Millbrae residents to vote on flat tax for schools 

With a parcel tax up for approval in a May 8 mail-in ballot, Millbrae Elementary School District officials are now working to educate voters as well as students.

Members of a local committee to approve Measure R, a $78 annual parcel tax measure for the school district, start precinct walking this week, the same time voters should receive their ballots.

The district has not gone to the voters since a failed 1994 parcel tax measure, but officials say they’ve learned from mistakes made more than a decade ago. District Board of Trustees President Caroline Shea, whose first vote as a board member was to approve that election, said that the wording of this measure is much clearer, in her opinion.

Furthermore, parents have sponsored dinners, walk-a-thons, spell-a-thons and silent auctions to bring more money to the district over the years, so they’ve become very familiar with the fiscal challenges the district is facing, said Shea, who is also co-chairwoman of the Measure R committee.

"Parents are just fundraising machines," Shea said. "It

shouldn’t have to be that way and I think everyone is realizing that."

Pollster Jon Kauffman, with San Francisco’s Solem and Associates, said that the amount of information given to the voters can make the difference in voting results. Special elections often attract people who were going to vote for the measure anyway, so attracting people who might not be completely convinced already can be key, Kauffman said.

"The more familiar the voters are with the measure at hand, the better it is," Kauffman said.

Enrollment in the district has been declining since 1997, causing a drop in revenue, according to a report by the district’s fiscal advisory committee. That, coupled with $1.8 million in budget cuts since 2003, has made finding new sources of revenue a high priority, according to Superintendent Karen Philip.

Now that the $20.1 million sale of the former Millbrae School site has gone through — and plans are afoot to develop the property into homes — the district is looking to the parcel tax, which must be approved by two-thirds of voters, to beef up its coffers.

If passed by Millbrae voters, the parcel tax, which would increase property taxes by $78 per year for each property owner in the city, would bring an additional $492,648 to the district annually. There will be a senior exemption available for residents 65 and older.

A parcel tax, which levies a flat tax on every property owner in the area in question, is often used by school districts as an ongoing revenue source to fund anything from teacher salaries to supplies and special programs.

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