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AUSD master planning meeting tonight at Haight School

Tonight is the first of three Alameda Unified School District community meetings about the future of Alameda schools. The idea, as I understand it, is to create a master plan for the public school system in Alameda. The meeting starts at 6:30 and Superintendent Kirsten Vital as well as members of the school board will be discussing three possible scenarios for addressing the long term fiscal sustainability of public education in Alameda. They’ll be discussing how dwindling state funding impacts the district, the possibility of chartering the district as on whole, as well as the possibility of generating more funds for Alameda schools at the local level. The meeting is at Haight Elementary.

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Hello, Alameda. Finally a state budget

I made a bet with a friend that there’d be a state budget passed by Tuesday midnight. Then we pushed the bet, double or nothing, to noon the next day. And then we just sort of stopped with the betting and started waiting and seeing.

Finally, though, a deal has been made. A 12-cents a gallon gas tax is out, an agreement that legislators won’t be paid when there’s no budget is in—as is a proposal to expand the state lottery and borrow against expected revenue. Details here. I had to do a double-take/triple-blink though when I saw that the deal—reached when one more vote in favor was negotiated with Republican Sen. Abel Maldonado—includes placing a constitutional amendment to change how primaries held in California on the ballot. What a world we live in when a annual budget negotiation includes a promise of constitutional rejiggering?

Huffington Post Blogger Byron Williams, in a post titled, “While California Slept,” has this to say about the sorry state of California’s budget and budget process:

For decades, the California electorate has been buying the overvalued fools gold of direct democracy. We actually believed, based on our votes, we could make better-informed decisions via the initiative process than the individuals we sent to represent us in Sacramento.

And this:

Californians passed the most draconian term limits initiative in the country. It robbed legislators of institutional memory, placed disincentives for members of the opposite party to crossover and make a deal, and its insidious underlying purpose was to get rid of a single individual–former California Speaker Willie Brown.

And this:

The passing of Proposition 13, while still popular, carries that little 2/3-vote requirement to raise revenues, hence the tyranny of the minority. Proposition 98, though perhaps on paper a worthy cause, ties the Legislature’s hands in term of what resources are actually available in the budget.

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For Alameda: still no state budget

With many California employees taking one or two mandatory unpaid furlough days a month and the governor threatening to send layoff notices to the 20,000 state employees with the least seniority, there’s still no budget deal in Sacramento. The no-taxes Republican minority continues to block the Democratic majority.

And lest you think Alameda is alone in its plight to keep the city budget numbers lining up. There’s this: Ventura workers taking pay cuts to save jobs.

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School board trustee Mike McMahon launches blog

Mike McMahon’s web site has long been the motherlode for school-district-related documents and information. And now he has launched a blog.

And while all heads have been turned toward the change in leadership at the national level, there are lots of fish to fry re the state budget and school funding in particular. McMahon’s site is sure to be a good resource.

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California budget stalemate continues

To recap, Repubs proposed this on Monday:

…GOP leaders released a $22 billion package of their own that called for deep cuts to education and social service programs, as well as raiding other pots of money voters approved for early child development and mental illness. Democrats contend the Republican’s plan to cut more than $10 billion from schools amounted to shutting down every school in the state for two months or increasing class sizes by 40 percent. [Read the entire AP story here.]

The state is facing a budget deficit which is now estimated to be something over $40 billion. If nothing is done, it is looking like California will run out of cash to pay its bills some time in February. Dems have a counterproposal, which wriggles around the tyranny of the minority (a solid majority of California lawmakers are Democrats), caused by state laws which require two-thirds vote of both state legislative bodies to pass any new taxes. A bit about the Dem proposal from the Chronicle:

State lawmakers are expected to vote today on an $18 billion budget, put forth Wednesday by Democrats, that contains more than $9 billion in added revenue and requires only a simple majority vote of the Legislature to be approved. The move boxes in Republicans, who have just enough votes to block lawmakers from approving tax and budget bills that require a two-thirds majority in the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

But a spokesperson for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has said he will not sign off on the Dem plan without some changes. More up-to-the-minute budget news at Calitics.

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AUSD retains counsel to fight Measure H lawsuits

For those of you who haven’t seen it, the Alameda Unified School District released a statement Wednesday regarding its legal team and the fight against the Measure H lawsuits. Here it is in its entirety:

Two Alameda taxpayers have brought separate lawsuits to invalidate Measure H, a new parcel tax to support Alameda schools that over two-thirds of Alameda voters approved in last June’s election. The tax, which will raise over $16 million in the next four years, will help close the budget gap caused by a reduction in State funding.

The lawsuits, Borikas, et al. v. AUSD, et al and Beery, et al. v. AUSD et al., are commonly called “reverse” validation proceedings. Each alleges that Measure H violates certain provisions of the California Government Code.

