FAQ

On Friday, March 26, the Registar of Voters assigned the letter E to the replacement parcel tax ballot measure.

The proposed parcel tax

The election

AUSD and the State Budget

Other sources of revenue

Parcel tax legal questions

The proposed parcel tax

What is the actual text of the the replacement parcel tax measure that is being proposed?
You can read the entire measure at: Parcel Tax Resolution

We already have a school parcel tax, why do we need another one?
This tax replaces both Measures A and H which sunset in 2012. Because of the state fiscal crisis, the district is currently facing unprecedented cuts in state revenues. The increase in this tax will keep our district solvent, our schools performing well, and our students well educated.

Does this proposed parcel tax replace the existing school parcel taxes, Measure A and H?
Yes, it replaces Measures A and H.

What happens if we don’t pass the parcel tax?
AUSD is looking at cuts of $7 million in 2010-11, $9.8 M in 2011-12, and $17 million in 2012-13.If the parcel tax is not passed at the June ballot, the budget cuts that the district has proposed will take effect between 2010 and 2013. The proposed cuts include reduction and elimination of programs and resources to which the Alameda community has attached great value – including support for high school sports programs, swim centers, class size reduction in grades K-3, neighborhood schools, and school counselors, closure of elementary, middle and high school sites, Gifted and Talented Education, adult education, art, music and PE in the elementary schools, and reductions in many other programs.

How long will the proposed parcel tax be in effect?
Eight years.

This seems like a short-term problem. Why isn’t the parcel tax just for one year?
The State mandates that schools pass a three-year budget which includes funding that can be identified for all three years. The district is not allowed to spend money that is only identified for a single year. Besides, it seems clear at this point that the state government will not pull itself out of this economic downturn any time soon, so having a parcel tax to tide us through is fiscally prudent.

I’m a homeowner, how much will the proposed parcel tax cost me?
As a residential property owner, the proposed parcel tax will cost you $659/ year, about $30 more per month than the current parcel taxes (which were $309 per year). Exemptions are available for the primary residence of those 65 years and older, and for those of any age receiving Supplemental Security Income for a disability.

I own a business, how much will the proposed parcel tax cost me?
Commercial and industrial parcels are taxed at the rate of $0.13 per lot square foot (down from .15 cents were square foot under Measure H), with a cap of $9500 (this would apply to parcels over $73,000 feet.

Business owners didn’t like Measure H, why should they support this new tax?
In addition to supporting the schools, which helps business in Alameda, under the new parcel tax, commercial property owners will be paying between 17 and 47 percent less than they paid under Measures A and H. One commercial property will see its tax drop 70 percent. That reduction is due to both the immediate replacement of Measure A ($189/year) and the drop in the square foot rate from .15 to .13.

I’m a renter, how much will the proposed parcel tax cost me?
Renters do not have to pay the parcel tax directly, as the replacement tax includes no “per door” or “per unit” tax. It is possible, however, that landlords will pass on a portion of the increased tax to their renters. (It’s also possible that some landlords won’t pass on the tax.) If landlords do pass on the cost of the parcel tax it would cost renters, on average, about $10 per month (or .33/day).

I’m a landlord, how much will the proposed parcel tax cost me?
Under the replacement parcel tax, landlords will pay $659.00 per parcel for single, duplex, triplex, or four-plex rental properties and .13 cents per square foot for parcels with five or more apartments. The commercial cap of $9500.00 (which kicks in at 73000 square feet) will also apply to apartment complexes.

How much will institutions and other non-profits have to pay?
Clubs and lodge houses with a defined use code of 6800 will pay $659 per year.
For a complete list of Alameda County parcel use codes, please refer to this table at the Alameda County Assessor. To determine the use code of a specific parcel, use this search engine. Institutions are all “6000” numbers

How much will the parcel tax raise for schools?
The proposed parcel tax is expected to raise approximately $14 million per year for the school district.

Why is the parcel tax aiming to raise $14 million when the district expects to have to cut $17 million by 2012-13?
The district did not think it would be possible to ask voters to pay for a parcel tax that would generate $17 million . Moreover, the district was aware that many voters believe that cuts are as important to balancing a budget as increasing revenue. Because of that, the district has committed to making $2.5 million in on-going cuts over the next three years.

