Politicos stand against Oakland school tax

Measure N, the “Outstanding Teachers For All Oakland Students” tax, is no longer just an unpopular cause; it’s the cause to be against (unless, of course, you’re Jack O’Connell).

At a press conference yesterday, Alameda County Superintendent Sheila Jordan and Assemblymember Sandre Swanson — both critics of the state administration that put this tax on the ballot — joined the `N Stands for No’ chorus.

The $120 parcel tax would raise about $10 million a year for teachers’ salaries. But its opponents (too many to list here) say the ballot measure is all wrong, and that it came out of the blue from O’Connell’s office in Sacramento.

Noel Gallo, the lone board member who supports this election, says that’s not true.

(Pictured above is Eleanor Alderman, a second-grade teacher at ACORN Woodland Elementary School in East Oakland. Photo by D. Ross Cameron/Oakland Tribune)

You can read more about it in the full story about Measure N, which ran in today’s Trib, here.

Given Oakland voters’ history of supporting fundraising measures for the local schools, and the fact that there’s no counter-argument on the voter guide (the August deadline passed before opponents could get it in), do you think N stands a chance at passing?

What will happen if it does?

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Sue

    I’ve finished reading the voter guide, and I still don’t know what I think.

    I like the idea of paying our teachers salaries that are competitive with other districts. Over the years, I’ve watched a number of my children’s best teachers leave Oakland to teach in Berkeley, Piedmont, Orinda, and elsewhere. I wish those teachers well, and know they are better off, but I saw the quality of education my children were receiving, and I wish that quality had stayed in Oakland.

    The measure has an exclusion clause for “very low income” (what does that mean, anyway) homeowners, but it is a flat-rate, and that is unfair. Why should I have to pay the same amount for living in my 1000 sq ft flatlands home, as a family living in a house ten times bigger in the hills? And if I don’t like that, it seems reasonable to think a family with a below-median income, but not low enough for the “very low income” exemption is going to like it even less.

    I know one of the big objections is the 15% that would go to charter schools. That one doesn’t bother me. So, my $120/year would be $18 to the charters and $102 to increase teachers’ pay – I could live with that, but not everyone feels the same.

    There were no arguments in the voter’s guide against the measure, as noted in the article. I wish there had been. Those arguments, and who signed them, are my favorite tools for making up my mind after I’ve waded through all the legal-speak of the actual measure.

  • Betty Olson-Jones

    There were no arguments in the voter’s guide against the measure because of the fact that it was put on at the last minute, only days before the deadline, when teachers were on vacation and the union had no time to poll them and make sure they agreed with the leadership’s opposition position. It’s unfortunate, but it shows the difference between the dictatorial style of Jack O’Connell and his friends in Oakland, and the need for a community dialogue about issues of this importance.

    I also want to correct the impression given by Vince Matthews and Noel Gallo that the Oakland Education Association was in communication with them about the parcel tax all summer. Here are the facts: We worked with Noel Gallo and Vince Matthews to pass Measure G in February, making parcel tax Measure E permanent @ $195/parcel/year. Noel Gallo approached us with the idea of another parcel tax in June. He went with one of our Executive Directors and myself to SF to meet with leaders of their teachers union about their June parcel tax. After the meeting, we told Mr. Gallo in no uncertain terms that we would not support another flat parcel tax so soon after the February tax, and that we would not support a tax that gave money to charter schools. He chose to hope that we would “come around” and proceeded to act as if we had. The truth is that whenever Noel or Vince Matthews asked us if we were willing to proceed with another parcel tax, we were crystal clear that we would only consider a tax on square footage, or a split roll that taxed businesses and developers at a higher rate; and we were clear that we would NOT support a tax that gave money to charters. We did NOT continue to work on or discuss this over the summer; we had already made it clear that we weren’t in favor of continuing to ask the very generous Oakland community for more money.

    As for why we oppose giving public money to privately run charters, it’s quite simple. Every child has the right to a quality, public education. There should be no distinctions between what the poorest, most challenged children receive, and what those with more means can access, other than that the former should be given resources proportional to their needs. Charters drain students from the “traditional” schools and have many ways of discriminating in who they select and who they keep, while “traditional” schools take every child who comes through the doors. Charters are freed from many of the restrictions applied to “traditional” schools, which obviously make them attractive to parents — but our question is: why not give apply this standard to ALL schools?

    In the big picture, we urge people to see that Oakland now has 18% of our students in charter schools. Under state administration, this number has risen fivefold. By handing over 15% of a parcel tax to charter school programs, the intent is clearly to grow charters, invite more to come to Oakland, and eventually leave only the most difficult, needy youngsters in the “traditional” schools. What we’re seeing is a stealth move toward “vouchers by the back door.” In New Orleans this happened in the wake of Katrina; in Oakland, it’s been being groomed under Jack O’Connell’s watch. We will not participate in allowing it to happen.

