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A doomsday scenario, for sure — but how likely?

By Katy Murphy
Thursday, February 10th, 2011 at 2:47 pm in budget.

At last night’s school board meeting, Oakland Superintendent Tony Smith said public schools in California could face a per-student cut of $900 next year. The mind-boggling assertion was promptly tweeted by the district’s communications team and posted on Facebook:

The state is now telling California school districts to prepare for cuts of $900 PER STUDENT for the coming school year. For a school of 400 students, that’s $360,000. We need to get the word to Sacramento that cuts are unacceptable!

But where, exactly, did that figure come from?

At a School Services of California budget workshop in Sacramento last month, districts were advised to prepare to cut about $349 per student — in case the state’s temporary taxes aren’t extended in a June special election. That amounts to a 7 percent reduction for the average unified school district, which received $5,239 this year per pupil (in revenue limit dollars).

It’s also about 2.5 times less than this new figure.

I checked with Sheila Vickers, an analyst for School Services, and she said there are a number of doomsday scenarios floating around. That’s because Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to keep K-12 education spending flat not only hinges on a special election; it also relies on the Legislature to cut $12.5 billion from other programs in the state budget.

If the tax extension doesn’t pass AND if the Legislature decides to suspend Prop. 98, the minimum public school funding guarantee, the per-pupil cuts could be as high as $600 or $900, Vickers said — there’s no way to know, yet.

I asked OUSD Spokesman Troy Flint for the source of the shocking fiscal scenario, and he expressed some tweeter’s remorse:

The $349 per ADA number is a more reasonable estimate. The $900 per ADA figure is more the product of ruminations. I think the number was bandied about in recent conversations with Superintendents throughout the state, not raised as a serious possibility. I wish we hadn’t posted on this because we could be accused of fear-mongering. I don’t want to diminish our credibility by pushing sky-is-falling scenarios that make people belittle the damage a $349 per ADA cut would do or see it as some sort of victory if we settle for that reduction instead of the $900. That’s not to say the $900 number is a fabrication, just that it’s an outlier scenario.

So there you have it.

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  • Anonymous

    Whatever the final number, you can be sure of one thing: homeowners are tapped out and we will not be voting to tax ourselves any more because we simply cannot afford it. It’s not that we don’t want to help, it’s that we won’t vote for an increase that will literally mean that we will lose our homes. We have suffered job losses and pay cuts too and we just don’t have any more money people. Do. Not. Have. You’re going to have to find some other way.

  • vinnie smithers

    Prop 13 is the problem. So is defense spending.

  • Another Homeowner

    I’m a homeowner in Oakland. I’ll pay a parcel tax. I’d rather pay more now to educate our kids and give them a chance in life than pay later (and more) when they are in prison or on government services.

  • Nextset

    The problem with funding OUSD is that if you have no confidence in their spending the money wisely, new funding just seems to be wasted funding.

    If one were to write a 10 Million dollar check to the district would you really believe it would result in more employability for the students? (As opposed to better living conditions for OUSD contractors and certain employees).

    If I’m throwing money around to obtain better living conditions for adult employees I might just as well spend it on other government functions.

    Districts that are believed to be intransigent and hopeless as far as productivity is concerned are not going to attract more taxpayer funding. You will see Piedmont get school tax measures passed, not Oakland.

  • livegreen

    More Property Taxes? The problem is if they put a # of new ones on the ballot, they’re more likely to all fail. Why? Because, as Anonymous said, voters are tapped out. Especially after passing multiple property taxes in years past, and coming back for more. (The proof is all the taxes in the last voting cycle failed).

    Also we’re still waiting for REAL cuts to the bottom line.

    If some can afford yet another property tax, Another Homeowner, doesn’t mean everybody can. Many Middle Class property owners have suffered. In our family, we lost half our income in this recession and we know several middle class homeowners who have lost their jobs and/or houses.

