West Valley School District's parcel tax increase narrowly receives support

The end result of a special election to greater than double the parcel tax for residents of Los Gatos and Saratoga was not yet clear as of press time on May 14th.

Voters within the Los Gatos-Saratoga Union High School District were asked via absentee ballot whether an annual parcel tax that helps fund the district needs to be increased from $49 to $128. If approved, the extra funding would support the district's efforts to retain its teachers and staff and support its profession and college readiness programs and academic offerings.

On Tuesday, the measure passed with 66.7% of the vote, just over the two-thirds of votes the district needs for the rise to take effect. In Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties, voter turnout was 28.18% and 29.12%, respectively.

The district's current parcel tax is scheduled to run out in 2025. Board President Misty Davies said at a recent meeting that the district would really want a $337 parcel tax to lift salaries and adequately compete with neighboring districts. However, surveys have shown that requiring greater than $128 is unlikely to occur.

If the measure fails, the district could have to place the parcel tax back on the ballot in November. And to stop voters from rejecting the parcel tax entirely, which could lead to significant budget cuts for the district, trustees said they might then likely ask voters to renew the present $49 parcel tax in November, as an alternative of accelerating them. Parcel tax funds can’t be used for salaries or advantages of administrative officials.

Santa Cruz County Clerk Tricia Webber said the county will certify the election results by May 22. Santa Clara County plans to certify its results for the special election by June 6, in accordance with the county's registrar of voters.

Trustees said the increased parcel tax will help retain the district's teachers, who’re increasingly being drawn to neighboring highschool districts that might offer higher starting salaries.

“When we look at where we are right now and how competitive some districts are, we really feel like we need to do a better job,” Trustee Katherine Tseng said.

The $49 parcel tax has been in effect since 2011 and was prolonged for eight years in 2016. Tseng said the present parcel tax was approved after three failed attempts over 20 years. She said surveys the district has conducted in recent times have shown voters haven’t been receptive to a parcel tax increase.

The district will cover the prices of the special election. Similar special elections have cost around $800,000.

The cost of conducting elections within the two counties has yet to be finalized, but a spokesman for the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters said it’s estimated at $724,000 to $1,086,014. Webber said the overall cost for Santa Cruz County is not going to be determined until the outcomes are certified, but is predicted to be about $7 to $8 for every of the county's 3,689 registered voters who live inside the highschool district's boundaries.

The public schools in Los Gatos and Saratoga have long been a draw for brand new residents. But Jen Young, president of the district's teachers association and a math teacher at Los Gatos High School, said the teachers who provide that quality training have been in need of upper salaries for a while due to the rising cost of living.

Young said what kept teachers within the district was the positive work culture and environment. But as the price of living continues to rise, that sense of community is not any longer enough to take care of the school the district is pleased with, she said.

Trustee Alex Shultz said for residents occupied with selling their homes in the long run, the increased property tax is an investment in property value because more funding to draw and retain quality teachers within the district would make the world much more attractive to live in .

“If you sell your house and we succeed in keeping the schools strong and attractive, you get every penny of what you put into it times ten,” Shultz said. “Actually, I think it’s more of an investment than a tax.”

The special election can also be coming during a teacher shortage, Shultz says this trend has increased within the Bay Area because the price of living is already high. 2022 Census data shows that the median income is $198,117 in Los Gatos and $237,730 in Saratoga, however the starting salary for teachers in the present school 12 months within the district is just $66,248.

Shultz said he and Tseng have been talking to members of the community and knocking on doors to encourage people to vote before the deadline and have heard anecdotally that residents support the rise.

“The vast majority of people are very positive, but you don't know if they're just telling you what you want to hear,” he said.

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