Home » Columns, Eve Pearlman

Alameda’s school parcel tax: What is unfair?

Submitted by on 1, May 14, 2010 – 5:00 am26 Comments

Photo by Jan Watten

Some opponents of Measure E, the school parcel tax that Alamedans will vote on by mail between May 26 and June 22, complain that the measure is not fair.

Hmm, fair? Is it fair that one child is born into a rich family in a rich country – with access to everything he or she needs – when another is born poor in a poor country, where hunger is a daily reality? Fair that the children in the Liberian town in which my sister-in-law worked recently must survive on one meal a day? That children there cannot go to school unless they can provide a chair, a pencil, a uniform — and also pay tuition – conditions well beyond the reach of most?

“Life is not fair,” my mother always said. “There are no guarantees.”

So much in life, especially for children, who we certainly cannot blame for their circumstances, is horribly unfair. But even though we do live in an unfair world, we scurry on, trying to do the best for ourselves and for others around us. And sometimes in life we must choose between competing forms of unfairness.

Here in Alameda, is it fair that my neighbor who lives in a 750-square-foot bungalow pays the same school parcel taxes as I do on my 2,000-square-foot home? That another Alamedan who owns a 6,500-square-foot home, updated and refurbished and valued in the millions, pays the same per parcel? Maybe not. Will every single taxpayer, be they residential or commercial, pay the exact most appropriate levy? Not a chance.

But California law severely limits the ways in which local communities can raise revenues for schools. School taxes must pass by a two-thirds majority, for example, and parcel taxes cannot be proportional to property value. And although some have proposed it as a solution, it is not legal for communities to charge tuition for public schools.

So, yes, parcel taxes are not supremely fair, but deciding not to fund public schools is a far more grave injustice, far more profound than defects in California tax law and Measure E. Surely we don’t want to emulate the circumstances of the world’s most impoverished countries? Because when we deny children the opportunity to attend quality schools, we destroy the hope of a better future, of a chance to create a better lot for themselves — and we chip away at the American dream of improvement by education that has made our county so great.

Opponents of Measure E have also produced the remarkably imaginative though thoroughly false argument that passing Measure E to fund local schools will hurt students without means. This notion would be laughable, were not cruel. The truth, of course, is that schools that serve more affluent families are able to supplement public funding with donations of time and money. Just look at what Island PTAs already raise, look at how many thousands upon thousands of hours parents already pour into schools. When budgets are cut, it is the schools in which parents don’t have time and money that suffer disproportionately. Measure E will help families without means far more than those in affluent families by assuring that the basics of education are delivered to all.

And remember, Measure E dollars stay in Alameda — the money doesn’t get shipped off to Sacramento or Washington.

In the end, I suspect that every single one of us feels a strong desire to do right by children who cannot and should not be held responsible for the fiscal disaster that is the California into which they were born. And children certainly cannot be held responsible for the way state tax laws are structured.

It is within our power to support our community, to fund our local schools, and do right by the children of Alameda – and that is why I am voting yes on E.

This is Eve Pearlman’s final column for The Island.


  • Lauren Do says:

    Thanks Eve and thanks for encapsulating the reason why I am voting yes on Measure E.

  • G. Cobre says:

    This letter sums up the feelings of a lot of people in Alameda. When the citizen of Alameda have to be afraid of reprisals, if their name is revealed,there is something terribly wrong. Are we not living in a democracy, that allows us to speak freely? It seems this new parcel tax is dividing the community even more, than Measure H did.


  • alameda says:

    Hey Eve … where are you off to? Good luck in the new gig (wherever that might be)!

  • Jen Laird says:

    As someone who is spending dozen of hours each week volunteering for Measure E, I can honestly say my primary motivation is NOT my own children’s education. We’ll be Ok, heartbroken to see this happen, but Ok.

    We’ll have options: moving to a community that financially supports it’s schools and affording a house there, scrapping money together for private school, supplementing our kids’ education in many ways if we stay in a mega-wearhouse-type future Alameda public schools.

