BERKELEY -- Depending on whom you talk to, a pair of Berkeley property tax measures on the ballot next month for school construction and maintenance are either a money grab for an institution that lacks accountability or imperative funding for educating children.
Measure I asks voters to approve property taxes so the school district can borrow $210 million over 47 years, loans which would actually cost property owners approximately $611 million when principal and interest are added up. The school district also is asking voters to approve a separate parcel tax -- Measure H -- that will raise $5 million a year for maintenance.
The $210 million measure, which needs 55 percent of the vote to pass, will pay for new classrooms, seismic upgrades, and new science labs at Berkeley High School. It also will pay for new playgrounds, restrooms, cafeterias, and heating and fire safety systems in the school district.
The bond, if approved, would be in addition to two other outstanding bond measures for schools. The combined tax rate for the old and new loans on homeowners would reach as high as $170 per $100,000 from 2013 to 2018 before tapering down. That means a homeowner with a typical two-bedroom house selling for $600,000 would pay $1,020 a year to Berkeley school bonds during that time.
Measure H asks for 6.31 cents per square foot on residential properties and 9.46 cents per square foot on commercial properties. If approved with two-thirds of the vote, an owner of a typical two-bedroom Berkeley home with 1,000 square feet would pay $63 a year to fund the maintenance of schools.
Viki Tamaradze, secretary and treasurer of Berkeley Can Do Better, is against both measures. She said Berkeley taxpayers keep paying for schools that don't show improvement.
"For years we have been funding these bonds and our schools still need improvement," Tamaradze said.
Tamaradze said Berkeley homeowners often get stuck with the bill that transient renters approve at the ballot boxes.
"It makes no difference to them because they won't be paying for it," Tamaradze said.
But Karen Hemphill, president of the school board and co-chair of the Yes on Measure H and I campaign, said the district needs the money for things like new classrooms for an increasing number of students and new science labs at Berkeley High School.
If voters do not approve the measures, she said, the school district will have to take money from its general fund for construction projects. That, in turn, would take money away from teachers and academic programs.
"What's the alternative? That we pay for construction out of our general fund?" Hemphill said.
Hemphill said the school district is not asking voters to pay any more than they have in the past, which is a maximum of $174 per $100,000 of assessed value on a property.
"These two measures are just replacing measures already on the books," Hemphill said. "So we are not asking people to pay any more, just continue with what they are paying in support of our schools."
She said new construction is needed because elementary schools on the north side of town are over their capacity and schools in the central area are near capacity.