Blogging Bayport Alameda

December 20, 2010

Mirror mirror on the wall, what is the fairest of them all

Filed under: Alameda, School — Tags: , , , , — Lauren Do @ 6:06 am

Unsurprisingly the group that was against Measure E: Alamedans for Fair Taxation, have come out against the next Parcel Tax that will come up on the ballot in March of 2011.  I mean, did anyone really think that regardless of the format that Alamedans for Fair Taxation was going to support any Parcel Tax for schools?

And with any campaign that has any connection to “Action Alameda” and its social media reliant head you get, that’s right, Facebook pages (and websites) galore!   The newest campaign slogan plays up on the “unfairness” of the tax and goes with the tagline “32 to 1 Ain’t Fair.”  For those who have not been tracking comments on this topic, this is the argument that has been shopped around by anti-Parcel Tax spokesman Ed Hirshberg that while everyone else is paying $0.32 per square foot any large scale owner with lots of building square footage will be paying $0.01 per square foot because of the cap on business taxes of $7999 that was requested by Boardmember Trish Spencer.  When you drill down to the core of their argument, the only large scale property owner they are really complaining about is Alameda Towne Centre.   And when you further drill down through that complaint, it turns out that they are only referring to one parcel out of the 13 or 14 that Harsch Investments (the owner of Alameda Towne Centre) actually owns.

Therefore “32 to 1 Ain’t Fair.”

Let’s put aside the fact that the tagline uses a word that we all know is not proper, grammatically.   It does make it funny that there was a conscious decision to use an improperly constructed contraction to fight against a parcel tax for SCHOOLS, but as we all know “folksy” is the vernacular of our current political climate.

As pointed out by Jack B.: while 32 to 1 is the comparison between Ed Hirshberg’s potential parcel tax bill vs. Alameda Towne Centre’s one massively huge parcel it is — more notably — the ratio of students per teacher that would go into effect if the parcel tax were to fail.   So, AFT is right: 32 to 1 ISN’T fair.   It definitely would be unfair for those Kindergarteners, First graders, Second graders, Third graders and so on to have to fight for the attention of one teacher with 31 other students.

It’s sort of sad when opponents are unable to come up with a talking point that that isn’t easily co-opted by the other side with a much more compelling argument.   What is more sad?   Ed Hirschberg and his $0.32 per building square foot commercial property?   Or a little First Grader sitting in a class with 31 other students?   I’m going with the First Grader.



  1. Putting 32 to 1 aside and putting aside the fairness of asking citizens who have had their income frozen for two years (and will have it frozen for the forseeable future) to pay higher taxes so school employees will get higher pay.

    Putting all those nuts and bolts arguments aside.

    What about addressing a more basic philosophic argument like; Is the current model of preparing youngsters for ‘life after parents’ outlived its usefulness? Is there not a better way? It seems to me, that the primary education industry we have in public schools throughout this country only exists because ‘that’s the way we do it’.

    I would personally support a model that directed all public school funds to the parents of primary age school children so they could use those funds to find what they believe is the best source (public or private) for educating their kids.

    Comment by Jack Richard — December 20, 2010 @ 9:18 am

  2. Jack, since that’s not an option for us right now, how about this basic philosophical argument:

    Since previous generations have benefited from piling on debt to future generations (school children, for example) how about insuring that they develop the skills so they can pay it off for you?

    Comment by Jack B. — December 20, 2010 @ 9:23 am

  3. And Jack that model you suggest did not work very well with the tax rebate taxpayers received from Bush. The economists thought it would stimulate a morbid economy but instead people payed down their credit card debt.

    Comment by Hot R — December 20, 2010 @ 9:49 am

  4. Does Hirshberg live in Alameda? I thought he was an Oakland resident.

    Also, has anyone looked into Hirshberg’s property holdings to see how much property tax he pays on his parcels and how that compares to Alameda homeowners.

    Commercial property owners tend to hold their properties longer than homeowners. They have been the greatest beneficiaries from Prop 13 (which was probably the original intent of the proposition anyway). Since many are held by companies, deaths don’t even result in changes in ownership. So it isn’t unusual for owners of large commercial properties to be paying less property tax than homeowners in the same town with a regular 3 bedroom house.

