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School District Cuts Parking Contract with Mt. Tam United Methodist Church

In an anonymous letter to Patch, a parent questioned why the church can't allow school staff to use the parking lot for free. Church Pastor Kim Smith says they need the spots but are trying to be a good neighbor.

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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Citizen2 October 02, 2012 at 01:42 PM
Mea culpa - I wrote a note on the leaflet left on my car and dropped it in the office. There were no "angry words" expressed and no discussion, just "This is for you". I didn't write another letter, so just to be clear, the "anonymous letter" isn't from me. I did talk to others in the lot who were just as surprised, though. By the way - That parking lot was empty that entire day.
Janis Bosenko October 02, 2012 at 02:12 PM
Another sense of "entitlement". I'm for separation of church and State in this case too. The Church is not under any obligation to provide parking for the school. I hope they aren't bullied into it. I live near Edna Maguire. The construction is making an already bad parking situation worse. Cars are parked all along the west end of Shell Road all day. I don't know if it teachers or construction workers, but it is bad. A repairman coming to my house could not find a place to park. My driveway has been blocked a few times too.
DisgruntledinMill Valley October 02, 2012 at 02:51 PM
I live on Lomita and have lost all street parking to the construction workers. They have been instructed to park on the street by the school district. The workers are apologetic, one even telling me "I know it sucks for you..." School district needs money maybe they should collect taxes from Marin Day which is owned by Bain Capital and is operating as a non profit so they don't have to pay taxes. Pretty sneaky. They charge more than for profit centers and provide less benefits to their teaching staff.
Amyland October 02, 2012 at 03:13 PM
Janis - I also smell the entitlement in this story. Bullying? Let's hope not. But it would do us all well to remember we live in a CITY. . .not even a semi-rural town. An elementary school needs expanding and it is a temporary hardship for the Edna neighborhood. I live near Strawberry Point school and I deal with a potentially blocked driveway every day. I am not trying to minimize the effects of workers descending upon a neighborhood BUT time passes and the school work will finish. This is my kids' 1st year at MVMS and I marvel at how they've managed to accommodate all these students--but clearly there are imperfections in the system. With all the emphasis on bike and walk to school, maybe some of the parents can break their car reliance in this SMALL city and bike to their budget meeting next time.
Cindy Ash October 02, 2012 at 04:41 PM
My kids have attended a preschool on the MTUMC premises for several years. I have been threatened with towing in person by a church staff member and also cussed at in person by a district employee when using the lot for the 10-15 minutes it takes to drop off or pick up my children, more than once. We pay a lot of money to attend there and until this year, when the loss of the contract freed up space, safe access for our small children was not a priority for anyone. My elementary school does not provide additional lot spaces for parents, why should the middle school?
LR October 02, 2012 at 10:19 PM
Mill Valley is a small town that is filled with entitlement. The church is generous in giving up spaces that they own and are entitled to, to MVMS parents for many events. The church has no obligation to give out their spaces for free and where do you get the right to come and take up their space without asking or considering what they might need their own parking spaces for?? Try living in a real city with real problems, like Berkeley or Oakland. People there don't get their $500 panties in a bunch over a simple note asking them to not park on private propetry,
jenhendr October 03, 2012 at 01:45 AM
If the church doesn't need the money, and I presume they just gave up on the $6500, then I don't understand why they cannot lend the spaces and put up cones when there is an event....it doesn't need to be so "this way" or "that way"....middle ground is not far off.

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