This seems like another short-term, temporary solution. Why is the district not coming up with a long-term solution?
Many long-term solutions are being pursued by the district and community groups here in Alameda, as well as across the state, these include the recent adoption of a master plan, state-level lobbying and legal strategies for addressing the lack of stability and security in state funding. But long-term solutions involve state-level changes, either by wholesale revision of how California funds its schools, by an alteration in funding formulas for districts, like Alameda, that receive less money than other districts, or by changes in the way that California collects, administers, and approves its taxes in general. In either case, the timeframe for change is long, possibly five years or more.
The district must act now to ensure the ongoing quality of public education in Alameda. The only short-term means for the district to raise revenues to offset the budget cuts is a parcel tax.

Why don’t we try to raise more money with the parcel tax? Other school districts have much higher parcel taxes.
AUSD has committed to addressing the current financial crises through a combination of expenditure cuts and revenue increases. While it is certainly true that a few school districts have higher parcel taxes (for example, Piedmont Unified School District currently has school parcel taxes that average about $2300.00 per residential parcel) AUSD aware that the demographics in Alameda are different than those in towns with higher parcel taxes. Alameda’s school district manages its budget aggressively and has one of the lowest administrative overheads of any Alameda County District. The proposed parcel tax is calculated to closely address the funding shortfall identified for the next few years. The term of the tax (eight years) is based on an assumption that the funding situation at the state level is unlikely to change for the better anytime soon and financial stability in the district is paramount to continuing our great schools.

I don’t have kids in Alameda’s public schools, why should I care about the parcel tax?
Good schools help stabilize high property values, keep children engaged (and off the streets), and attract the kinds of families that will support local businesses. In addition, many parcel tax supporters believe that communities have a collective responsibility to educating the younger generations — just as we ourselves were supported, nurtured, and educated when we were young.

I’m a renter, why should I vote for the parcel tax?
Renters, like property owners, benefit from stable, good schools. Not only do many renters have children, but a diverse community of households at every stage of life ensures a vibrant, active community that supports local businesses and local public services that are enjoyed by everyone, renters and non-renters alike.

What will the parcel tax money be spent on?
The money raised by the replacement tax will support strong academic programs in language, math, and science; art and music; small class sizes; innovative programs designed to attract and inspire students; and the district’s ability to attract and retain excellent teachers. In addition, the measure calls for a new advisory group that will make recommendations to the superintendent and the board of education about the changing priorities that need funding

How will we know that the parcel tax money is being spent as promised?
An advisory committee of citizen stakeholders will be appointed by the Board of Education to ensure that the proceeds of the special tax are spent for their authorized purposes. That same committee will report annually to the board and the public regarding the expenditure of such funds. The size, structure, and scope of duties of the advisory committee shall be set by the Board.”

Why do we need a parcel tax? Other schools districts have no parcel taxes.
Due to the dramatic decreases in state funding, many schools that never had parcel taxes are now putting them on their ballots. The Alameda Unified School District has consistently had high graduation rates, high test scores, and innovative programs. While we can certainly aim to emulate the less successful districts found in less supportive communities, traditionally Alameda has supported our schools. If we dismantle that system now, we risk losing the very attributes that continue to attract families to the Island, support local businesses, and fund public services.

The election

What is an all mail-in election?
In an all-mail election, a one-issue ballot (and a postage-paid return envelope) will be mailed to every registered voter in Alameda. Under the schedule approved unanimously by the Board of Education, the Registrar of Voters will mail out the ballots on May 25, 2010 and voters will be able to mail their completed ballot back to the Registrar (or drop them off at the Registrar) any time between May 26 and June 22. (Note: Ballots must be received by the Registrar no later than June 22 so if they are mailed on June 22, they will be late and will not count.)
There will not be any traditional polling places open for this election.

Why is the proposed parcel tax being held as a mail-in special election?
The AUSD Board voted unanimously to hold a later, mail-in only election, in order to provide more public participation and chance to comment on the proposed parcel tax.
While an all-mail ballot may seem unusual here in Alameda, it is becoming more common in other areas of the state and country. In recent years, for instance, several California school districts have placed parcel tax measures on an all-mail ballot. And the state of Oregon conducts all its elections as all-mail elections.
An all mail ballot presents an opportunity for greater voter participation since each registered voter receives a ballot and is afforded more than three weeks within which to vote.
Given what is at stake for our schools and out community, it is critical that all Alameda voters receive a ballot to be able to vote on whether to pass this measure to raise more revenue locally or to tell AUSD to undertake severe and devastating budget reductions in order to balance the budget.

