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Do Fremont voters support a parcel tax to help schools?

By Linh Tat
Friday, March 12th, 2010 at 6:20 pm in Education, Fremont, Fremont Unified.

I’ve gotten a few phone calls/e-mails today from readers upset that the Fremont school board is thinking of asking voters to support a parcel tax in the midst of the largest recession since the Great Depression. Some also are upset that the board this week approved $105,000 in consultant fees, public outreach and a voter poll. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Consultant: $25,000
  • Educational materials: $60,000 (I’ve been told the materials will explain why the money is needed and how it will be spent, etc.)
  • Poll: $20,000

While writing the article, I anticipated that some people would take issue with the $105K expenditures, given the nearly $33 million in budget cuts that trustees preliminarily approved last month.

I asked board President Lara York if she felt the expenses are justified. Her comments did not make it into the article due to space and deadline constraints, but she said the board is being “extremely responsible” by spending a fraction of the total cost to place a measure on a ballot in order to gauge voter support before it commits to spending more money.

The poll will help determine what tax rate voters are most likely to support, as well as the district’s chances of passing a tax in November (or if another election cycle would be better).

In upcoming months, some of you will probably be surveyed about a parcel tax. I know the consultant that FUSD hired will conduct a more thorough and scientific poll, but til then, here’s your chance to weigh in on whether voters should support a tax.

[You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.]

  • Jon Simon

    If we don’t invest in our children, we’re throwing our nation’s future in the trash.

  • bbox231

    You want to invest in our children ?

    I agree – - the future of our communities are in the hands (and minds) of our children –

    I suggest we START at the top – or else – let’s not pretend to care –

    http://articles.latimes.com/2009/dec/18/local/la-me-lausd-teachers18-2009dec18

  • Shart

    Even if I had school aged kids I would say hell no.

  • skumar

    I will support a tax when they return the Mission school district boundaries to where they were in the 90′s. Nina Moore remember?

  • VOR

    In January, columnist Joe Klein of Time Magazine wrote one of the most straight-forward articles about the problem in our schools. Here’s an excerpt. The URL is at the close. It is definitely worth reading.

    The New York teachers’ union was launched in 1960 and led in the early years by the smartest and toughest union man I’ve ever met, Albert Shanker. The teachers are among the most powerful interest groups in New York State (and nationally, in the Democratic Party). The UFT’s slogan is “A Union of Professionals,” but it is quite the opposite: an old-fashioned industrial union that has won for its members a set of work rules more appropriate to factory hands. There are strict seniority rules about pay, school assignment, length of the school day and year. In New York, it is near impossible to fire a teacher — even one accused of a crime, drug addiction or flagrant misbehavior.

    Read more: http://www.time.com/time/politics/article/0,8599,1957277,00.html#ixzz0i4MSW73M

  • Matt Zinger

    I would support a parcel tax only on the following conditions.

    1) Renegotiate teachers union contract where job security is tied to performance. Right now, there are tenured teachers who give hell to teaching kids.
    2) Get rid of unnecessary bureaucracy. Streamline job functions so that administrative staff can do multiple job functions. Ex: Attendance Clerk & Principal Secretary job functions can be done by a single person. Maybe, this is already done in schools
    3)Get rid of pension packages to retiring Superintendents who cost a lot in the long-run ie pay and health care premiums
    4) The School Board/District should be proactive and fight for our rightful share from State in whatever way they can. FUSD gets the least share when compared to other neighboring school districts for so many years

    I can go on and on.

    It is pathetic to see FUSD facilities that are in bad shape when compared to neighboring school districts. This is due to short-sightedness of the School District and School Board for so many years. This is inspite of being one of the better performing school districts in the country.

    BTW, I have school-going kids but the tax-payer’s money should not go into a rat hole.

  • John

    Matt,
    Right on – it is the greedy teachers union that encourages poor practices that is killing the system. We need to renegotiate their packages to bring them in line with the private sector – I for one am tired of working to support the egregious retirement benefits for “public servants”.

    John

  • VOR

    President Obama’s National Competition to Advance School Reform, “Race to the Top” education initiative includes the Teacher Incentive Fund, which motivates states and districts to create or expand effective performance pay and teacher advancement models to reward teachers and principals for increases in student achievement and boost the number of effective educators working with poor, minority, and disadvantaged students and teaching hard-to-staff subjects.

    In a nutshell, if students are graded on their performance why not teachers?

