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AUSD Superintendent Kirsten Vital Weaves a Tangled Web

Last year, AUSD Superintendent Kirsten Vital paid an Oakland political consulting firm $14,000 for “design and programming of AUSD website redesign.” The same firm worked on AUSD’s Measure H in 2008, and the two principals of the firm were put on AUSD’s Master Plan Advisory Group last year by Ms. Vital.

Action Alameda News made the discovery in the process of filing public records requests with the school district to get an idea of the cost of the website redesign, which took place in increasingly tough financial times for the district. On February 9th, we made a request to the school district for details on the website rework. On February 11, Danielle Houck, General Counsel for AUSD, acknowledged the request and on February 25th, she responded with the requested information.

Delegation of Spending Authority and Webmaster Position

In January, 2009, the AUSD board approved resolution number 09-0002 delegating for the calendar year 2009 to the superintendent authority to enter into “bidding contracts, purchase supplies, materials, apparatus, equipment, and services for less than $76,700 and for less than $15,000 for labor and materials.” The resolution was approved on a 3 to 1 vote, with board trustees McMahon, Mooney and Tam voting ‘yes’ and Spencer voting ‘no.’ Trustee Jensen was absent.

Later that month, the board approved a resolution on an educational technology plan update that proposed spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on network equipment, digital curriculum and a faster, more reliable Internet connection for the district. Included in the plan was an update to the District’s website.

Goal: Provide efficient and effective communications systems
Utilizing the Districts WEB presence

Develop and upgrade the District WEB Site
Put forms and documentation on WEB site
HR – applications
Fiscal – standard forms
Purchasing – lists of products and costs
District – Policies and Procedures
Technology – videos and self training
Increase and enhance parent, community communications
Online feedback
SchoolLoop / grades and assignments

In the spring of 2009, AUSD also created the position of “webmaster” – according to AUSD Board Trustee Mike McMahon “The webmaster position was created to support [sic] the ongoing support needed for adding new content and functionality.”

McMahon, McMahon & McMahon

The webmaster position was filled by none other than Rebecca McMahon – Mike McMahon’s daughter. According to an AUSD salary schedule and comments provided by Mike McMahon, his daughter might earn anywhere from roughly $41,000 per year to $51,000 per year, depending on her tenure, as a webmaster for the District. McMahon’s wife, Sue, is a secretary on the District’s payroll at Paden School. McMahon confirmed that there are no other family members on the District’s payroll.

On May 26, 2009, the AUSD Board approved a job description titled “Web/Web Communications.” Rebecca McMahon is listed on the website as “Webmaster/Web Communications.” The job description in the May meeting minutes reads:

This position, under the direction of the Director of Information and Technology Services, will design and maintain the District’s website(s), ensuring the continual correctness, completeness, and timelines of information on the website.

Mike McMahon told Action Alameda News that the webmaster position was filled by his daughter in July 2009, after work on the website redesign had already begun. Rebecca (Becky) McMahon told us “Yes, Mike McMahon is my father. As for the re-design of the web, I was hired after the re-design, so I had no role in the re-design process.”

However, the position was approved May 26th, and the June 9, 2009 AUSD Board meeting minutes show that the board approved a classified personnel appointment for a “McMahon” that night. The invoice for the web redesign work indicated that the work by an outside firm was done from May 2009 through August 2009.

Erwin & Muir

Maureen Erwin and Maggie Muir run an Oakland-based “Public Affairs and Political Consulting” called “Erwin & Muir.” On their website, they list Grassroots Organizing, Direct Mail, General Consulting for Campaigns among their services offered. They don’t list “website redesign and programming” as a service offered. (See below.) Yet, in August, 2009, Erwin and Muir issued an invoice to AUSD for $14,000, with the explanation “Invoice for cost of website redesign and programming from 5/09-08/09.” The amount of $14,000 was within the lower of the two limits set by the board in January for delegation to the superintendent.

Additionally, the invoice specifies that payment was due for website redesign work that began in May of 2009 – the same month that the AUSD Board approved a new position titled “webmaster” with duties to “design and maintain the District’s website(s)…”

Erwin and Muir Ausd 2009

Danielle Houck, AUSD General Counsel, confirmed for Action Alameda News that there was no written contract to back-up the arrangement with Erwin & Muir for the services referenced in the invoice.

Erwin & Muir also provide a list on their website of past campaigns they have worked on. That list includes “Yes on Measure H, City of Alameda Parcel Tax,” apparently in reference to the controversial AUSD Measure H parcel tax in 2008 which is still the subject of litigation.

Calls to both Maureen Erwin and Maggie Muir for comment on this story were not returned by press time.

Master Plan Advisory Group

In June of 2009, in a master plan update letter, Superintendent Vital announced that she had formed an advisory group to aid the District’s Master Plan development process. To that advisory group, she added the principals of Erwin and Muir, Maggie Muir and Maureen Erwin.

