Island Talkback: Jeff Cambra on the road to a new school parcel tax
There has been much speculation about why Measure E, the Alameda Unified School District parcel tax ballot measure, failed to obtain the required two-thirds approval from voters. For those who admit to not supporting it, the reasons vary. “Too many taxes.” “Let the state solve this problem.” “It’s not fair.” Regardless of the reason, it is clear that just enough voters had “some” reason to prevent the measure from passing.
So, for supporters and the district, the question seems to be, “What parcel tax structure and rate will voters support?”
As a professional mediator, the questions for me are: Who are the stakeholders? What is the organization for stakeholder participation in meaningful discussions? And, can the stakeholders reach a consensus on a parcel tax?
Some of the stakeholders include students, parents of those students, teachers, residents, and the business community. While one would think that within these groups the members would be unified in their views regarding a parcel tax, surprisingly, this is not always the case.
Take the business community for example. This group does not have a single interest. There are numerous interests depending on the type and size of the business, and how a parcel tax impacts the business. Recently, a number of concerned business and property owners met to determine if they could identify common goals and identify principles that could be used as guidelines for having good faith discussions with representatives from AUSD and other stakeholders with the goal of arriving at an acceptable parcel tax.
The Alameda Business Alliance is a consensus group made up of business owners, commercial property owners, and business associations who are interested in being part of the community solution to the current school funding crisis Alameda is facing. Last month, members of the Alliance created a set of principles they support and that can serve as the basis for initial discussions with district officials. The six principles are:
1. The State of California, through continuing reductions to legally required funding of schools, is primarily responsible for creating the financial hardship AUSD is currently facing. These continued cuts will result in reducing the quality of education for our children to an unacceptable level.
2. AUSD continues to provide a quality educational experience to our children in spite of these cuts. However, it is no longer possible to maintain the level of education desired by the community.
3. The current funding deficit created by the state’s continuous failure to provide legally required funding is now so great that no one solution can bridge the funding gap.
4. Therefore, the solution is left to the community of Alameda. This community includes students, parents, teachers, school administrators, school board trustees, unions representing AUSD employees, residential property owners, renters, city staff, the city’s elected officials, nonprofit and civic organizations, businesses owners, business associations, commercial property owners, and local, state, and federal legislators.
5. It encompasses both short term and long term solutions that will result in allowing AUSD to provide the best education experience possible for our children given the resources available.
6. The delivery of quality education is not strictly a business in the traditional sense. However, in some areas, best business practices of efficiency, accountability, productivity, and when appropriate, organizational restructuring based on financial restraints may be applicable.
Beginning this month, the Alliance will be meeting with AUSD elected officials with the intent of working collaboratively to find ways to maintain the excellent education our children receive by attending Alameda schools. Look for updates in this publication as the talks proceed. Based on the initial success of these discussions, the Alliance anticipates including more community stakeholders in the discussion.
Working together, our community can maintain the excellent quality of Alameda schools.