  • Jim Mordecai

    Charter school parcel tax in both Oakland (Measure N), and in San Francisco, are stealth parcel taxes.

    I think the relief from corporate charter school parcel taxation without notice would be for the State Legislature to pass a truth in parcel tax law that required informing the voters of a city that they are voting on financing corporate charter schools.

    If you read the county of voter of registrar pamphlets for both Oakland’s parcel tax (Measure N), and for San Francisco’s parcel tax, there is no disclosure that voters are being asked to finance charter schools.

    The proposition A for San Francisco schools was $198 for 20 years and passed. Oakland’s parcel tax is $120 for ten years and will be voted on Tuesday, November 4. Yet, like San Francisco’s parcel tax notice, the voters of both cities were kept in the dark that they would be voting to support corporate charter schools.

    If Measure N passed Oakland property owners will be paying approximately 1.8 million a year for corporate charter schools. San Francisco property owners will be paying one million a year for corporate charter schools. Over 20 years they will have to pay more than Oakland property owners because San Francisco tax is 20 years while Oakland tax is 10 years. In addition, San Francisco parcel tax is adjusted for inflation.

    Sad state of affairs when the taxpayers are not fully informed on what they are voting on. There ought to be a law!

    Jim Mordecai

    P.S. Note that there is no mention of spending San Francisco tax dollars on charter schools in this notice.

    NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN to the qualified electors of the San Francisco Unified School District of the City and County of San Francisco, California, that in accordance with the provisions of the Education Code of the State of California, an election will be held on June 3, 2008, at which election the following proposition shall be submitted to the qualified electors of the District and voted upon:
    In order to maintain and improve quality educational programs; attract and retain quality teachers and staff; provide teachers with compensation for extra work at hard-to-staff schools and in hard-to-fill subject areas; and increase training, development
    opportunities, resources, and accountability, shall San Francisco Unified School District be authorized to levy a parcel tax of $198 per parcel annually with an optional annual exemption for senior citizens, adjustment for inflation, and mandatory citizen oversight.

  • Fruitvale Res

    Searching for Compromises That Support Oakland Students

    I firmly believe that we must step back and look through one lens; will Measure N benefit Oakland public school students?

    Suspending any biases – the answer about Measure N would be yes and it is not a complicated dissection. The two key questions are:

    1. Does OUSD need to pay teachers more to be locally competitive?
    The answer is yes. There is a substantial gap between OUSD and other bay area school districts. Teachers directly impact student academic growth and in an age of limited resources, they should be the targeted recipients. We cannot let the good be victim to the perfect (or fair) – simply pay teachers more.

    2. Should charter schools be included in any district measure?
    This answer is not as clear. If you want all Oakland public school students to benefit from the parcel tax power of the district – then yes. If you feel that no charter school is deserving of anything – then no.
    What is hard to argue is that charter schools exist for a reason – and it is not because of some vast conspiracy. Charter schools exist because Oakland parents as a whole are not satisfied. There is no blame here – everyone in education is overworked and underpaid – but the reality is that parents want a better product and many (not all) charter schools meet that parent driven need.

    Now when we include our biases we end up making decisions that hurt our ability to serve Oakland students. This pushes us to the ultimate question; does our inherent disagreement with this measure justify hurting Oakland students?

    Real talk time – I for one would like to find one parent of a flatland student who would oppose this measure. Their voice is the one that matters here – not the cacophony of the ideologues.

  • Deborah Zanders

    Let me see if I undertand the main argument against
    the Measure… Traditional schools do not want to benefit from increased revenue for teachers because
    charter schools will benefit too. As charter schools
    become more effective , then traditional schools will
    be left with the worst students….

    Should we continue to leave the more challenged students with inexperiencd , ill-prepared teachers out
    of fear that charter schools would be more effective?
    Don’t all students whether in charter or traditional
    schools deserve the best education? Is it still about
    the students or the political power struggle?

  • Jim Mordecai

    Deborah Zanders:

    Jim Mordecai

  • Jim Mordecai

    Deborah Zanders:

    “…about the students or the political power struggle?” They are indivisible. Has not the Bush administration’s war of choice budget left America’s children behind?

    Jack O’Connell reportedly gave $5,000 of his personal money to the campaign to pass Measure N. Was it because he is dedicated to the children of Oakland? Or, even out of a concern for a pay raise for Oakland teachers?

    And, the argument is not how you framed it with “traditional schools” rejecting increase revenue because charter schools will become “more effective”.