Excerpt of Vital’s June 2009 Letter (Emphasis Added)

To act as a sounding board and provide feedback as I move through this Master Plan process I’ve asked a few individuals to serve on an advisory group. I selected them based on their expertise and skills in curriculum, instruction, administration, fiscal background, student experience, and community outreach. Members of the group are Steve Jubb, Ed O’Neil, Sean McPhetridge, Vickie Smith, Rob Siltanen, Katherine Crawford, Jennifer Ramos, Ben O’Neil, Maggie Muir, Maureen Erwin, Ash Vesudeva, and Stephanie Wilson. If you run into them, please feel free to talk with them about the Master Plan process. I welcome everyone’s feedback. This group will end in August after the August 18th meeting.

At the time of this writing, the school district is gearing up for a campaign to pass another parcel tax, to replace the 2008 Measure H parcel tax and a parcel tax that was passed in 2002 under a school district measure known as Measure A, and increased in 2005.

At the February 23rd, 2010 meeting, the AUSD Board approved a master plan presented by Superintendent Vital. (AUSD Board member Spencer voted against approval of the master plan.) The Superintendent’s preferred plan is “Plan A” that depends on the new replacement parcel tax:

Plan A depends both on the passage of a parcel tax to replace Measures A and H and the implementation of cost-cutting measures (including streamlining the district’s central office and temporarily increasing class sizes to 24.5:1 for grades K-3 and 35:1 for 9th grade).

Overlapping Web Designers

In short, the master plan approved by the board calls for a new parcel tax, and was developed with the support of an advisory group that included Maureen Erwin and Maggie Muir, who run a firm that helped to pass the 2008 parcel tax. Erwin and Muir sat on the advisory group for a period last summer concurrent with the time period they say that they worked on AUSD’s website.

And AUSD Board Trustee Mike McMahon’s daughter was hired in June of 2009, following a board approval of a webmaster “design and maintain the AUSD website” position in May, the same month that Erwin & Muir said they began their work, which ended in August, on the AUSD website redesign. And despite her employment overlapping with Erwin & Muir’s website redesign effort, Becky McMahon herself asserts that she “had no role in the re-design process.”

We spoke to a local web designer, who did not want to be named for this article, who thought that $14,000 was too much to pay for the apparent work delivered on the new AUSD website. For example, the SchoolLoop functionality promised in the technology update is hosted by a third provider, SchoolLoop.com, which provides ready-made web page templates and is provided to school districts at no charge.

Unanswered Questions

Last week, we posed a number of questions to Superintendent Vital, including:

Was this [website redesign] project put out to competitive bid? Who else bid on it? Why was Erwin/Muir selected over the other vendors?

Ms. Houck said that there was no contract recorded for this work, although the invoice is for a substantial amount – $14,000. Is this typical for AUSD? At what $ threshold would you normally have a written contract for such work?

The vendor, Erwin & Muir, advertise on their web site as political consultants, not website designers. Is there something specific that made them well-suited for this web re-design project?

In your June 2009 master plan update letter, you mentioned that both the principals of Erwin and Muir were part of the Master Plan advisory group. Can you tell me what expertise and skills either Ms. Erwin or Ms. Muir have in “curriculum, instruction, administration, fiscal background, student experience, and community outreach” – aside from their past work on the Measure H campaign – that made them well-suited to sit on the advisory board?

By press time, Ms. Vital had not responded.

Incidentally, the updated web design removed the ‘public records request’ submission form that was present in the old design, a form that Action Alameda News used routinely to request information from the District. Also, the District is being sued over unrelated issues of transparency and alleged violations of the Brown Act.

Erwin and Muir Services

48 comments to AUSD Superintendent Kirsten Vital Weaves a Tangled Web

  • Anonymous

    Was Ms. McMahon hired competitively to “to support the ongoing support needed for adding new content and functionality.”

    So now there are 3 MacMahon’s working for the school district, which has seen fit to hire an attorney, a webmaster, and a political consulting firm without a written contract?

    And what is this $659 new parcel tax supposed to pay for? Teachers? How much overhead (nonclass room teachers) does this district have compared to other similar sized districts? Anyone know?

  • RM

    Thank you for digging this information up and publicizing it.

    What a mess these people have gotten the school district in.

    Anyone who has paid a web designer knows that $14,000 will pay for a humdinger of a website!

    Please continue your research and your posts. The average citizen just doesn’t have time to look for this stuff. And they trust the elected school board members to act in the citizen’s best interest.

    What a messy, messy, mess this is.

    And they hope we’ll vote an increased tax so they can do more of this type of work??? Forget it.

  • It’s not clear that either Erwin & Muir (for the website) nor Becky McMahon (for the webmaster position) were competitively hired. Superintendent Vital was not responding to questions.

