East Bay kids may be doing alright, but voters up and down the March primary ballot will be asked to further fund their futures. A statewide school construction bond, a countywide half-cent sales tax increases to children's health, in addition to a large number of school district ballot measures headline the ballot next month.
In many cases, the appearance of so many local school measures on the March primary ballot is no coincidence, but by design. In places like Alameda, Berkeley, and San Leandro, school bonds and parcel taxes were relegated to the March election because of a wish list of municipal ballot measures being eyed by cities. In the best-case scenario, ballot measure proponents would prefer the November 2020 ballot, a presidential election that it is assume will have an extremely high level of voter participation. In the progressive East Bay, high turnout typically means success at the ballot box for tax measures. But a glut of ballot measures on a single ballot tends to bring diminishing returns.
The big ask in this election cycle comes from the state. 2020's Proposition 13 — not to be confused with the landmark 1978 tax-revolt measure slated to return to the ballot in the fall — would authorize $15 billion in bond funding for the construction of new classrooms and other facilities for education, all the way from pre-schools on up to community colleges and state universities. State legislators placed Proposition 13 on the ballot. The impetus for the bond measure is to help school districts fund badly needed upgrades to their facilities. In the meantime, however, voters in two East Bay school districts will also be asked to approve additional construction bonds in their cities.
The vast majority of funds produced by Alameda County's Measure C, if approved, would fund childcare and pre-school programs. Measure C would increase the sales tax rate in Alameda County cities by one-half percent. It is estimated that it would add $150 million annually in new taxes over the next 20 years. Twenty percent of the outlay would be used to bolster services for low-income families at Oakland's UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital.
No jurisdiction in the East Bay is going bigger for children during the primary than the Berkeley Unified School District. Berkeley voters will be asked to approve ballot measures for teachers salaries, new school facilities, and renewal of a maintenance tax for schools. Measure E would enact a 12.4-cent-per-square-foot on building improvements (and a $25 annual levy on unimproved parcels). Ninety-five percent of the estimated $9.5 million to be raised in new revenue over 12 years would go toward educators' salaries. Measure G is a 10-year, $380 million school bond for completion of projects at Berkeley school facilities. Lastly, Measure H, the "Facilities Safety and Maintenance Act" would extend an existing special parcel tax. Berkeley voters are being asked to approve the maintenance tax of 9.1-cents-per-square-foot on improvements. It is estimated that the parcel tax would generate $7.3 million over the next decade, if approved.
In San Leandro, the school district hopes Measure N can also help rebuild its classrooms and facilities. The 20-year, $198 million bond measure will bring new construction and upgrades to its schools, in addition, to a new classroom and gymnasium at San Leandro High School.
Alameda voters will be asked to give their school teachers a raise this March through a parcel tax. Despite a school district that is viewed favorably in the East Bay, its teachers have consistently ranked as the lowest-paid in Alameda County. The settlement of labor negotiations between teachers and the school district last spring was partly predicated on the passage of this March's parcel tax to further retain Alameda teachers, but also to entice new teachers to the island's schools. Measure A proposes a parcel tax of 26.5 cents per square foot on buildings, capped at $7,999 annually. Vacant units would be taxed a flat rate of $299 a year. In total, proponents estimate Measure A would raise $10.5 million by the time it sunsets in seven years.
While not purely dedicated to children, Emeryville's proposed quarter-cent sales tax increase is touted as a means to improve early childhood education, as well as supporting public safety. Proponents of Measure F estimate the sales tax hike would generate $2 million in new funding annually.
Oakland, meanwhile, turns its attention to its parks and the homeless, along with two somewhat bureaucratic ballot measures. Measure Q is a $148 parcel tax on single-family parcels in Oakland. Although the genesis of Measure Q was to shore up rapidly decreasing funding for maintenance of Oakland's parks, support for the homeless and badly needed improvements to the city's stormwater systems was later included by city officials. The parcel tax could generate $21 million over 20 years, in approved by voters.
Measure R seeks to amend Oakland's City Charter by eliminating what it calls "obsolete" requirements for designating its "official newspaper." Approval of the measure, which is backed by Oakland City Council President Rebecca Kaplan could allow smaller, local newspapers such as the Oakland Post and East Bay Express to bid on lucrative publishing contracts for city notices. While all of the tax measures on the ballot measures on the ballot this March in the East Bay seek to boost city and school district revenues, Oakland's Measure S merely hopes to maintain what the city is already owed. Under the state Constitution, annual spending at the local level is capped. Oakland is already on pace to exceed this cap, known as the "Gann Limit" in coming years. Measure S would allow the city to suspend the cap until 2024. If the measure is not approved by voters next month, Oakland would be forced to give the difference in tax revenues back to voters.
EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly characterized several aspects of the three education-related tax measures on the Berkeley ballot in March.