    Not surprising that teachers unions are not excited by this initiative.

    http://www2.ed.gov/news/pressreleases/2009/07/07242009.html

  • http://fcnisbacon.wordpress.com/ Marty

    I’m one of the first to jump on public employees pension obligations, and I agree dramatic shifts need to be made going forward in how our governments compensate employees. But I would likely support this for two reasons.

    1) The state has raided local education funds to pay for their hopeless budgetary endeavors. I’d be willing to help make up some of the shortfall if therevenue can NOT be touched by the state.

    2) Beyond the mandate of educating our children summarized by Jon Simon’s comment, there are other tangible benefits to strong performing schools. One of which is property values. A Fremont that does not have good schools would be no better of a place to live than any of the other unassuming pseudo-ghettos that are strung up the east bay. Property values in Fremont, which are higher than Newark, Hayward, San Leandro, etc would reflect that.

  • VOR

    Well said Marty.

  • http://www.YourAmericanVoice.com Fazlur Khan

    The State should not touch the Education funds and the property values and the elite schools notion can be controlled, if there are Inter School Transfer of the teachers every 2 years in the Districts.
    We have to have the best education for our kids to produce top leaders in business, trade, indusrty, medicine, technology, politics and all human activities. Therefore, we need full funding for education. We can consider Parcel Tax, parents, if in a position can donate monthly Recession
    Payments to the Schools till the State’s Financial position is stablised and let us come with ideas to make our schools the best and excellent in API Scores. Let the conversation continue for the sake of our future generations.

  • Fremont_Bill

    A fair Parcel Tax would exempt people on fixed incomes. Then the older generation would probable vote for it, but when they are counting the pennies for food, it would be cruel to tax people on fixed incomes

  • http://www.ishanforcouncil.com Ishan Shah

    property values=condition of local schools
    condition of schools=worsening

    therefore

    property values=worsening

    unless we somehow manage to stop our schools’ conditions from approaching absolutely decrepit.

    http://bit.ly/cAIoqF

  • RescueBlues

    “A fair Parcel Tax would exempt people on fixed incomes”
    – Fremont_Bill

    A *fair* parcel tax would be $0. Parcels have no money as asserts or income. That’s even true for property taxes, in which there’s a random relationship between the value of a property and the assets or income of the property owner. And the uncorrelated {property-value-change} {assets or income of property owner} relationship is what led to Prop-13.

    A *fair* school tax would be something like a 2% income tax per child enrolled in public school (note: adjust the % –is that 1%, 3%?, maybe have a cap after N kids). Older people on fixed incomes are unlikely to have kids so they wouldn’t pay anything. Rich people (with kids) would pay more so it’s nice and progressive. People with many kids (using more school services) would pay more than those with fewer or none.

  • Jon Simon

    The ignorance in many of these posts is sadly expected. If you haven’t run your own classroom for a year, perhaps you do not know what you’re talking about.

    Teacher pay is, at best, reasonable. After the sizable chunk taken out for retirement and the unfair exclusion out of Social Security, teacher pensions are mediocre. It’s the fire and police who have the amazing pensions. I know one teacher who, after saving up for years and retiring, is now back in the classroom. She just couldn’t live off her pension and other investments after the market dove.

    Teachers unions fight to protect members and kids. Protections for permanent teachers sometimes go too far, but they serve a purpose: shielding teachers from the stunningly poor choices of administrators and lawmakers. Inability to retain scores of innovative and inspirational teachers hurts more than a few incompetents waiting to retire.

    The wide variety of regulations directly and indirectly guiding classroom curriculum make teacher quality almost moot. Sure, total incompetence crops up and it’s a problem, but the absolute crushing of competence by an insane system causes far more damage.

    Teacher performance incentives don’t work, at least not according to test results. The 600 million dollar per year high school exit exam does nothing for kids.

    The textbook industry is a waste of paper, the green kind in our pockets. Why don’t we have open source textbooks at all schools? Oh yes. It’s that efficient private sector messing with the public sector to get their corporate welfare. You can thank the Republican Supreme Court for solidifying that power.

    State tests for every student every year? The next time you get a blood test, be sure they test every single drop of your blood. What a waste of money and what a pain!

    Measuring teacher performance is difficult. Test scores have far more to do with parents than teachers. Focusing on test scores leads to teaching to the test and cheating. Principals, under-trained and overburdened, cannot handle the job consistently. One of the worst teachers I ever had the bad luck to work with was beloved by parents, her principal, and her students. Her politics were first class, but she did squat in the classroom.