  • Anonymous

    This is almost as bad as Elihu Harris and Peralta hiring his partner without competition and or disclosure. No on second thought, it is just as bad, because this is Alameda’s own school district. Not a remote thing we can blame on other’s elected officials. These are own elected officials.

  • poguemahone

    Smell that? You smell that? Nepotism, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of nepotism in the morning!

  • R. Beck

    Mike McMahon and the BOE are in the process of putting another parcel tax on the ballot in June. They will be voting on the recommendation of the superintendent in a few days. McMahon is the only one left on the BOE that voted for Measure H in 2008, Jensen voted No. We all know the mess that Measure created in our community. Now we are facing another tax even bigger and longer. Mike McMahon and his family are on the payroll of AUSD and therefore he has a financial interest in the passage of the new tax.He should resign as member of the board immediately, since there is a conflict of interest.

  • Barb

    If the WebManager position was filled noncompetively and a McMahon hired for it, then it looks like something that the FPPC, Attorney General, or Grand Jury should look into.

    I wouldn’t oppose hiring a political consultant to join with other school districts in seeking to equalize the formula for computation of ADA. This however is more business as usual. Forget equality or doing their jobs properly. Lets just go to the deep pockets of the electorate to get more money to spend however we want.

  • We received an e-mail to clarify a point in a previous story we did about the Master Plan and the proposed parcel tax. “Plan A” in the master plan calls for a ‘split-roll’ tax – the same as Measure H – that would raise $14 million per year, or $112 million over eight years. We had incorrectly written “$14 million over eight years…” While the master plan has been approved by the AUSD board, the parcel tax has not yet been put to a vote by the board, even though the District is trying to round up support for it among the Alameda public. The next AUSD board meeting should be March 9th.

  • SCHOOL EMPLOYEE

    This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are several members of the committee and the board who have direct confilcts because the passing of the Master Plan furthers their personal agendas (children will attend new district “approved” and promoted Charter School) Did you lknow about the “accidental” use of AUSD mailing envelopes for the new charter school adverstisements to prospective AUSD 5th graders? Also, there is a letter form Ms. Vital on Alameda Charter Academy’s website promoting the school. Is there a similar one on Lincoln and Wood’s website-NO! Lots of monkey business to be sure.

  • No, we didn’t know about the “accidental” use of the AUSD mailing envelopes. Please send us more details at newstips@action-alameda-news.com We won’t publish your name.

    If you look to the bottom of this page: http://www.action-alameda-news.com/ausd-enrollment-demographics/ you will see a map of the players in KASE, AEF and the current parcel tax advisory group. We are aware that a lot of power is consistently placed in the hands of the same people in the same elementary school districts over and over again.

  • Lori

    I hope that people are able to separate their concern over the incidents outlined in the article above from the issue of the upcoming parcel tax vote.

    The parcel tax is needed because California schools increasingly cannot rely on state or federal funds to meet their budget needs. If Alameda wants quality schools for its childen, it must provide more money to the schools. Prop 13 was the worst thing to happen to education in California and has made things like the parcel tax necessary. California schools are some of the lowest ranked in the country not because of the things expressed in this article, but because California residents aren’t willing to pay taxes to support them.

    If the incidents above trouble you, then express your displeasure through communication with the individuals involved or by voting individuals out of office. Don’t use this as an excuse to vote against the parcel tax.

  • That’s a good point.

    However, there are over $2.0 billion in California property taxes that Californians have willingly paid, and which the state legislature has tried to transfer to California’s schools. But the California Redevelopment Association – a builders/developer’s lobby – has sued the state to prevent that from happening. http://www.calredevelop.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Home&TEMPLATE=/CM/ContentDisplay.cfm&CONTENTID=6365

    The mechanism – tax increment financing – used to generate this money being held back from our schools is the same one that SunCal planned (plans?) on using to fund the $200 million in “public benefits” they promised in Measure B. AUSD Board Trustee McMahon came out in favor of Measure B, Trustees Jensen and Spencer came out against it, and so far as we know, Trustees Mooney and Tam were silent.

    The State is trying to provide more money for schools within current restraints, but there is a powerful lobby group fighting back. You may want to let your school board trustees know how you feel about that as well.

  • Becky McMahon

    The “classified job” that I, Becky McMahon, was hired for in May 2009 was a DIFFERENT position, in the fiscal department. When I saw the webmaster/web communications position that was POSTED, I applied and had to go through a screening process and a panel interview, just like every other qualified applicant. It was a competitive hiring process and it was my background and degree in Communications that earned me this position. I was hired in July 2009 for the webmaster/web communication position, after the re-design of the website, as I told David Howard.

  • It’s true that Becky told us that she was hired for the webmaster job in July. However, we saw the appointment in the May meeting notes, and mentioned it to her by e-mail, and she responded, but did not explain that it was for a different position. She did tells us that she couldn’t remember her start date in July for the webmaster position. Mike McMahon also told us that she started in the webmaster role in July, but neglected to tell us that she started in May 2009 for a DIFFERENT position

    In any event, the webmaster position was approved in May, the same month that Vital apparently issued a $14,000 PO for an outside firm to do the work.

