REPLACEMENT PARCEL TAX HEADED TO JUNE BALLOT
Alameda’s Board of Education voted 4-1 Monday evening to ask voters to replace the school district’s existing parcel taxes with a new one that would generate twice as much money. The tax, which would last for eight years, will be on a mail-only ballot due in by June 22.
“This parcel tax is basically filling a hole we know is happening as we speak,” Trustee Tracy Jensen said. “It’s so important for the community to have good schools and teachers and excellent programs. This is the only way we can do it right now.”
The district will ask voters to approve a $659 annual tax for owners of single family homes, condominiums and multi-unit buildings with two, three or four units. Owners of commercial or industrial property or multi-unit buildings with five units or more would pay a tax of 13 cents per square foot, with a cap of $9,500.
The money would help the district close a multi-million dollar deficit created by growing state funding cuts and advance its new five-year master plan for Alameda’s schools, which seeks to provide new educational options, create more targeted learning for struggling students and enrichment programs for those who are excelling, and maintain neighborhood schools.
Even with the $14 million the tax is expected to generate, district staff said they expect to ask the school board to make $2.5 million in cuts next year. Without it, they expect to ask the board to make $7 million in cuts next year, and additional cuts over the following two years.
Trustee Trish Hererra Spencer, who cast the lone “no” vote, questioned whether the initiative language could contain more specifics about what the money would pay for. Spencer also questioned district staff’s recommendation that the tax be a split roll like Measure H, which business and commercial property owners sued over because the tax was not uniformly applied to everyone.
District General Counsel Danielle Houck said she expects the Alameda County Superior Court judge handling the case to rule on it in the next 30 to 60 days, though she said the judge has already indicated the ruling will be in the district’s favor.
Ed Hirshberg, a local property owner and plaintiff in one of the two Measure H suits, said the tax is “neither fair or uniform.” Hirshberg said that under the tax his firm would pay 13 cents a square foot on a property it owns on Oak Street, but just 7.3 cents a square foot on another property it owns on Harbor Bay. And he said he thinks it’s unfair that someone who owns a small condominium would pay the same amount as the owner of a five-bedroom home.
Hirshberg said he wanted to the board to consider putting a uniform tax of four cents per square foot of lot size on the ballot instead. “This is a tax that most of Alameda can get behind and support,” Hirshberg said.
But board members and district staff said that none of the tax structures that had been under consideration is entirely fair to everyone. And they said that if this tax is passed, businesses and commercial property owners would pay less money and their share of the total tax burden would be about half of what it is now.
Leaders of three of Alameda’s charter schools and some parents at the schools said they support the parcel tax and they’re grateful it includes language allowing local charter schools to receive funding. But some asked whether the district could include more specific language in the initiative laying out how much money charters would be entitled to get.
But Jensen and board Vice President Mike McMahon said that state and federal funding – which make up 90 percent of the district’s budget – are so unstable right now, and the rules regarding how the money can be spent changing so frequently, that they were reluctant to make the language to be contained in the initiative more specific.
The purposes of the funding, according to ballot language approved by the board, include keeping teachers, supporting small class sizes, maintaining core instructional programs, supporting computers and classroom technology, maintaining school media centers and libraries, supporting Advanced Placement and career programs, supporting charter schools and supporting music, arts and athletics.
If approved by voters, the tax would replace existing Measure A and Measure H taxes, which are set to sunset in 2012. Measure A is $189 per parcel, while Measure H charges homeowners $120 per parcel and commercial property owners 15 cents a square foot, with a $9,500 cap.
Business and property owners filed two suits to invalidate Measure H. The plaintiff in one of the suits, yacht merchant John Beery, entered into a settlement agreement with the district that led to the creation of a parcel tax advisory group that laid out recommendations for the structure of the new tax. That group voted, 8-3, to maintain the split roll, though they also said commercial property owners should pay a smaller share of the tax burden.
Seniors and disabled people would be exempt from the tax. And the district would set up a citizen oversight group to keep track of how the money is spent.
The vote came on the same day that the district notified dozens of teachers that they could be laid off.
The board resolution and ballot language is below.