Marin County taxpayers contribute enough school-allocated property tax to fully fund every school in the county (including community colleges) to the state's per-pupil target. Yet $50,000,000 is taken away from schools in the low-property wealth areas to meet the State's obligations.
Districts that collect directly-allocated property taxes just above the state's per-pupil target keep every penny to educate their children: Dixie, Kentfield, Reed Union, Ross, San Rafael High, Sausalito, Tamalpais High and Shoreline are among them, plus the Marin Community College District.
In contrast, districts that collect below the state's per-pupil target no longer have access to the $15 million county-wide property tax Educational Revenue Augmentation Fund, and also forfeit an additional $34 million of their directly-allocated property taxes. $17 million has been taken from Novato Unified. $10 million from San Rafael City Elementary. $5 million from Ross Valley Elementary.
In good years, they've gotten it back in State Aid. In bad years, they haven''t. Novato Unified saw deferrals of $9.5 million in 2012. San Rafael City saw $4.6 million deferred. Ross Valley had $2 million deferred. Why are children in Marin County paying for the state's political decisions? Is it because burying these expenses allows it to appear that the State is paying for "education" rather than "unaffordable fiscal decisions" -- and to pretend that your property tax is going to your schools?
Why doesn't anyone know? Well, the state doesn't show the VLF backfill or Economic Recovery Bond costs in its financial charts. And neither does Marin County. In fact, the Marin County finance department has an odd way of telling the truth without actually disclosing where Marin tax dollars are going. Glancing at its website, one might be excused for thinking that 67.8% of Marin's property taxes were going for education. In fact, just 37.7% actually gets there.
Let's begin with the chart called "Where Your Property Tax Dollars Go:"
From this, you would assume that 42.7% of Marin County's property taxes go to its schools, and 25.1% to ERAF, its Educational Revenue Augmentation Fund. Now, in the notes below the chart, Marin admits that only 5% of the total actually goes to the Educational Revenue Augmentation Fund -- the other 20.1% gets wrapped back into the cities, county and special districts.
The website goes on to state that ERAF "... is a mechanism ... to shift local tax revenues from cities, counties, and special districts to a state controlled Education Revenue Augmentation Fund. The state uses this fund to reduce their obligation to the schools. ERAF funds have been used by the State to help school and community college districts meet minimum funding requirements."
Well, yes, but the majority went back to cities and counties. And, interestingly the remaining tax revenues went to schools in Marin County until 2004 -- in fact, they formerly went to top-up the low property-wealth school districts with reliable, stable property taxes. But then cities and counties protected their revenue -- and school property tax revenue got diverted.
At this point, instead of wandering through a maze, let's reconstruct Marin from the ground up.
In 2011-12 the 1% General Property Tax Levy in Marin was $561.5 million. From the California Department of Education's Ed-Data website, property tax dollars actually reaching Marin K-12 school districts were $182.5 million while the Chancellor of the Community Colleges shows property taxes reaching the Marin Community College District were $29.0 million. We therefore have Marin property taxes reaching schools of $211.5 million. $211.5/561.5 = 37.7% of Marin County property taxes actually go to fund Marin County's schools and community colleges.
Gosh, this is a lot of work!
To close the reconciliation loop, of the 67.8% shown as going to education, 20.1% should be folded into cities, counties and special districts, 8.8% should be shown as servicing state obligations, and 37.7% as going to schools. (This leaves 1.2% between the reporting cracks. Best we could do.)
Now, ask yourself: why don't we provide ALL school property taxes in Marin County the protection that city, county, and special district taxes got in 2004? In a State that consistently ranks in the bottom 10 in the nation, why are any school property taxes subject to State diversion? No.
But wait, there's more! In Marin County's 2011-12 Tax Rate Book, we find this graphic. Goodness know what's in it, since it includes all Voter Indebtedness (primarily school improvement bonds).
In Marin County, a total of $49,218,489 was taken out of school-allocated property taxes to pay State obligations in 2010-2011. $37,939,801 was redirected to satisfy the State's VLF backfill obligation. $11,278,688 was redirected to pay for the State's 2004 Economic Recovery Bonds.
Source: State Controller's Office, Local Government Reporting Section. (City and county detail shown in the reports, totals upon request from the SCO.)