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AUSD Bailout

by Dennis Green

Are Alameda schools “too big to fail?” Or just too small to succeed?

If your $80 million per year business were facing a serious deficit, you’d cut expenses, trim payroll, maybe sell off some assets, eliminate a losing division or two. You wouldn’t ask the taxpayers to bail you out, to simply hand you $112 million MORE without any accountability or measurable return on their investment. Unless you were AIG…or AUSD.

Because that’s exactly what the Alameda Unified School District is doing. Although they will collect more than $80 million this year in property tax and parcel tax revenue and from other sources — $8,435 per student — that’s not enough.

Rather than justifying the money they do spend, the district officials simply complain that they don’t spend as much as some other nearby school districts do, that the State of California doesn’t spend enough, and that it’s a lack of funding that makes American public schools so inept. Or they blame the parents, and the students, or the culture. Or technology…

With nearly a third of high school students in America dropping out before graduation, and one in three schools failing the “No Child Left Behind” standards, however, our schools have more “recalls” than Toyota. GWB’s “No Child Left Behind” program hasn’t, apparently, worked, except to force faculties to “teach to the test.” President Obama’s “Race to the Top” program calls for better training, preparation, mentoring and accountability for teachers, weakening the grip of tenure and unions. But California didn’t qualify in Round One RTTT funding, largely because of opposition from the unions.

In a universe of one hundred billion galaxies, the problems of one little island off the coast of Oakland would seem almost inconsequential, but there it is. Three schools in Alameda have already gone “charter” and another — failing Chipman Middle School — is about to do the same. At least seven private schools also compete.

So what are the likely consequences if the AUSD proposed new parcel tax — more than double the current two parcel taxes combined, and extended over a period of eight years — fails? In a meeting I had with Trustee Mike McMahon, he said, “We will probably have to close one high school, one middle school and three elementary schools.” He did not name which ones.

But if you examine the holdings of AUSD, the land it owns, only one high school property contains sufficient acreage for future expansion, and that’s Encinal High, near the West End. Alameda High School is surrounded by private property, and owns only one nearby older building, seismically unsafe, currently housing central and district administrative offices.

Likewise, the smaller, under-enrolled elementary schools include Franklin, which serves students from families residing in the Gold Coast. Only in the face of a failed parcel tax initiative, and enormous deficits, would it be remotely acceptable to close Franklin Elementary, but the Superintendent may have to do just that.

Simply giving the schools more money without any greater accountability is like the infamous bank bailout of 2008. Any new funding should be tied to higher teaching standards, greater accountability and transparency.

But in 20 years, there won’t be any classrooms left as we know them. Fixing public education in America will take exceedingly radical changes, such as moving toward the Virtual Classroom, sharing the best teachers across district and state lines, and replacing textbooks with the electronic versions, probably Steve Jobs’ “iPad.” Maybe we can even replace some Superintendents…and Trustees.

14 comments to AUSD Bailout

  • J.E.A.

    This is wrong on so many levels it makes my skin crawl….You act as though the schools have not made cuts already. No one likes paying taxes but sometimes it just has to be done….Vote Yes and get over it…..I’m sure it will not break you!

  • Barb

    Of course children enrolled in AUSD with two working parents will see this as a most important issue to them. They are in their peak earning years. In their perspective this is financially easy and manageable.

    I cannot see how a district that has a $140,000 development director position, General Counsel, (with support staff?), fulltime litigation support on Measure H, a Webmaster, and so forth does not have room to make cuts. All the money spent on developing a Master Plan that isn’t even tied to the adoption of the parcel tax, was an amazing waste of tax dollars. The Parcel tax does not guarantee one penny to CORE education. The foregoing dollar amount are equivalent to 6 fulltime teachers. So we see where AUSD priorities lie.

    88% of residents don’t have children in AUSD. We are asked to bailout the schools, the hospital, and who knows what next? Everyone is losing something, jobs, homes, medical premiums up by 40%, Social security is now going down the drain years earlier. Home values, I suspect have gone down about 30% since the parcel taxes went into place. I don’t think the schools affect the value of my home, as it is only a 2 bedroom. And much too small to attract someone with children.