  • Barb

    Why should I vote to tax myself to come up with and create an annual deficit in a poorly run district, when the elected officials can’t even be bothered to seek equality for Alameda’s children with those of other cities within the County? Why should Oakland and Alameda children receive less ADA than Pleasanton or Dublin children? Answer me that before AUSD asks me to pay for the difference myself.

    And don’t blame Prop 13. I think schools have fully recovered from that hit. It is just idiotic spending without using good business practices. Which one of us would be stupid enough to award a $14,000 contract to an entity without a written contract? Let alone getting a couple of competitive bids. You operate like that of course you are going to need someone to bail you out. Forever!! As long as people can be duped into closing their eyes, pinching their noses (to avoid the smell) and writing a check to cover whatever these spendthrifts want.

  • Vital might have cleared up some of these issues – Becky McMahon’s hiring, and for which role at which date, the lack of a contract with Erwin & Muir, etc. if she had responded to our e-mail inquiries.

    If Becky McMahon can provide proof of her hiring and job history with AUSD, we’ll gladly share the dates without publishing confidential info.

  • Becky McMahon

    I will contact HR tomorrow to give you the exact hire date for my current position. But I have been with AUSD since 2004.

  • Stories keep changing, and new details of conflict of interest keep emerging. I had an article in the Alameda Sun last week, “Representation Without Taxation” that applies to all this, and have another, “The Appearance of Impropriety,” which will probably appear on this web site soon. Stay tuned.

    Dennis “Geezerville” Green

  • Concerned Parent

    so what do you expect parents who have children in alameda schools do then? this is about the CHILDREN remember? not just politics. does this article “solve” any problem?- NO. does this article give parents any useful information? -NO. the fact is that if this parcel tax doesn’t pass, its the kids and our community’s future that will have to pay the price. the state is the MAIN reason the district has to make ongoing cuts. the Alameda board is just trying to figure out how to maintain a district in which our children can succed. I’m proud to say i grew up in alameda’s public schools, and i hope my son will be able to say the same. however, if this doesn’t pass, his school will close.

  • Sharpie

    I would be interested in knowing how many consultants, for how many contracts, for how much money the Superintendent and Board of Education spent to help her do the job they hired her for? From what I have observed, she is doing a great job in creating “Oakland West” here on the Island.

  • Barb

    If this is truly about the children then why don’t the children in Alameda get the same amount of money – ADA – as students in Pleasanton or Dublin??????? Why not DEMAND of your elected officials to straighten out this inequality? Is there some reason that Alameda’s children are not entitled to the same amount as the students in the rest of the County?? Is is cheaper to educate children in Alameda than in Dublin? Is the cost of living less in Alameda???

    The Board is just taking the easy way out AGAIN! One way for the Board to figure out how to maintain a district in which students can succeed, is to start using sound business practices. Would you give someone $14,000 without a written contract?? NO ONE WITH AN OUNCE OF BRAINS OR EDUCATION WOULD DO THAT! Just because it is tax money doesn’t mean they can squander it any which way. Thomas Jefferson once said that 80% of all money spent by government is wasted. I think he may have been too generous.

  • Consider that the school board may have given you a “false choice” by giving only two opposite extreme options in the master plan – plan a (parcel tax) or plan b (school closures, etc.)

    In any event, even if schools close, it doesn’t mean that ALL schools will close – just that some kids will have to go to a different school within Alameda.

  • Andy Currid

    Barb – children here don’t get the same amount of money per ADA as students in Pleasanton and Dublin because funding formulas were set in the late 70s, based on the economic conditions in place at the time, and no legislature since then has had the political will to equalize the formulas to account for today’s economic realities. When there is no new money on the table for education, equalizing districts’ funding will inevitably mean some districts’ funding will go down – and no legislator, Democrat or Republican, has been prepared to stick their neck out and vote for that.

    I personally think the only way through that impasse is via the courts.

    I see that the Alameda School Board had an agenda item in its closed session tonight entitled “D-4. Initiation of Litigation: (1 case) Litigation Contemplated Against the State of
    California”.

  • M

    That could be true, and that should be fixed. But that does not mean that they are not using poor business practice. With all of the out of work web designers, does Ms. McMahon qualify more then they do to be hired in that position?
    What did Erwin/Muir do for 14K, because the question was raised when do you get a more detailed invoice for work. I just had work done, and I received a half a page of detailed information about the work that was to be done , and the bill was only $650.00, a couple of years ago I had work that cost around $2000, and we had 2 pages of descriptive work that would done, detailing the job. Something is lacking in the information that we are given, or maybe it is all right there for us to see.
    But the point is I think (my thoughts only) that it is more unethical that have paid them 14K to do a job when they just hired somebody to do the samething, and then put them on an advisory committee for the “Master Plan”, and that their company was used to promote Measure H, by your group Andy K.A.S.E, or is it A Plus Now? Anyway it will be watched very closely to see if they are involved in the new parcel tax in any way. Because it sounds like they like some other people have their hands in way to many cookie jars.

