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Alameda's Parcel Tax Short on Votes

"No on E" and "Yes on E" signs on Webster Street in Alameda
//yeti-cir-test.s3.amazonaws.com/uploaded/images/2010/6/measure-e-graphic-lead-art/original/Measure E Graphic Lead Art.jpg
"No on E" and "Yes on E" signs on Webster Street in Alameda
Severe cuts expected in school budget

Measure E, a parcel tax put on the ballot in an effort to avoid deep cuts to the school budget, was headed for failure Tuesday night.

When balloting closed at 8 p.m. polls showed that about 65 percent of voters cast a 'yes' vote in favor of the parcel tax. About 34 percent voted 'no.' The measure needs the approval of two-thirds of voters to pass.

The tax would have cost homeowners $659 for each of the next eight years and commercial property owners 13 cents per square foot of lot up to $9,500 per parcel.

Seniors and some disabled people would have been eligible for exemptions from the tax.

The Committee Against Measure E’s Ed Hirshberg was reluctant to declare victory until the final votes were counted. But he expected more people to vote against the measure. Final results aren’t expected until Wednesday, when county election workers pick up the ballot box.

“I don’t know that I’m prepared to do a victory dance,” Hirshberg said Tuesday night. “I hope that we’ve won. I hope we can move toward fair taxation.”

A spokesman for Alamedans Protecting Learning at Underfunded Schools (APLUS), which was in favor of the parcel tax, said the election wasn’t over yet, but even if the measure loses, it still enjoyed the support of a majority of Alameda voters.

“The people of Alameda supported our schools,” said APLUS’ John Knox White.

However, members of the school board didn’t hold out much hope that the measure would pass.

“When we put this on the ballot we knew this was going to be an uphill battle,” school board President Ron Mooney said. “But the superintendent and the board felt we needed to put this on the ballot to save us from these cuts.”

Superintendent Kirsten Vital fought back tears as she thanked supporters.

“We will begin to see cuts as students go back to the classroom in August,” Vital said from the dais at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting. “And they will worsen in 2012-13. But we will not give up the fight to make sure every child has a quality education.”

Moments earlier, the board approved $7.2 million in budget reductions that included cutting five school days, adult education and a handful of other programs.

And in the somber moments that followed the announcement of the preliminary vote, the board okayed agreements with two unions to furlough staff and teachers.

Some $2.5 million of those cuts, including plans to increase class sizes and to streamline the district office, were expected to be made regardless of whether the measure passed.

However, school board trustees hoped to restore other cuts if Measure E passed.

The Board of Education put the tax on the ballot in an effort to avoid an anticipated $7 million budget deficit for the 2010-2011 school year. The state cut $7 million in general education funding for Alameda Unified this past school year. The district had enough money to weather the loss but hoped the new tax, which would have raised $14 million a year, would help make up for future deficits.

Without the new tax, the district expects its budget deficit to grow to $16.2 million by the 2012-13 school year, when its existing Measure A and Measure H parcel taxes lapse. District staff has said that without additional funding, it could begin closing schools in 2011-2012.

The vote caps a nasty campaign that saw some proponents threatening to boycott shops whose owners didn’t support the tax and an opposition campaign video that played on simmering race and class tensions across the island.

Officially, proponents of the tax said it is needed to maintain the quality of Alameda’s schools in the face of unprecedented state budget cuts and to prevent school closures and program cuts.

Opponents said the tax was unfair to commercial property owners, many of whom will pay far more than residents, and that they would sue the district over the new tax if it passed.

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