Alameda school district leaders voted unanimously Tuesday to place a parcel tax before voters next year that they say will help close a budget shortfall and prevent school closures and other deep cuts.

The tax, which would generate $12 million annually over seven years, will need a two-thirds majority to pass when Island voters consider it March 8.

Commercial and residential property owners would pay 32 cents per building square foot under the new tax, with a cap, or maximum rate, of $7,999.

Owners of parcels without buildings would pay $299.

District Superintendent Kirsten Vital described the proposed tax as a compromise that "reflects Alameda's core values of supporting our schools, supporting a strong business community and preserving our unique quality of life."

Without the tax, Vital said, district leaders will be forced into "Plan B," which calls for closing Wood Middle School, boosting elementary class sizes and other belt-tightening starting next year.

Additional cuts would take place over 2012-13 -- including closing Otis, Franklin and Washington elementary schools -- if the tax fails.

Supporters say the tax will also help maintain art, music and other programs. But critics have questioned whether the tax will be uniformly applied, which some business property owners say is essential for them to support it.

As a result of the $7,999 cap, for instance, Harsch Investment Properties, which owns Alameda Towne Centre, would pay the same amount as some of the city's smaller business property owners, which critics say is unfair.


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Harry Hartman, president of the Greater Alameda Business Association, said his organization has not yet taken a stand on the new tax. But he said he still considered it "a fair and good proposal that most business people are going to get behind."

Kathy Moehring, executive director of the West Alameda Business Association, told trustees Tuesday that her organization's board was behind the proposal.

About 14 percent of the money from the new tax would go toward maintaining smaller class sizes -- which parents have said is a priority -- while about 8 percent would go toward maintaining neighborhood schools.

About 4 percent of the money would go toward high school sports, and up to 16 percent for programs to close the "achievement gap" in test scores between Latino and African-American students and whites and Asians.

The new tax would replace the district's two current parcel taxes, which when combined mean that homeowners now pay $309 annually and business property owners pay 15 cents per square foot of space. If the new measure doesn't pass, the two current taxes will sunset in 2012.

In June, Alameda voters narrowly rejected Measure E, which called for owners of single-family homes and apartment buildings with four or fewer units to pay $659 annually and owners of commercial properties, including apartment buildings with five or more units, to pay 13 cents per square foot. It would have raised $14 million for the district.

According to district officials, the owner of a median 1,600 square foot home in Alameda would pay $512 annually under the new proposed tax. Officials also said 72 percent of homeowners would pay less than the $659 they would have under the failed Measure E.

The move to generate cash follows Alameda school district leaders making $11 million in budget cuts due to less money coming from Sacramento.

If voters approve the new parcel tax, it would begin July 1. Seniors and people on disability could apply for an exemption.

Property owners can learn how much they can expect to pay by going to http://www.lynxgis.com/alameda/.