    The issue we need to look at is the teachers and principles. They receive about 92% of the whole budget, what are we, and our children getting for their money. We should have higher expectations from them and demand it. They are paid well, some of them are over paid for the job that they do. Yes, education is important but it is a business, and should be run like one. If they are not doing the job fire them. Yes there are many factors involved that make that impossible, yes the teachers union has way to much power. We run in fright that we will have stupid children, and have voted better salaries in, and higher taxes to the great harm of other people’s lively hood, and what have we got. Not a better education system, just a higher tax bill, and some kids who still can’t do math or read! The question that should be running around is how can we squeeze a better union contract out of them, with more hours, more controls to hold them accountable in how well our kids are being taught.
    Sorry I will get off my soap box:)

  • Clay

    I was pulled aside by one of Ms. Vital’s writers of this “Master Plan” and was told… “for $5,000.00 per student I could provide Alameda’s children with an excellent education. Close gaps in the academic scores based on race and the whole shooting match”. Well,
    either I was being placated or there is something to it. Either way,
    asking us to strap on a outrageous tax for an unreasonable amount of time is rediculious. For starters, this board has not been honest with the taxpayers nor the families of the children involved. Their agenda has not our students best interests in mind. The “Plan A” is full of un-merited scare tactics. Also, why would the BOE ask for more money since they did not produce the results in achievement gaps as promised? Also why have a separate emergency ballot measure instead of waiting until November? It is just more wasted tax dollars that we should be using to actually teach kids math and english instead of paying for ill-advised propaganda. No more money should be asked from us until they have a real “Master Plan”.

  • Alameda Home Owner

    First let me start by saying that the parcel tax is helping keep schools open. Without it, yes, people will lose jobs, but that’s because the district will shrink. There will be ONE high school in Alameda. Teachers will be cut, class sizes will be raised. There will be less middle schools and less elementary schools. The parcel tax does not ADD 499 dollars to the current one, it REPLACES IT. The current parcel tax is around 350 dollars a year. The new one will is estimated somewhere around 499, which is only 150 dollars a year. All these people voting NO on the parcel tax are people that don’t want to contribute a small amount to the school district they currently live in. If you want our schools to get funded like Dublin or Pleasanton, then move there.

    For the comment this uneducated author made about Mike McMahon needing to resign from the board because of conflict of interest, he needs to do some more digging. Yes, Mike did vote yes to create the Web/Web Communications position. Why? Did you see the old website? It was a mess. The new website gets the parents and the communities involved with DAILY UPDATES. The new website was made to keep the community aware of everything going on in the district. Has it not helped the parents of the kids attending school in Alameda? Mike is on the board because he CARES about the SCHOOLS. He cares about the kids. The state of California is cutting budgets left and right, and who suffers? The kids. Mike voted FOR measure B, the redevelopment of the navy base. Why? Because there was no cost out of our pockets, and in the long run, it would benefit the SCHOOLS! Crazy, right?

    So for the whole “McMahon, McMahon, McMahon” thing, Mike has been on the board since around 2003 or 2003 I believe. Sue, his wife, has been employed at Paden School since somewhere between 1995 and 1997. Rebecca has been with the district since 2004 and worked part time as a health clerk while attending college. Getting a job with the school district is a PROCESS, just like any other job. There are no shoe-ins. You need to get fingerprinted, you need to HAVE the qualifications, interview, then PANEL interview. Is the board part of this process? No. Are the office managers part of this process? No.

    David Howard wrote this article after digging up information. He put together his information in a time line that is not right. He claims that “School Loop” was fine for the district web site. The district was paying School Loop a monthly service fee. Now, they host their own site, so no monthly “outsourcing” costs. He states that her salary range is between 41k and 51k. Did he list all of her responsibilities? No.

    David Howard, I don’t care what your credentials say, you did a poor job of reporting and just stirred up dirt with wrong information. Do you even live in Alameda? If so, then maybe you should think twice about the future of your kids education. If you DON’T live in Alameda, why do you waste your time reporting and trying to sway people’s opinions when it doesn’t concern you at all.

    After all is said and done, the parcel tax in Alameda is the deciding factor of the future of Alameda schools. If it doesn’t pass, be prepared to increase class sizes, cut teachers, and close schools. Yes, there will be more charter schools, but those schools are funded by the state. Why not put the money into schools that are already there? Think about it.

