District to investigate school closures – and new parcel tax
Alameda’s Board of Education has directed Superintendent Kirsten Vital to begin planning for the potential closure of one or more schools at the end of the 2010-2011 school year – and to look into putting another parcel tax on the ballot in the spring of 2011 that could help stave off the closures and other future cuts.
“The fact of the matter is, it’s very clear this community wants to continue to support these schools. I’ll go down on that sword, because this is what I want to continue to fight for,” board Vice President Mike McMahon said Tuesday night after asking the rest of his dais-mates to direct Vital and her staff to look at putting a tax on the ballot in March 2011.
McMahon said he thinks the board owes it to the community to ensure it has exhausted every option before closing schools. A proposed closure plan could be available for board and public input by September.
“The integrity of this community is based on our ability to walk our kids to school. Not ship them to factories,” McMahon said.
McMahon said that school district officials and school board members could make few promises about how the money generated by a new parcel tax would be spent because state funding – which accounts for the bulk of the district’s budget – is so unstable. He said that when the board put the Measure H tax on the ballot in 2008, he had no idea the state would take so much more money away from schools than it already had.
Trustee Tracy Jensen said that the board will have to consider the district’s mission needs to be as it decides what to cut.
“What is our mission? Is it K-12? Is it preschool? Is it adult school? I think we’re going to have to make some tough choices,” Jensen said.
Earlier in the evening, several parents asked the board to consider putting another tax on the ballot. Sarah Olaes, the volunteer coordinator for APLUS, which ran the campaign for the Measure E tax, said she and others are ready to work toward getting a new parcel tax passed. Some 65.6 percent of voters who participated in the Measure E election voted in favor of it, but it needed the approval of two-thirds of voters to pass.
“If Superintendent Vital and the board are ready to put another measure on the ballot, we’re ready. We will work again,” Olaes said to cheers from the dozens of people who attended Tuesday’s board meeting.
Trustee Trish Hererra Spencer, who had opposed Measure E, voted with the rest of the board to direct Vital to look into putting a new tax on the ballot. Some parents who attended Tuesday’s meeting expressed anger over Spencer’s opposition to putting Measure E on the ballot. Spencer had argued the ballot measure didn’t offer enough specifics about how the money would be spent and she questioned the tax’s split roll structure.
“While most of the board members supported (Measure E) and even worked on the campaign, one board member used this as a platform to create a more divisive community. I find it repugnant and offensive that Ms. Spencer voted against (putting the tax on the ballot), and that board member Spencer actively campaigned against Measure E,” said Christine Strena, president of the Parent Teacher Association Council and development director for the Alameda Education Foundation.
“The only alternative solution Ms. Spencer has provided is to close the neighborhood schools the community has stated time and time again are important,” Strena said. “Closing Edison, Franklin and Paden will not net $7 million.”
Spencer has advocated for the closure of some of the district’s smallest schools. On Tuesday she asked the board to consider directing Vital to look into direct solicitation of funding. She did not address the comments made by Strena and others regarding her position on Measure E.
Parents also took Spencer to task for an e-mail she sent to a teacher at Encinal urging the school’s supporters to attend Tuesday’s meeting to advocate for the school because she believed the board would be voting to close Encinal and Wood. The board voted to being the closure planning process, but specific schools slated for closure have not yet been named.
“Even though we’re only approving the budget, I think we’re really approving closing Encinal and Wood,” Spencer wrote to the teacher, who forwarded the e-mail to other teachers and administrators at Encinal. “Maybe I’m wrong, I haven’t been able to get clarification that’s satisfactory, so I’m planning to ask questions about this at tomorrow’s Board meeting. But it probably makes sense that anyone that wants to protect Encinal high show up at tomorrow’s Board meeting and address the Board with their concerns.”
Spencer’s daughter, Elaine, who attends Encinal, asked the board to keep Encinal open and suggested they consider closing Alameda High School instead. She also asked the board to keep ninth graders in high school, instead of shifting grade configurations to move them into middle school.
McMahon and board President Ron Mooney said they’d be interested in looking into a bond measure to create a single high school for Alameda, which one parent suggested the board consider. McMahon said he’d also be willing to consider consolidating elementary school students into new, larger schools like Bay Farm and Amelia Earhart, while Mooney said district staff should take a look at the facilities and land the district has available.
Meanwhile, the board approved a budget for next year that contains $7 million worth of previously approved cuts. Class sizes in kindergarten through third grade and ninth grade will grow to 25 students per teacher and 35 students per teacher, respectively, and school will end a week earlier than usual.
Vital walked attendees at Tuesday’s meeting through the rest of the cuts for next year, which include a reduction in middle school and high school counselors and funding for textbooks, maintenance and adult education. Advanced placement classes could also be cut if they don’t have the maximum number of students in them, she said.
The budget also included lists of potential cuts for the following two school years. The district is required to show it can balance its budget for three years, even if district officials don’t know how much money they will have to pay for services.
Under current conditions, district staff showed they would need to cut Alameda Unified’s budget by an additional $4.2 million in 2011-2012 and $11.4 million in 2012-2013, when the district’s existing parcel taxes sunset (the latter amount includes $3.6 million in cuts from the previous year). Measures A and H generate $7.3 million a year for the district. Measure E would have garnered $14 million a year for eight years.
Potential cuts for those years could include the closure of a high school, a middle school and four elementary schools; elimination of some elementary level media center, music and physical education teachers; salary rollbacks; additional teacher furlough days; and elementary school class size increases to 32 students per teacher.