Mountain View Voice

News - February 11, 2011

City gives up $13.6 million for local schools

Parents called for city to free up property tax revenue collected by Shoreline Community

by Daniel DeBolt

The City Council pleased the parents who packed the council chambers on Tuesday by supporting a proposal that will give $13.6 million in Shoreline property tax revenue to the city's schools over three years.

The council's support was unanimous for the proposal, with Tom Means absent. The meeting was a study session, which means that formal decision will be made later. But parents, the large majority of whom supported the deal in a show of hands, were elated after the meeting.

The deal, which provides funding based on complicated formula involving property values, will provide an estimated $8.2 million over three fiscal years to the Mountain View Whisman District, said finance director Patty Kong. That improves on a previous deal which gave the elementary school district $450,000 a year from the Shoreline Community tax district. Similarly, the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District will receive an estimated $5.4 million over three years, replacing its previous $450,000 in annual Shoreline funding.

The payments would begin before July with a payment of $2.3 million for Mountain View Whisman and a payment of $1.6 million to the high school district. The Mountain View Whisman district would then receive $3 million annually in the 2011-10 and 2012-13 fiscal years, while high school district would receive $1.9 million annually.

The deal provides less than the $5.9 million a year the cash-strapped MVWSD would receive if the Shoreline Community were to go away, which is what some parents would like to see. The Shoreline Community is a special tax district established in 1969 that has paid for the creation and maintenance of Shoreline Park and the surrounding business district. It uses nearly all of the property taxes from companies there, including Google and Microsoft, that would otherwise be shared with schools.

A group of parents had been organizing the "Share Shoreline" campaign since last March when Mountain View Whisman officials told the Voice that it could benefit from a share of Shoreline taxes because it had been classified as a basic aid district by the state, making it dependent on local property tax revenue. Previously, the district received per-pupil funding from the state.

Parents thanked the city and local businesses for all the help they've given schools so far, and some even praised the city for being cautious with the deal. Jim Pollart, who spoke for a group of parents who organized themselves around the issue, encouraged speakers on the topic "to model good behavior" in the face of a potentially tense situation. Following his suggestion, parents stopped speaking after 30 minutes so everyone could hear the City Council's comments.

Some parents told some sad stories. One man said his daughter's teacher at Huff School had asked every child to bring in paper towels because the school could not afford them.

All of the "good behavior" angered one man, however, who said his child at Landels Elementary school had no place to eat his lunch when it was raining outside, since an awning that was put up "blew away." He said he had a "math problem" and couldn't understand why Mountain View Whisman's spending per student was so low given the high land values and high incomes of Mountain View residents. He noted that a parent had thanked Google, Microsoft and Synopsis for recently donating $70,000 to schools and called the situation "ridiculous."

"When we can't have music once a week without begging some company for the money, there's a problem," he said.

City officials tried to strike a balance between defending the tax district and expressing support for local schools.

"We have to make sure Shoreline stays competitive," with other cities in attracting businesses, said council member Ronit Bryant. She also expressed sympathy with parents' frustrations about school funding, as she was once an active parent in Mountain View schools.

City manager Kevin Duggan said he realized that the schools faced unprecedented challenges over the next few years because of waning property tax values and problems with state funding.

City officials pointed out numerous accomplishments of the Shoreline Community, which turned the area north of Highway 101 from the site of the a junkyard and pig farms into a 500-acre regional park and the headquarters of Google.

"It wasn't that the city set out to take the school's money, there was no money," said Mayor Jac Siegel. He concluded that he was proud of the deal. "This is government at its best," he said.

Some parents gasped when finance director Patty Kong said that the Shoreline Community has run balances ranging between $8 million and $40 million. Revenues are declining and this year Shoreline is projected to bring in $24.8 million in property taxes with $18.7 million in ongoing expenses.

There is hesitance by the city to give schools more of the money because of unknown future costs having to do with the Bay level rising and flooding the nearby creeks, as well as costly transportation needs as Shoreline develops. They also said they did not know how much it would cost to deal with a major emergency related to the 461-acre Shoreline landfill, which closed in 1994. It could dump pollution into the Bay or require the complete reconstruction of its underground methane gas collection system after a major earthquake, city officials say.

The deal will mean that the city would not be able to afford all of the things it wants for Shoreline, but it is too early to tell exactly what projects could be affected. Among the projects in the works are new soccer and baseball fields on Garcia Avenue as well as extensions of the Permanente and Sevens Creek trails.

The council favored the deal over another option that would have provided the city's schools $4.5 million less over the three years. The council also passed on delaying a new deal for two years to study what the city could afford for a permanent deal.

E-mail Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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