    Hirshberg is opposed to any parcel tax, and constantly comes up with some sort of “unfairness” arguement. I think it would be interesting to look into just how fair his property taxes look compared to the average Alamedan.

    Comment by John — December 20, 2010 @ 10:04 am

  5. 1

    Putting aside the fact that the bulk of those citizens whose income has been frozen are:

    A) Exempt from the proposed tax
    B) Receiving a large chunk of said frozen income from the largesse of younger taxpayers
    C) Already huge beneficiaries of P13

    Putting all these aside, is it not the height of disingenuity to throw up a hypothetcial that the thrower knows very well is impossible without decades of effort (if it’s possible at all) as a serious solution to a current problem?

    Comment by dave — December 20, 2010 @ 11:12 am

  6. 4: To go along with John’s suggestion (finding out just how much Ed Hirshberg pays in property taxes a on all his properties) I would like to see what the total bill is for Harsch Investment’s several parcels at South Shore (er, ATC).

    Let the number-crunching (and truth-telling/fact-checking) begin!

    Comment by Jon Spangler — December 20, 2010 @ 11:27 am

  7. 1. isn’t the word “vouchers” and if you are going to support using them to subvert primary public schools, why not the whole enchilada? Vouchers guarantee funding mayhem, except for those for whom they close the gap to afford private or those who can afford private anyway. Throw democracy in education out the window and we can have a real race to the bottom.

    Comment by M.I. — December 20, 2010 @ 5:37 pm

  8. 1. of yeah, and how does eight days of furlough correlate with “higher wages”?

    Comment by M.I. — December 20, 2010 @ 5:38 pm

  9. 2. I don’t understand, Jack B, why you wouldn’t want the funds to control the education of your children.

    3. I honestly do not know what your’s has to do with mine.

    5. I thought you were in favor of vouchers instead of ABC ponzi schemes.

    4/6 Now we’re getting somewhere. Find the boogyman then bitch and moan about how unfair life is.

    Comment by Jack Richard — December 20, 2010 @ 5:44 pm

  10. 7.What exactly is “democracy in education”?

    8. Sounds like deer hunting season in the Midwest.

    Comment by Jack Richard — December 20, 2010 @ 5:52 pm

  11. What’s coming down the line, in my view, is the total shift of school funding from State and Fed to local. So are cities ready to increase parcel taxes to make up the 75% that State and Fed pay’s?

    Comment by Jack Richard — December 20, 2010 @ 7:05 pm

  12. Jack,
    Is it a secret that the most popular tax is one that will help your kids? Don’t you think there is a reason State/Fed will drop edu money before many of the special interests? More likely people will elect to tax themselves more to fund edu than almost any other reason. Don’t you see it has been working? Remember why we are now paying 2 school taxes – this isn’t new.
    If the transition you speculate were to occur, we would have the type of edu systems we started with, they would be “individualized,” and that would mean non-identical / not equal therefore the State and Fed would gather up all those tax dollars (again) for a re-distribution program to make education more “fair”. Then we would have to gather up more local tax dollars because of the unfairness of their balancing system, we would need more money for our schools to be more fair and democratic. And who is going to vote against what the kids want?

    Comment by WATCHER — December 21, 2010 @ 1:54 am

  13. 11

    In most of the country it’s done that way. In most of the country, schools are better funded & better performing, and combined state & local taxes are lower. That’s not a coincidence.

    The centralization of school budgets in Sacramento is a sinkhole of inefficiency primarily (though not exclusively) because a distant & large govt is far less responsive, accountable and efficient than a local one. That is true just about anywhere but in CA with its Prop 13 scam it’s also economically deleterious as well. California’s heavy reliance on income & sales taxes causes a host of problems vs. other states and seriously hurts our relative competitiveness.

    I do not exepct that the state apparatus will be scotched in the name of reform anytime soon. But if you do in fact envision the devolution you allude to in 11, I’d think you’d be happy about that.

    Comment by dave — December 21, 2010 @ 6:15 am

  14. >>> And who is going to vote against what the kids want?

    It’s what they and the rest of society NEEDs so they can grow up and pay off all the massive debts older generations have voted upon them.