Wouldn’t the district save money by putting the parcel tax on the June 8th ballot?
No – our best information to date suggests that going mail-in will cost us no more than putting the measure on a traditional ballot on June 8th.
The cost of the June 8 election is much higher because it involves the costs of setting up and running polling places in precincts across the city. That higher cost is shared among the various items on the ballot, so the costs to AUSD would be some portion of the total (larger) cost of the June 8 election. Since we will not know the exact number of items on the June 8 ballot known until after the deadline for qualifying the measure has passed, the costs of participating in that will also not be known until after the deadline for qualifying the measure has passed.
The best information we had in March (when the Board had to make this decision) is that the cost of placing a measure on the June 8 ballot and the cost of an all-mail election with a June 22 date will both be in the range of $3-$5 per registered voter in Alameda.

Then why don’t you just put it on the November ballot?
If the district waits for November, it will have to make $7 million in order to create a budget for next year that keeps the district solvent. The district needs this parcel tax now.

AUSD and the State Budget

What are the state budget cuts that everyone is talking about?
According to current budget projections, by September 2010, the state government will have cut the amount of money it pays for each AUSD student by about $700 since August of 2009. Taken altogether, this amounts to more than $6.8 million in lost revenue for AUSD.

What is this Master Plan I keep hearing about?
The severity of the impending deficit — plus a growing achievement gap, uneven enrollment, and a need for more choice in the Alameda Unified School District — led Superintendent Kirsten Vital to propose creating a Master Plan for the next three years in the spring of 2009.
Commissioned by AUSD’s Board of Education — and designed by Superintendent Vital and staff — the goal of the Master Plan was to develop a blueprint for the district’s decision-making on finances, staffing, programs and facilities over the next five school years. If the parcel tax passes in June, the district will follow Plan A of the Master Plan, consists of eight core strategies, including creating magnet programs and “small learning communities”; boosting enrollment; strengthening enrichment programs; creating partnerships with philanthropic organizations; creating more personalized learning programs for students; and closing the achievement gap. If the parcel tax does not pass, the district will follow Plan B, which includes closing schools, laying off teachers, increasing all class sizes to 32:1, and ending programs like music, art, and PE across the district.

Why doesn’t the school district just live within its means?
Alameda Unified School District has managed its budget aggressively in the face of cuts over the last two years. Those budget cuts have already resulted in many reductions in programs and lay-offs of teachers and staff. At a certain point “living within its means” (meaning the amount of money the state gives the district) will seriously jeopardize the education and career prospects of thousands of students, as well as the property values, attractiveness, and general quality of life here in Alameda.

What steps is the district taking to save money?
Over the next few years, the district will be raising class sizes for grades K-3 and 9 (which involves laying off teachers); further streamlining its central office operations; and potentially asking all employees, including teachers and administrators, to go on furlough 8 days per year to save money. In addition, the district laid off its Public Affairs Officer in 2008 and began reorganizing and reducing staff in the district office in 2009.

Why doesn’t the school district cut some of the “administrative fat” that I’m always hearing about?
Some people claim that Alameda Unified School District spends too much money on administrative positions, money that could be better spent in the classroom or on other programs that directly benefit students.
In fact, AUSD spends relatively little money on administration. Between 2000 and 2008, for instance, AUSD increased its students to administrators ratio from 267.3:1 to 384.7:1 — a 43 percent difference. The district now has the third highest ratio in all of Alameda County. This means the district is actually one of the most efficient districts in the county!
In 2008-’09, the latest fiscal year for which complete numbers are available, AUSD spent $396 per student on administrative functions, compared to an average of $608 for other Alameda County school districts (35% less than the average!). Alameda ranks near the bottom in terms of administrative spending, with just two Alameda County districts spending less. The district with the lowest administrative cost in 2008-’09 was Fremont, spending $369 per student.

AdminAUSD20032009

Teachers in Alameda are paid too much. We could save money by paying them less, instead of asking taxpayers for more money.
Adjusted for inflation, the 2008-09 average salary for Alameda teachers is less than it was in 2000. And compared to many other districts in Alameda County, average teacher pay in Alameda is low.
In 2008-’09, the latest fiscal year for which complete numbers are available, AUSD’s average teacher salary more than $5600 lower than the average for other Alameda County school districts. Only Oakland Unified had a lower average salary than Alameda. Some districts, such as Pleasanton, have an average salary of nearly $18,000 more per year than Alameda.
Alameda teachers’ salaries have decreased in the last decade while the county average has increased. While other districts have seen their salaries go up, AUSD teachers have held the line. AUSD has the third lowest growth in salaries in the county.