    AUSD is not much more than a mediocre school system run for and designed to placate the masses. If one wants the very best in education for one’s children, home schooling and private schools are a far better choice. If AUSD works for your child so be it. But many parents put in long hours in additional effort in order to make a difference in their childrens’ education above and beyond AUSD’s threshold.

    If the elected officials are content to accept unequal state funding for Alameda, why should the 88% make up the difference? I am more concerned about Social Security going under water by 2014. Call me names if that makes you fell better. I will be exempt for part of this tax, and will not force someone to pay for something that I can’t afford or don’t want myself. That would be unfair.

  • AlamedanForEducation

    Hi Dennis,

    Just wanted to point out this. This is not a bailout. This is democracy-in-action. The June ballot lets the VOTErs choose YES or NO.
    Alameda VOTErs have the power to VOTE yes and pass the parcel tax or VOTE no. A third option is not voting.

    Read the AUSD Master plan, google it. If the parcel tax fails, they have spelled out the PLAN B. So this is again democracy-in-action. No one is shoving it down your throat. READ, PONDER, VOTE.

    The bank bailout was rushed through, there was scant time to react. Remember the first attempt to pass the $700 billion bank bailout failed. The bank bailout finally passed on the second attempt.

    For this parcel tax, VOTErs have time to research, ponder, assess, think, argue, sleep over the issues.
    As with all complex, important matters, there is no simple answer.

    For me personally, I am planning to vote YES. (I say planning, because I have been listening to the arguments and weighing the alternatives– which I hope all VOTErs are doing. I can change my mind, but for now I am on the YES camp, see below why)

    My reasons for YES are:

    1. I feel the teachers at our school are doing a great job.

    2. Our principal is a honest and caring person. I have personally talked to him and emailed him as well.

    3. I can see that my 6 yr old child is doing well in reading, spelling, and math. I am comparing her academically to my nephews who are in home-school. (I’m not attacking home school, just sharing my personal observation). We are actively helping our child, but I also see how the teachers have taught her things as well.

    4. I think funding education is a good investment. As the cliche goes, “penny wise, pound foolish.”
    I know times are tough with California’s 12% unemployment. For me I can afford it, (an extra $30 per month) others may be able to afford it, so I understand if they vote NO. BUT I hope they think long term instead.

    5. We pay other taxes. We should attack those taxes and bloat instead. Would you rather pay taxes to fund Alameda Hospital, jails, bank bailouts (for bank bonuses), wars, bases in Japan and Germany?

    Better educated children generally means a better educated adult workforce, which hopefully translates usually to higher paid adult workers. These are the future workers who will be paying income taxes and paying into Social security.
    I know this is an oversimplification. I do know that I got a university degree, and I am earning more, compared to others who do not have a degree. (There are of course college dropouts who became billionaires, but those are rare). But what do you think? Do you think that cutting funding to public education would have:
    a. No effect
    b. Positive effect
    c. Negative effect

    THINK… Ponder… Discuss…. VOTE!


    I am not an employee of AUSD. I am a working professional.

    I do not have family members employed in AUSD. But I do have friends who are teachers in other school districts (Moraga, Union City).

    I am not a die-hard AUSD supporter. In fact I have problems with their hiring practices (ahem, McMahon’s daughter who was hired as a website designer).

    I am not a die-hard Teacher’s union supporter. I think unions have caused a lot of harm too. Tenure rules have meant that they retain teachers mainly because of tenure, and not because of skill, or results. Running a private company like this would put you out of business.
    I heard anecdotally that our previous principal retired because she would get the same pay in retirement or being employed by AUSD.

  • AlamedanForEducation – there are a couple problems with your approach.

    1) The language of the ballot measure is disconnected from the Master Plan. The ballot language doesn’t commit to many things like “maintaining neighborhood schools” or “closing the achievement gap” that the Master Plan talked about, or talked about using parcel tax funds for.