    When I hit the streets to knock on doors, pick up the phone to phonebank, write a check to APLUS, I think of the students in my daughters classes who I am pretty sure won’t have the same options as my family. They’ll be stuck in the 35-kindergarteners-to-1 teacher classroom. If Measure E fails, it WILL HURT children– and some much more than others.

  • M. Carey says:

    I believe AUSD and Measure E would receive considerably more support and greater chance of winning, if the lobbying efforts included more focus on:
    1. How Measure E is drafted to clearly resolve the commercial property court challenges faced by its failed predecessor. Nobody wants a repeat of wasted time and money for a legal challenge.
    2. No Measure E funds to be used for Administrative salaries, either new or increased.
    3. Alameda Charter schools receive equal benefit of and access to Measure E funds.
    4. Stop importing out-of-area students into Alameda schools.
    5. Without equivocation, AUSD public declaration posted in schools which declares: “Thank you Alameda for passing Measure E. AUSD solemnly promises to plan and budget responsibly, and never again threaten Alameda citizens and students with revocation of services and programs.”

  • Alamama says:

    Ms. Cobre,

    As an opponent of Measure E, what is your response to the ad “Paid for by the Committee Against Measure E” that insinuates that supporters of Measure E are racists? Does that ad also sum up the feelings of Measure E opponents? Does it sum up your feelings? How about the map in the ad that points out where Measure E supporters live? Does that qualify as an invasion of privacy? If not, perhaps you would be willing to share your address with us. How about the fact that that same map that is in the ad is also available on the linked website and allows you to drill down and see photos of the homes of Measure H supporters? Do you find that to be an acceptable practice? Does that not qualify as an actual reprisal? There is, quite frankly, something terribly wrong when opponents of Measure E resort to such dirty politics when they can’t make their case with the facts.

  • Eve, sorry to see you go! Thanks for expressing my feelings on E so well!

  • M. Carey,

    Good questions, some answers:

    1. How Measure E is drafted to clearly resolve the commercial property court challenges faced by its failed predecessor. Nobody wants a repeat of wasted time and money for a legal challenge.

    Measure E reduces the burden for all commercial property owners. The courts are siding with the District, validating the legality of Measure H, which is similar to parcel taxes throughout the county. No one can stop a person from suing, but it’s that person’s responsibility if they choose to do so.

    2. No Measure E funds to be used for Administrative salaries, either new or increased.

    The measure specifically disallows that use. AUSD has some of the lowest Admin costs in the County and has continued to drop while the county average has gone up.

    3. Alameda Charter schools receive equal benefit of and access to Measure E funds.

    Charter schools are one of the specific uses that Measure E calls out as funding. Plus, charters have a history of using many of AUSD’s non-charter services which will be maintained under Measure E.

    4. Stop importing out-of-area students into Alameda schools.

    State law requires that districts accept the children of people who work, but don’t live, in the district. These and other out-of-district students bring in a lot of money each year. Additional funding that would need to be paid by Alameda residents in order to keep classroom seats empty.

  • Frances says:

    Why do opponents of Measure E keep saying that Measure H has “failed”? Measure H has done nothing but succeed: it succeeded in being supported by 2/3 of the voters; the fact that some selfish people chose to sue does not make it illegal and the taxes have in fact been collected and have succeeded in keeping AUSD schools and programs running that would have been cut without it; and it has succeeded in beating back this frivolous and mean-spirited legal challenge, as even the plaintiffs all but admit now. But despite losing their legal challenge against Measure H, these same selfish and short-sighted people keep threatening to sue if Measure E passes, and then use their own threats as an argument against passing E. If you don’t want the district to waste hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting your ultimately unsuccessful lawsuits, then my advice to you is DON’T SUE. Just suck it up and pay your fair share. Supporters of our schools are not going to give up on the chance to provide $14 million in needed funding for our schools just to prevent having to spend $200K to fight your lame lawsuits.

  • Teri says:

    Yes! Thank you, Frances, for summarizing the bizarre inconsistencies in the anti-E campaign. I hope lots of folks read your post. As a teacher and parent I’ve watched the district deal with budget cuts, but overall (and thanks to measures A and H) still felt that we are providing a good education for our students. I just don’t want to imagine what our schools will look like if Measure E doesn’t pass.

