School board begins parcel tax discussion
Alameda’s Board of Education held its first public hearing Tuesday to discuss how it will structure a new parcel tax the board hopes to place on a March 2011 ballot.
School district officials told several dozen people who attended the meeting at Kofman Auditorium that they are looking at a tax based on either building square footage or lot square footage that would be levied equally on both homeowners and commercial property owners and they are considering whether to cap the tax rate. Exemptions from the proposed tax, which would replace the district’s two existing parcel taxes, were not on the table Tuesday.
“This is a true crisis facing not just the schools but the economy and the quality of life in Alameda as a whole,” parent Brad Hayward said of the budget cuts the school board is facing. “Even if you can’t find perfect consensus, there’s value to promoting unity to protect this asset.”
Community members asked what the new tax would pay for, how much the district would ask for and whether that amount would be enough to cover cuts the district estimates could reach $20 million over the next three years. The tax amounts the district offered Tuesday were based on a figure of $14 million a year collected under a new parcel tax, though district leaders said the number was for illustrative purposes only.
“Fourteen million won’t be enough to keep all the schools open as they’re configured,” said Charley Weiland, a parent who also served as treasurer for the Measure E parcel tax effort.
Community members asked whether business leaders were on board with the district’s tax plans, and whether the Alameda Education Foundation would be taking on a greater fundraising role for the district than it currently holds.
Alameda Chamber of Commerce President Barbara Marchand said a recent poll of chamber members showed that 73 percent of those who responded to the poll would support a parcel tax, though 31 percent said they would only support it if residential and commercial property owners were taxed at the same rate.
“We are for education, we are for fairness, and we are for businesses,” Marchand said.
Meanwhile, AEF board member Anne DeBardeleben said the foundation would love to do more fundraising, but she doesn’t think it would be enough to address the cuts the school district is facing.
“The most important need is to pass this parcel tax so we can protect as much of what we have as possible,” she said.
Dave Hart, a parent who sat on the Parcel Tax Advisory Group that had proposed the district consider a split roll for Measure E, said he thought a tax based on building square footage would be the district’s best option.
“It comes closest to matching the value of the properties. You’re not able to tax on actual values of property, but that’s the closest match,” he said. “It’s the most uniform we can get under Proposition 13.”
School Board vice president Mike McMahon, who has made getting a parcel tax passed a plank in his re-election platform, said he, too, would favor a tax based on building square footage.
“My initial preference is an unbanded, noncapped building square footage (tax),” McMahon said. “But I’m willing to be educated on whether the benefits happen in order to bring the community together around that.”
School board trustee Trish Hererra Spencer questioned how much money the community would be willing to pay.
“The tax is burdensome for some residents and business owners,” Hererra Spencer said. “It’s important the district do everything we can to demonstrate to our community that we have in fact done our utmost to cut our costs so we don’t have to ask our residents and businesses for any more than we absolutely need.”
David Howard, who works with Alamedans for Fair Taxation, a group that opposed Measure E, questioned the district’s taxable square footage calculations. The group, which wants the district to consider a lower tax, believes the district could tax religious schools and businesses renting property from the city and the Navy, something Superintendent Kirsten Vital said the district would investigate.
Next Tuesday, district officials are set to unveil a preliminary list of tiered cuts for the school board to consider over the next two years. Those items could be restored if a fresh parcel tax is passed.
Another public hearing on the district’s parcel tax plans is scheduled for October 14 at Amelia Earhart Elementary School. The board is slated to consider a tax proposal on November 9 and make a decision on November 23.