MEASURE E: Pro/Con
Alameda voters are being asked to decide whether to approve a replacement parcel tax that could bring as much as $14 million year into the Alameda Unified School District’s coffers for each of the next eight years. If it is approved by voters, Measure E would replace the district’s existing parcel tax measures A and H with a $659-a-year tax for homeowners and a 13 cents per square foot of lot per parcel for commercial properties and multi-unit buildings with five units or more with a cap of $9,500 per parcel.
As part of our continuing efforts to keep you informed, we’ve asked proponents and opponents of the tax to make their case. And their viewpoints on the tax are here as part of our customary pro/con series.
The tax’s opponents won the coin flip, so their piece, written by Ed Hirshberg is here:
When Measure H passed by 39 votes, a group of property owners felt that the tax was both unfair and illegal and commenced a reverse validation lawsuit. I am a member of that group, known as Alamedans for Fair Taxation. The tax is approximately 10 fold higher on small commercial parcels than it is on residential. Because the commercial rate is capped, it varies from property to property. After commencing suit we asked the Board of Education if they would sit down and mediate this issue with us. After some time the Superintendent agreed to meet with us. She submitted a proposal that had been worked out in advance wherein she would form an advisory committee consisting of 10 participants, two chosen by John Beery, and eight by her. We balked, immediately realizing that this was unlikely to produce a fair outcome.
But the court insisted that this method of resolution be given a chance. So, pursuant to court order, the Parcel Tax Advisory Group (PTAG) was formed. Its court-ordered mission was to recommend a parcel tax that would fairly resolve the litigation. The advisory group was to keep the court informed with regular reports to the Judge Burr. The recommendation of PTAG was simply Measure H warmed over. It was still a split roll variable rate tax. Both the Borikas litigants and the Beery litigants assured the court that they would seek invalidation of this tax also. Just the same, the Board of Education sprinted ahead to place this measure on a mail in ballot, to be sent in over the next 30 plus days. At least Trish Spencer had the good sense to vote no on this nonsense.
There has been much hue and cry about our efforts learn about the members of PTAG. It is essentially a reverse vetting process, because we were permitted no say in their original appointment. In trying to determine why they failed at their mission, we are finding that the group did not accurately reflect a cross-section of Alameda either geographically or politically. A majority of the group lived in the East End and were parents or already active in the schools. Quite naturally they voted their interests.
PTAG was led by Rob Siltanen, an employee of AUSD. Mr. Siltanen published the following comments on his blog on August 18, 2008: “In the end, of course, no one except Alameda for Fair Taxation can decide whether to file suit. If they do, I think they’ll find that businesses that turn their backs on the clear will of the community by participating in an effort to overturn the popular results of an election will also have the community turn their backs on them.” Among the comments following this blog is one by Page Barnes, an attorney who has done work for AUSD, wherein she says: “I don’t think that anyone is suggesting that all Alameda businesses be boycotted, but I do think it’s fair for people to choose where they want to do business based on their participation in this lawsuit. For instance, if I can buy my gas at gas station A which is not supporting the lawsuit instead of gas station B which is putting its dollars toward funding the lawsuit (the same dollars that could be used to pay the tax), I’ll choose gas station A.” We pose the questions of whether or not it was proper for Mr. Siltanen to lead PTAG, and why are they placing these comments on the Internet in a manner that they have the imprimatur of official sanction?
I encourage you to be an informed voter and read the record for yourself. Just don’t rely on the case number that the school district is using in its published agenda, because that one was discontinued nine months ago. They apparently do not trust informed voters. Go to Alameda.courts.ca.gov/courts then click on DomainWeb and enter VG08405316. Get the facts and vote No on E.
And here’s the Yes on E piece, written by John Knox White:
Measure E, which immediately replaces Measures A and H, is about one thing: maintaining quality education in Alameda.
Talk of lawsuits and other frivolities are distractions that the courts will be throwing out any day now. The judge in the Measure H lawsuits has already stated that he sees no legal issues with Measure H.
The Governor’s most recent budget (called the “May revise”) maintains the deep cuts to education proposed in January. This is on top of the millions of dollars that the state has cut from AUSD’s annual budget since 2000, cuts which have come at an alarmingly accelerated rate over the past 18 months.
The most recent API scores show a continued increase in test scores across all student populations, proving both the success of Alameda’s education and the continued success in attacking the achievement gap.
Thanks to the largesse of our community, past parcel taxes have helped student test scores to continue to rise and graduation rates to climb. But new proposed cuts pose a drastic threat to student success.
Some critics attempt to claim that the source of AUSD’s financial woes is a “bloated administration.” But over the past six years, AUSD has reduced its administrative costs, while the average in districts throughout Alameda County has risen. In other words, AUSD is doing more with less. And after a year of public meetings and input, the district has adopted a master plan that charts a course for AUSD if Measure E passes: maintaining small classes in kindergarten through third grade, continuing music, arts, AP and PE courses, and retaining quality teachers, while cutting $2.5 million in costs to balance the budget.
The alternative – if Measure E doesn’t pass – is grim. A draconian $7 million in cuts will be made this September, growing to $17 million by 2012. Elementary school class sizes will jump from 20 to 32 kids. Middle school electives, high school sports, music and arts classes are on the chopping block. Our neighborhood schools will be replaced by four mega elementary schools (Earhart, Lincoln, Wood, Bayport), one middle school (Encinal) and one high school (Alameda) — the traffic will be horrendous and one wonders if the district will have to sell the non-used sites to private developers in order to pay for the new construction that will be needed.
And yet, closing elementary schools only saves the district a little over $700,000, savings that will disappear if about 150 children leave the district. If this happens, AUSD will end up with construction debt and less income, leading to even more drastic cuts in programs and larger class sizes.
Measure E will preserve the education that our community values so highly, building on the district’s successes in reducing administrative costs. A strong education system adds up to something larger than the sum of its parts. Our schools attract many young families, support our property values, and in turn support the local business community that we all cherish.
More information can be found at www.alamedaschools.org.