School board okays master plan
The Board of Education has okayed a five-year master plan for Alameda’s public schools that seeks to create more specialized educational options while maintaining neighborhood elementary schools. The plan also calls for increased class sizes and more off-Island students.
The plan is predicated on securing philanthropic funding and on voter approval of a parcel tax that would bring the district $14 million a year. The board is slated to vote in March on whether to put a tax on the ballot, and they said they’ll consider a vote-by-mail election set for June 22.
Without the money, the board would consider closing schools in 2011-12 and cutting programs to balance their budget, the plan says.
The board voted 4-1 to approve the plan, with Trustee Trish Hererra Spencer casting the lone “no” vote. Spencer said she thought the district should consider consolidating schools in order to maintain small class sizes, and she questioned a plan to create a new magnet school because it costs more than a regular public school.
But her fellow board members and Superintendent Kirsten Vital said that closing schools would force the district to increase class sizes and that it wouldn’t save the district that much money. And Interim Chief Financial Officer Robert Shemwell reeled off a list of Alameda County school district, most of which are increasing class sizes.
The plan seeks to broaden school choice in part by creating a magnet school and setting up a series of academies at Encinal High School. A request for proposals for a magnet could go out in March.
Parents came to the meeting to ask the board to reconsider the proposal to increase class sizes in kindergarten through third grade from 20 students per teacher to 25. They said the small classes are more beneficial for the district’s youngest charges. Spencer said 400 parents with students at Bay Farm and Amelia Earhart elementary schools had signed petitions to ask the board to maintain the smaller class sizes.
Other parents turned out to ask that Encinal High School stay open even if a parcel tax is not passed. Closure of Encinal is not laid out in the plan, but parents and students fear it will be closed since it is the smaller of the Island’s two mainstream public high schools.
Still other parents turned out to urge the board to unanimously support the new parcel tax, which would replace the district’s existing but soon-to-sunset taxes. The board is considering a split roll tax that would charge homeowners $659 a year and commercial property owners 13 cents per square foot of lot up to $9,500 for each of the next eight years.
A new group, A Plus, will work to get the parcel tax passed.