Parking drives raise vital cash for ailing schools 

As schools across the state struggle with finances, you would think that cities would avidly support their attempts to raise funds — particularly at any events put on by parents. At times, though, city bureaucracy can get in the way.

In San Francisco, some astute parents found a way to make money for their schools by using school parking lots.

For instance, last October, during the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, PTA groups opened up school lots for festival-goers, charging up to $25 per spot in lots conveniently located within walking distance of Golden Gate Park. One such event can net a school as much as $5,000 in one day. The idea makes sense — raising money for schools while simultaneously supplying a service for which there is a demand.

The hiccup in the plan emerged when the tax collector showed up to ask for The City’s cut — a 25 percent tax on parking. The fee is levied on every user at parking lots across San Francisco. While the user is the one taxed, the operator, in this case the PTA, is required to pass the money along to The City for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which operates Muni and oversees ground transportation here.

A spokesman for the Treasurer and Tax Collector’s Office told The San Francisco Examiner at the time that the office employed several inspectors to make sure the tax was collected from everyone for the sake of fairness. But while collecting the same tax from all commercial ventures makes sense, doing so from nonprofits does not.

Luckily, city officials feel the same way. In April, Supervisor Eric Mar, whose district borders Golden Gate Park to the north, introduced legislation that would allow the San Francisco Police Department to issue up to 150 waivers each year to nonprofit groups running parking fundraisers in school lots, such as the one last year that started the dustup. Mar’s ordinance has the backing of Mayor Ed Lee, City Treasurer Jose Cisneros and the San Francisco Parent Teacher Association.

The ordinance should go before the Board of Supervisors for approval today, and the timing is crucial for approval.

Peak festival season in The City is just about upon us, with the Outside Lands festival approaching in mid-August and the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival following in October. And even away from Golden Gate Park, at events such as Fleet Week on the northern waterfront, PTA groups will be able to provide parking services for much-needed income.

San Francisco already receives $600 per year less for each student than it did five years ago. The budget approved by the Board of Education in June is a stopgap that drew on $6 million from The City’s rainy day fund to offset cuts.

And if voters in California reject a tax proposal by Gov. Jerry Brown on the November ballot, the school district stands to lose $23 million in the middle of its budget year.

Since the real budgetary problems for primary education involve several players and big policy shifts, charging $25 for a parking spot won’t make up for the lack of federal and state funding. But at the grass-roots level, San Francisco officials can do their part to get rid of this roadblock and let parents raise money by parking cars a few days each year.

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