SCHOOL BOARD PUTS PARCEL TAX ON 2011 BALLOT; VOTE UNANIMOUS
Alameda’s Board of Education voted Tuesday night to put a parcel tax proposal on a March 2011 ballot. The vote was unanimous.
“The million dollar question is, ‘Will I be supporting this tax?’ And the answer to this question is, yes,” Trustee Trish Hererra Spencer said.
Spencer, who garnered applause for her decision to support the tax, thanked the people who worked hard to put it together – and chastised the district for providing what she said is an inequitable education that focuses too much on facilities and not enough on programs, a point she has made repeatedly at board meetings.
Mike McMahon, with whom Spencer has frequently sparred on the board over the tax, said he decided to support it for the district’s former chief financial officer, Luz Cazares, who is trying to decide whether to move here. He said Cazares is waiting to see how the parcel tax vote turns out.
Board president Ron Mooney said the tax was born of a long effort to build a compromise tax that everyone could support.
“Are there pieces people don’t like? Sure,” Mooney said. But he said he’s expecting a better result than the district achieved with Measure E, which garnered the assent of 65 percent of voters but fell about 250 votes short of the two-thirds required to pass.
An unscientific poll conducted by The Island this week had 79 percent of 155 respondents saying they’d vote for the new tax, which will be on the ballot on March 8, 2011.
The tax would charge homeowners and residents 32 cents per square foot of building on each parcel they own, with a cap of $7,999 per parcel. It would last eight years and replace the district’s existing taxes, Measure A and Measure H. Property owners whose parcels don’t contain buildings would be charged a flat rate of $299. Seniors and certain disabled persons would qualify for an exemption from the tax, which would earn the district an estimated $12.3 million a year.
About a quarter of the tax money would go toward attracting and retaining good teachers, while 15 percent would be allocated to close the district’s achievement gap and 13 percent would pay for small class sizes. Enrichment programs would get 10 percent of the money, while neighborhood elementary schools and secondary school choice and advanced placement programs would get 7 to 8 percent each. Counseling and support services, technology, adult education, high school athletics and charter schools would also receive smaller slices of funding.
Business owners turned out to support the plan Tuesday.
“The proposal you’ve put forward today I think is a fair and good proposal that most business people are going to get behind,” said Harry Hartman, a local business owner who heads the Greater Alameda Business Association. He said he’s not sure yet whether his members will vote to support the tax, “but what I’ve hears is, the way you’ve cobbled this together, it’s a fair proposal.”
The West Alameda Business Association’s board voted to support the tax, Executive Director Kathy Moehring said.
“I have been authorized by the Board of Directors of WABA to publicly endorse the structure and rate of the proposed tax,” she said, adding that she, like Hartman, had been involved in a collaborative effort called the Alameda Business Alliance where participants worked to come up with a compromise tax plan.
Parents came to ask the board to support the tax, despite the reservations some said they had. Some said they wanted to see small neighborhood schools preserved, while others wanted to ensure programs – and particularly, secondary school programs – got the attention they deserve.
The tax presentation was followed by a discussion about school closures and consolidations that would need to be made to save the district money if a tax doesn’t pass or the district doesn’t get more money from somewhere else. The board is slated to vote on whether to move forward with the plan on December 14.
The two-year proposal, which would go into effect in 2011-2012, calls for closing Wood Middle School, creating a 7-12 school at Encinal High School and closing Washington, Franklin and Otis elementary schools. Edison would continue as a K-6, Lincoln, Amelia Earhart and Bay Farm would become K-8 schools, and Alameda’s remaining schools – Lum, Haight, Paden and Ruby Bridges – would serve students in kindergarten through sixth grade.
Superintendent Kirsten Vital said the closures and consolidations wouldn’t happen if the parcel tax passes. “There is no plan to do Plan B if the parcel tax passes,” she said. “This board is hopeful we’ll pass a parcel tax March 8 so that Plan B disappears.”
Still, she said the 7-12 school at Encinal would be considered, though Vital said that would only happen with community consensus. And she said she’d also recommend a boundary change for Paden and Ruby Bridges elementary schools, to ease overcrowding at the latter school.
Hererra Spencer said she thought the district should close it smallest elementary schools – Paden, Franklin and Edison – and that it should keep Otis open. But she, McMahon and Tracy Jensen – whose last meeting as a school board trustee was Tuesday night – said they thought a 7-12 at Encinal should be explored if the community supports it.
Meanwhile, if you are interested in looking up the building square footage of your property, that information is available here.