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School District Supporters Ramp Up Campaign

As district officials hone in on a strategy to pass a new parcel tax, parents take their case for long-term activism to the community with a series of town halls at each of the six schools, starting today at Strawberry Point and Park schools.

The ’s projected $1.5 million budget deficit for 2012-2013 is the product of a potent cocktail of booming enrollment, stagnant revenue that doesn’t increase with enrollment and ongoing state cuts in local public education funding, according to district officials.

With one daughter in kindergarten at and another heading there next year as part of the largest kindergarten class ever in Mill Valley, local resident Michael Bornstein sits in the crosshairs of that budget deficit.

“Public education is a community decision but it’s the parents and the people directly involved in the school community who have the most at stake, especially anybody with a kid in kindergarten right now,” said Bornstein, whose family moved here from San Francisco about 18 months ago.

As school district officials contemplate a multi-pronged strategy to tackle the deficit, Bornstein is doing his part. He’s teamed with Mill Valley PTA Council Co-President Mari Allen to create an organization called School Advocates, which seeks to inform and educate parents and the larger voting community about the district’s growing financial need.

The group, which is funded by a political organizing group Bornstein works for called Evolve, is kicking its campaign into high gear this month with a series of seven community meetings – one at each school and a second one at Edna Maguire. The first two are Friday at 9 a.m. at and schools – see below for dates and times for the rest.

The effort is just one cog in a strategy district officials have called “shared solutions.” That includes increased financial support from the PTA and , ongoing negotiations with teachers and district staff over possible cost savings and a . At its annual retreat last month, the school board discussed details of the parcel tax effort, including the difficulties presented by the school starting later than usual because of summer construction at and schools. The 2012-2013 school year starts Sept. 10, less than two months before the Nov. 6 election.

With summer vacation lasting longer than usual, the parcel tax campaign must be ready to go full speed right away, Trustee Steve Sell said.

“We’ve made progress on pulling all these levers,” said Sell, who has been one of the leaders of past parcel tax campaigns. “The awareness within the school community is really elevated. But we have to have it all dialed in before school comes back.”

The district is working with political consultants Barnes Mosher Whitehurst Lauter and Partners, who are polling voters this month on palatable amounts, duration and the language of a parcel tax measure. The parcel tax first passed in 2004 and was raised and extended via Measure A in November 2008.

The current tax is $696 per parcel and is slated to grow by 5 percent each year until 2017-2018. It is currently the second highest in all of Marin County to Kentfield at $812 per parcel. The district would yield approximately $1 million for every $100 it adds per parcel to the tax, district officials have estimated.

The campaign needs at least 66 percent support to pass. That’s a tall order in a down economy and in a district in which 82 percent of voters don’t have students in local public schools, district official said.

Bornstein is in a unique position to help. He served as the head of the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the Sierra Club for 10 years, was the executive director of the San Francisco Democratic Party for five years and now runs Democratic Direct, his own political organizing firm, which recently ran a membership drive for the Bay Citizen, the nonprofit online news organization founded by the late Warren Hellman.

School Advocates intends to use the meetings to identify parents at each school, and eventually within each grade and individual classroom, to lead outreach efforts. Allen said that once people are identified, the outreach will begin at a grassroots level.

“People are more likely to respond to a friend or someone they know,” she said. “We hope to get people to sit down and talk instead of just directing them to a website.”

The message is quite simple, she said. Mill Valley has long had a well-regarded school district and a high quality education here is expected. But the current financial outlook threatens that if parents aren’t vigilant.

“Because it’s so good, people have become complacent,” Allen said. “There is a budget crisis, and it will take everybody to address it, and not just the people with children in the schools. This is the state of our state now and this is the cost of public education.”

Bornstein and Allen insist that while their organization certainly intends to support the parcel tax campaign, their effort is a long-term one.

They’re off to a good start. Despite a quiet launch at the end of 2011, the group’s two budget forums on Jan. 25 drew nearly 100 attendees, and their email list has ballooned to a few hundred people.

“We don’t have to take people very far,” Bornstein said, noting strong community support at the polls in the past. “The main point now is that not everyone fully understands the urgency of the need.”

Here are the School Advocates' meetings coming up:

Strawberry: Friday, March 2 at 9 a.m., Multi-Purpose Room (RSVP)
Park: Friday, March 2, 9 a.m., Library (RSVP)
Edna Maguire: Monday, March 5, 8:45 a.m., Multi-Purpose Room (RSVP)
Edna Maguire: Monday, March 5, 6:30 p.m., Multi-Purpose Room (RSVP)
Old Mill: Wednesday, March 7, 9 a.m., Room 8 (RSVP)
Tam Valley: Monday, March 12, 8:45 a.m., Library (RSVP)
Middle School: Sunday, March 18, 2:05 p.m., Library (RSVP)

HEAR US : Homestead March 02, 2012 at 08:55 PM
Would this new tax affect Mill Valley city limits - or all of 94941 zip code, which includes unincorporated areas?
Magoo March 03, 2012 at 05:02 PM
Oh yes, The Mill Valley School District is much larger than just within the City limits. Homestead Valley, Tam Valley, and the Strawberry area are all included.
Magoo March 03, 2012 at 05:07 PM
Shall we get things straight. The current parcel tax for the 2012-2013 fiscall year is $731.38 compounding 5% annually. School parcel taxes are also not deductible (real estate taxes) on your tax returns as stated by the Franchise Tax Board's website.
Magoo March 03, 2012 at 05:12 PM
Opps. The 731.38 is for 2011-2012. It will be 767.95 for 20112-2013.

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