    If charter schools want revenue they are free under the present system to bring their request for revenue on their own.

    Instead, they lobby Jack O’Connell to bypass the 6 to 1 vote of the elected Oakland School Board and mix charter school revenue request with public school revenue request.

    The $18 million of Oakland property tax money to be given to the “successful charter school programs” is throwing money at corporate charter school administrations without any direction of how it will be spent. It is an experiment in free market capitalism, using Oakland property owners’ tax money to see if the $18 million will create more effective charter schools. Will the unsuccessful charter schools not receiving a part of the $18 million get their act together and become more successful? Such an outcome needs a ten year wait after the last Oakland property taxpayer has paid his/her property tax bill.

    The determination of whether Measure N passes is not “traditional schools” but the Oakland voter. I am hopeful that the Oakland voter will vote No on Measure N because its public school teachers, represented by its democratically elected union leadership, calling for rejecting a flawed Measure N– despite the great need for a Oakland teacher pay increase.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Marie

    Betty’s assertion that only richer children go to charter schools is just plain wrong. The charter school where I work accepted ALL (ALL-100%!) of the students who applied before the deadline. (The deadline imposed by OUSD). “Traditional” schools are threatened by charters because our test scores put them to shame. Teacher unions are against accountability in any form. Giving money to teacher salaries (ALL teachers, whether or not they are in the union) is the right thing to do. The assertion about “no direction of how the money will be spent” is also inaccurate- 85% goes to teacher salaries! Everyone complains that teacher don’t get paid enough- Here’s the chance to do something to change it. Just because charters are included is not a good reason not to pay teachers more. Better salaries will attract better teachers.
    The top performing schools in Oakland are its charters-the proof is in the results.

  • Jim Mordecai


    I just reread Betty’s comments and did not find your assertion that she said “only richer children go to charter schools”.

    But, she could have said richer children if as a system charter schools have a waiting list and can cream so those with the best chance to have higher test scores are chosen. The corporate charter school law requires that students get selected at schools with waiting list by lottery, but the lottery is run by the charter school and the OUSD does not get involved. (Maybe OUSD should insist that it runs all enrollment in authorized charter schools–it might charge that $18 million for such oversight to make sure the successful charter schools are truly successful!)

    And, Betty could have said richer children if charter schools end up with fewer special education students.

    But, what I want to pick on your for,Marie, is your statement “The assertion about ‘no direction of how the money will be spent’ is also inaccurate-85% goes to teachers salaries!”

    Granted your argument that 85% goes to public school teachers salaries is a direction in the language of Measure N, but San Francisco’ union did not simply rely on the language of the parcel tax but included a MOU that directed all the money be used for teachers’ salaries and that included the teachers for San Francisco’s charter schools.

    There is no direction in Measure N for the 15% parcel tax money to be directed to charter school teachers. Instead, the money will only be sent to those charter school programs found by a committee, to be appointed by the Oakland School Board, as having a successful program.

    In other words all the money to be sent to charter schools will be received by a selected group of charter schools for their success. There is nothing that directs a single dollar to go to the charter school teachers. Corporate charter schools are entitled to spend Oakland property owners money for anything they want. Possibility Oakland luxury car sales will enjoy a growth inversely related to corporate charter schools receiving part of the $18 million.

    Show me the money will ring throughout the nation and every charter school operator will find motivation to set up shop in Oakland to get their piece of the $18 million dollar charter school pie.

    This high stakes set up is a recipe for cheating on test scores. Remember that tests are administered at charter schools by the charter school administrators.

    The Governor in responding to pressure from the corporate charter school lobby just vetoed a bill that would separate governance and administration. Whereas public school boards cannot have school employees as part of governance, the teacher and the administration can be the same person at charter schools and such conflict of interest continues to be lawful.

    With $18 million of Oakland’s property taxpayers’ money at stake, the oversight and reliability of corporate charter school high stakes testing is unacceptable.

    Remember that OUSD has never passed a State audit of its charter school oversight responsibilities.

    The assertion that the top performing schools in Oakland are its charter schools may be true, but with such poor oversight, how would anybody know?

    Do you want to send 15% of your parcel tax money to reward a system that lacks verification? Or, does throwing away the taxpayers’ money not matter to you, if it is only 15% of the total?

    Many will not vote for a flawed measure. Even if they are the 85% of public school teachers that might gain from passage of Measure N, many teachers will vote No on Measure N on Tuesday, November 4th. They’ll vote No not only to avoid giving away millions of undirected taxpayers’ money to charter schools, but they will vote No to prevent future school closures and larger class sizes.

    Jim Mordecai