    Administration still has some fat, mostly the fat between muscles. Try to get that out and you damage the end product. Paperwork requirements are obscene, and schools already do more with less. You want accountability? Pay for it or stop whining.

    As for fairness of state funding, the atrocity that is Prop 13 screws Fremont while showering funds on Pleasanton. If you don’t like it, work to repeal Prop 13.

  • bbox231

    Jon -

    The “ignorance” you seem so in touch with is equally served up by those in the teaching profession who in one fell swoop will argue that -

    A.) Testing is an effective means of determining student competency (despite known limitations) – while

    B.) Simultaneously arguing that testing is ineffective if applied to the teaching profession (stating the same generalized limitations known to exist in ANY test venue)

    What an incredibly disengenuous double-standard -

    The teaching professions are amongst the most important to our society. That the teaching profession continues to refuse to eliminate arcane rules of tenure, inability to discipline, and pay-for-results – - – - discredits their position (and reveals a motive removed from the sole interests of “our children” .

    Prop 13 is simply a mechanism that has placed in the hands of voters an ability to manage increases in tax revenues – and guess what ? Where there are defined needs and where the uses of currently available resources are seen by the taxpayer as reasonably managed – - – voters frequently have been willing to part with more. . . . . where there are perceived and blatant inefficiencies or where designated uses of the proposed tax revenues are generalized and/or unlimited in time and scope – - – California taxpayers have pretty routinely dumped such propositions.

    “State tests for every student every year ..”- analagous to testing “…every drop of blood” ? ? ? ? ? ?- – - – See Jon – this is exactly where you discredit your positions AND profession – - – - My child is tested E V E R Y W E E K – - – by TEACHERS, and rightly so, standardized testing is, for all of its shortcomings one of the better (not only) tools we have for assessing performance, of students, of employees, and, for teachers.

    The sooner these entrenched unions and their constituency begin working positively towards an embracing of this future; the sooner taxpayers are more likley to feel good about placing more into the coffers of public education.

    If NOT – - I think we can expect to see increasing pressure by taxpayers to part ways with the a public education system and its associated tax burden – which is viewed as protecting of its rules for employment, first, and quality of education, second.

  • Lou Vandelay

    Can you say “Conceptual Approach”? It seems that there is no problem that local pols don’t believe can be improved through the laying on of about $100K in taxpayer’s money.

    One hint about proposed taxes – don’t just look the proposed rate – look at how long the tax will last. Last November, Newark voters got their proposed utility tax knocked down from the original 20 years to about 6 years. Then they voted it down anyway.

    Does anybody out there think the schools spend money wisely? Do your kids get the same level of education that you received? Do you now have to pay for lots of things that used to be the responsibility of the school district? Is the school your kids attend in good structural condition? Is the solution to give them more money, or are there deeper issues that need to be addressed?

  • Bruce

    Lou: I think the issues you are raising are because the schools get too little money, not too much. What is the “deeper issue” with paying for teachers, books, paper and maintenance? If you have a rational argument that money is being spent elsewhere, then explain yourself. Otherwise you seem to be saying “schools are run down because they don’t get enough money, so we should cut their funding more”.

  • VOR

    I think the phrase, “pay now, or pay later,” is apropos to this situation.

    Lack of adequate funding of our schools will generate a population base that cannot function at the level required for the United States to compete in today’s world economy. We are already falling behind countries like China and India when it comes to training the scientists and technologists needed to compete globally.

  • J.R.

    Does anyone have a breakdown of school expenditures(ex: teachers,admin,teaching materials,facility maintenance etc) where teachers are not lumped with other personnel. I would like an accurate picture of where the money is going.We apparently spend 9K per child per year(250K-300K per class)If you subtract the teachers salary 60K-80K then where is the rest of the money distributed.I think schools may have enough if it is used wisely.

  • Bruce

    J.R.: The latest school board packet has a lot of detailed budget material. Frankly it makes me cross eyed. If you can find a pile of wasteful spending in the budget, have at it.

    What I’m reacting to is that next year my kids may have: bigger classes; no computer lab; no science specialist; even fewer library days; more stressed out teachers who don’t get prep time; portables that should have been replaced long ago… the list goes on.

    I know we spend less per student in this state on K-12 than most other states, we have higher cost of living, and Fremont has less money per student than much of the rest of the state. So I find all these claims about wasted money to be baffling.