    In a city where only 40% residents own homes, making it more expensive and less inviting to do so is not the answer. INCREASING home ownership is. It will increase the tax base, government income and the resources.

    All OUSD has to do is retain more of it’s Middle Class in it’s schools, and the City do it’s part by retaining citizens. Those two things right there will increase revenue for both govt. entities. But OUSD, like Oakland, is all about the Flatlands vs. the Hills. All the schools and all the neighborhoods are treated is either one of these. Even if they’re not!

    Ignore your Middle Class, & where they live, at your own peril. And if govt officials know they exist, they should prove it by having three, not two, lenses to look through.

    IF OUSD & the City does this, while demonstrating they’re doing their part by cutting their bottom line & operating costs (like many of us have had to do), it could only help gain the confidence of voters.

    Either is a big “if”.

  • Katy Murphy

    Oakland has asked homeowners for more money in recent parcel tax elections, as have many other school districts. The tax measure that might appear on the June ballot, however, would extend three other kinds of taxes for Californians: sales, income and vehicle. It’s an extension, meaning that — unless I’m missing something — it wouldn’t increase current levels of taxation.

  • Livegreen

    And to be clear, I am A OK with a continuation of existing taxes for CA and for education.

    This is different from multiple new Property taxes. In fact, if it were a limited # of Property Taxes for teachers (and the OEA & OUSD could work out a compromise), it is the ONLY property tax I would agree to (I don’t know if I’m representative of the electorate on that, but I note it’s the ONLY property tax that came ever-so-close to passing last year).

    The key will be to not put too many taxes for a suffering electorate. That makes public officials and unions look cold & heartless, and it also makes some voters vote “no” across the ballot.

    Thanks, Katy, for bringing this back to the State initiative, which is one of the most important…

  • Anonymous

    To AnotherHomeowner: If you can afford a new property tax and don’t mind paying it, then there is nothing to prevent you from sending that money to OUSD without voting to obligate homeowners who can’t afford it. Just write a check and send it in.

  • Yet another Oakland teacher

    Hi Katy,
    As a big fan of your blog I am frustrated that there has been no coverage of the coming enormous cuts to school sites and what that means. Dozens of parents, teachers and children went to the school board meeting and spoke about the awful impact of the pending cuts, and the school board basically did not say one word in response to us. I know principals have been having a series of emergency meetings to try to push back against the district for deciding to make 100% of the cuts at the school sites this year, and 0% – nada – will be cut from the central office. Last year you did a fantastic job of relaying the many charts and graphs, in part because the district was very transparent and released a lot of information. This year by contrast, the impact on the schools will be greater, but the district is being completely opaque. So I am relying on you to help us understand why the district is refusing to consider any cuts at the central office, and what will be the likely result of activism on the part of small school and hills school principals. I can only imagine that you have not written about this yet because you are still researching it.
    You have made yourself indispensable to Oakland so we are depending on you!

  • Katy Murphy

    You’re right (and yes, I checked) that last year, by this time, I had posted more info about budget scenarios and potential cuts to central office. I think that’s partly because, as you noted, the district put out so much info on the early side, something they haven’t done as much this year.

    But never fear, more stories are in the works about what’s happening centrally, as well as at the schools. Thanks for the nudge — and the vote of confidence.

  • Another Homeowner

    Like I said, you’re going to pay one way or the other. Education or prison/government services. And if people are concerned about how well education dollars are being spent, join your PTA or SSC and hold the principal accountable. But if we don’t get involved (time, talent, or money) and we deliver crappy education to our kids, then we’re all screwed because democracy is screwed. We’re all responsible. So yes, I would vote for a parcel tax. And extreme modification of Prop 13.

  • livegreen

    Another Homeowner, Your choice is simply wrong. We don’t have to pay more for either. Cut costs. From a practical standpoint, pushing for increased property taxes (as the Mayor is also doing) is already a proven failure: did you not hear the voters in the last election? How can you ignore this?

