PIEDMONT -- Piedmonters will soon cast their ballots on Measure A, the school support tax which appears on the March 5 ballot.
The measure will need a two-thirds majority to pass. If it passes, it should bring in $9.5 million a year for eight years. If it fails, the school district will lose about 30 percent of its operating income, with the likelihood of reducing teachers and programs, increased class sizes and the downsizing of art and musical programs.
In years past, the parcel tax has glided through, even though Piedmont has some of the highest school parcel taxes in the state. The taxes were based on parcel size, ranging from $2,088 per year for the smaller parcels through $5,305 for a commercial parcel. This election is different.
Due to a court ruling at the 11th hour emanating from a legal challenge to the Alameda Unified School District, (Borikas vs. AUSD), the Piedmont school board revamped its existing parcel tax formulas and changed to a flat tax of $2,406 no matter what size the parcel.
Opponents say this is unfair and that Piedmont should wait to determine the final outcome of the court case subject to challenges, which could take years. Opponents also object to the lack of a senior exemption, which they point out other high-performing school districts allow, such as San Marino, Palo Alto, San Ramon Valley and Arcadia.
Those communities have much lower parcel taxes than Piedmont because they have a commercial base in their cities, which bedroom community Piedmont does not.
The Piedmont school board agreed to an "SSI-qualified" exemption for low-income households, which opponents say is overly restrictive and very few would qualify for. They question the need for a new parcel tax now, when the current parcel tax does not expire until June 30, 2014.
Pensioner and resident George Childs questions the board's "knee-jerk reaction" to the court case.
"They needed to think it through better," Childs said, "(instead of) going from a tiered arrangement to a 'one size fits all.' "
"I understand reasons behind not wanting to delay, but the matter needed a good thorough public airing. It was thrust upon us with so little notice. We needed to have a real dialogue about it. That wasn't the only solution."
Childs also believes the SSI-qualified exemption will serve few.
"How many people in Piedmont have an annual income of $8,760? It's ludicrous," he said.
Childs has to set aside money from his pension into savings "to ensure when taxes come up the money is there to pay. I have to be quite cautious in that respect."
Supporters, of which there are many, say the district cannot afford to wait until matters reach a crisis level. State funding to schools continues to drop since 2008, as districts scramble to fill the gaps. The Piedmont schools owe maintenance of their quality education to the parcel tax, and generous support from educational foundations, fundraisers and parents, who over the years have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to support education.
Former eight-year school board member June Monach said, "The need has remained constant. All school districts throughout California need greater stability to support public education. All kids deserve a strong education, and society benefits. Extending the length of the tax offers financial and program stability."
Measure A is endorsed by the Piedmont League of Women Voters, parents clubs at all Piedmont's schools, Piedmont Educational Foundation, civic leaders, members of boards and commissions and several residents.