    2) As we reported previously, AUSD knew back in early 2009 that they wanted a parcel tax, and put political consultants Erwin & Muir on the Master Plan advisory group in June of 2009. It can hardly be said that the Master Plan is an honest representation of the options – the “Plan B” doomsday plan was likely orchestrated as a scare tactic to urge people into supporting the parcel tax. In any event, “Plan B” talks about closing “neighborhood schools,” but the ballot measure language doesn’t guarantee to keeping them open.

    3) There were other options that were discarded, like a mixture of closing 1 elementary school and re-jiggering grades across elementary, middle and high schools.

    Read the ballot language and compare it to the master plan:

    AUSD March 2010 Parcel Tax Ballot

  • AlamedanForEducation

    1. I am not a ballot language rules expert.

    2. I am not a AUSD plan expert.

    I am just a citizen who reads what is written down in the AUSD Master plan (Plan A – parcel tax pass, Plan B – tax fails). I can only read what is written in official master plan. It doesn’t help me to speculate what “ballot language” jives with guaranteeing what is actually funded.

    Yes I agree that Plan B is a doomsday play. But again, that is the “game” that AUSD wants to play. They are risking the failure of the parcel tax. It is a game of chicken, if you want to put it that way. Who will blink?

    My take, it boils down to:

    $30 per month extra tax. Yes or NO?

    I choose yes.

    Whether the AUSD funds this or that, that we “hope” they will do fund accordingly. IF they mess up and misspend funds, then vote them out! Keep them honest that way.

    Fellow Alameda VOTERS wake up! You have the power! Look at the example of Kennedy’s seat in MASS. Look at the example Measure H parcel tax being decided by 40 votes.

    As the bumper sticker goes “If you don’t vote, don’t complain”

    If you are upset with the AUSD BOE discarding options, remember to vote and change them!

  • heaven help us, with voters like Alamedan for Education. We included a link for the ballot measure language.


    It’s simple… all you have to do is read the master plan – you already did that – and look at the ballot measure.

    Waiting for them to mis-spend the funds is too late! That’s $112 million over eight years. We’re not going to wait for them to mis-spend, as we expect they will.

  • AlamedanForEducation

    I have read the ballot measure.

    I know that I am not voting on the Master Plan.

    So let me understand, do you want them to copy and paste the Master plan into a ballot measure. Otherwise any ballot measure is not agreeable to you? Then tell the AUSD BOE to do that.

    What kind of taxation do you support?
    What are your thoughts on funding public education?
    What are your thoughts on private education/homeschooling?
    What are your thoughts on parcel tax for public schools?
    What are your thoughts on parcel tax for Alameda hospital?
    What are your experiences in writing ballot measures?

  • So let me understand, do you want them to copy and paste the Master plan into a ballot measure.
    >>That would be fine. Unless the parcel tax ballot measure language agrees, either in form or substance, with the master plan, it’s a bait-and-switch. They talk about a master plan that was months in development, had community input, blather, blather, and then approve a ballot resolution that was circulated for a mere 24 business hours that is disconnected from the master plan and voted on in a special meeting that was not video taped or audio taped.

    The advisory committee is no guarantee on how the money will be spent, and that model failed on Measure A, when Judge Bartalini resigned over misgivings that the money was not being spent in agreement with the intended purpose.

    Otherwise any ballot measure is not agreeable to you? Then tell the AUSD BOE to do that.
    >>We did. We are.

    What kind of taxation do you support?
    >> Responsible and prudent. This parcel tax doesn’t seem responsible – no guarantees on how the money will be spent – nor prudent. It’s likely to fail on the grounds of the amount, and the economic environment.

    What are your thoughts on funding public education?
    >> Do you mean in the local context, or statewide? There is $2 billion that the State is trying to re-allocate from local redevelopment agencies state-wide to K-12 education. The California Redevelopment Association – a developer lobby group – is suing to block that re-allocation. The redevelopment mechanism takes local property taxes from schools and gives it to developer subsidies through the redevelopment agencies. Until the California Teachers Association, related unions, and local parcel tax proponents stand up to the Redevelopment lobby to change this, there is a big obstacle to “public education” in our state.

    If you believe in “public education,” then surely you believe in “statewide public education” – which means that redevelopment needs to be fixed, AND the inequity between the AUSD revenue limit and other schools needs to be addressed. But a majority of the AUSD board, and the parcel tax proponents refuse to do that, instead spending their energy on… parcel taxes.

