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Open Letter to Alameda Unified School District on Parcel Tax

Action Alameda News received a copy of the following letter sent to the Alameda Unified School District Board of Trustees….

Dear Board Members:

I have been asked to write this letter on behalf of several parents and residents within the Alameda Unified School District and it should be read in conjunction with the letter regarding school closures that I previously sent you.

The proposal has many severe difficulties of which I will highlight only a few of the most egregious.

Why are you threatening to cancel all but varsity athletic programs, if a $12 million/year parcel tax is not passed, when the programs only costs 4% of $12 million proposed to be raised by the new tax? That is $480,000 which is nothing in an $80 million budget. I understand such a proposal as an unethical scare tactic; but public officials must be above proposing/suggesting unhealthy, unnecessary and educationally unsound “cuts” to scare voters.

Instead you must find other avenues. The obvious one is temporary salary reductions, as suggested in the previous letter, with a smaller parcel tax measure (one which raises $6 million, for example). The pain is then shared more equitably and less harm is done to homeowners, businesses, landlords and landladies on fixed income, renters who will see rent increases etc.

The economic problems of public schools are a long-term problem, as are the economic problems of the State of California. The Board must face, even if the Superintendent and the unions do not want it to, the ongoing problems of escalating costs of pensions and benefits, economic malaise, huge state government deficits, economic impoverishment due to previous fiscal and economic excesses etc. The answers are in reducing the cost of public education, not reducing the education of its children.

The language of the proposed Full Ballot Text of the Parcel Tax Measure has many problems but the most graphic is its definition of “Severe Fiscal Emergency or Changed Funding Conditions” which allows the Board to change the % of funds among the proposed programs at its whim. (See Ballot Purposes, Paragraph 1, and the definitions set forth just before “AMOUNT AND BASIS OF TAX.”

There are always “financial events that are out of the control of the Board of Education.” All revenues are outside the control of the Board of Education. Thus, a majority of the Board could declare an emergency whenever it over-budgets revenue or under-budgets expenses. A Board should certainly not be rewarded for adopting a disapproved budget by raiding monies that the voters taxed themselves for specific purposes at a specific percentage.

“Changed funding conditions” happen every year. The one thing that can be guaranteed is that the funding levels from the State and Federal government for specific programs will be different every year. Thus, the Board has a right, under this proposal, to change the % to whatever a majority wants every year under this definition. Thus, the “percentages” proposed in the Ballot Measure are nothing but a shell game – a deception on the voters.

A recovery will eventually come and state/federal funding levels will be at or above the present level, probably within three (3) years. The Ballot Measure should have a provision that the tax will be for three (3) years unless funding levels do not reach 2010-11 levels, in which case it can be continued for up to seven (7) or until total funding levels exceed 2010-11 levels, which ever comes first.

Very truly yours,

Peter Hagberg, Communications Director for Citizens for Good Government

8 comments to Open Letter to Alameda Unified School District on Parcel Tax

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  • DHL

    sounds just like the hospital who can choose to levy the annual parcel tax every year whether they need it or not….forever. There is no sunset.

  • Hot r

    Dear Peter:
    Although you may not have a legal background and little knowledge of contracts you should understand that the Board cannot unilaterally cut salaries. All it could do unilaterally is continue to cut instructional days. So far the Board has cut 8 days. They could cut down to the legal minimum (145 days). Or they could lower graduation requirements to reduce the number of teachers or cut all the preschool and adult school programs. but of course all these costs would have an impact on parents who have to pay more for child care, private tutoring, private after school programs, and a rising crime rate as studies show crime rises in cities without after school programs. it would also mean test scores will spiral down and people will not move here for the schools as they do now. I guess we could become a retirement community. The best economic forecasts I have read are that it will take at least another 7years, not 3 as you suggest. I personally think the sports program should be cut loose entirely to parent and booster group control with the City controlling sports fields. Of course many students from lower sociology economic groups would be hurt But this must be part of the “equitable sharing” you were talking about, right?

  • Hot R – the District has had years to begin the necessary salary negotiations with the labor groups to secure a reduction, and they have done nothing. And they have not cut administrator salaries either.

  • Hot R

    That’s not true. The District has been negotiating the contract down for the last two years.

    This fiscal year, the administrative as well as teacher salaries have been cut by the 8 furlough days. This was done by union vote. The teaching burden was increased with larger class sizes and layoffs of 70 teachers. There have been no teacher raises for the last 2 years. Health contributions by the teachers have increased, while Districct contributions have stayed static (which is a way to take money out of teachers pockets) All money for school supplies and new textbooks has been cut. Counselors have also been layed off.

    By comparison, federal employees continued to get raises until yesterday, when President Obama finally acted to cut raises. All Alameda police and firemen still get their raises, and no layoffs have occurred.

    So I would say teachers have taken a much greater cut than any other social services.

  • Hot R, the average teacher in Alameda is still paid at a rate of $50 to $60/hour, or for someone who’s not a teacher who was paid at that same rate, who has to work a full year – not just 185 days or so – over $100k/year. Sure, some teachers put in more hours than others, but are you really going to claim that all elementary school teachers spend hours outside of the classroom grading papers and helping students?

    You keep bringing up the comparison to firefighters and police, but the argument is meaningless. So what? All it does is beg the question of whether police and firefighters need temporary salary reductions too. As for teachers having or having not taken a greater cut than other social services, again, so what? Lots of private sector employees have been laid off, have taken pay cuts, and are out of work – you want sympathy from them for teachers?

    The question that voters should consider regarding teachers pay is whether they are willing to cough up more to keep paying teachers wages higher or lower relative to their own.

    You also ignore, as has been reported on this site, that CalSTRS has indicated that they want to push through legislation in Sacramento that would increase California school districts’ contributions to the teachers’ pension fund, to make up for losses in the recession.

    Finally, I will let this excerpt from the SF Chronicle this week stand on its own.

    Public Eavesdropping
    “You know, they pay me even if you don’t learn anything.”
    Adult to children, overheard by volunteer in East Bay elementary school


  • Hot r

    OK let’s not compare to local employees, but let’s also not compare all teachers to the lazy teacher you refer to in public eavesdropping. do high school teachers work longer hours than elementary teachers? Yes they do. but that argument supports paying them more,

    what teachers are paid is what they declare on their tax forms, and as far as I know that is a maximum of $74,000 a year after 25 years. Only a few teachers make that out of the 600 or so employees. does that really sound unreasonable after 25 years?

    the point is that the teachers and administrators already took a big pay cut, have larger class sizes and have much less money for textbooks and supplies.

    I am glad to exchange views with you but your view is very shortsighted about the future of Alameda.

  • Hot R – when your friends Marie, Lena and Rob put a public safety special tax measure on the ballot next year, I will expect you to be out in front leading the charge against it.

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