The Daily Planet recently published a commentary from Mary Hurlbert, an employee of the Berkeley Unified School District’s downtown staff, supporting the school district’s proposed parcel tax on the November ballot. However, what’s wrong with the new measure A are its very troubling consequences for our children’s’ future, namely no guarantees that the money will be spent to benefit children’s education, while giving administrators a free hand to spend the money for “all costs,” including hefty salary increases for administrators.
Everyone should read the measure’s actual language. California courts have ruled that campaign literature cannot be enforced in Court. Only the actual language of a measure is enforceable. While the campaign literature talks about “class size reduction” the actual measure states that class size reduction is only a “goal”. There are no consequences in the measure if the “goal” is not met [Ballot Measure Section 3(A)(ii)].
The measure also does not contain any ceiling or limit on how large a class can be. It talks about averages. Therefore, one special education class of five averaged with a class of 47 produces the “goal” of 26 as the average class size for elementary school classes.
The measure also contains a giant loophole—which allows the school district to keep all your tax money, and ignore even the “goal” of class size reduction. And this loop hole provides that when the school district has over shot its budget, it can declare a “Severe Fiscal Emergency” [Ballot Measure Section 3(A)(iii)]. And the school district did just that in two of the last four years. Even now, Board member Nancy Riddle has publicly stated that BUSD’s finances are “fragile.” This means BUSD is still not managing its money well.
The ballot measure also contains no specifications on how the money should be spent and contains nothing that directs the school district to be concerned about, or to spend funds to improve student learning. The ballot measure allows the school district to spend these monies “for all costs attendant to them, including operational and professional development costs, and other costs associated with the opening or maintaining of classrooms to reduce class sizes” [Ballot Measure Section 3(A)(iv)].
Last year, teachers received a 2.5 percent pay raise. One month after the teachers’ union contract was negotiated, top administrators started receiving 15 percent pay raises. They accomplished this by giving themselves new job titles with higher salary rates, while they continued performing the same jobs. Between 2001 and now, Superintendent Michele Lawrence’s salary has increased from $150,000 a year to $195,000 a year. And this doesn’t include a $300,000 interest free loan courtesy of the school district. And this is a perfectly legal way of spending this “enrichment tax”.
As the icing on top, the school district has made Measure A a 10-year tax. The school district claims that they need the “stability” of a long term tax and then they justify all the holes in the measure’s language as “flexibility” during this too long period. Ten years is almost the entire time a child spends in school. It’s too long a period to go without voter review. The standard period for a tax measure is four years.
It would be one thing if BUSD schools were among the top, but BUSD schools are not performing well. Nine of the 16 schools have not met federal education achievement standards. Berkeley High School, which in 2000 was in the top 10 percent of high schools in the state, has fallen 20 percent, so that it is now only in the 70th percentile. The drop- out rate, according to the California State Department of Education, is 30 percent higher than the county average.
Berkeley schools have the widest achievement gap in the county. Berkeley schools have a high absentee rate. There’s a very high cost for special education, while many parents of special ed students do not feel their children are receiving quality services. In the meantime, PE is being cut. The much lauded arts program gives children one half hour of visual art, if that, a week. The list of issues goes on.
We believe in public funding of public school. What we want to insure is that these funds actually benefit children’s education. We can do better than Measure A. A better measure on the March Ballot means BUSD will not lose one dollar in funding. Please join us in asking the school district to write a better measure for the March ballot, one we can all support. Vote NO on Measure A.
Yolanda Huang is a member of BeSmaart.
Opinions expressed in Daily Planet commentary and letters to the editor are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Daily Planet or its staff.