UPDATED AUSD holds first parcel tax meet tonight
Updated in bold at 2:24 p.m. Tuesday, September 21
Alameda school district officials appear set to pursue fresh options for structuring a parcel tax they hope to place on the March ballot, a presentation issued in advance of tonight’s special school board meeting to discuss a new parcel tax shows. The meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. today at Kofman Auditorium, 2200 Central Avenue.
According to the presentation, district officials are considering a per-square-foot charge for homeowners and commercial property owners alike that would be based either on the property owner’s lot square footage or building square footage. A cap on the amount a property owner would pay may or may not be imposed.
The district is considering a charge of 14.3 cents per lot square foot with a cap and 12.3 cents per lot square foot without a cap, an amount they said will allow them to collect $14 million roughly double what the district collects under its two existing taxes. If the district decides to charge based on building square footage, the amounts would be 36 cents per square foot with a cap and 31.7 cents without a cap.
The district’s existing taxes are Measure A and Measure H. Under Measure A, the district charges a flat rate of $189 per parcel; under Measure H, it charges a split rate of $120 per residential parcel and 15 cents per square foot of lot with a cap of $9,500 for commercial parcels.
Measure E, which was on the June ballot as a replacement for A and H, would have charged homeowners $659 per parcel and commercial property owners 13 cents per square foot of lot, with the same $9,500 cap. The tax measure, which needed the approval of two-thirds of voters to pass, lost by around 250 votes.
The district has pursued a fresh tax in the wake of millions of dollars in state funding cuts and with its existing parcel taxes set to expire in 2012. The district cut more than $7.2 million from its budget this year, in part by raising elementary school class sizes and trimming a week out of the school year, and district officials expect to cut up to $13 million more over the next two years if voters don’t approve a fresh tax.
The district’s presentation also seeks to answer questions that have floated around the community since Measure H was placed on the ballot in 2008. And it shows how Alameda compares to other Alameda County school districts on cuts, salaries and class sizes.
For instance, it shows that Alameda furloughed its teachers for more days than any other district in Alameda County this year, and it is one of just two school districts in the county to cut an entire week out of the school year. The district sits in the middle of the pack with its class sizes, the district’s presentation shows, and it serves far more students per administrator than the county average.
Meanwhile, teacher salaries and benefits in Alameda average $87,890, which is 5.1 percent lower than the county average, the presentation shows. Principal and district administrator salaries are between nine and 10 percent lower than the county averages, the presentation shows.
The structure of the tax has been hotly contested since the passage of Measure H, which led to two unsuccessful lawsuits from commercial property owners who felt they were being unfairly taxed. The leaders of one group of businesses that has been working on its own parcel tax proposal, Alamedans for Fair Taxation, have proposed a parcel tax of four cents per square foot of lot with no cap with an exemption for low-income property owners. The group, which believes the school district can charge taxes on twice the amount of land the district says it can, would charge religious schools and businesses that rent city property and Navy land at Alameda Point. Taxpayers would get the money back if state funding returned to normal levels.
One longtime teacher wrote The Island over the weekend after reading comments on an opinion piece about a new tax suggesting administrators and district staffers take pay cuts. Here’s what they wrote:
A number of people claim that AUSD teachers are overpaid for the amount of work they do, and therefore, that community members should oppose a parcel tax.
I am a twelfth year high school teacher, and a former 13-year attorney, and I beg to differ.
Teachers in AUSD make less than all but one other district in Alameda County. For teachers with the basic requirements, the starting salary is $42,342.68. On top of that, every AUSD teacher’s take-home pay is seriously eroded by the amount we pay for health insurance. For instance, I currently pay more than $11,000 per year for my family of four for health insurance.
The last pay raise Alameda teachers received was for 3% during the 2007-08 school year. And this year, AUSD teachers agreed to a three year contract with no pay increases and up to 5 furlough days if the parcel tax does not pass – the equivalent of a 2½% pay cut. This is in addition to the class size increases teachers agreed to, which will inevitably increase the workload of those directly affected.
Teachers don’t just work from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. I wake up between 4:30 and 5:00 every morning to prepare for the classes I teach at Alameda High School; other teachers prep at night. I rarely leave before 5:00 p.m., because I often am helping students until 4:00 or 4:30. In addition, I work four to eight hours most Sundays, and spend a good portion of my winter and spring breaks working. I, and most teachers, spend at least a portion of summer months taking classes, reading professional literature, and getting prepared for our next year’s classes.
In short, to say that teachers don’t work as hard as other professionals or don’t deserve the money they make is to seriously underestimate the professionalism, care, and commitment we bring to educating the young people in our community.