    Finally, you’ve failed to address the concerns of those who’ve laid out specific reasons against yet another property tax. Since you’re not interested in an actual exchange of opinions by addressing the concerns of others (loss of income, jobs, homes, cutting costs, etc.), why not just blog as “Yet Another Property Tax” and let the banner ad stand as is? You’re only doing the same using more words anyway…

  • livegreen

    Yet Another Oakland Teacher’s comments are right concerning the District. Troy Flint told us a couple weeks ago they’d have #’s regarding consultants out shortly. I look forward to seeing them.

    Since OUSD is not compliant regarding the high % of Central Administrative costs vs. school and site based costs, regardless of the consultants, can the District tell us if they are even working on becoming compliant?

    I expect to hear the Board asking tough questions to staff and Tony Smith about this, and taking a look at the #’s. Mr. Smith might deserve some leeway since he’s new, but that doesn’t mean the Board a) gets some time off by slacking off on oversight, b) ignoring representation of constituents by not asking hard questions; c) ignoring fiscal management.

    These are not responsibilities to be concerned about only at election time. They’re ongoing. Say, isn’ the lack of willingness to question and oversee Staff and the Superintendent on budget issues what led to the last OUSD budget meltdown?

  • J.R.

    Livegreen,
    I agree with you in principle but, those with the power to shape the budget at the district level(and even higher) have their own agenda(to keep the administrative paper pushing wasteful bureaucracy intact), they aren’t going to lower their own salaries, much less fire themselves. People really need to educate themselves as to what is really necessary to educate children(and run government) and what is just horrible wasteful excessive spending almost no regard for the people who pay the bills.

  • livegreen

    Jean Quan just showed by example, and she is pro-union, far left, and preparing for budget negotiations. I commend her. Tony Smith can do the same.

    Then they can start cutting their T-Shirt, gift, and meal budgets that they do for all conferences at OUSD HQ and outside meetings. People don’t just come for the food.

    Then get the Press Release out, so we know they did it. (After all they might be doing cuts that never get reported. If the message isn’t relayed, we don’t know it happened).

  • J.R.

    Livegreen,

    There is PR, and then there is real meaningful, significant cutting of expenditures. There is a big shell game going on, and we will never solve our problem until we spend less tax money than we take in (permanently). We cannot just nibble around the edges of government, we need to identify and “CUT” questionable spending at every level(when I start seeing firings of the least necessary, then I will believe it).

  • A different Oakland Teacher

    To those who say cut, cut, cut spending – I wonder how you think any agency can continue to cut when they have to pay for the same supplies, heat, electricity, food for school lunches this year as last, and the cost of those things have gone up and up. I know my pay check doesn’t stretch as far on my home budget (same basic check as year) yet I have to pay for food and other necessities, as well as front field trip money and all of those things have increased this year. I am one of the lucky ones, my class of 31 has parents who keep me in Kleenex, binder paper and expo markers, and reimburses me for the field trips, but in the past I paid for those myself because I could afford it easier than the parents of the children I taught.

    Is there waste? Certainly. Could some things be done better? Of course. But we have underfunded this state and all of its functions (schools, roads, fire prevention, state parks, mental health and general health services, police) for a couple of decades now and we are paying the price in the deterioration of our infrastructure and our network of social safety nets, and before you jump on me about how the weak should just crawl off into a hole…I have had the pleasure of living next door to a severely mentally ill person for 7 years, calling for help when she chased people down our driveway with knives, when she exposed herself inappropriately for an extended period to the great entertainment of the neighborhood children. She needed help and it took well over 7 years for our system to be able to take care of her when her family couldn’t. We need a social safety net.