    What are your thoughts on private education/homeschooling?
    >> If people have the time money, go for it, it’s a free country.

    What are your thoughts on parcel tax for public schools?
    >> See comments on redevelopment, above. The redevelopment mechanism takes property tax money for developer subsidies, that must then be replaced by parcel taxes. Nobody would ever support a parcel tax to subsidize a developer, but they passively let redevelopment silently siphon of property taxes, and then stamp their feet for a parcel tax for schools.

    What are your thoughts on parcel tax for Alameda hospital?
    >> Don’t get us started. Alameda Hospital is another crock.

    What are your experiences in writing ballot measures?
    >> That’s irrelevant. We can read. The ballot measure doesn’t support the master plan.

    You want ballot language that matches the master plan? Try some of these specific “purposes” in the ballot language that AUSD could have used, but did not:

    o Consistent with the Master Plan approved February 23rd, 2010, keep open the existing elementary schools in Alameda for at least the school years 2010-11 and 2011-12.
    o Consistent with the Master Plan approved February 23rd, 2010, keep both Encinal and Alameda High Schools for at least the school years 2010-11 and 2011-12.
    o Consistent with the Master Plan approved February 23rd, 2010, fund a specific program to close the achievement gap between African American/Hispanic and White/Asian students.
    o Consistent with the Master Plan approved February 23rd, 2010, maintain the current enrollment zones and optimize enrollment for at least the school years 2010-11 and 2011-12.
    o Consistent with the Master Plan approved February 23rd, 2010 (Item 5.) allocate [x]% of funds from the parcel tax to support enrichment programs
    o Consistent with the Master Plan approved February 23rd, 2010, allocate [x]% of funds from the parcel tax to roll-back class size increases in K-3 from 24. 5:1 to 20:1 for at least the school years 2010-11 and 2011-12.
    o Consistent with the Master Plan approved February 23rd, 2010, allocate [x]% of funds from the parcel tax to roll-back recent class size increases in the 9th grade, for at least the school years 2010-11 and 2011-12.

    and so on.

    AUSD is paying consultants $150/hour to do this, and we just did a first draft in 10 minutes for free.

  • Burned Twice

    AlamedanforEducation: Obviously with a 6 year old, your child’s education is one of your highest priorities as it should be. Were you here to particpate in the last two pacel tax elections and read what AUSD wrote it would do with the money? And where it actually went? And the refusal of AUSD to provide accountability or spend the money the way it told voters it would?

    All this banter back and forth about not tying CORE education values, stopping school closures, and the Master Plan into the ballot measure is here for a reason.

    AUSD duped everyone into thinking the first parcel tax was going to have meangingful community and parental oversight. That failed, with one of the most respected longtime supporters of AUSD, retired Superior Court Judge Richard Bartalini, after serving on the committee, refusing to even support Measure H. It seems all we really got was a fulltime legal staff and special litigators to fight legal battles triggered by poorly written and administered parcel taxes.

    Understandably voters who have been burned twice now by AUSD’s explanation and promises for the parcel tax, are starting to wise up. It doesn’t matter if you have children in the district or not, if AUSD isn’t willing to tie the parcel tax to CORE education, and not some of the nonsense it spent the last two parcel taxes upon, those of us who were here and voted for it before, simply have had it.

    Currently there is an initiative being circulated to return local control to local governments. Specifically to lower the pass rate to 55% for local school parcel taxes. It sets forth some very valid criteria that if followed, would allow a 55% pass rate instead of 2/3. It provides for mandatory citizen oversight as well transparency. None of these things are in the new AUSD proposal. One has to ask why not?

  • Alameda Sun
    June 29, 2007
    School Parcel Tax Spending Under Scrutiny
    Retired judge says Measure A paid for wrong expenses

    A prominent member of a school district parcel tax oversight committee resigned Tuesday night saying he had “personal discomfiture” with the money’s expenditure.

    Richard Bartalini, a retired superior court judge, told the Alameda school board on Tuesday that he couldn’t “in good faith” say that the 2005 Measure A school parcel tax was being spent in accordance with what voters approved.
    Money intended for school district services and programs paid for other expenses, Bartalini said.

