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Island Talkback: Alameda Business Alliance mediator report #3

Submitted by on 1, November 26, 2010 – 12:04 amNo Comment

Author’s note: This report was prepared prior to the school board meeting of November 23, 2010.

It has been over two weeks since the last report and the Alameda Business Alliance participants have had a rigorous schedule of community outreach, school program assessment, and determining what parcel tax rate will be manageable for business and satisfy the needs of the community.

Community Stakeholder Outreach

On November 10, the ABA hosted a community stakeholders meeting. Elected officials, two school board trustees, PTA presidents and board members, a senior resident interested in the Life Long Learning Program and representatives from the three unions representing Alameda Unified School District attended. The ABA also welcomed Alameda County District 3 Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker. Alice is a trained community mediator and her background as an Alameda resident and parent of two children and her extensive experience dealing with multiple stakeholders will be a valuable asset during the upcoming face-to-face discussions between the ABA and AUSD.

On the agenda of this community stakeholders meeting was an introduction of the ABA school funding and parcel tax principles to the community, a report on the Robles-Wong litigation against the State of California, a description of the programs AUSD proposed to fund with the parcel tax, and the parcel tax rate matrix. There was a presentation by the presidents of the three unions to discuss employee salary and benefits. Are you aware that a paraprofessional makes $11.25 per hour or that the starting salary for a teacher is under $42,000 per year? Finally, there was a short discussion regarding adult school and the negative impact on seniors who would lose a social outlet if the adult school were to close. Absent from the conversation was the description of all the volunteer hours parents donate to the schools. To the parents in attendance, please forgive my ignorance of such an important piece of the equation of quality education and for not allowing you to describe that commitment.

Community Initiatives for Excellent Schools

During this gathering, most people recognized the hard reality that the parcel tax was not the single solution to the state funding crisis, that some of the current cuts could not be reversed, and that over the six- to eight-year duration of the parcel tax more cuts might be necessary in order to counter future state funding shortfalls. In order to mitigate the effects of those potential cuts, the ABA proposed that schools and businesses create initiatives to identify specific shortfalls and engage in fundraising or in-kind donations to minimize the impacts of future cuts. PTA presidents and businesses can contact me to arrange meetings between the business community and individual schools. Direct all inquiries to jeffcambra@earthlink.net.

Program Assessment

Early in the ABA discussions, the participants acknowledged that none of them had sufficient knowledge to evaluate the importance of a particular program. However, it was also clear to the group that without some guidance, there was no basis for recommending what the total tax collected should be and a tax rate that would fund the most essential programs without causing an undue hardship on business. On November 15, the ABA invited all participating members, the boards of directors of several business organizations, union representatives, and several PTA organizations to evaluate and prioritize a specific list of programs. Many thanks to Ron Mooney and the AUSD staff for providing the list and ballpark estimates of the costs of each program. During the event, parents and business owners placed colored dots by the programs they valued the most in between sips of margaritas. Thank you Roy Campos for allowing the ABA to use the banquet room at Otaez Mexican Restaurant on Webster Street.

The Recommendation

Armed with the prioritized list of programs and the associated costs of each program, the ABA met to determine what total amount would be required to fund the programs. While AUSD had originally sought $14 million, the ABA felt that $12 million would preserve the most essential programs, maintain current staff levels, and result in a rate that most residential homeowners and businesses could absorb. Since the tax rate applied uniformly to both residential and commercial buildings, the impact of a particular tax rate on residential buildings was an essential component in the analysis. The objective of this analysis was to arrive at a rate that not only the business community would support, but also a rate that the majority of residents would also support. By the end of the meeting, the ABA reached consensus on $12 million with a maximum tax amount of $7,000 to $7,500, which led to a building square foot tax of 32 cents.

Armed with a tax structure and tax rate developed first by the business community itself and modified by the input from the community stakeholders, the ABA is now ready to make a recommendation to members of the AUSD school board.

Jeff Cambra & Alice Lai-Bitker, Co-Mediators

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