The Mill Valley School District terminated its contract for reserved parking spaces for Mill Valley Middle School staff in the Mt. Tamalpais United Methodist Church lot, and at least one local resident is upset the church won’t continue the service for free.
After attending a morning budget meeting on Sept. 20 and returning to find a note on her car from the church asking her to move, an anonymous woman sent a letter to Mill Valley Patch expressing her anger at the situation.
In the letter, she highlights the rising student enrollment, decreasing revenue, lack of state funding, a “shared sacrifice” district approach that includes teachers accepting furlough days, Kiddo! and PTA’s raising money for programs and supplies, and a $196 parcel tax voters are being asked to approve to help pay for education.
“Imagine my surprise when I went to my car and saw the note from the church,” the letter says. “… Really, how can you cut a teacher’s salary by $4,000, shorten the school year by two days, ask the parents and the community to pay more, and still pay for parking?”
Superintendent Paul Johnson said that last year school staff was asked to identify potential areas to cut in the budget, and one of the ideas was to eliminate the $6,500 annual payment to the church for the reserved staff spaces in the parking lot.
The district approached the church in the spring.
“I requested that we be able to park there without a fee,” Johnson said. “They’re not able to do that at this time.”
Since school started in September, rising enrollment hasn't helped the cramped situation, and the district has been “getting creative,” Johnson said.
“We’re trying to carve out spaces,” he said. “It’s a challenge for us, because of our growth.”
Pastor Kim Smith said the church has a budget too, but is trying to be a good neighbor. Although the spaces are no longer reserved for the district, they allow free parking for a number of school events, like plays and concerts, throughout the year.
There’s also no policy against the public using the lot, which contains between 80 – 100 spaces, Smith said. It’s discouraged, but not prohibited, and she simply asks that people be courteous and not stay there all day, for instance.
It’s a common problem, Smith said, for the lot to look empty, but the public has no idea what will be happening in an hour. Church members often show up for a program but can’t find a spot to park because they’re being occupied by people from the community. But it’s not like the church will tow anyone, Smith said.
“The most you’re going to get is a note on your car,” she said.
In the case of the anonymous parent, the church was preparing for a number of programs and wanted to clear up some room for their members to park.
“It was a very busy day, and we needed the spaces in the lot,” she said.
The church's note was polite, but after finding it the woman approached her, said some angry words and slammed down a letter before she was able to explain, Smith said.
In addition to the financial concerns, the letter accuses church members of taking up space in the school’s lot, and of being “less than generous.”
"What I don't believe is that with a parking lot directly across the street that is practically empty during the day, the church is insisting that the district pay or park elsewhere,” it reads. “It hardly seems neighborly, only selfish. I am in shock that you cannot be more accommodating to the parents and community that the MVSD serves … shame on you.”
“I wish I had been able to talk to her,” Smith said.
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