The Alameda Unified School District has retained the law firms of Chapman, Popik & White LLP and Foley & Lardner LLP. The District will vigorously defend Measure H.

In other school news the group, Alamedans For Fair Taxation, a group for which no one, to my knowledge, has stepped up and claimed public responsiblity, has a double-length, unsigned editorial in this week’s Alameda Sun. While we’re all used to pseudonymous postings on the Internet (I don’t much like ‘em, but they’re here), it continues to mystify me that no one from this group that is, as I understand it, responsible for funding at least one of the legal challenges to the popular parcel tax, doesn’t step up and say, “Hello. This is who we are and why we’re doing what we’re doing.” It’s all well and good to disagree—many reasonable people disagree much of the time—but the refusal to take a public stand (while having a willingness to fund a lawsuit) continues to confound me.

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Second parcel tax lawsuit in Alameda

A second lawsuit was filed Monday in Alameda County Court against Measure H, the school parcel tax that passed with the support of just over two-thirds of Alameda voters in early June.

The first suit, filed last week by Pleasanton-based lawyer David Brillant on behalf of George J. Borikas is thought to have been supported and funded by several dozen local businesses. The second was filed by the high-powered law firm, Reed Smith, on behalf of local developer, John Beery.

School Board President Bill Schaff:

We’re sad to see another lawsuit. We would like to try to find some common ground with the business community…we still don’t have a state budget, we know we’ll still have an underfunding issue and we have to find some resolution that is good for our kids and that also can work for the business community.

You can look at both cases here, by entering the case numbers. Borikas is VG08405316 and Beery is RG08405984.

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Alameda’s Measure H lawsuit. Devil details.

As you have likely heard (Michele Ellson‘s got a link to the lawsuit) attorney David Brillant has filed suit on behalf of George Borikas in Alameda County Court against Measure H, the Alameda school parcel tax which passed in June 2008.

The suit alleges that Measure H violates the portion of California’s Education Code which stipulates that school parcel taxes must be ‘uniform’ and allows for seniors and people with disabilities to be exempted from them. Here’s the California code:

50079. (a) Subject to Section 4 of Article XIIIA of the California Constitution, any school district may impose qualified special taxes within the district pursuant to the procedures established in Article 3.5 (commencing with Section 50075) and any other applicable procedures provided by law.
(b) (1) As used in this section, “qualified special taxes” means special taxes that apply uniformly to all taxpayers or all real property within the school district, except that “qualified special taxes” may include taxes that provide for an exemption from those taxes for taxpayers 65 years of age or older or for persons receiving Supplemental Security Income for a disability, regardless of age.
(2) “Qualified special taxes” do not include special taxes imposed on a particular class of property or taxpayers.

And here’s the complaint, which talks about the requirement that parcel taxes be ‘uniform’ and, too, raises what seems to be the issue of seniors or people with disabilities having to actively opt out of the tax:

The qualified special tax set forth in the Election Order and in Measure H, as approved by the registered voters of the District, is not consistent with the uniformity requirement as set forth in Government Code Section 50079. Additionally, the special tax set forth in the Election Order and in Measure H contains exemptions from the qualified special tax yet imposes additional requirements for taxpayers to meet the exeptions that are not contained in Government Code Section 50079. For these reasons, the District’s qualified special tax against residential, commercial and industrial property, as set forth in Measure H, are not a valid or lawful lien on the real property of Borikas herinabove described, and any attempt by defendants to collect unpaid assessments from Borikas would be unlawful and improper.

For some background on why districts rely on parcel taxes as a way of funding education, I found this useful and, too, at least one area district, Albany, has a parcel tax (passed in 2005) with a structure similar to Alameda’s: it’s $250 per parcel and $.05 per square foot nonresidential. Other local parcel taxes with variable levels of taxation include Emeryville, Berkeley, and Piedmont. A quick look at some area parcel taxes and how they handle exemptions for seniors/people with disability/low income people, reveals they operate much like Alameda’s. Here’s San Francisco, Oakland, and Emeryville.

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Yes indeedy, Alameda’s Measure H is passed and ratified

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.

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Paying the price to have good schools in Alameda

Today’s print column, “Paying the price to have good schools,” is up online. If you’ve somehow missed that today is election day, and Measure H, the parcel tax to support our town’s schools in on the ballot, go read it now. You can find all Alameda Journal articles online here.

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Past “Life on the Island” columns
May 27, 2008: A civil rights issue in our time
May 20, 2008: What’s cooking in the hot weather?
May 12, 2008: When a man needs a cave
May 5, 2008: Enjoying that small-town feel
April 28, 2008: Support of tax teaches lesson
April 21, 2008: New garage can be a good habit
April 14, 2008: When the earth shakes, duck
April 7, 2008: Snails, ants, lice and light brown apple moths