ALAMEDA -- A presentation gave attendees a glimpse of the school district's academic and fiscal victories of the recent past and the challenges it still faces.
Schools Superintendent Kristen Vital and Board Trustee Niel Tam gave a brief overview of the rocky past five years as the struggling economy diminished funds for school programs during a League of Women Voters forum on March 28 at Cardinal Point in Mariner Square.
In 2009, the school administration and board began meeting with the community to develop a master plan to prevent a financial free-fall for schools and to pump up student scores, keep classes as small as possible and broaden family choices with charter and magnet schools. Other goals included plans to upgrade facilities and protect high school athletic programs.
The first priority toward those goals was a successful parcel tax drive, Measure A, which voters passed in 2011. It was projected to raised $12 million annually for seven years.
In the meantime, commercial property owners filed a lawsuit aiming to overturn a previous (now expired) parcel tax, Measure H, which has a varying assessment for large commercial property owners compared with flat fees for smaller properties and residential assessments. The litigation is still under way, and the district plans to appeal to the state Supreme Court and continue to fight the suit. If the district loses, it could be mandated to pay up to $7.4 million in refunds to large commercial property owners.
Vital said the possibility of refunding money is serious, not only for the Alameda school district, but for others throughout the state, since the case could set a precedent and change the way parcel taxes are structured.
As for its academic status, Tam and Vital noted that 87 percent of schools have increased their overall scores and 80 percent have exceeded the state target score on mandated tests.
When asked about facility upgrades, including the fate of the east wing of Historic Alameda High School, which has been closed because of seismic safety risks, Vital said there are several facilities issues throughout the district. She said a series of community meetings have been scheduled for the public to join the district in discussing how to precede with the historic building. The first meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Alameda High cafeteria.