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.