OAKLAND — It's called the Outstanding Teachers for all Oakland Students Tax. But even the teacher's union is against the Nov. 4 ballot measure that would boost educators' pay by roughly $10 million a year at the expense of local property owners.
The election was authorized Monday evening as Oakland Unified School District Board of Education members and labor union leaders skewered the state administrator's tax proposal at a hearing. They said it was divisive and inequitable — it only would benefit teachers, not other employees — and poorly timed. While the money is sorely needed, they said, the idea seemed to have been handed down from the state superintendent in Sacramento with no attempt to unify local players around it, or to analyze where the funds would be best spent.
Critics also noted that voters passed another parcel tax — Measure G — just six months ago and argued that the generosity of Oakland property owners might have worn thin.
"It's another example of poor planning, and it's another example of reckless fiscal behavior by the district," said school board President David Kakishiba, before the board passed an advisory measure urging the state to delay the election.
State Administrator Vincent Matthews, who authorized the election, acknowledged that the initiative "isn't perfect." He said teachers were at "the heart" of the district's reform efforts, and that it was critical to be able to offer prospective and existing hires pay packages competitive with those of nearby urban districts.
"It is important for the district to take action at this time," Matthews said, as some members of the audience groaned in disapproval.
The tense meeting illustrated the often-awkward dynamic in the partially state-run Oakland school system. Matthews' decision to override the advisory vote of the school board came months after the board was allowed to hire a superintendent, Roberta Mayor — the first locally chosen schools chief since the 2003 state takeover. The board has regained some of its governing authority, yet it remains powerless on such landmark decisions which involve the district's finances. The state still has authority over the district's finances and its academic policies.
Mayor declined to comment publicly about the measure, saying only, "We do support all of our employees."
If the parcel tax measure receives the approval of two-thirds of the voters, it would cost homeowners $120 annually for 10 years, raising an estimated $12.5 million each year for the School District. About 85 percent of the funds would fund teacher compensation; the remaining money would fund independently run, public charter schools. Property owners pay $195 each year for the existing school parcel tax.
Some critics of the ballot measure say it is too vague. Representatives on the executive board of the Oakland Education Association — the teachers' union — which hasn't taken an official vote because of the summer holiday, argue that charter schools shouldn't receive any of the money, since they operate independently of the school district. They also said the flat rate of $120 per parcel slammed homeowners inequitably, and that the district should instead ask businesses to pay more in the form of a "split-roll" tax.
Even Peter Hanley of the California Charter Schools Association said he was surprised by the timing of the resolution. He said he saw the language for the first time on Sunday night and that it left him with questions of "how it's going to work." Still, he said, he was glad to see that charter schools were included. The independently operated public schools haven't received any funding under Oakland's previous fundraising measures.
Noel Gallo, the lone school board member who supported the resolution, said it was time for the district to back its priorities financially. "If we do not have great teachers with great training and great support, how are we going to have successful schools?" he asked. As for including the charter schools, he said, "The children in Oakland are all our children, and I take responsibility for all our children."
At the end of the meeting, Kakishiba said he was disappointed. "This is very dismaying that we have a level of division around something as wholesome as getting compensation for teachers," he said.