  • Kevin says:


    Can you share with us all the things the teachers and your union have done to help with Ausd budget problem? I must have missed the memo announcing the teachers union agreeing to a 10% across the board salary reduction to help solve the budget problem.

    With a average salary of $67K a year for 9 months of work (salary equates to almost $90K a year if working a full 12 months not the mention the money paid into your retirement system) it seems that it’s the least you can do, given the fact you are essentially asking Alameda home owners to take a pay cut by supporting Measure E.


  • Kevin,

    The teachers union agreed to givebacks this year, including furloughs which reduce the amount that they earn.

    Equating $67K a year with $90K a year is nonsense. Teachers are not paid $90K. I’d suggest you get to know a few teachers in Alameda, where we have the second lowest cost-per-teacher in the county. I don’t see my teacher friends during the weekends and evenings, because many of them are working, outside of school hours. Most contribute thousands of their own salary to the costs of supporting their classrooms.

    Teachers in Alameda are hardly overpaid for the work that they do.

    To me, trying to find solutions to support AUSD’s reasonable education costs and great teachers, rather than trying to demonize hard-working people, makes more sense.

  • Teri says:

    John is right. The 500+ teachers represented by our union have agreed to 8 furlough days for 2010-2011 (and 10 for 2011-2012) if Measure E doesn’t pass. That equates to 4% of our salary for next year. Oh yeah, and the state is giving districts the same amount of money per student next year-no cost of living adjustment. That means we don’t get one either. So add that into the mix. Plus, teachers have agreed to larger class sizes which make our jobs harder. We’ve done all of this because, yes, we want to keep our jobs and keep the district afloat. Of course! We wouldn’t go into teaching if we didn’t believe in public education, would we? Cushy retirement notwithstanding, most of us are in it to help kids and create educated, responsible citizens.
    So that’s what my union is doing to help the situation. Now you know.

  • concerned citizen says:

    I must have missed the part where Mike McMahon et al went to Sacramento and had our per-pupil allocations revised (for the first time since the early 1970s).

    This used to be central to this discussion – i.e. the fact that Sacto owes us more since the US Navy no longer sends kids to our schools and therefore does not subsidize AUSD.

    What is the update on this effort? The “Yes on E” t-shirt visiting my doorstep couldn’t answer this question. Suggest we get this out on the table…

  • Alamama says:

    Concerned Citizen,

    I don’t mean to downplay your concerns about getting equitable funding for Alameda (it is important to try to do that), but even if the District got the county average, I understand that would result in about $600,000 in additional funding. Given that the expected shortfall could be $17 million two years from now when Measures A and H sunset, equalization will only make the smallest dent in the expected budget shortfall.

    Moreover, unless more dollars became available for equalization, then eqaulization becomes a zero sum game. So for every district like Alameda that is comparatively underfunded, there is a district that would have dollars taken away from them because they are relatively overfunded. As I’m sure you can imagine, when the idea of equalization with no additional dollars has been proposed (and it has been proposed over and over again), those districts have fought tooth and nail to table the issue so that they can keep all their funding.

    In other words, efforts have been made and continue to be made. But even if the efforts were successful, it would not be nearly enough to solve the problems. That’s why we need Measure E.

  • Barbara Thomas says:

    I am not sure where the numbers come from about equalization. It sounds like the theory is, it really doesn’t amount to much so lets not bother. I always was taught to take of the small details first, and then move on when the foundation was firm. (Not learned as an AUSD student) I have seen no efforts to obtain equal funding. Only to hire more lawyers, a Webmaster and pass more parcel taxes year after year. With no accountability of those taxes going to CORE education. AUSD employees have a very generous retirement package, more so than my Social Security. They don’t have to wait until 66 (50 or younger) to retire, and get great health benefits after they retire. Hopefully Congress can keep my health premium increase below 39% for this year. The unfunded public retirement entitlements now exceed 500 billion for the future years. That includes AUSD.

