Letters to the Editor
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On “Island Talkback: Re-Envisioning Alameda’s Schools,” Friday, October 29:
While some of the ideas you express, such as JUA’s, have great merit & are strongly worth pursuing, it doesn’t appear that you have thought through the financial details of the 300MM megacampus.
Borrowing 300MM for that new campus would necessitate between 20-30MM per year in debt service, paid by property tax assessments. (Annual amount would vary depending on interest rates, deal structure etc, and would probably come out in the high end of range) Assuming that bond issue would pass, it would have the curious & unintended consequence of damning the schools to increased class sizes and more closures.
The annual debt service figure is significantly larger than the parcel tax the district has requested to maintain operations at an already reduced level. Measure E, for example, was for approx 14MM. Alameda’s voters strongly support their schools, consistently voting a supermajority for school funding even though that isn’t always enough under current law. Considering that support, assume the bond issue passes, as it only needs 55% rather than the 2/3 that a parcel tax requires.
If it passes & the new campus is built, teachers still have to be hired and paid. Teacher compensation is already 92% of AUSD’s operating budget, which relies heavily on state funding. That state funding has been dropping sharply and shows no sign of recovery in the foreseeable future. Parcel taxes are what will maintain class sizes at manageable levels and the property taxes required for debt service will make passing a parcel tax for operations politically impossible. We could end up with a world class campus half used, with classes of 35-40 or more students instead of a fully utilized facility with sensible class sizes. What is the point of that? Disposing of surplus property would help but advance refundings of bond issues can be tricky and expensive depending on market rates, and in even the most optimistic scenarios (laws re: selling school assets are complex & restrictive) would take several years to execute in critical mass.
It’s a bit like the hybrid/gas guzzler dilemma, where the added cost to purchase a fuel efficient vehicle is greater than the amount saved in gas bills, and the higher car payments crimp other areas of the household budget. Don’t mistake this critique with disagreement. A new campus IS a good idea, and WOULD have long term positive effects, but facilities are not AUSD’s primary budget problem. Education is labor intensive; labor is almost all the budget. Going to the tax well for grand new facilities would almost certainly poison that well for ongoing operations.