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School board works for consensus on tax

Submitted by on 1, November 10, 2010 – 12:05 amNo Comment

Alameda’s Board of Education on Tuesday plowed through a long list of details to be included in a proposed parcel tax in an effort to reach consensus on the tax before it comes to a board vote.

Board Vice President Mike McMahon called for the line-by-line review after Trustee Trish Herrera Spencer began questioning the proposed structure of the tax and the items it might pay for.

“I believe it’s important tonight for each of us individually to go through this process and begin to land,” McMahon said Tuesday night.

A final proposal for the new tax, which would replace the district’s existing Measure A and Measure H taxes, is set to go before the board on November 23, and they are scheduled to vote on it on November 30 in order to get it on a March ballot.

The review came after a lineup of parents spoke in support of the tax and asked that the board offer its unanimous support. Spencer had voted against putting Measure E on the ballot in June, and some supporters of a new tax are concerned that a lack of support from Spencer could mean trouble for them at the ballot box.

Spencer said she voted against putting Measure E on the ballot because she didn’t think the tax would pass. The tax, which was not supported by local business groups, fell about 250 votes short of the two-thirds majority it needed to pass.

“I know it takes two-thirds (of voters) to float a parcel tax,” Spencer said. “You have to have the support of major stakeholders to get that two-thirds.”

Trustee Tracy Jensen, who had voted against putting Measure H on the ballot in 2008 due to a last-minute increase in the per-parcel cap, said she would find it difficult to support a new tax if a similar last-minute change is imposed.

“If this board comes back with last-minute deliberations and changes agreed-upon parameters … I will not vote to support it,” Jensen said.

The board agreed they would support a tax based on building square footage that lasts seven years, with an exemption for seniors and certain disabled people. They also said they would charge owners of lots without structures, like parking lots and fields, a flat rate of $300.

While amounts weren’t decided, the board discussed a tax that could generate $12 million a year, with a cap that would be less than the $9,500 per-parcel limit imposed by Measure H. Superintendent Kirsten Vital said that to generate $12 million, property owners would be charged 27 cents per square foot of building without a cap, 31 cents with a cap of $9,500 per parcel, 32 cents with a cap of $7,000 and 33 cents with a cap of $5,000.

The board seemed to generally agree on what the tax money should be spent on – smaller class sizes, neighborhood schools, art and music, high school athletics and counseling were on the list – but priorities remained to be worked out. Spencer said she wants to see smaller class sizes for all students, instead of just younger elementary school students.

And Spencer, who has consistently advocated for the closure of the district’s smaller schools, said she’d put neighborhood schools at the bottom of her list, while McMahon and Board President Ron Mooney said they’d advocate for protecting neighborhood elementary schools.

One other area of discussion was funding for charter schools. McMahon said he wanted that money to be available to new charter schools that could be developed, while other members of the board said they’d restrict the funding to charters that already exist.

Meanwhile, district officials presented a list of some $11 million in cuts the board will have to consider over the next two years if additional funding is not found. The proposed list included further class size increases in kindergarten through third grade, a greater reduction in the school year, school closures, a reduction in high school graduation requirements, teacher salary rollbacks and elimination of adult school services. Many of those items would be saved if a fresh parcel tax were passed.

The board ended its meeting shortly after midnight and will continue with items including a new set of school closure and consolidation scenarios at 9 a.m. Saturday in the third floor conference room of district offices, 2200 Central Avenue.

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