Hello. So the buzz out there, both in reality and in blogland, is that this group, Alamedans for Fair Taxation, has raised some money to challenge Measure H, the school parcel tax that passed with over two thirds of the vote (parcel taxes in California don’t just require a simple majority, they require two of every three peoples’ support). I left messages before I went on vacation over Alamedan’s for Fair Taxation’s main office number, and I left another today. I’m looking forward to finding out who is in this group, how much they’ve raised, and by what legal standard they hope to challenge Measure H. Stay tuned.
Today I was forwarded an email sent around by a group calling themselves “Alamedans for Fair Taxation.” Apparently, they’re working to fight Measure H, the school parcel tax passed in June, which will tax residential parcels $120 a year and commercial properties on a square footage basis. According to the email, they are looking for an attorney to take their case:
We have a strong belief that we have a case against AUSD, in regards to Measure H in the context of not being “uniformly” as defined in California Government Code Section 50079 – B or “Out of Town Owner” representation. At this point we are looking for, and interviewing attorneys.
It sounds like the group is also concerned about a legislative move at the state level to change the threshold a parcel tax needs to pass from the near-impossible two-thirds to the sure-to-pass-possibly-a-higher-tax level of 55 percent.
We will be looking into the bill pending in the Legislature to amend the constitution to reduce the required vote on the school parcel taxes to 55%, this would greatly increase their chances for future parcel taxes.
The group has South Shore address and a dedicated phone number, at which I just left a message. I will hopefully hear from a representative of the group soon and will be able to report more about them. Who is behind this effort? How are they funded? How do they think schools should be funded? Do they think property taxes should be based on the current market value of a property or on the sale price, however long ago it was? These are all things I’m wondering now.
Sometimes I get to thinking that it’s only California, with its huge public school population and its wacky system for taxing property (that’s Prop. 13) and its unequal funding formulas that’s kept schools struggling to operate. But this article in Sports Illustrated—which mentions Alameda’s plight several times—highlights how school sports programs across the country are facing cuts.
I was chitty-chatting with a neighbor yesterday (Hi, ECVL!) and he was surprised to learn that, yes indeed, our home-town Measure H—the parcel tax for Alameda schools—had passed. ECVL had heard the news that came out right after the election on June 3rd, when it looked like H was going to fail by a slim margin, but he had not followed the changing story, as more provisional and absentee ballots were counted. And he did not know that the tax had slid to a win, with 66.9 percent of the vote. The final tally was 11,445 ‘yes’ votes and 5,663 ‘no’ votes, way over half, but just over the two-thirds required by Proposition 13 for local parcel taxes.
Alameda schools may suffer from budget woes, but in this, at least, we’re not an island. The megalopolis to the south of us has mega-problems. You can read here what Steve Lopez of the Los Angleles Times has to say about the impact of $100 million in cuts to Los Angeles schools.
I’m not going to lie to you: school board meetings, while often colorful and always-educational (What is ADA P-2? Hah!) are not actually my most favorite, first-choice activity. I might prefer, for example, to sit outside with neighbors in the twilight drinking wine while the children play.
Nonetheless, I am able to report to you that some of the last night’s most cheerful moments came from the grade school students who marched outside city hall in support of music before the meeting began (next year’s budget chops music classes from grades one, two, three). Some members of that group went on to make lovely speeches, including Adam Orlabukowski a fourth grader from Bay Farm Elementary School, who thanked his teacher, “Ms. Bonnie,” for introducing him to music and performance:
If I grow up to be a famous actor I’m going to give California schools the money they need to fund music and everything else. But until then, it’s up to you. Please save the music.
The board discussed what would be reinstated—elementary music and high school athletics top the priority list—if the June parcel tax passes. But, because the tax is by no means a certainty, and because the budget now in place includes reductions in music, nine grade English and math, middle school counselors, AP classes, and reading specialists–state law requires teachers who may be laid off be given notice by March 15. The cuts add up to the equivalent of 25.79 positions (no joke, scroll to item five), though there’ll be somewhat fewer pink slips because of retirements and attrition.
For more info about the parcel tax, visit Keep Alameda Schools Excellent. Particularly helpful, I think, is their FAQ. The parcel tax, for those of you have not been paying attention, would raise $120 per parcel (.15 cents per square foot for commercial properties with a cap of $9,500) and is expected to raise about $3.8 million.
Wait! What is it, parked outside Alameda’s Edison Elementary School.
Let’s get closer.
Ahh, it’s an official Alameda Unified School District truck. A quick chat with the district employee driving it reveals that it’s of vintage 1978. It’s well older, one can be quite certain, than the oldest student in the district. And, not to give away my age–I’m told ladies of a certain age should not–but I was eight when that truck was new. One hopes I’m holding up better. Said the driver of the truck:
Our trucks are all old and they all waste too much gas and require a lot of maintenance. They’re not even cost efficient.
It requires an investment in schools and the people and supplies that support them to have it all coming out well in the end. You can starve public institutions but, eventually, as we’re seeing here in Alameda, stuff starts to hit the fan.
Word is that, in response to the student protests in Alameda this week, the state’s superintendent of instruction, Jack O’Connell, is coming to our island tomorrow to meet with Alameda and Encinal High student leaders. Encinal Senior Class President Mebrak Kahsai, who helped launch Tuesday’s protest, is one of the students who will meet with O’Connell Friday afternoon. She says the feeling of being heard by the powers that be is has been inspiring:
We’re actually–even though what the governor said was kind of negative—we’re actually happy that they heard us; we’re glad that he heard. People at school have been saying, “I never felt so powerful before.” …The governor responding made us feel good.