OAKLAND -- Most of the people out canvassing for Measure J, a $475 million Oakland school facilities bond measure, don't need to memorize campaign literature on the condition of the city's public schools. They experience it, five days a week.

Unlike many local school tax campaigns, students are the face of Measure J -- a strategy the campaign's consultants, Tramutola Advisors, adopted early on, said Evan Haarz, a 2008 Skyline High School graduate who was hired by the firm for this effort.

When Haarz was in school and a similar measure went before voters and passed, he said, "I never heard anything about it."

Not so for Selestino Vasquez, Rosa Contreras and Jesus Zarate. They, along with about 40 other students, have spent recent Saturdays persuading voters to approve another property tax hike, despite the poor economy and multitude of other local taxes.

"I just walk up to their door, and when they come out, and I tell them, 'I'm a student at Fremont. Have you heard of the Measure J campaign? That's going to benefit our schools,'" said Jesus, 15, a sophomore at East Oakland's Fremont High.


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If 55 percent of Oakland voters approve the measure on Tuesday, property taxes will increase by up to $60 per $100,000 in assessed property value, though the rate in the initial years is estimated to be roughly $40 per $100,000. Oakland Unified would spend the money on seismic safety, new and upgraded kitchens, science labs and other infrastructure. It has identified 11 schools to receive major improvements, including Fremont High, which would have its sprawling portable classrooms replaced with a new school building.

The students say some of the strangers they approach are receptive to their message. Some are busy. Some are rude. But, they say, nothing beats the feeling they get when someone assures them Measure J will have their vote.

Selestino, 15, said he's doing it for his little brother and sister, who are 7 and 8. "I want them to have better schools than I did," he said.

For Rosa, 16, it's also about her younger siblings -- all five of them -- and their peers. After hearing about the opportunity to campaign, she said, "I was like, 'I'm going to go out and do this.'"

In exchange for their time, some students have earned community service hours, which will apply to their graduation requirement. The experience has yielded intangible benefits, too: They say they've made themselves and their families proud.

"I learned that not everything is easy," Selestino said. "You have to work for things if we actually want our schools to get better."

Read Katy Murphy's Oakland schools blog at www.IBAbuzz.com/education. Follow her at Twitter.com/katymurphy.