    The truth of the matter is 30 years of greed has removed the jobs that allowed us to have a middle-class tax base and until we, and as our representatives our government, penalize corporations for off-shoring our jobs we will continue to face huge deficits in all arenas. Until that bit of willpower appears, we, property owners and other tax payers, need to suck it up and look beyond ourselves to the greater good – we need to take care and educate our children, and take care of our sick and that costs money, more every year and cutting waste helps, but raising income is also an unpleasant reality.

    Read your history – prosperity for our nation has never come during times of greed and selfishness, it has come either during war(not my favorite choice and it doesn’t seem to be working now) or during times where we looked to helping all the people of our community.

  • livegreen

    In the meantime, while Yet Another Property Tax is waiting for that to b passed after it failed last year, and continuing to ignore the reasons why that happened, I will reiterate that we do need to support the State ballot, to avoid total catastroph.

    And OUSD needs to look at cuts to central Administration and come into compliance with State requirements. If OUSD staff won’t do it, the Board needs to do it’s job and stop acting like figure heads. Otherwise, what are they there for?

  • J.R.

    “The truth of the matter is 30 years of greed has removed the jobs that allowed us to have a middle-class tax base and until we, and as our representatives our government, penalize corporations for off-shoring our jobs we will continue to face huge deficits in all arenas”.

    You are ignoring some important realities, too many people are being paid based on longevity and whether they can or cannot raise a family rather than skill-set or necessity(causing inflation deficits and higher cost of living for everyone). Gardeners in the UC system make 40-50K, some elementary school janitors in Alameda county are at 40-50k range. The reality is that not everyone has the set of skills that are coveted(and thus able to be middle class). Only through mafioso tactics of unions are people able to enrich themselves even though their set of skills do not merit it. Businesses are off shoring because many times they are paying American workers too much relative to the actual value of the work that is done. The auto workers were a fantastic example of this point(vastly overpaid for essentially menial low skill jobs. American cars ended up costing more than competitors, and yet were vastly inferior. Not every job(or worker)is worthy of middle class compensation, and that is the truth.
    Quick point Americans want to all be highly paid, but they want to buy things at a Walmart price(don’t you see the disconnected lack of logic in this).Someone has to work at near slave wages to make the cheap junk that you buy because Americans can’t or wont do it. It’s a vicious cycle. Yes I agree greed is a factor here.

  • Anonymous

    A Different Oakland Teacher said: “property owners and other tax payers, need to suck it up and look beyond ourselves to the greater good”

    You continue to completely gloss over the fact that middle class property owners are tapped out. Do you think we can just print money in the garage?

    If you really mean what you said about greed, then you’ll support the repeal of Prop 13. That’s the REAL greed that has created this situation. When I’m paying FOUR TIMES as much in property taxes on my little flatlands home as someone living in mansion in Montclair, there’s something very, very wrong.

    The people up the hill who are already paying much less than their fair share (AnotherHomeowner perhaps?) by taking advantage of Prop13 on their million dollar houses are the ones who need to “suck it up” and agree to tax themselves based on the fair market value of their homes — not those of us who are barely hanging on.

  • Hills Parent

    I fully support a repel or modification of prop 13. How is it fair that I pay TEN TIMES what my neighbor does in property taxes for a house/lot that is the same size? No, not double, not even 5x but a full 10x what they pay!! Do I get any more services? No, of course not. This situation is absolutely ridiculous and prop 13 will be the death of quality public education in this state.

  • Alice Spearman

    As achool board member looking a the central cuts from last year left not much take away from central office. What I am looking at is the vast amounts of consultants hired by the site and district offices. If one remembers, during state control, many posaitions were cut “to save money”. This translated into hiring all these “consultants” to do the work previously done by district central staff. The dilemna facing the board is now that many required services are being done by these consultants, many of which are hired by sites also. How do we scale down spending these funds and still provide the necessary support services the sites need. Some are fluff, but the majority are needed. If we do replace the needed positions, then we will be accused of expanding central office, what to do?

  • livegreen

    Alice, Start with the easy fluff first. Worry about the hard stuff later. You’ve got to start somewhere anyway.

