The AUSD board contemplates a new parcel tax to raise teachers’ salaries.
The Alameda Unified School District Board of Directors is considering the placement of a new parcel tax on the March 2020 ballot that would pay for higher teacher and classified employees’ salaries and pensions.
At the Aug. 13 AUSD board meeting, the Oakland consulting firm EMC Research presented survey results to the board that showed 62 percent of the 608 Alameda voters surveyed via phone and online said they would support one of two parcel tax amounts the board is contemplating: 18 cents per square foot of a building, which would yield $7.6 million a year, or 28 cents per square foot, which would net the district $11 million per year. The tax will need two-thirds of voters to approve it.
AUSD Board Vice President Gray Harris, a former Alameda teacher and president of the Alameda Education Association who now works for the California Teachers Association, believes strongly that more money is needed for teachers’ salaries. “It’s been a problem since I taught there and was AEA president,” she said.
In January 2019, Alameda teachers received a 4.5 percent salary increase that was paid for with nearly $3 million in cuts to the 2018-19 AUSD budget. Teachers were laid off, reassigned, and programs and services were cut. It was painful.
In May 2019, former AUSD Superintendent Sean McPhetridge said more budget cuts and depressed teachers’ salaries were inevitable without a larger parcel tax. “If Alameda wants to be able to have a school district that pays its employees more — I’ve said this on the record many times at board meetings — it’s going to need a bigger parcel tax. San Francisco has a parcel tax just for teachers’ salaries. Alameda doesn’t have as big a parcel tax as Albany, Berkeley, Piedmont. We have to go after bigger parcel taxes,” said McPhetridge.
Berkeley’s Special Tax, its current school parcel tax, which passed by 88 percent in 2016, provides the Berkeley Unified School District $28 million — 20 percent of its annual budget — for 9,400 students, approximately 100 fewer students than in Alameda schools. It provides lower class sizes, additional staffing and student support, libraries, music programs, and school district research, evaluation, and assessment.
But the leader of the Alameda teachers union, whose members stand to benefit from a new parcel tax, questions its necessity and said teachers may not work to support its passage.
Judith Klinger, the president of the Alameda Education Association, isn’t convinced a new parcel tax is needed. She thinks AUSD has enough money to pay for higher teachers’ salaries from its current budget. “Our position is ‘prove it to us’ that you can’t squeeze out a decent raise. Unless and until they prove it to us, we’re on the sidelines,” she said.
New AUSD Superintendent Pasquale Scuderi doesn’t share AEA and Klinger’s viewpoint. “They, by all accounts, are still interested in us wringing out the towel as much as we can,” he said. But he doesn’t see much money coming from the AUSD budget to pay for higher teacher salaries without a new parcel tax since the community has already eliminated ideas such as the consolidation of high schools and closing of elementary schools. “I don’t think that without a big ticket move such as closing a school or consolidating high schools are we going to get close to the county average for teachers’ salaries,” he said.
For years, Alameda teachers’ salaries and benefits have been well below the Alameda County average. According to California Teachers Association’s 2016-17 numbers, AUSD teachers ranked third lowest among districts with an annual salary of $73,000. When benefits are added, Alameda teachers’ average annual total compensation is $78,393, which is 9.7 percent below the county average of $86,044.
Although both sides agree that teachers need to be paid more, AUSD and AEA don’t agree on the average teacher’s salary due to the fact that they compute them differently, said Klinger. “AUSD takes the total amount spent on salaries and divides it by the total number of teachers. We weight it differently since we have many teachers at the higher salary range,” she said.
AEA posted a YouTube screencast in June 2019 that calls out the drop in teachers’ salaries as a percentage of the AUSD budget from 48 to 37 percent over the past 10 years. Currently, according to the district, 81.5 percent of AUSD’s $111 million general fund goes for salaries (45 percent for teachers and 16 percent for classified employees) and benefits (20 percent). “Every year the district is making a diminishing effort to compensate teachers,” an unidentified man’s voice says on the video.
Klinger said teachers will not want to suffer the embarrassment of having to knock on doors and ask people to tax themselves so they can have higher wages. “I told Mia Bonta [AUSD board president] that she needs to meet with teachers about the parcel tax to understand the depth of their vitriol about it,” she said. “The parcel taxes in the past haven’t done much for teachers’ salaries. What will be different this time?”
“Even if the parcel tax passes, and there’s a new revenue stream, stabilize it so we don’t drift to the bottom again. Lock us in. Make us 43 percent of the budget as it is with other Alameda County school districts,” said Klinger.
But one obstacle a new parcel tax may face is voters’ tax fatigue in a town that’s increasingly more expensive to live in. If passed, the tax would be a fourth educational tax for Alameda homeowners and businesses. Currently, the Measure B parcel tax, which 74 percent of the voters approved in 2016, generates about $12 million per year and pays for small class sizes, neighborhood schools, high school athletics, music, PE, fine arts classes, and teachers’ salaries. The $179.5 million Measure I Bond Measure that voters approved in 2014 is paying for facilities improvements throughout AUSD. And, lastly, Measure E, is the Peralta Community College $48 per parcel tax that voters approved in 2018 that provides $8 million annually to the district’s four colleges.
Scuderi and district officials will be meeting with selected teachers this fall to seek their backing of the parcel tax and to discuss AUSD’s teacher budget expenditures’ numbers. In October, AUSD will also hold some public meetings to discuss and get feedback from voters on the proposed parcel tax.
Scuderi said the parcel tax is essential to help AUSD attract and retain the best teachers for the district, but decries the state of school financing in California, where unfunded mandates such as special education costs and higher contributions to classified employees and teachers’ retirement pensions continue to bleed money from all school districts’ budgets. “It’s abysmal relative to the fact that we’re the fifth-largest economy in the world and am I’m still having to scrap it out locally to try and give salary increases,” he said.
Since 2001, only one AUSD parcel tax — in 2010 — has failed to pass. According to EMC Research’s survey results, a new parcel tax would need about 4 percent more voters to support its passage than do now. Sixty-two percent of respondents said that the salaries and benefits that teachers and district staff receive are poor or “only fair,” while 23 percent said they did not know. “The poll showed we need to do more education,” said school board Vice President Harris.
And a powerful organization has pledged to help perform that education for AUSD and the board.
Beth Aney, president of the PTA Council, said at the Aug. 13 board meeting that parents have the teachers’ backs on the parcel tax. “All the parents I’ve spoken to know that Alameda teachers and staff fall at the bottom of the scale in Alameda County … I can assure the board that parents are in favor of this parcel tax. We will be your foot soldiers to get out there and make it happen and get community support,” she said.
Harris said the board wants to implement a solution to the salaries problem by passing the parcel tax. “If we could get teacher leadership, classified leadership, PTA and community members behind the measure, I think we have a good chance of passing it. It’s been one of the goals in my life — including Alameda where I live and work — to raise teachers salaries.”
According to Superintendent Scuderi, the 18 cents per square foot parcel tax will give the 927 AUSD employees (560 teachers, 314 classified employees, and 53 management employees) a 9 percent salary boost while the 28 cents tax will result in a 13 percent increase. Either parcel tax will also have a seven-year sunset clause that would necessitate a renewal of the tax by voters.
Whichever parcel tax the AUSD board decides upon, it will likely come before the AUSD board again in November for final language approval while the submission deadline for the March 2020 ballot is Dec. 6.