    I wish each parent who has or is about to have students in the public schools would disclose their bias up front instead of resorting to name calling and other less respectful comments about those who choose to disagree with the $659 fees. Some people just don’t have the same discretionary funds as people who are in their prime earning years, and have two wage earner families. Since 88% of the households in Alameda don’t have children in the public schools, it would be clearer and more honest if the supporters would just say. I WANT YOU TO PAY $659 A YEAR FOR MY CHILDREN AND FOR THAT WHICH I THINK IS BEST FOR THEM.

    It is not for my children, as I have already put them through school, college and professional schools. I do not want to do the same for your children. You did not help me, and will not help me if I cannot make my mortgage payment or pay my taxes. What is fair about asking me to spend my twilight years, supporting a poorly run school district with too many schools, too many out of district students and too many non-teaching employees on their payroll?

  • dave says:

    Others helped put your children through school, Barbara. Others now help pay your Social Security & Medicare. Others also pay for the public services that your Prop 13 subsidy doesn’t pay for.

    Perhaps you should disclose your bias up front…..

  • jayne Smythe says:

    Aren’t our taxes supposed to go to things like childhood literacy? Civil society is civil because we want everyone to have an opportunity. If we have benefited from public programs, we need to turn around and give it back by supporting the next generation. That is what is called GRATITUDE and THANKS and PHILANTHROPY. I get that some are burdened by it more than others, but can there be a remedy for that?

  • Alameda Landlord says:

    For commercial properties, Measure E levies on the square footage of the lot, not the size of the buildings. This will have a effect on the rents charged by landlords with properties with 5+ units as their property tax will increase by a significant amount (for my 5 unit property, the increase will be approximately 10x the current tax). That equates to $45 per unit per month. My fixed income tenants will have difficulties dealing with that type of increase in their rent.

  • Jayne Smythe says:

    … and I forgot to include that it is hard on my shrunken pocketbook, but, I know it is going to benefit the kids, and I say, Okay, I’ll do my part!

  • Troy Staten says:

    Hello Eve thank you so much for your blog and for the topic. The school district did try and address the commercial property owners concerns. I think the commercial owners should consider carefully what is fair I would be very happy with a tax that is applied equally to all properties lets say 13 cents a square foot for lot size with no cap. I don’t think the commercial owners would be to happy about that. I feel most of the arguments against the parcel tax are unsound. Sure the schools are not perfectly run, sure the state should equalize funding (if you believe that will happen I want some of what your smoking) Our school financing problems are not caused by out of control teacher salaries, out of town students, or elitist eastenders. But that is not why the schools have a money issue the schools have a money issue because the state has been cutting the schools budgets and is going to cut them more next year. I don’t like taxes anymore than the next person but it is a necessary evil. If you want to look at it in your own interest if your a home owner ask your self what is the most likely outcome to your property values if the district closes 6 schools will your property values go up,stay the same or go down. If your a land-lord and your tenants have kids are they more likely to be willing to pay higher rents than in Oakland if those schools close or will they consider moving else ware? Again I don’t like paying taxes but the alternative is much worse.


  • Jake says:

    I pay $30,000+ per year in property taxes alone. I still don’t see much benefit from the taxes we pay in Alameda, and now they want more? Whatever happened to all that wonderful lottery money that was supposed to benefit the schools in this state?

    • Jake,

      The state only gives a portion of the lottery proceeds to schools. Alameda’s take in 2008-09, according to Ed-Data – and I’d take this as a rough number, since I’m told Ed-Data isn’t a perfect data source – was just north of $1.2 million.

  • What happened says:

    People like eva are the problem, They come to Ca because the state they come from is unliveable due to the liberal policies they helped create. Then they support every tax and crazy program. And then they boggie off to some other state to help destroy it. Any money given to the schools will be used for higher pay and benefits and next year they will be screaming for more and more. it is over for CA and the whole US. The Gov is in the final inning of trying to drag us down with them.

  • Sharon Aranha says:

    My main concern is for those of us, who purchased homes in Alameda about two years ago. They raised the transfer taxes for that year, so we the money could benefit the schools. We ended up paying close to $14,000.00 then, Did not see much change in the class size etc., Now we are being asked to pay again. There should be an exception for those of us who did pay then. Please spare our pocket books and look in to the wastefulness that is going on at the administrative level.

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