Jun 12 2019

OPINION: Resident Advocates Changing Proposed School Property Tax Increase to 15 percent Instead of 25 percent

Piedmont School Board
c/o Randy Booker, Superintendent

re: June 12, 2019 Agenda item: School Taxes

Dear President Smith and Board,

I.      I take exception to Mr. Booker’s comments May 22 at 3:48 that a single square foot building tax would not allow the District to have a separate flat tax on unimproved parcels.  I again cite two sources:
– SB2954 (2018) Legislation allows a separate unimproved parcel rate.
– Alameda School District’s 2011 Measure A square foot of building tax with a separate flat rate for unimproved parcels and the identical 2016 Measure B1 tax; both these taxes withstood legal challenges.  Significantly, Judge Petrou in his 2018 stipulated judgement required a flat rate tax on unimproved parcels to bring Measure B1 in alignment with Measure A (source: Sean McPhetridge, AUSD Superintendent,  4/4/2018 Press Release).

II.     While identifying all parcels by their Assessor’s Parcel Number (APN) is welcome, having multi-parcel owners combine parcels to a single APN to avoid paying multiple taxes is a problematic solution. Combining parcels at the County level eliminates some buildable lots. Should the owners wish to recapture these parcels, the process is not simple and is done at the City level.  Applications, surveys and new legal descriptions on new recorded documents would be required. This does not respect Piedmont taxpayers who have been so generous in their School support. Finally, eliminating buildable size parcels works against Piedmont’s requirement of meeting State mandates of providing more housing.
A multi-parcel exemption handled by the District is the proper and simple solution.

III.    I again propose a single $1.15 per square foot building tax which gives the District a 15% increase in tax revenue.  This acknowledges that Piedmonters have been very generous in their District support and a 25% in total increase is excessive.

Rick Schiller, Piedmont Resident

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.

2 Responses to “OPINION: Resident Advocates Changing Proposed School Property Tax Increase to 15 percent Instead of 25 percent”

  1. Responding only to Mr. Schiller’s view that a 25% increase in total parcel tax revenue is “excessive,” I note that Mr. Schiller provides no discussion of the School District’s actual needs. Unfortunately, if we want to maintain excellent schools in Piedmont, we need to significantly increase local revenue to our schools. Indeed, I wonder whether the School District is seeking enough.

    The District’s budget crunch has been and is caused by the California Legislature and Governor grossly underfunding both CalSTRS (teacher) and CalPERS (other District employees) pension funds since around 2001. The District plays no role whatsoever in setting either the contribution or distribution levels of these pension funds. The Legislature (with the Governor signing the bills) sets both the contributions and benefits for CalSTRS and CalPERS for school district employees.

    The State adopted AB 1469 in 2014, which finally addressed the underfunding problem by increasing school districts’ contributions toward teachers’ pensions from 8.5% of compensation in 2013 to 19.10% in 2020, and holding it around that level until 2046. CalPERS payment increases are similarly increasing. However, the State did not give school districts any more money to make these contributions. The small increases in basic funding for all purposes (operations, current teacher salaries, etc.) is not keeping up with the increases in pension payments. The result is that State funding available to pay for our students’ educations is declining.

    It is not reasonable to expect teachers and staff to stick with the same or less compensation for nearly 30 years–particularly where the cost of living in this area increases rapidly. The District does not want to, and cannot, lay off enough employees to pay the rest decently. The District already is having trouble paying enough to attract new teachers and keep our current teachers.

    The Board, the District and some residents have badgered our local state representatives to increase school funding, whether through increased State payments to the pension funds (a mess the State caused), an increased basic payment to all districts, or a cost of living increase for high cost school districts. While the Governor has authorized some “one-time” payments to school districts, the State has taken no responsibility for adequately funding schools in light of the enormous pension cost increases the State has imposed on the districts.

    Unless Mr. Schiller can explain how he would balance the District’s budget, paying off the State’s new pension costs while still maintaining a high quality education, we need to pay more if we want Piedmont children to continue to have the high quality education needed to thrive in modern life.

  2. I note Mr. Raushenbush’s early lead in the tax proponent campaign and his candor in not addressing the bulk of my letter. I seek an honest process and most of my letter addresses two tax levy issues. Superintendent Booker states a separate levy of unimproved parcels is not possible and forces a two tax solution, yet in a previous letter opposing my square foot building levy Mr. Raushenbush raised the issue of SB2954 which allows a separate unimproved parcel tax levy. And I do not understand the District’s logic in forcing residents to combine parcels when a simple contiguous lot exemption is available.

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