    And I think Dave is right that those of conservative leanings would appreciate localized control of eduction like in the olden days.

    Comment by Jack B. — December 21, 2010 @ 7:03 am

  15. #14 And of course the purpose of a public education system is to provide more than just adults who can get jobs and pay off the debts of earlier generations.

    The California Constitution and 100 years’ worth of case law have found that public education is essential to the development and preservation of individual liberties and a participatory democracy.

    That’s not just idle talk — it’s what this country is supposed to be all about.

    Comment by Susan Davis — December 21, 2010 @ 8:43 am

  16. 13
    Just because the funding of k-12 may shift to local sources, doesn’t mean the State will give up its meddling. So, no, unless localities were given total power on both how to raise funds for K-12 and how to use those funds, I would not be in favor of the shift.

    California is about in the middle, performance wise.

    Comment by Jack Richard — December 21, 2010 @ 8:59 am

  17. 15
    “…education is essential to the development and preservation of individual liberties and a participatory democracy.”

    If that were true and not just words, why is it that while funding for education continues to rise, individual liberties subside?

    Comment by Jack Richard — December 21, 2010 @ 9:13 am

  18. #17 — Education funding is not rising in California. It has been cut by about $17 billion in the last two years.

    That’s why AUSD — and school districts all up and down the state — are struggling, financially, and why there is now a replacement parcel tax on the ballot for March.

    Comment by Susan Davis — December 21, 2010 @ 9:37 am

  19. 18

    “It has been cut by about $17 billion in the last two years.”

    Where does that figure come from? The Legislative Analyst’s Office shows California General Fund K-12 Education rising from $31,662,000,000 in 2009-10 to $32,249,000,000 in 2010-11. That’s an increase of 1.9%.

    California school districts may think they’re struggling but California teachers aren’t. They’re still the highest paid in the US. Lead the national average by 13 K per annum in 2007-2008.

    Comment by Jack Richard — December 21, 2010 @ 12:56 pm

  20. Actually, the reason the State is in control is that when education was up to localities, they discriminated against various minority groups, either in a dejure or defacto manner. What the shift to “local” control means is resegregation of school districts, which is happening all over the country. AUSD has added to this with the creation of charter schools like ACLC where much larger numbers of Caucasian kids can engage in white flight. Look at Oakland, where the vast majority of Caucasian parents take their children out of middle schools never to return.

    Comment by Hot R — December 21, 2010 @ 1:03 pm

  21. 10. my response on 7. was to refer you to Susan’s post 15., but you have already responded to her with more cynical snark. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, democracy is messy. Just because we fall short of the ideal would you prefer we throw in the towel and officially embrace an oligarchy?

    “democracy in education”: In my opinion, not striving for the ideal of equal access to education through public systems is to abandon the ideals of democracy. Publicly funded education and democracy are interdependent.

    The up side of state or even federal regulations is an attempt at equity. Since the money collected by the state is not distributed equitably, it seems the justification for that system is undermined. Might it be possible for collection and control of funds to remain local, while some basic standards from state and federal still apply? This would of course require junking Prop 13. In the short term this is not at all likely, but the status quo is so dysfunctional it seems like we should entertain some very broad theoretical discussions.

    on 8. can you not give specifics of “higher pay” claim, including consideration of furloughs?

    Comment by M.I. — December 21, 2010 @ 1:06 pm

  22. 21
    What exactly in my question to Susan’s #15 is, “cynical snark”?

    Funny you would quote Rumsfeld. If I recall correctly, during his tenure as Sec Def you all were ready most of the time to throw the towel in favor of an Oligarchy.

    I think my # 18 put California teacher wages in its proper perspective. Are you disputing that this state’s teachers are the highest paid in the US?

    Comment by Jack Richard — December 21, 2010 @ 1:45 pm

  23. #17

    Hi Jack,

    The State Superintendent of Schools is one source for that $17 billion. According to the state Department of Education, the cuts for the last three years actually total $21 billion.

    Comment by Susan Davis — December 21, 2010 @ 1:48 pm

  24. If one considers the cost of living in CA, teachers in this state are not especially well compensated. AUSD pays even less than most other districts. It’s a pretty unimpressive living for a professional with an advanced degree in the Bay Area.

