Alameda Unified $298 million bond measure on June ballot

ALAMEDA — Alameda Unified could get $298 million for facility upgrades through a bond — it all depends on what voters say regarding Measure B in the upcoming June election.

Under the measure, which needs 55% voter approval to pass, property owners in the school district would be taxed $45 for every $100,000 of their parcel’s assessed value for the next 35 years. A person with a $1 million home would be taxed $450 per year.

When added to the other taxes Alameda Unified already is assessing, Measure B would bring the total amount that the average homeowner in the district pays to $1,940 per year.

If voters approve the measure, the money would go toward upgrading classrooms, modernizing historical buildings, replacing old plumbing, improving accessibility and other improvements at the district’s schools.

“Students at some schools are still learning in old and outdated classrooms and facilities and AUSD is committed to ensuring that each child has an equal opportunity for success inequitable school facilities,” Alameda Unified wrote on its website regarding the measure.

The measure would raise $14.7 million yearly, for a total of almost $515 million, including interest. A bond measure allows the district to borrow money to pay for capital improvements; the tax covers the annual loan payments.

Opponents of the measure say if the district needs more money, it should ask for a parcel tax, which has no interest payments.

“If you don’t blindly … fall in line with support for a school district tax, then you automatically hate schools,” David Howard, a parent with a child enrolled in Alameda Unified, said regarding his preference for a parcel tax. “That binary thinking does not serve us well, we can have a complaint and a concern about this tax … but it doesn’t mean we don’t want to fund the schools.”

Alameda Unified spokeswoman Susan Davis said a parcel tax would require the district to collect $29.8 million per year for 10 years to be equal to funds from the potential bond. With a bond loan, the district would receive portions of the $298 million over 10 years; taxpayers would pay the loan back over the course of the 35-year bond.

Davis estimates that the parcel tax would need to be 64 cents per square foot to raise the money needed, or around $1,270 annually for a 2,000-square-foot house.

“We believe that would place too high a burden on Alameda taxpayers,” Davis wrote in an email.

Critics note that because Measure B is a bond measure, there would be no exemptions for seniors or people with disabilities who may be on a fixed income. State law does not allow exemptions for bond measures.

Alameda taxpayers also are paying off bonds approved earlier. Bond Measure I, which passed in 2014, raised money to complete the first phase of the district’s facilities master plan for needed repairs and upgrades, including new classroom buildings at elementary schools, a new music room at Lincoln Middle School, and safety and security upgrades at all campuses, including new fire alarms.

Measure I bond money will be collected through 2044 at a cost of $60 per $100,000 of assessed property value.

Alameda Unified has one pre-school, nine elementary schools, three middle schools, three high schools and one adult school, with a total enrollment of about 9,500 students.

The master plan identified needed upgrades at the schools with a total cost of more than $590 million. Measure I only covered $179.5 million, leading to the board’s decision to put another bond measure on the ballot.

The school district’s Measure A parcel tax, which was narrowly approved in 2020, assesses  26.5 cents per square foot, with a cap of $7,999 a year. Measure A was recently struck down in court in an effort led by resident Leland Traiman, who also is part of the opposition to the new Measure B. Alameda Unified is continuing to collect the tax while it appeals the court ruling.

Measure A brings in money for teachers’ salaries and benefits. Critics maintained its $7,999 cap unfairly creates a two-tier tax structure, with larger property owners paying less per square foot.

“With that Measure A defeat, I think voters really should question what the district is putting on every time,” Howard said. “The district keeps putting on measures to keep defending an illegal tax structure.”

Howard said that if Measure B passes and there’s some indication that it violates a law, opponents are willing to go to court again. However, Davis said in an interview she feels this is a pretty standard bond measure.

“I can’t imagine what they would challenge it on,” she said. “If it passes, we will do this facilities program. If it doesn’t, we won’t do the facilities program.”

Alameda property owners also are still paying off construction Bond Measure C, passed in 2004.

In addition, Measure B1, a school district parcel tax approved in 2016, will be in place until 2025. That tax collects 32 cents per square foot of a building. The parcel tax funds a variety of school programs, including music, physical education and fine arts classes. However, it does not cover any capital improvements.

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Author: Angelica Cabral