Teacher Salary

Why is class size reduction going to be cut? Doesn’t the state pay for that program?
The state pays for a portion of the class size reduction program for grades K-3 and 9. The district has to pay for the rest of it. So cutting class size reduction actually does save money. In addition, after careful analysis during the Master Plan process, district staff and teachers agreed that that while no one wants to see class sizes increased, doing so would have less of a negative impact on teachers, students, and families than more drastic measures, like closing schools or shortening the school year.
Every district in Alameda County is currently increasing class sizes to save money. Yet even with the planned increase of class sizes to 25 to 1, AUSD will have among the lowest class sizes in Alameda County.

I’ve heard that Oakland students will be supported with money from this parcel tax, is that true?
First, it’s important to understand that state law requires that people who work in Alameda (but don’t live here) be allowed (when there are available seats) send their children to AUSD schools. And out of a total of around 9,400 students, Alameda school district currently has approximately 430 students from Oakland and other communities in the Bay Area. That’s less than 5%.
Some people believe this children are a financial drain on our school system, but they actually bring in much-needed revenue to the district, as the state pays AUSD $4900.00 per child enrolled. Because inter-district students only fill available seats, the 430 inter-district transfer students in AUSD add $2.2 million in revenues each year.

There are fewer kids in Alameda’s public schools these days, why do we need more money?
Decline in enrollment in Alameda’s schools has been ongoing for several years. The district has acted accordingly, closing schools and reducing programs, enabling it to operate within its means.
The real problem is not decline in enrollment but a state budget system that has been reducing the amount of money given to the public schools by millions, year after year after year. While already tight, district overhead costs remain the same, our per-student funding is being reduced. The proposed parcel tax aims to address that shortfall.

Why isn’t Alameda’s school district funded the same as other school districts? Doesn’t the law require that?
The short answer is no, the law doesn’t requires all school districts to be funded equally. It merely requires funding to be within some range of a state-wide average. However, even even if it were politically possible to get funds taken from other districts (which it isn’t), so that AUSD could be brought up to the state average, we’d see an increase of just $98 per student, less than $1 million per year. The district would still face millions in cuts.

Why hasn’t Alameda’s School District done something to address the funding inequities that mean Alameda gets less state funding than other school districts?
At the April 27, 2010 BOE meeting, the Board of Education announced in public session its intention to pursue legal action. On May 20, 2010, Alameda Unified School District 11th grade student Maya Robles was the lead plantiff in this historic legal action that started in 2007 in a report to the Alameda Board of Education.

I heard that AUSD is now suing the state to get more money for our schools. Does that mean we don’t need the parcel tax anymore?
It is true that AUSD, along with eight other districts, 60 individual plaintiffs, and three major educational organizations (the California PTA, the California School Boards Association, and the Association of California School Administrators) has filed a lawsuit against the state of California. Called Robles-Wong v California, the suit alleges that the state isn’t fulfilling its constitutional obligation to fully fund or give all students access to the educational programs the state requires.
The lawsuit is very exciting, but all observers agree that it will take many years to get through the court system. And that means that in order to protect our schools from $7 million in cuts next year (and another $10 million in cuts the two following years), we still need Measure E.

How will the ongoing state budget cuts impact Alameda’s Schools?
Due to that decreased state spending, if AUSD does not pass a parcel tax, it will need to make budget cuts of $7 million in 2010-2011, $9.8 million in 2011-2012, and $17 million in 2012-2013. These cuts will have a drastic impact on core programs and services, including laying off teachers; closing schools; ending PE, music, and art programs; firing middle and high school counselors; and raising K-3 sizes to 32:1.