    Also, there r some meetings where complete hot meals are provided. Not just for District and State officials but members of the public. At least recuce those to sandwiches and veggies, if that. Finally cut all the mugs, t-shirts and fluff marketing. Fluff that all adds up…

  • ASK

    I agree with Hills Parent. Prop 13 has got to go.

  • J.R.

    ASK,
    I agree, prop 13 as it stands should be gone. Businesses like wineries have been able to keep their prop 13 tax rate by dividing up the inheritance(or some such nonsense)I pay 10X in property taxes what my neighbor pays, and it is just not right. Its no way to fund the true needs of this state.

  • J.R.

    School funding, and collective bargaining have to be done differently if we want public education to survive.

    http://www.districtadministration.com/viewarticle.aspx?articleid=2402

  • J.R.
  • J.R.
  • livegreen

    Prop 13 does need to be reformed. All or nothing won’t work, has canceling it outright has been rejected. + poor Seniors have a case that they can’t pay the increased property taxes. But then of course neither can poorer or even many middle class young or middle income families.

    The question then becomes, can reforms allow for property taxes on wealthy seniors who’ve owned their homes since before the Prop-13 d-day?

    In the meantime we have the current round of taxes to get renewed or k-12 will take another ? billion in cuts? The question is: Will high voter-turnout Seniors vote for their youth and support an extension? Or vote with their wallets and save more money at the expense of youth?

    The Greatest Generation through to the Baby Boomers are in danger of becoming the “Apres Moi le Deluge” generation(s).

  • Hills Parent

    One of the things that Prop 13 has done is to limit mobility. Generally speaking, seniors may opt to downsize once their kids have been raised and are out of the house. Prop 13 discourages this from happening. So, older adults, just couples or even singles, live in homes that might be more suitable for families. But they aren’t moving because they have such a good deal on the tax side. And, I don’t feel too sorry for them because if they bought decades ago, they are sitting on huge gains – hundreds of thousands of dollars.

    Perhaps there could be some arrangement where deferred property taxes could be paid upon their passing (but this would require the heirs to either pony up or the house to be sold).

    And on the flip side, what about young families or young adults who struggle to buy into this market? Why should they pay the lion’s share? They will be saddled with a huge purchase price and steep taxation while the senior has a low purchase price and neglible taxation (while often sitting on massive gains).

    We can’t begin to close this budget hole without addressing Prop 13. Which politicians will have the courage to tackle this issue? C’mon Jerry!

  • len raphael

    Hp, don’t worry about seniors. http://www.acgov.org/assessor/assrinfo.htm#exclusions

    if over age 55 and you replace old home with one of same or lower value in the same county, you transfer the prop 13 value. some counties might have reciprocity.

    as for income tax on houses currently worth more than 500k/250k above orginal cost plus cost of improvements, yes there could be a capital gains tax on the difference of 25% max. But heck, there’s no tax help at all for someone who loses their downpayment when they sell or lose their home at a loss.

    -len raphael, temescal

  • Hills Parent

    Len, I didn’t actually realize that you can transfer the prop 13 value in some cases. I bet a lot of people, including seniors in a position to benefit, don’t know about that either. Thanks for letting me know.

    Hope for some tax equity soon as Prop 13 is UNFAIR and it’s doing tremendous damage to our state (especially education!)

  • len raphael

    Alice S, if voters like myself who though not ousd policy wonks, follow the issues to some extent, hear/read contradictory info about the ousd “consultant” expenditures, then there’s no hope for ordinary residents who either side with the faction that tells them the consultants are part of a broad-gates conspiracy or are all state mandated special needs instructors.

    something wrong when residents don’t look first to their own elected board members for accurate info.

    -len raphael, temescal

  • Catherine

    Hills Parent: If seniors downsize in the same county or several other counties they may take their Prop 13 taxes with them. It’s part of the prop 13 package.