Parcel tax would fight off Millbrae school district cuts

Residents in Millbrae will decide in the next two weeks whether they want to pay approximately $100 annually to help save a school district that has seen 12 percent of its budget slashed in the last five years.

The Millbrae Elementary School District — which cut $1.8 million from its budget since 2003, resulting in layoffs of part-time positions such as teacher aides — is asking residents to voice their opinions on the potential tax during hearings on Wednesday and March 5. At the end of the March meeting, the board will vote on whether to place the tax on the June 3 ballot.

“We really need to hear the pros and cons and what peoples’ concerns are,” board trustee Frank Barbaro said.

If the tax does not pass, it is possible that further cuts would be made that would affect the district’s student-to-teacher ratios, Barbaro said. And with statewide education budget cuts looming after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced a $14.5 billion state deficit, the district expects its financial outlook to worsen.

The tax would be $78, $99 or $119 and would be paid annually by each parcel owner in the district for five years, with seniors exempt from paying, said Superintendent Shirley Martin. Prior to the second meeting, the district will recommend the highest dollar value they believe voters will approve. Depending on which increment is chosen, the district would earn $751,604, $625,284 or $492,648 annually, she said.

Passing the tax would not be easy, however. The district and its board have been in favor of a parcel tax after a $78 per parcel tax narrowly failed in May 2007 after failing to garner two-thirds of the voters’ approval. In May, 64.4 percent of the 4,261 voters approved the measure. Just 16 percent of the district’s voters are parents.

Patty Koel’s children have felt the effect of the budget cuts firsthand. Her two children attend Spring Valley Elementary, where part-time positions such as library technicians, evening custodians and other instructional aides have been cut.

“In the long run there is a strain on the teachers,” said Koel, part of the Friends of Excellent Millbrae Schools, a group advocating for the tax.

To help get the ball rolling, Koel’s group will host walkathons at each of the district’s five schools this morning. The group hopes to raise $30,000 to $35,000, with proceeds going toward a potential campaign to pass the tax.

The community meeting Wednesday will be held at City Hall at 6 p.m.

mrosenberg@examiner.com

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