West Contra Costa resident Fatima Alleyne, a member of the Budget Advisory Committee, is raising questions about how the school district is spending its Measure G parcel tax money.
She wonders why money earmarked for “after-school programs” has been spent on athletics and why the district paid for custodians with dollars promised to retain teachers and keep campuses safe. Alleyne has sent several e-mails to Superintendent Bruce Harter and others asking for clarification and has been “bemused” by their responses.
Although the district changed the language in its most recent Measure G ballot initiative, district officials insist on characterizing it as an “extension” of the previous Measure D, as though it were worded exactly the same.
Measure D, approved in 2008, stated that money received would be used to: “improve education, including reading, writing, math and science; retain quality teachers and counselors; support libraries, computer training, and athletic programs; prepare students for college and the workforce; maintain reduced class sizes; maintain school cleanliness; and protect against state budget cuts.”
The district’s 2012 Measure G language, which appeared on the ballot, asked voters to approve the parcel tax for: “protecting core academics — reading, writing, math, science, attracting and retaining quality teachers, providing lower class sizes for the youngest children, preparing students for college and the workforce, and improving safety on and around school campuses.”
Noticeably absent was any reference to athletic programs and maintaining school cleanliness. However, the full text of the ballot measure in the voter pamphlet also listed additional possible uses for the money, including “supporting after-school programs to keep kids away from gangs and drugs.” Even in this expanded version of the measure’s text, athletics and school cleanliness were removed.
This prompted Alleyne to ask why the district spent more than $1 million in Measure G money on athletics, classifying it as an “after-school program.” She also asked why $472,930 was allocated for clean facilities “when the measure does not support funding for clean facilities.”
Harter responded in a May 5 letter that athletics had been funded through the parcel tax since 2004 and that the sports programs qualified for funding under “after-school programs.” Regarding the cleaning expenses, Harter wrote: “Clean and well-kept facilities are an important part of retaining qualified teachers and keeping campuses safe for employees and students.”
He said spending priorities “were set in place in 2004 when the district was adopting program and service cuts in the categories that are now supported through the local parcel tax.”
He did not acknowledge or explain why the district changed the ballot language in 2012 for Measure G.
Alleyne questions why the change in ballot language did not change the way the district spent the money.
“If it was the board’s intention to use ‘after-school’ program funding only for high school athletics,” she wrote in a June 17 e-mail to Harter, “why did they change the language of the text? This approach appears deceitful and misleading to voters.”
She also said she has spoken to several teachers and “none of them agreed that hiring custodians is the best manner to retain and attract quality teachers.”
Alleyne suggested that the district should evaluate the effectiveness of this strategy.
“When I think of safe conditions, I do not immediately think of custodians — rather security,” she said. “And many of my colleagues believe the same.”
Yet, the Budget Advisory Committee approved the expenditures, saying the money was spent according to the ballot measure.
Do you agree that money approved for after-school programs should be spent on athletics and that money for teacher retention and school safety should be spent on custodians?