OAKLAND -- The school board here is considering a new $150 a year property tax for the November ballot to fund high school programs aimed at increasing the 66 percent graduation rate, and the measure likely will be approved, according to a survey conducted in April.
The board will take a vote at its May 28 meeting on the ballot measure, which could range from $95 to $150 a year and raise $10 million to $12 million a year for the city's public high schools and charter high schools.
Interim Superintendent Gary Yee said the school district already has invested $2 million to $3 million a year building an infrastructure for the high school program called Linked Learning. The program hopes to increase the graduation rate by getting students interested in a career before they graduate, offering classes focused on a particular area and linking them to a career through internships.
"If we really are going to do a career academy, we need to fully fund them at the schools," Yee said. "We realized we were going to have to ask voters to support it."
An April survey of 552 Oakland voters showed the $150 a year tax measure, which needs a two-thirds vote to pass, probably would win with 69 percent of the vote. The measure gets a 73 percent pass if voters are asked for $120 a year and 76 percent of the vote if they are asked for $95 a year.
"The results were very positive," Gene Bregman, of Gene Bregman & Associates, which conducted the telephone survey, told school board members Wednesday night. "You're going to have to think about how much to ask for. If you don't absolutely need the $150, it's prudent to go down to $120, but I'm not sure you should go down to $95."
The last time the school district asked for an increase in taxes to increase teacher pay in 2008, it lost by 450 votes, "in part because the teachers union wasn't behind it. Now the teachers are behind this one," Yee said.
Yee said the money would go to any Oakland public high school or charter high school that "is committed to Linked Learning."
In addition to asking Oakland voters if they would vote for a parcel tax, the survey revealed that Oakland schools do not rate highly with residents compared with the fire and police departments, but the numbers are improving.
For instance, 81 percent of those surveyed said the Fire Department does an excellent or good job, 37 percent said the Police Department is doing well, but only 27 percent of those surveyed said Oakland schools are doing an excellent or good job.
That 27 percent figure is the highest the Oakland schools have gotten on the survey, taken sporadically since 1994. In 2003, the number was down to 11 percent of voters saying Oakland schools were doing a great job.
When asked whether the money should go to public schools only or include charter schools, where the high school graduation rate is 71 percent compared with the 66 percent in public schools, voters were split down the middle.
During public comment on the survey, Oakland resident Jim Mordecai said he did not want his tax dollars going to the 3,300 students in Oakland charter high schools.
"I'm a property owner in Oakland," Mordecai said. "Why would you take taxpayer money and send it to private charter schools? It's wrong. I want to vote for people enrolled in Oakland public schools. Charter schools are like their own school district, they can go to voters and ask for whatever they want. Why would you even consider this when they can speak for themselves?"
But school board member Roseann Torres disagreed.
"My issue with the charter tax is that people voting in my district come from both public and charter schools," Torres said. "I want to support all of our high school students in this city."
Contact Doug Oakley at 925-234-1699. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.