  • Well then there now, as James Dean once famously said…”Alamedan for Education” needs a little more of both, as the new parcel tax means not $30/mo. but $55/mo. But what the heck, that’s just math.

    And the state initiative pending that would reduce the parcel tax requirement from 2/3 to 55% also limits any new parcel tax to $250. Less than Superintendent Vital is getting now from Measures A&H combined. Could that be why she’s rushing this thing to a vote in June?

    “Twice Burned” is right on in saying that we’ve been here before. This is the third tax asked for in only five years! And if that isn’t poor management, tell me what is. Without even getting into the conflicts of interest or the questionable expenditures that Action Alameda so well documents…

    I’ve got two new pieces that might shed even more light on the subject — “Ten Reasons to Vote No on AUSD Parcel Tax,” and “Locals Have the Right of Way.” With any luck, they will both show up on this site, and Alamedan for Education can snarl and gripe about them too.


  • AlamedanForEducation

    @Dennis, I wrote “$30 extra per month”. That is the additional amount over the current parcel tax in effect. Please correct me if I got this wrong.

    Everyone, the problem is that people want the freebies but no-one wants to pay. Wake up and live in reality please. I feel that some people are more concerned over keeping the golf course open than keeping the schools open.

    I am happy to pay my fair share of taxes. Heck, I see my paycheck deductions every 2 weeks to pay for the seniors on Social security. I am happy to pay the property taxes provided I get the benefits I can see such as public schools getting funded, and police, and fire services.

    Ah pardon me Dennis, I did not know that only you had the certified license to gripe and snarl.

  • Alamedan for Education: You seem to have a license to snarl even more than I do! And parcel taxes A&H expire at the end of 2012, so we will be paying that $55/month “extra” for six years. And I don’t own or rent in Alameda, but am a kept man, so have nothing to gain or lose personally, as you do.

    And as for J.E.A., I don’t think it’s me making his skin crawl, and we won’t speculate on any Cootie Queens in his life…

    See how much fun politics can be?

    I’m opposed to the tax because I’ve studied the Master Plan extensively, and it is bogus, filled with agendas from the usual suspects, rife with de facto segregation and lack of accountability. I spent many years as a classroom teacher, loved it, did a great job and resent all the bad teachers who are destroying young lives.

    You want to do some research, get online and compare AUSD to County-wide stats. We spend only $7 less per student than the Alameda County average, and our drop-out rate is about equal to theirs. We have fewer students getting “free lunches” and more “Asian” students than average. Our test scores and outcomes, the percentage of AUSD graduates qualifying for four year universities is no higher than districts where the taxpayers are not as burdened with parcel taxes as un-kept Alamedans are.

    I’m not in it for the money, my boys are all grown, and I’m neither employed by the opposition nor by the district. I’ve actually interviewed the Supe, twice, and two of the Trustees and have probably done more research than the average crewmember on the Good Ship Lollypop!

    Onward, not downward!


  • nomoretaxes

    Thank you Mr. Green for all of you information regarding this parcel tax. My hope is that you continue to get the word out to the voters of Alameda. I am not happy that this is a mail-in-ballot vote. The ballots could get tossed into a pile of papers like the Census but at least if you do not fill out your Census, someone will come knocking at your door. All renters – please note – your rents could very well increase if you vote yes. Many property owners have lost their jobs and cannot afford an additional property tax. I am an Alameda landlord who may have to pass the cost of this tax along to my renters by increasing their rents. It has nothing to do with whether I like children or not. My property value has decreased substantially because of the recession and the “yes” campaign is using scare tactics by saying it will decrease more because the schools will not be as good. I disagree, I think the schools could be better if they are “forced” to run more efficiently with less money. I know of many “executives” in private & non-profit companies who do not have excutive assistants, secretaries & very little support staff. These excutives type their own memos and answer their own phones. Also, why do seniors get an exemption from this tax if it is passed? The reasons that used to apply to them (fixed incomes, etc.) apply to so many who have…..ummmmm…NO INCOME.