  • Jon Simon

    Few teachers I know look to standardized testing as an effective means of measuring student competency, at least not in California’s implementation. Even fewer look at it as an effective means of measuring teacher competency since teachers control so few factors in student performance. I’m not saying teacher performance can’t be measured; just that available test scores are the wrong method and accurate teacher assessments are beyond most administrators, either due to incompetence or workload (probably more of the latter).

    In the real world, when teachers have no “arcane” protection, incompetent administrators and politics do terrible damage. Yes, permanent incompetent teachers pose a problem, but giving administrators too much control will destroy teaching quality and entire schools as everyone looks to cover their asses and insure their jobs instead of doing what’s best for the kids.

    For the record, teachers already sacrifice plenty for their students. Asking them to give up financial security and professional decision making is a bit much, all while doing nothing for the kids.

    California taxpayers vote based on often inaccurate perceptions. On the local/school level, when teachers and parents have control, usually little gets wasted. Waste is mostly on the categorical funding level, where the government forces unnecessary spending in specific areas. Of course, charter schools, with their looser funding, make much stupider decisions, all typically with less special ed students who need greater funding.

    If your children get standardized tests every week, you should be furious. That’s a tremendous waste of time and money better spent on teaching. Informal assessments give far more useful information while taking less time and money. For the record, at least in elementary, students ARE receiving standardized tests every week, ordered by the district. It’s a waste, a sad, tired waste.

    Teachers unions have been working positively for change for a long, long time. Certainly longer than a any politician currently in office. However, the profession gets no respect, not in this forum and not in Sacramento or Washington. Hence the sad state of education today. I think it comes out of teaching being thought of as a woman’s profession, especially in elementary.

    And in the end, it doesn’t matter what teachers do or say. Washington and Sacramento, backed by voters’ cross-eyed, short-sighted perceptions, will continue making our schools worse and worse, all, I’m sad to say, in time for my children to enter school.

    I DID try to make positive change. I’ve precinct walked for board candidates and other education issues. I even ran for office and lost. We got the school board the people of Fremont want, one focused on finances. I just wish they didn’t buy into the top down, data-focused business model of running schools.

  • bbox231

    Good thoughts, Jon.

    Now that we’ve gotten over the hurdle of establishing that SOME form of measurement of performance could be a valid measure of instructor effectiveness, perhaps you can encourage others within your ranks to think and act similarly.

    …..beginnings of a solution.

  • J.R.

    Bruce,
    I am in the same boat, my kids are going to suffer as well. The funding scheme for education was ill conceived and is now broken, voters have voted for stupid measures(bullet train)as if it is a necessity.We spend much more per convict as we do per student, and that is just wrong.In my opinion the teachers get no respect because the most ill-tempered and lazy ones are also the loudest and they stand out, If I was a hard working teacher I would be irritated that these individuals are protected by your union. As parents we love and respect our hard working teachers, but sadly our attention gets focused on the teachers that just don’t care about the students and are just making it easy on themselves and cashing checks.One phrase that my friend heard at a teachers meeting was “do not go out of your way and do too much and make other teachers look bad”. In other words, “lets have uniform mediocrity at most”.

  • Bruce

    JR: My kids’ teachers are not holding back in the way you describe. Everyone gets frustrated by the funding situation, and I’m aware that some younger teachers who got pink slips last year were pretty depressed about it. But the ones I know are doing their best. We’ve only encountered two real clunkers in the past 10 years, and the good ones have more than made up for them. So I still don’t buy your reasoning that teachers being coddled is the cause for the schools being underfunded. To me it is simply that the schools are underfunded!

  • J.R.

    Bruce,
    I will agree with you that schools are not the highest priority, and probably should be(with the proviso that under-performing teachers will be cut loose).Good hardworking teachers are definately not overpaid(65K is not rich), especially here in California, but I still think the education system is bloated at the top with too much bureaucracy.The principals need more of a free hand to do what is supposed to be their job.We have entirely too many supers and asst supers at every level of government.Waste is there because we have positions and people who are redundant and unnecessary.

  • Jon Simon

    BBox,

    For some reason, you think you’re right in assuming teachers don’t want accountability and better teaching. That’s foolish, mean-spirited, and totally incorrect. It’s like saying that cops, as a rule, are rude and corrupt. Teachers desire accountability, but not with principals as lords. Getting sent hither and yonder at every new educational whim, forced to abandon what works while moving from grade to grade and school to school; that doesn’t make the monumentally difficult job any easier. Teachers expect to be treated with respect, something in short supply.

