Alameda’s Measure E appears headed for failure
The Measure E school parcel tax appeared headed for failure Tuesday night, despite the fact that 65 percent of voters who cast ballots included in a preliminary count were in favor of it.
As of 8 p.m. Tuesday, some 13,789 voters cast yes votes for the tax, and 7,297 said no, for a vote of 65.39 percent to 34.61 percent. The measure would need the approval of two-thirds of voters to pass.
The Committee Against Measure E’s Ed Hirshberg said he expected more people to vote against the measure. He was reluctant to declare victory until the final votes are counted.
“I don’t know that I’m prepared to do a victory dance,” Hirshberg said Tuesday night. “I hope that we’ve won. I hope we can move toward fair taxation.”
APLUS spokesman John Knox White said the election’s not over yet, but even if the measure loses, it still enjoyed the support of a majority of Alameda voters.
“Even if it is certified, two-thirds of the people of Alameda supported our schools,” Knox White said.
Final results weren’t expected until Wednesday. A ballot box that occupied a corner of the City Clerk’s office at Alameda City Hall this past week wasn’t expected to be picked up by county election workers until Wednesday morning, and voters were casting ballots there right up until the vote closed at 8 p.m. School board President Ron Mooney said other votes collected by the Alameda County Registrar of Voters also have yet to be counted.
But members of the board didn’t appear to hold out much hope the measure could still pass.
“When we put this on the ballot we knew this was going to be an uphill battle. But the superintendent and the board felt we needed to put this on the ballot to save us from these cuts,” Mooney said.
Superintendent Kirsten Vital fought back tears as she thanked supporters.
“A two-thirds vote is sometimes an impossible hurdle to overcome,” Vital said from the dais at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting. “We will begin to see cuts as students go back to the classroom in August. And they will worsen in 2012-13. But we will not give up the fight to make sure every child has a quality education.”
Moments earlier, the board approved $7.2 million in budget reductions that included cutting five school days, adult education and a handful of other programs. And in the somber moments that followed Mooney’s announcement of the preliminary vote, the board okayed agreements with two unions to furlough staff and teachers.
Some $2.5 million of those cuts, including plans to increase class sizes and to streamline the district office, were expected to be made regardless of whether the measure passed. School board trustees had hoped to restore others if the measure passed.
The tax would cost homeowners $659 for each of the next eight years and commercial property owners 13 cents per square foot of lot up to $9,500 per parcel. It would replace the district’s existing Measure A and Measure H parcel taxes, which are to sunset in 2012.
The new tax would raise $14 million a year, double what Measure A and Measure H earned the district. Seniors and some disabled people would be eligible for exemptions from the tax.
The Board of Education put the tax on the ballot in an effort to avoid an anticipated $7 million budget deficit for the 2010-2011 school year. The state cut $7 million in general education funding for Alameda Unified for this past school year, but the district had enough money saved to weather the loss for the year.
Without the new tax, the district expects its budget deficit to grow to $16.2 million by the 2012-13 school year, when its existing Measure A and Measure H parcel taxes lapse. District staff has said that without additional funding, it could begin closing schools in 2011-2012.
The vote caps a nasty campaign that saw some proponents threatening to boycott shops whose owners didn’t support the tax and an opposition campaign video that played on simmering race and class tensions across the Island.
Officially, proponents of the tax said it is needed to maintain the quality of Alameda’s schools in the face of unprecedented state budget cuts and to prevent school closures and program cuts. Opponents said the tax was unfair to commercial property owners, many of whom will pay far more than residents, and that they would sue the district over the new tax if it passed.
Over the course of the campaign, the district played a starring role in what could be an historic lawsuit intended to reform the state’s school funding system and emerged victorious from a separate suit that questioned the legality of the Measure H tax. Opponents of the tax have said they will appeal the latter decision.
Measure H was losing in early results as well, but ended up passing by a few dozen votes.