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School Board to Finalize November Parcel Tax Measure

Faced with budget woes and a tight campaign schedule, board meets Tuesday to decide how much additional parcel tax to seek and plot a strategy to garner voter support in November.

In May 2011, with the mired in budget woes, members of the the range of variables they’d have to nail down in advance of placing a new parcel tax measure on the ballot in November.

Nearly a year later, that effort is kicking into high gear, as district officials plan to have a well-oiled campaign ready when school starts on Sept. 10, less than two months before the Nov. 6 election. The school board meets Tuesday morning in a special session to pass a resolution that lays out the language for the parcel tax ballot measure, including the amount the campaign will seek – somewhere between $180 and $220 annually on top of the current $731 per parcel.

The process is a bit accelerated from past parcel tax efforts – the tax was first passed in 2004 and raised and extended via Measure A in November 2008 – because of the one week delay in the start of the 2012-2013 school year due to the at , , and schools.

Over the past six months, the district has been ticking off wins in its “shared solutions/sacrifices” strategy, hoping to garner buy-in from a number of school community groups in an effort to take a united front to voters in the fall.

“We’ve made progress on pulling all these levers,” board member Steve Sell, who has been one of the leaders of past parcel tax campaigns, said at the board’s retreat several weeks ago. “The awareness within the school community is really elevated.”

That progress includes a tentative agreement between the district and the Mill Valley Teachers Association, a deal that was announced last month with no details but should be signed off on by both groups in the next two weeks, according to district Superintendent Paul Johnson.

It is also bolstered by yet another increased commitment from , the local private educational foundation that has been supporting arts education in Mill Valley for three decades. In recent years, Kiddo has expanded its purview to . In addition to those programs, Kiddo has agreed for one year to raise as much as $450,000 for physical education classes as part of its overall $2.7 million funding goal this year.

In addition, the Mill Valley Council of PTAs has committed to raising $60 per student for materials and supplies, saving the district approximately $187,000. The fledgling  group hosted a series of parent forums earlier this year to spread the word about the district’s budget woes.

“It’s all a bit fluid now, but we’re starting to nail down these individual pieces,” Johnson said.

Such a united front is vital, district officials said, because parcel tax measures must garner two-thirds support in order to pass and a parcel tax expansion faces a bit of a headwind for a variety of reasons. For one, a tax measure in a slow-to-recover economy is a tough sell, particularly since 82 percent of district voters don’t have a student in one of the district’s six schools.

The biggest question the board must answer Tuesday is how much additional parcel tax to seek. For every $100 in parcel tax, the district garners approximately $1 million in revenue. The district has plotted a range of $180 to $220 that will address its needs. Now it must determine how much voters can accept.

“It’s pretty hard to see the low end range getting us what we need,” said Roger Peters, a member of the district’s Community Financial Advisory Committee (CFAC), which has conducted a number of models on that range. “We’ve definitely got to get that something that will pass and we definitely need as much money as we can.”

In a survey of 400 district voters in March, district consultant EMC Research asked half about $180 and the other half about $220. Neither garnered two-thirds support.

But the surveys showed that voters hold the district in high regard, view the threat of the funding loss due to state budget cuts as real and fear a drop in educational quality, pollster Alex Evans told the board in March.

“The only guarantee for Mill Valley is local control,” Johnson said.

The 411: The Mill Valley School District Board of Trustees meets at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the district's offices, 411 Sycamore Avenue.

Susana April 23, 2012 at 04:26 PM
I'm not an anti-tax person, and am more than willing to pay for our schools and libraries. However, these parcel taxes are regressive. Everyone pays the same amount whether living in a small condo or in a McMansion; whether we have no children or a brood. The school taxes in Mill Valley are quite high. Ongoing development keeps the pressure on our schools, requiring ever higher taxes. Everyone is making sacrifices in this tough economy. The schools system needs to face the fact that it may need to do the same.
Scott April 23, 2012 at 07:16 PM
A nearly 30% tax increase?!? Have they looked at waste in the operating budget? For sure not. Administrators and politicians never believe there are expenses that can be cut instead of taxes that can be raised. A business doesn't have that luxury. If they aren't profitable and revenues aren't increasing, then expenses have to be cut. Plain and simple. Publish the budget for all to see. While we're at it, I wonder what their pension obligations look like. Have they done anything to control those costs? We already know benefits for most government jobs are outrageously generous. How does MV schools plan stack up? Are they changing the plans for new employees going forward? They should get off the defined benefit plans that are fraught with huge risk, fraud and ridiculous political shenanigans at taxpayer expense and jump on to the defined contribution sensible, predictable, honest and less risky path that most businesses, and their employees, have found to be most preferable. They better have answers to these questions before coming to us to raise taxes.
Scott April 23, 2012 at 07:18 PM
Also, there's no doubt there'll be another exclusion for senior citizens which is nothing other than a means for buying their vote. Seniors shouldn't be excluded because they directly benefit from increased property values imparted by better, albeit inefficient and wasteful, schools. Force our politicians to justify it to the seniors too and see where they get.
Magoo April 24, 2012 at 01:40 AM
I bet the survey found that the support for the increase in the school tax was far less than two thirds. If it had been close to two thirds, they would have indicated that. Mill Valley is already close to paying the most of any school district in the county. Overall Mill Valley is not that rich an area. I would guess that within the school ienrollment there has been a big increase in the number of students who live in rentals. It used to be that a new family brought new students into the district but that the price of the house they bought was quite a bit higher than the seller's assessed value. That is no longer true. When renters move in with kids, there is no increase in assessed value, therefore no increase in property tax revenue. Parents want their kids to go to schools here, but can't afford to buy here. So they are willing to rent. If the school districts isn't willing to cut back and increase class, too bad. So much for their shared-sacrifice.
Citizen April 24, 2012 at 03:53 AM
I agree that the tax assessment is not fair. My house is 500 sq. ft and I pay the same as the 5,000 sq. ft. house. Contrary to public opinion, not everyone in MV is rich. Every cutback from the state seems to be shifted to us via bond measures. If the proposed state tax increases pass and we pass these parcel taxes, we will really feel it in the wallet. I support education but we have to take a closer look at this. My pension was frozen two years ago. What are the schools doing to watch costs?
Old Mill neighbor April 24, 2012 at 05:38 AM
CUT expenses, especially in administration!
Magoo April 24, 2012 at 08:32 PM
Besides all the money being spent last year, this year etc on consultants to poll the voters, the election can cost up to $10 per REGISTERED voter in the school district.
Magoo April 26, 2012 at 10:21 PM
Yes Citizen. I've seen that firrst hand. A neighbor moves out, rents to a family. Parents send their kids to Mill Valley schools. The owner's house has an assessed value of 80,000, outrageous!! And the owner still claims not only the homeowners exemption but the exemption from all school parcel taxes! (which you can't due if the property is no longer your primary residence).

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