School Board Backs $196 Parcel Tax for Nov. 6 Election

Faced with stagnant property tax revenue, booming enrollment and funding “take backs” from the state, district moves ahead with campaign to add to existing $731 parcel tax.

There might be nearly six months and a June primary election between now and the Nov. 6 general election, but officials and parents are ready to persuade voters to approve a $196 parcel tax on that ballot.

The school district board unanimously approved a resolution (attached at right) Wednesday both supporting and justifying the tax proposal as well as the language (also at right) that will go on the ballot. The additional $196 parcel tax would generate approxmately $1.9 million annually for the district.

“And a new adventure begins,” district Superintendent Paul Johnson said after the board approved the resolution.

The board’s action would normally be ahead of schedule for a November ballot, but because of the at five of the district’s six schools, the 2012-2013 school year begins on Sept. 10, a week later than usual and just three weeks before absentee ballots for the Nov. 6 election go out.

The ballot measure, which will need two-thirds support to pass, seeks a $196 parcel tax on top of the existing $731 per parcel tax. The parcel tax was first passed in 2004 and raised and extended via Measure A in November 2008. The new tax would begin in July 2013 and run through 2020. Seniors are exempt.

In moving ahead with a parcel tax campaign, officials cite a number of factors that have sent the historically fiscally sound district - Mill Valley is one of 68 school districts in the U.S. with an AAA bond rating from Standard & Poor's - careening into budget deficits. The district has a nearly $1.4 million deficit this year and it is expected to grow to more than $1.5 million for each of the next two years.

Those factors include a that has the district set to welcome more than 400 new kindergarten students, its largest ever, in the fall. Rising enrollment drives up costs as the district expects to hire at least 7 new teachers next year to accommodate the growth. As a basic aid district, Mill Valley does not receive additional funding per-student as its enrollment grows.

Meanwhile, property tax revenues, which account for 56 percent of the district's annual funding, declined for each of the past three years and have shown 1.5 percent growth this year, according to the Marin County Assessor’s Office.

Lastly, district officials said they’ve been hit by a cumulative $3 million cut from state “take backs” from the $1.3 million the district gets to maintain a 20-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio from kindergarten through third grade. In 2009-2010, the state took $610,000 of those categorical funds back, another $934,000 in 2010-2011 and $1.524 million this year. That reduction of $1.52 million is considered ongoing, meaning that district will have to do without that money for next year and beyond.

That all amounts to a that could stand to get a lot worse, district officials said.

“This measure is a much-needed step to protect our schools from state budget cuts and make up more than $5 million in lost state funding,” said board President Robin Moses. All of the money from this measure will be spent here in our local schools and cannot be taken by the state.”

That point – raising money that the state can’t take away – will be at the center of the parcel tax campaign, which already has a committee filled with parents and local school advocates.

PTA Council Co-President Mari Allen and parent Emily Uhlhorn are serving as co-coordinators for the campaign, with a host of others in the mix, including field director Rufus Jeffris, communications coordinators Kira Keane and Leanne Hansen, among others, as well as treasurer Steve Jaber.

With 82 percent of district voters not having a student in one of the district’s six schools, campaign officials plan to present a united front to voters and show that all school-related groups are doing their part. That effort is bolstered by yet another increased commitment from , this time to $2.7 million and including physical education, as well as a $60 per student commitment from the Mill Valley Council of PTAs for materials and supplies.

In addition, parent Michael Bornstein’s organization, which seeks to create long-term parent involvement in the fiscal health of the district, said he supports the effort and plans to make his nearly 500 members available to serve as “foot soldiers” for the parcel tax effort.

Allen said she expects the parcel tax campaign committee to begin identifying parent leaders at individual schools and ramp up communication before the school year ends on June 15.

Here’s the language that will be on the Nov. 6 ballot for the Mill Valley School District’s parcel tax measure: 

“To replace significant cuts by the State in education funding; protect the quality of local elementary and middle schools and attract and keep highly qualified core academic teachers; shall the Mill Valley School District be authorized to implement a parcel tax of one hundred ninety-six dollars for eight years, requiring annual audit and accountability measures, and with all revenues kept local and used exclusively for Mill Valley elementary and middle schools?”

Susan Cluff May 03, 2012 at 06:43 PM
While public school finances are complicated, this is NOT just a math problem and our district has not always shown prudent financial management or made the best decisions on spending, witness deferred maintenance and redo of K-5 schools which had just been modernized in 1990s and continuing serious needs at MVMS ... That said, the popularity and programs in MV schools is a credit to our whole community, and financing them a shared problem, so there needs more public discussion before going to the well again. I am also curious to hear about the latest contract negotiations. I believe MVSD still has one of shortest school calendars and teaching days/minutes in California, that needs to be put on the table as well.
Debbie G. May 03, 2012 at 09:55 PM
Please check out the District Web Site. We have been cutting expenses non-stop over the last 5 years with all of the State and Federal funding cuts; in addition the recession killed our property tax funding; the District has grown from 2300 Students to over 3100 students with no additional funds. There are 30 students in a class from 3rd to 8th grade! The parent, business and community donations all fund a percentage, but with an over $30mill annual budget all parts of the funding matrix need to be called in to help. This small, additional contribution seems the least the community can continue to support as the amazing schools are a big part of why our town is so special and why everyone wants to live here. Thank you !
Scott May 04, 2012 at 02:16 AM
Please do not call it a "small additional contribution" it's none of that. A 27% increase is not small by any stretch of the imagination and 5% annual increases is well above inflation, even in a healthy economy. And it's not a contribution, it's a confiscation. Tell me, in the "cutting expenses" exercises, how have pensions been affected? And why are seniors exempted, other than to get their votes?
Magoo May 05, 2012 at 02:01 PM
150,000 spent on an election that will not pass according to election consultants..and the money spent on them the last two years.
Proud Teacher May 10, 2012 at 05:37 AM
Being able to tell people that I teach in Mill Valley makes me prouder than you could possibly imagine. I love this district because the families and community overall support the schools not only financially but with time, expertise and other resources. We don't make much money, we knew that going into teaching. However, we work hard, and have not received a raise on the salary schedule in years. In fact we may take a pay cut next year. We have paid more in health care costs. We have made many concessions, and probably will continue to do so. Most of us can't afford to buy a house in the town in which we teach. And yet, we still love teaching in Mill Valley because we feel valued over all and we have wonderful students. For anyone on the fence about voting for the parcel tax, I urge to think of your own children or grandchild, or the children of friends, who deserve nothing less than to continue receiving the well-rounded education that they have been getting in Mill Valley. Or For anyone concerned about where their tax dollars are being "squandered", I invite you to come to any of our many school events and see for yourself that dollars spent on these incredible children are not wasted dollars. Or better yet, volunteer for a day! And for the record, by law Mill Valley schools teach the same amount of days/minutes as every other public school in California.


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