Are we bailing out the state by attempting to pass a parcel tax?
There is no doubt that our current funding crisis has its roots at the state level. Anyone who has watched what has happened in Sacramento over the last decade knows that these are intractable problems that will require years of work; there are no simple, overnight solutions. Clearly we need to pursue remedies at the state level, to secure stabilized, rational and fair funding for Alameda’s schools. Various strategies to do this are being looked at by the district, by lawyers, and by community groups. But the timeframe for change at this level is long, likely more than five years.
We have to make some immediate choices today. Our community can pass a parcel tax, which, in combination with about $2.5 million in on-going cuts for the next three years, will allow our district to stay solvent, as well as maintain the level of performance and achievement so vital to our children and our community. Alternatively, without this replacement parcel tax, the district will have to make devastating educational program cuts in order to balance its books. (If the district does nothing, it will go into deficit, which puts it as risk of default and of being taken over by the state, as happened in Oakland. Under that scenario, Alamedans will lose all control over deciding what our local schools need and will have no say in managing its budget and its schools.)
In addition, a strategy of all cuts, absent a parcel tax, would essentially gamble our public schools and the quality of our children’s education against the ability of the state to quickly address educational funding issues. Based on the track record of the state legislature, and the current economic downturn affecting the entire state, this is not a bet that Alameda should make with something as important as our schools and our children.
Some people suggest that we should not act locally, because that “allows” the state to continue to leave education funding up to the communities. Instead, these critics say, the district and our legislators should focus on fixing education funding at the state level. However, it is clear that we must act locally, passing a parcel tax to allow us to maintain the excellence of our schools, and simultaneously, we must work for change at the state level to fix the long-term, structural issues with education funding. Passing a parcel tax does not mean that we are bailing the state out or letting them off the hook. It means that we’re taking care of our children and community now, even as we seek long-term solutions through other methods.

Other sources of revenue

Can’t we fund the budget shortfall another way?
Unlike cities and counties, which can raise sales taxes, parking and other service fees, and otherwise ‘enhance revenues’ in any number of ways, Proposition 13 limits school districts to local parcel taxes.
One of the eight strategies listed in the Master Plan, however, is working with foundations and businesses to raise another $1.2 million over the next three years.

Alameda has many redevelopment projects under way, why can’t some of that money be spent on the schools?
AUSD does receive a portion of redevelopment funding that is passed through from the Redevelopment Agency. But under state law, school districts can only use their redevelopment money for building affordable housing (for teachers) and for capital development (i.e., building or improving facilities). Neither will solve our deficit problem. and because of Prop 98, any shift in money from redevelopment to the schools will be removed, in an equal amount, from the money that AUSD receives from the state keeping AUSD’s total revenue essentially the same.

Let’s close Alameda hospital! We pay a parcel tax for the hospital — why can’t we spend it on the schools?
The hospital’s budget and funding are entirely separate from the school district. Alameda Hospital is a valued resource for many Alameda residents.

Why can’t we pass a bond instead of a parcel tax?
School districts can place bond measures on the ballot to cover non-recurring expenditures like site maintenance, construction, and purchase of equipment. Unfortunately, bond money cannot be used to pay teacher and staff salaries and benefits, which represent the majority of the district’s ongoing operational expenditures. A parcel tax is the ONLY legal way for the district to raise revenue to cover general fund expenses such as salaries.

Why don’t we just charge parents $659 per child they have in school?
That would be illegal, as state law prohibits charging for public school.

There are lots of grants available from philanthropic organizations, why don’t we ask those to save our schools?
Charitable donations to the school district are welcome, but cannot by law be used to pay ongoing, recurring expenditures such as teacher and staff salaries and benefits, which account for the majority of the district’s ongoing operational budget. However, as noted above, the Master Plan currently calls for the development of partnerships with both philanthropic organizations and businesses to raise funds.

Parcel tax legal questions

Is Measure H illegal?
Although two separate parties claimed that Measure H is illegal and sued the district, the district (and its attorneys) believe the measure is not illegal. So far the judge deciding the cases (known as the “Beery” and “Borikas” cases) has made preliminary rulings in the district’s favor.

What is a split roll parcel tax?
A “split roll” parcel tax is one that charges one rate for one group of people (like residential property owners) and another rate for another group (like commercial property owners).

Why is the district proposing a new split roll parcel tax when Measure H is currently in litigation?
The fact that people have sued the district for putting a split roll parcel tax on the ballot doesn’t mean it’s illegal. And so far the judge deciding the cases (known as the “Beery” and “Borikas” cases) has made preliminary rulings in the district’s favor. I.e., Last March and August, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Kenneth Mark Burr denied both Borikas’ and Beery’s motions for summary judgment (which is basically when one party asks the judge to rule in their favor even before it goes to trial), opting to keep the cases going forward instead. This is the first time a judge has ruled on this issue in California.

What other districts have split roll taxes?
Albany, Berkeley, and Piedmont have split roll parcel taxes for the schools.

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