    Schools are not assembly lines, every child the same. It’s far more mentally challenging than anything else I’ve done, including journalism, sales, and tech consulting.

  • http://fcnisbacon.wordpress.com/ Marty

    Jon, I think teacher unions, at least in CA would have garnered magnitudes more support and respect if they weren’t so partisan. Identifying with Dems may fulfill teacher’s personal political agendas, but they have in effect eliminated the support of 40 % of the state.

  • Jon Simon

    Marty,
    That may be true, though a lot of teachers vote Republican. Overall, Democratic legislators have given far more support to schools than Republicans. Not great support, just more support. There are more reasons for teachers siding with Democrats, focusing on protecting children.

  • bbox231

    Jon – I’m sorry for my “mean spiritedness” – - – gosh, I hope I didn’t ruin your day.

    Back to the topic at hand however, while focussing on your own interpretations of my “spirit” you conveniently have forgotten that those who collectively bargain on behalf of ALL teaching professionals have argued exactly as you opened with – - – that testing is not a solution.

    Suprisingly, that majority of instructors who should exhibit confidence in their skills (as opposed to reliance on their tenure) do little to counter these arcane rules of protectionism (and again, your opening statement reinforce these observations) – - –

    So Jon – while you’re busy levying the Jon Simon rules of debate etiquette – - I suggest we try to stay on point and focus on the issues and ideas – - – OK ?

    And here all along I had such high hopes for this topic when, as, even mean-old-spirited-me said – -(in reference to your post #22) “… beginnings of a solution.”

  • Lou Vandelay

    Bruce, regarding my post 17, the deeper issues that I was referring to are specifically the waste, fraud, and mismanagement that are pervasive in the administrative levels of most school districts.

    As just one example, I know for a fact that FUSD’s office computers are so antiquated and poorly maintained that either key functions of their system or the entire system frequently go down for extended periods of time. When employees computers do not work, those employee’s cannot be effective. Sure, we could throw more money at a problem like this, but where has all of the money that we’ve already thrown at it gone?

    It wasn’t that long ago that we were reading about FUSD spending exorbitant amounts of school money on employee travel. In these difficult financial times, that is also a mismanagement issue.

    I’m not saying that there may not be issues about teacher effectiveness, or parent involvement, or other problems. But, in my opinion, none of these issues can be addressed and resolved unless we have a competent School Board and District Office. A fish starts to stink from the head, and we’ve got one smelly fish on our hands.

  • Bruce

    Lou: Old computers and excess travel. Can you estimate what fraction of over-all spending is/was being wasted on these issues? I believe most of the money is being spent at the schools, and the cuts are affecting the schools.

    I have to say that phrases like “throwing money at a problem” have zero credibility when Fremont has less money “thrown” at it per student than most of the state, and California “throws” less money at its students then most of the rest of the country.

  • NoAsForFremont

    Throwing money at poor performing schools is going to improve jack shit. Basing teacher’s performance on API scores is jack shit too. What they should do is to include the demographics into the equation. See I could be a teacher in Mission fremont and come to class stoned everyday. The kids are going to do brilliant anyway. Doesnt mean I should be given a bonus based on the API score. Making good students out of a difficult neighborhood is a very very hard problem. If we want to solve it, we should start with the parents first. Do steps to improve the neighborhood. I have seen pictures of schools in difficult areas with a branch new buildings, shiny coat of paint, big screen TVs etc. No wonder there is no money for parents counselling or other more important stuff.

  • NoAsForFremont

    Matt Zinger says, “Renegotiate teachers union contract where job security is tied to performance. Right now, there are tenured teachers who give hell to teaching kids.”

    First of all there should be no tenure. Next step is salary of teachers is too low. 65k is peanuts. Performance should be tied to a combination API score and demographics. Improving API score in a bad school should result in a big bonus for the teacher. Doing this will ensure that the best teachers are given incentives to go teach in a difficult neighborhood. Having just an avg teacher in 970/1000 API score school will probably not make any difference to the score.

    Public schools are not run for profit, so its difficult to improve things too much anyway. Public schools just reflect the demographics of the area

  • VOR

    Detroit is closing 44 schools in June. Kansas City is closing 29 schools by September. Meanwhile, government officials stress the need to build more prisons to incarcerate the criminals. We definitely have it bass ackwards. The phrase “circling the drain,” comes to minds.