  • Another homeowner

    The school board better get tuned into the “total residents” of Alameda. Like it or not, the “total residents” vote. “total residents” means seniors, business owners, childless couples, families with children in private school, not just families with children in Alameda schools.
    The last letter thinks McMahon is so good. “He voted for measure B.” Why,”because there was no cost out of our pockets.” What is he smoking? 85% of the ballot voters saw measure B differently.
    Our district is in trouble. But, a board and superintendent running the system as they do, isn’t the answer. The strong teachers union isn’t the answer. Plowing more tax money in isn’t the answer. You need business heads (not education heads) running what is a business, like it or not.
    And finally, mark these words. If 85% of the voters knocked down measure B, the BOE better be very carefull with what they bring to the next election in the way of additional tax dollars.

  • “He claims that “School Loop” was fine for the district web site.” – where does it say that?

    Go to the links for the elementary schools, and they are hosted at SchoolLoop.com : http://bayfarm.alamedausd.ca.schoolloop.com/

    http://earhart.alamedausd.ca.schoolloop.com/

    etc.

    Please tell us what is not right about the timeline? Everything is documented. And pretty much confirmed by Kirsten Vital – we have a letter from her that will go into a new story for next week.

    As for Becky McMahon – she provided more info too – looks like she was employed by district since 2004 (her own words) and has a communications degree (her words.) The board minutes when the webmaster job was created listed “To design the AUSD website….” but she didn’t do that…. If she wants to send her job discription, or if the AUSD board wants to share it, we will review. But they’ve been sorely lacking when it comes to public records responses. We’re still waiting for an answer to a request for the purchase order for Erwin & Muir for the website design.

    If you have corrections about “wrong information” then please provide it, and document, otherwise this is just hot air.

    And, yes, there is a cost to redevelopment of Alameda Point (Mike McMahon knows this very well too – we’ve sent him all the info.) The California Redevelopment Association is suing the state of California to keep them from transferring $2 billion to the schools from local redevelopment developer subsidy funds. McMahon knows this too. If you want to fund the schools, one must stop supporting “redevelopment” – yet that’s what SunCal was relying on for their $200 million in “public benefits” – a big redevelopment subsidy from Alameda Point taxpayers. See “CRA v. Genest” at http://www.calredevelop.org//AM/Template.cfm?Section=Home

    The new parcel tax is estimated to be $659 per year – not $499 per year. http://www.alameda.k12.ca.us/images/stories/pdfs/boemtg/boe022310parceltaxrecommendation.pdf

    And yes, schools may close. That doesn’t mean that kids won’t get educated – it means they’ll go to a different school in Alameda.

  • Andy – the Litigation against the state of Calfornia is great – but two years too late. You were one of the people in 2008 who said “We have no time for that! We need a parcel tax now to save the schools!” What have you done about the redevelopment question or the ADA question since then, except get http://www.alamedaschools.org ready for a new parcel tax under a new name?

  • I ran my own business for more than 25 years — Lazzari & Green Advertising — with 65 clients in health care, insurance and real estate. Taught Advertising at Hayward State in the Communications Dept. ’96-2000.

    Here’s the business point of view of AUSD: Anyone who has ever managed a company, or even a large department, knows what Superintendent Kirsten Vital is up against. With 9,596 students, and only $80,951,350 in revenues from property taxes and other sources, she has an average of $8,435.95 per student this year.
    So let’s imagine a first grade class, with 20 students. That’s about $168,718.95 in that roomful of revenue. Say she’s paying that first grade teacher, to be very generous, $68,718.95 in salary and benefits.
    That leaves her $100,000 for overhead for a nine-month school year. $100K for that one classroom plus supplies, services and equipment. And a share of the front office. $11,111.11 per month for overhead for that one room out of over 470 such rooms. How does she manage?
    Yes, I’m being ironic, even sarcastic, but from a business point of view, AUSD is one of the fattest cats in town.

    Dennis Green

  • Parent

    If the parcel tax doesn’t pass, schools will be closed. Yes. Class sizes will be increased. Yes. There is one comment above that says something about Alameda not providing a proper education and low test scores or something. You can’t blame the teachers. Learning starts with the PARENTS. If you ignore your kid and don’t help them along, you can’t blame other people for your shortcomings. Yes, the parcel tax is going to cost more money, but that’s money that will help the school district as a whole. If the parcel tax doesn’t pass, there will be a huge change, but how will that change effect us? We won’t know until it happens. I know that kids will go to different schools in Alameda, which is fine. Either way is fine with me. I’m voting yes on the parcel tax because I actually care about my community and I am not selfish. To me, it sounds like the writer of this article doesn’t really like the situation we are in. Don’t blame the district, blame the state of California, the governor, and the the U.S. Government as a whole for dumping money that should go to education into warfare and bailouts. Where is the education bailout? Oh wait, there isn’t one, so we need to come together as a people and fight for the FUTURE of the kids running our country.

