tax, rather a percentage tax based on property values. A parcel tax hits an inexpensive starter home much harder than an Edgewood Park mansion. When there are multiple parcel taxes, the difference becomes larger. We should be pushing much harder for changing Prop 13 so it only applies to residences. We recognize Oracle, Wells Fargo and other when they make a $50,000 or $100,000 contribution to RCEF but if they were paying their fair share of property taxes there would be millions more going into the school district.
Jack Hickey May 10, 2011 at 10:00 PM
No matter what form taxes take, someone's ox will be gored. Businesses will either pass on the added cost or leave Dodge! Charter schools, once intended to reduce the cost of education while improving the outcome, have been neutralized by the CTA. Unencumbered by the antiquated Education Code and freed from unions if they chose, they once held great promise. Change for the better will only come when parents have a real choice.
Georgia Jack May 10, 2011 at 10:17 PM
The myth of charter schools being the great hope has been battered over the course of the past couple of years as more analysis has been done of the cost/benefit. BTW, even Eric Hanushek a fellow at the Hoover Institute, an institution not known for supporting public education, has said that charter's perform similarly to public's - not better and not more efficiently. Quite frankly there is a minority of people who believe our country would be better served to have an undereducated general population. If you want that kind of country, they are easily found in other parts of the world.
Jack Hickey May 10, 2011 at 10:29 PM
That was not a myth, it was a dream for some. For me it was a compromise much better than the status quo. It was battered by the NEA and the California Teachers Association with the acquiescence of their bedfellows in the education establishment who together form this country's most dangerous monopoly.
Elaine Park May 11, 2011 at 01:18 AM
Seriously? The education establishment is a dangerous monopoly? I wasn't aware they were armed.
Natalie Scoma January 15, 2012 at 04:48 AM
A parcel tax is a temporary fix, just like entitlement programs and leveling the playing field with taxes on those w/o providing them services. Eventually those taxpayers move elsewhere or find ways to not contribute. You need to clean house and get new people to represent you and get rid of the toxic heads at RWC SD.
Natalie Scoma February 10, 2012 at 04:20 AM
I pay more taxes than all my neighbors and these corporations. Yes, I make more too. But RWCSD don't have any programs fitting for my kids. I would contribute to the district and support more even if my kids didn't go there but engaging with the district's admin has been a turn off. No thanks.


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