Tax estimates lead to school funding shortfalls

Eight Peninsula school districts are facing budget shortfalls after they received less money in property taxes than they were told to expect.

Larger districts, such as Sequoia High School District, must make around $1 million in cutbacks due to the change in estimates, according to Sequoia Superintendent Pat Gemma. Smaller ones, like Menlo Park School District, will see around $90,000 less than anticipated.

Districts make budget projections based on information from the San Mateo County Controller’s Office, issued each fall. But changes in property assessment throughout the year often change the amount of property taxes collected by the county and passed on to cities and schools, Deputy Controller Kanchan Charan said.</p>

Property taxes are a significant funding source for the county’s basic-aid districts, which include Menlo Park, Sequoia, Belmont-Redwood Shores, San Mateo Unified High School District, the Hillsborough School District, and the Los Lomitas, Portola Valley and Woodside school districts.

Belmont-Redwood Shores will see $113,648 less. “We’re already making more than $400,000 in budget cuts, and this certainly didn’t help,” Superintendent John McIntosh said.

Likewise, Sequoia’s $1 million shortfall is on top of another $2.4 million in expenses associated with adopting its new charter school, Summit Preparatory, Gemma said. San Mateo Unified High School District is likely facing a similar shortage.

Officials with the district did not return calls seeking comment.

Property tax estimates vary from district to district, according to Deputy Assessor Terry Flinn. While property taxes did rise during the 2005-06 school year, Sequoia was expecting an 8.9 percent increase and instead saw a 6.7 percent increase, Gemma said.

“Adjustments are made, particularly as people file assessment appeals,” Flinn said. Many property owners have recently requested such appeals to lower their assessed value — and thus their property tax payouts.

The latest estimates, which the Assessor’s Office is wrapping up this week, forecast a property tax increase of 8 percent in 2006-07.

One of the most significant of these is the San Francisco International Airport, whose assessed value has decreased in the post-9/11 years. Although the airport normally pays an average of $25 million a year in property taxes, it will receive a $9.5 million tax credit spread out over the next three years.

Some districts, such as Menlo Park, build cushions into their budgets that allow for such fluctuations, according to Superintendent Kenneth Ranella.

“Through experience, individual agencies should take into account the changes in prior years and should budget accordingly,” Charan said.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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