MEASURE E: Parents get political
Alameda voters are being asked to decide whether to replace the Island’s existing school parcel taxes with a replacement tax that is expected to generate $14 million for Alameda’s schools. If the Measure E parcel tax is approved by voters, homeowners and owners of multi-unit buildings up to four units will pay $659 a year for the next eight years to fund schools, while commercial property owners and owners of multi-unit buildings with five units or more will pay 13 cents per square foot of lot per parcel. The mail-only ballot for Measure E is set to go out this week, and ballots are due in by June 22. The Island has put together a series of articles intended to flesh out issues associated with the tax.
First of four parts.
By Michele Ellson, Ani Dimusheva and Heather Lyn Wood
Even before Shivaun McDonald’s family joined Otis Elementary School, she and her kids used to sit on their front porch in the mornings, drinking tea and watching other children walk by.
“We came to Alameda because we heard the schools are good, and it’s a very family-oriented community,” McDonald says.
The school is a two-block walk from McDonald’s house, and its small size provides McDonald a sense of safety and security she doesn’t think she would have if her children attended a bigger school.
But McDonald fears her school could be closed if the Measure E parcel tax doesn’t pass. So for the first time in her life, she is venturing into politics, canvassing potential voters in an effort to assure the tax’s passage.
“I feel this could change our relationship with this community significantly,” McDonald said of the measure’s potential failure. “We would seriously have to reconsider staying here.”
Parents across the Island who fear the unchecked impact of millions of dollars in ongoing state budget cuts have been working hard to get Measure E passed. They’ve walked precincts to collect the names of potential “yes” voters and assembled a variety of fundraising efforts, from bake sales and garage sales to art and live music events.
To them, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Without the money, they fear their children will lose the quality education that many came to Alameda for, and specifically, the small schools that were a key selling point for many who’ve come to the Island. And some have said that the measure’s loss could force them to move elsewhere to get the good schools they desire.
Lauren Rosenbaum said she likes the accountability of a small school like Paden, which her children attend, and the relationship that allows her to have with her school’s principal, Tom Rust.
“We don’t want to move away to go to better schools,” Rosenbaum said. And the family can’t afford private school, she said.
She’s fearful that her children will get lost in the shuffle of an elementary school that is three or four times larger than Paden, in classrooms with 32 kids, as is being proposed for 2011-2012 if the parcel tax doesn’t pass.
“Everyone says 30 kids (per classroom) is okay,” she said of opponents of the tax. “We don’t want okay for our kids. We want the best we can do.”
Greg Mauldin said he moved to Alameda from San Mateo for the schools and that he specifically chose his West End home to send his children to Ruby Bridges Elementary School. He said the measure’s failure would hurt working families.
“If you have 1,000 children attending a new ‘mega’ school, that school is just not going to be able to provide the after-school child care or programs that a smaller school could,” Mauldin said. “This is going to put parents in the position of having their kids unsupervised after school, or put them at odds with their employers when they have to leave work to pick them up.”
Ruby Bridges PTA President Stephanie Northington, who has a fifth grader there and a junior at Encinal High School, said public school is often the only option many West End families have.
“If Encinal were to close, many of our students can’t afford a bus pass to get to school everyday on the other side of town, which obviously means these kids won’t be getting an education,” Northington said. “Certainly most of them cannot afford a private school education if our public schools become inadequate.”
Back at Otis, where McDonald’s children attend, many parents feel that passing the parcel tax is the only choice they have to ensure quality of education for their children, and to maintain the cohesiveness and home values of their neighborhood.
“Vote Yes on Measure E” signs have bloomed on lawns around Otis. Parents here have been canvassing, and they’ve staffed two phone banking sessions over at Harbor Bay Realty. Uncoordinated, personal initiatives have also sprouted.
Deni Adaniya, a first-grade mom, is selling Measure E buttons she made herself for $5 each, and she has also held several lemonade stands to raise awareness of Measure E in Krusi Park. Jessi Brandt, Andrea Ruport and Olivia Higgins held a garage sale several weeks ago, jointly raising $350 for the campaign.
Parents at Bay Farm Elementary and Franklin Elementary also set up lemonade stands in local parks. Bay Farm parent Julie Hong said that she doesn’t want to think about what she’ll do if Measure E doesn’t pass, considering the cuts that would have to be made.
“I’m not sure how they’ll even handle the classroom situation,” Hong said.
Parents said they’re happy to pay what they consider a small cost to maintain Alameda’s schools, and to provide school funding that can be controlled locally. And they’re hopeful that business and commercial property owners who oppose the tax will rethink their opposition.
“Paying taxes is something that no business manager or owner ‘wants’ to do,” said Mauldin, who has managed hotels all over the Bay Area. “But to the business community, I would say, we need to find the commonality here and rally together, and that (commonality) is safe schools, friendly neighbors and a better educated group of people. Every child deserves that.”
Tuesday: Businesses and the bottom line.