  • Small Business Owner

    Thank you Dennis! I employ myself to support my kids and do what I can to make sure they get the things they need. I love the way you showed numbers, and you are right, this company doesn’t make enough money to run itself, so it needs our help. The comment above me says we need to bail out our schools, but i disagree with that. Bailouts are needed when a company (Wall street) screws up big time. The school district didn’t screw up. The state screwed them. Yes, 14,000 was too much to pay for a design of a website, I agree completely. But 14,000 in the whole scheme of things isn’t enough to justify taking more money away from the district.

  • It’s not about the expenditure of $14,000. Some people have interpreted the story about the website as evidence that “the fix was in” on a parcel tax as early as May of last year, around the time when Vital would have issued the purchase order to Erwin & Muir. Erwin & Muir then sat on the master plan advisory board, to come up with a master plan that some people have interpreted as a political document with a foregone conclusion – to pass a parcel tax. This raises the question as to whether or not the master plan is an “honest” document – does it really reflect the only choices AUSD has? Or is it intended to present an overly bleak alternative to a parcel tax? Is there nothing in the middle?

  • Parent

    Action Alameda: Did you attend all the community meetings they hosted for community involvement? There were 8 of them. At each meeting they presented more and more options/choices and asked for opinions from the community. They also even had smaller, independent community meetings hosted by public education volunteers whose job it was to hear the opinions of our community. After each meeting, they eliminated options that were highly opposed by our community. If you had an opinion or a bright idea on how the district can fill the gaps from the state budget, you could have spoke it then.
    They did not just throw together this master plan in a week, or even in a month, the process has been going on for a year now. The final Master plan document has the options they narrowed it down to after LISTENING to what we had to say.
    So after all of that, you question if this is the only choice AUSD has? What’s your bright idea?

  • Well, no matter what the above readers think, the parcel tax ain’t gonna pass, so let’s see what happens next. Plan B in the Bastard Plan is “unthinkable” – no P.E., art or music teachers for elementary schools, no under-enrolled schools, slightly larger classes, a very slightly shorter school year, (probably by cutting some “Prep Days”), fewer counsellors, a smaller central office…

    What a disaster! Especially if you’re one of the teachers who gets laid off, who kept your job in the face of declining enrollment only by reducing class size and keeping those small schools open. Meanwhile, kids in Harbor Bay live farther from their school than kids in the Gold Coast, where the parents have more clout!

    The system is a mess, and a huge new parcel tax isn’t going to fix what’s wrong. Neither is the Masters of the Universe Plan, crafted almost entirely by a “Public Affairs & Political Consulting” firm from Oaktown.

    Dennis Green

  • You’re missing the point – some people think the whole master plan effort was gamed.

    Since the last parcel tax, we have been educating the public about how “Redevelopment” takes property tax money from schools to subsidize developers. Raise your hand if you want to pay a parcel tax to subsidize a developer. Now raise your hand if you want to pay a parcel tax for the schools. See how it works?

    We have also been pushing on consecutive AUSD board members and Superintendents to do something about it. Everyone on the current board is well aware of the lawsuit CRA v. Genest et al. which is the California Redevelopment Association suing the state to keep over $2 billion from the State’s K-12 public schools. We have continually updated the board on both this, and the previous Redevelopment Association lawsuit to keep developer subsidy money from the schools. http://www.calredevelop.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=2009_2010_Lawsuit_Docs&Template=/TaggedPage/TaggedPageDisplay.cfm&TPLID=66&ContentID=6000 Think about your schools every time you go into the Cineplex or Theater, or the Civic Center Parking Garage, both of which were built with “redevelopment” dollars.

    In 2008, we identified over $1 million in “redevelopment” funds held by the City of Alameda redevelopment agency, and pushed AUSD to get that money, which, after denying it existed, they finally did. Most of it was used for portables at Otis School.

    In 2008, we tried to talk to and educate the two big unions that work at AUSD – the Teachers unions could put a lot of pressure on Sacramento to fix the redevelopment problem if they chose to do so. Neither group was interested in hearing it or learning.

    In 2008, we encouraged Measure H proponents to go after “redevelopment” money and Sacramento to fix the ADA inequity problem. So far as we know, they did nothing. So here we are again.

    Across the state, over 400 redevelopment agencies rake in over $10 billion per year of property taxes.

    In Alameda County, (source: Alameda County annual report), 12.24% of assessed property value, or $24.5 billion worth, is subject to redevelopment tax increment appropriation, and in Fiscal Year 2007-08, $232 million of property taxes went to local redevelopment agencies instead of to the county or city general funds. Of property tax receipts in Alameda County, 13 cents of every property tax dollar goes to local redevelopment agencies, 18 cents goes to cities, 13 cents goes to special districts, 15 cents goes to the county, and 41 cents goes to local schools.

    We’d like to see the root cause of the problem addressed, and not bounce from parcel tax to parcel tax every few years, which is expensive, and (obviously) divisive.

    There is a lot of property tax money sloshing around, it’s just in the wrong hands.

