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School Board Weighs Timing, Price Tag for Parcel Tax Ballot Measure

Research firm presents results from a phone survey of local voters, indicating solid support for helping the school district but some underlying concerns.

As the to voters for an on the Nov. 8 ballot, the is formulating its own game plan to , hoping to address a .

In doing so, the school board must determine when to seek a new parcel tax and exactly how much to try to tack onto the existing $693 tax per parcel. Parcel taxes are separate from the Measure C bond voters approved in 2009, as parcel taxes pay for educatinal programs, while the bond pays for modernizations of the school buildings themselves.

To get a sense of potential voter support for a new parcel tax, the district sought polling data from EMC Research in Oakland.

The firm conducted a phone survey in late September, interviewing 400 district residents about a wide range of issues and scenarios related to the parcel tax and school funding in general.

According to EMC President Alex Evans, the survey determined that while support for a new parcel tax is high – 64 percent of those polled said they would vote yes on a measure to add $180 to the current parcel tax, which expires in 2018 – it wasn’t high enough to meet the two-thirds (66 percent) threshold to pass a tax measure in California. Voters remain highly supportive of the district and its teachers as a whole.

Evans said the district should consider tweaks to the measure, possibly by reducing the amount sought to around $120. District officials estimated that every $100 in addition parcel tax generated around $1 million in revenue.

Evans blamed the poor economic climate for the lower-than-needed support, citing the fact that while 82 percent of those surveyed think schools are important enough to raise taxes, 45 percent said that now is not the time to do so.

“Getting to two-thirds [approval], while a challenge, is achievable with a right-sized measure,” he said.

Evans also recommended targeting the November election because it would feature high turnout because of the presidential election as well as a crowded ballot  - even moreso after Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill last week restricting statewide ballot initiatives to November elections.

“In a March special election, your primary concern would be stimulating turnout,” Evans said. “But in November, it’s more about persuasion and also about the non-parents.”

Evans stressed the latter point, as current Mill Valley School District parents account for a mere 20 percent of the voters within the district. The survey concluded that approximately 20 percent of district residents were “swing voters” who will get most of the attention from a campaign to pass a new tax. Of that 20 percent. 60 percent aren’t parents, and 67 percent of them are over 50 years of age.

Evans acknowledged that waiting until the November 2012 election would delay the arrival of the much-needed funds the parcel tax would generate until the 2013-2014 fiscal year. He suggested the district could make up for the delay, which would force the district to eat into its reserve, by seeking the full $180 additional tax.

Trustee Steve Sell, one of the leaders of previous parcel tax efforts, said he was comfortable with that course.

“We know how to run the campaign that we would need to run in November,” Sell said.

District Superintendent Paul Johnson suggested holding off on any decision until the Nov. 8 Tam Union parcel tax election, as that district could decide to go right back to voters with another ballot measure in March or June if it fails.

“And if it does really well, that might influence the [Mill Valley] board possibly deciding to go for the March election,” he said.

Michael Bornstein, a Park School parent a former executive director of the San Francisco Democratic Party, urged the district to kick its efforts into high gear.

“We’re putting the cart before the horse here in how we’re using the polling because we haven’t done our community outreach yet,” he said.

While the state budget situation and its impact on local school district remains a complicated stew, the Mill Valley district’s financial situation and its drivers are fairly clear. Property taxes, which account for the lion’s share of the district’s revenue, are stagnant due to depressed home prices. Enrollment, which increases the number of teachers and staff the district employs – staffing accounts for 87 percent the district expenses – is booming, adding 727 students since 2004-2005 and projected to keep rising.

“Simply, put, our enrollment is outstripping our property taxes,” Superintendent Paul Johnson said.

The district is hosting a budget forum for parents on Nov. 2 at 7 p.m. at Mill Valley Middle School.

Marie Porti October 17, 2011 at 04:05 PM
So many of us have had a reduction in income yet so many price increases for basic needs. How much further can we stretch ourselves without having to leave the community?
Magoo October 17, 2011 at 09:08 PM
The school board tell us how they do their best to keep their expenditures down while enrollment has steadily increased. Did they publicize that they voted to let the residents of some newer housing developments send their children to Mill Valley District schools although their houses are clearly in a DIFFERENT school district? And that these house pay only the MVSD parcel tax. They don't contribute to paying for all the MVSD school bond issues, and the other property taxes they do pay go to the benefit of some other school district. Such betrayal.
russellcraig October 18, 2011 at 01:27 AM
$731.38 for the MV School District--this is currently the highest additional tax amount listed on my property bill PLUS another $450 in bond payments. $1131.38 (a full 17% of my entire tax bill) seems a very adequate and generous contribution towards our schools. I'm all for taxation for the betterment of our town: sewers, library, schools. But it seems the MV School District has an insatiable appetite: just when I think the last increase was the LAST increase up comes a vote for yet ANOTHER increase. At what point can we say enough is enough? I say now. Enough.
Ray Cook October 18, 2011 at 04:29 AM
Tax money for schools is one thing - but this isn't about money. It's about MORE money - 3% MORE every year. Perpetual Growth - built in and guaranteed! Which is something my oncologist tells me is raising Cain with some of my organs. Does an ailing economy really need this kind of stress?
Really October 20, 2011 at 09:00 PM
russellmv - as the state takes away, who should fill the hole? it is not to add more, it is to keep the same. They ask the parents to donate over $1000 each for their students. You benifit from higher property value because of the good schools. is another $200 from you too much really? Once you lose $100K in home value you may rethink that
Really October 20, 2011 at 09:01 PM
wrong as usual
russellcraig October 21, 2011 at 12:06 AM
Really: To answer your question: Yes, another $200 from me on top of the current $1131.38 is too much, really (the question itself is indicative of the problem). And if the past few years are any indication you will be asking the very same question in the next year or two in the midst of yet another push for a parcel tax increase. And this mantra of higher property values? I'm very happy with the value of my property as is; I have no intention of selling, no intention of moving. The higher property value argument in this case is overused and irrelevant. This notion that Mill Valley schools are in danger of decline seems ridiculous when viewed from outside Mill Valley's inherently privileged perimeter. How about this: propose a new parcel tax that would greatly benefit a school district OUTSIDE of Mill Valley that is TRULY suffering, one that doesn't have a built-in base of wealth for support. That is a parcel tax I would support---one that would promote an educational equality across a broader spectrum.
Magoo October 21, 2011 at 06:43 PM
Well Really, I guess you are not an attorney as you don't supply any documentation to support your position, or is it that you can't handle the truth. I already posted my references under the Patch article "School District Plots Parcel Tax Hike Possibilities". You have internet access, and these references are public information so check it out.

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