  • Barb

    Andy – the funding formulas were based on amounts actually paid by communities at the time. Since Dublin and Pleasanton were building, they were paying more. The Navy was contributing millions to AUSD, so Alameda was paying less. That has been over for 12 years plus. The school districts that are hit the hardest are Alameda and Oakland. When Wilma Chan was Assembly Majority Whip she worked on equalizing funding. And Don Perata was President of the Senate. Their Websites said their number One priority was schools. Arguably two of the most powerful elected individuals in the state when it came to creating and passing legislation. And both came with intimate knowledge of both Alameda and Oaklands schools and their problems. So why is it so hard to legislate what seems to be the law? That students’ education be funded equally? The local officials doon’t even bother to make this a concern. It is easier for them to whine to the taxpayers and real estate people and claim that to maintain property values we need good schools.
    As an AUSD graduate, I suffered through the closings of schools by AUSD for my own children. This is what happens when a district runs out of money, due to spending foolishly, and not demanding that our students get equal ADA.

  • Anonymous

    When schools closed and students went to other nearby neighborhood schools,they survived and thrived by developing new friendhips and experiencing more cultural differences.

    We like Barb, have been there, done that; and it worked out.

  • Lori

    The problem with education spending is not unique to Alameda. it is time however, that Alameda, and other cities, realize that they cannot rely on state money. Prop 13, redevelopment funds, for whatever reason right now we are not paying enough money for California education. California’s per pupil funding of K-12 education is ranked near the bottom among all states – 47th out of 50. That is horrifying! If we want the next generation to succeed, we need to start ponying up. This is in everyone’s interest – not just parents.

    Long-term, maybe something needs to be done about Prop 13 or redevelopment issues. But that is not going to happen soon enough and we need to do something now.

  • yes, that’s exactly what Measure H supporters said in 2008. “We need to do something now!” And after the parcel tax was done – nobody did anything about Prop 13 or redevelopment issues.

    (BTW – if prop 13 is changed, redevelopment agencies will be big beneficiaries – not cities and schools. Over $600 billion of land subject to redevelopment tax appropriation – new taxes on that land would go to the redevelopment agencies.)

  • Redevelopment is a scam and always has been! Look at what it did to the Fillmore District in San Francisco, a once-vibrant, African-American neighborhood with famous jazz clubs, wonderful cafes and restaurants, and none of the real “blight” redevelopment claims to solve.

    What has it done for Alameda? Neither the theater nor parking lot is paying for itself, parking meter rates in downtown have doubled to drive parking into the structure, and Alan Michaan’s wonderful plan to renovate the old Alameda Theater was thwarted by the City’s demands about off-street parking. (See his potential movie theater at the Point. Shhhh!)

    City council members love re-development funding because they can claim it’s “free money.” Like the federal funds that built the infamous bicycle draw bridge, unless you understand who pays federal taxes!

    Frank Matarrese, current city council member is running for Mayor, and so is former city council member Tony Daysog. We need to hold their feet to the fire on these issues, if not tar and feather them, from the feet up!

    Dennis Green

  • Both Matarrese and Daysog were boosters of the redevelopment-backed Cineplex/Parking Garage scheme…

  • Barb

    Redevelopment is just developer speak for give us more of your money even if we can’t dupe you into buying our product. What is the real difference between development and redevelopment? It has been so misused by the developers and their influential wanting to get rich friends, Willie Brown, Ed Meese, and others. “Redevelopment” just means special exemptions, more tax money and less scrutiny for developers.

  • AUSD Vendor

    I find this appalling. Kirsten Vital should resign immediately. Her tangled web will soon eat her up. The nepotism continues while the AUSD vendors go unpaid for months on end.. I have first hand experience.

  • Please contact us – we’ll keep your confidentiality. Just give us enough clues what to ask for in public records request for a handful of vendors, and we’ll dig in to this.

  • Let’s examine the State of California’s current tax policies:
    1) California imposes America’s fourth highest top marginal tax rate, behind only Hawaii, Oregon and New Jersey.
    2) California’s progressive tax rate on more productive, higher earners, is the nation’s third steepest.
    3) Our corporate income tax is the country’s eighth highest.
    4) Our sales tax is the highest in America.
    5) Even with Prop. 13, there are 16 states with lower property taxes than California.

    All of these facts make our state far less competitive in attracting new business than nearby states Nevada and Utah, which impose much lower taxes overall. So let’s not just assume that Prop. 13 is the reason our schools rank so lowly in funding.

    DG

  • anonymous

    Have you investigated Kirsten Vital’s connection to the Broad Foundation?

  • [...] paper) should have dispatched their staffers to ask that Kirsten Vital woman (who is no stranger to nepotism, by the way) probing questions, and stuck their nose here and there to see what’s going on [...]

  • Irvine, Milpitas, Pleasanton Top Three Small California Cities Per Time Money Magazine http://t.co/ayQO7ePbCm ,
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