    Comment by dave — December 21, 2010 @ 3:08 pm

  25. 22. I’m disputing plain English, as in “higher” versus frozen, or reduced by furloughs. And don’t get me started on the portion of health care premiums paid by teachers (2/3 which adds up to thousands annually and which does get higher each year).

    Comment by M.I. — December 21, 2010 @ 5:31 pm

  26. 23
    I think that these mega billion dollar cuts aren’t really cuts. They are what the state projected they should spend but couldn’t because the economy stagnated. In other words, even though the actual money provided to K-12 through the California General Fund increased by 1.9% the Prop 98 minimum guarantee obligation will not be met. For instance, the 2010-11 minimum guarantee obligation under Prop 98 is $53,752,000,000 but the ongoing spending is $49,658,000,000 which is still an increase of a hundred million or so over the 2009-2010 period.

    Of course Prop 98 only provides for 70% of the total K-12 funding so there are other areas which were affected by the economy and reflected in lower school funds. For instance, property taxes.

    24 High COL in Cal is a factor but that’s a factor in most jobs in the Bay Area. I would like to see a correlation study of pay vs education results for teachers. Does higher pay automatically get you better teachers? I don’t know.

    25 Frozen salaries and furloughs or not Cal teachers are still the highest paid in the country. Not saying it’s fair, just fact.

    Comment by Jack Richard — December 21, 2010 @ 6:00 pm

  27. Raw numbers at the state level are not the same as per student numbers at the district level. The state’s BRL payments to AUSD gave dropped approx $700/student the last couple years. That is a significant cut to an already underfunded district. In both real and nominal terms, that is big.

    As for the state as a whole, the statewide population of k-12 students has increased at a rate well above inflation, state revenues or any other relevant benchmark. Even if the absolute figure might increase (and I’m loathe to accept your numbers until I have the time to run them through a bullshit filter) the resources per student, which is what counts, have dropped sharply.

    Comment by dave — December 21, 2010 @ 9:26 pm

  28. No argument here with your figures at the local level. I took issue with Susan’s #18, and couldn’t verify what she wrote. So I just repeated what I found. If those figures are in error I’d be the first to admit I was wrong. My source for the state level is the 2010-11 budget package from the Legislative Analyst’s Office.

    Comment by Jack Richard — December 22, 2010 @ 8:28 am

  29. By the way I ran your, ” As for the state as a whole, the statewide population of k-12 students has increased at a rate well above inflation,…” through a bullshit filter, 2008-9 was the last year I could find:

    Number of Students Enrolled in California Public Schools
    Kindergarten & 1st thru 8th Grades and Grades 9 thru 12:

    2008-09 4,231,324 2,013,687 7,000 6,252,011

    2007-08 4,256,428 2,011,865 7,176 6,275,469

    2006-07 4,286,369 1,993,527 7,047 6,286,943

    2005-06 4,306,895 1,953,077 52,131 6,312,103

    Looks like a steady decline to me. I didn’t look up inflation figures.

    Comment by Jack Richard — December 22, 2010 @ 8:43 am

  30. Do those figures include charters, which have been growing steadily (and also receive BRL)?

    Comment by dave — December 22, 2010 @ 9:12 am

  31. Jack, on oligarchy: read,

    or watch,

    Comment by M.I. — December 22, 2010 @ 10:05 am

  32. If it’s a public school in CA it’s included in those numbers.

    Comment by Jack Richard — December 22, 2010 @ 10:29 am

  33. Believe me, Mark, I don’t have to listen to 120 minutes of upchuck inducing Bill Moyers to understand Corporations seek higher profits.

    But what’s this have to do with your throwing in the towel at Rumsfeld, in favor of an oligarchy?

    Comment by Jack Richard — December 22, 2010 @ 10:40 am

  34. So if enrollment declining slightly and BRL has dropped ~15%, how has total budget risen? There’s something else in those calcs.

    Comment by dave — December 22, 2010 @ 11:18 am

  35. 33. my reference to Rumsfeld was not directly attached to oligarchy. I just like the ironic indifference of his quote on democracy being “messy”. Rumsfeld’s part in the war is small potatoes next to the conservative activist judges on the Supreme Court and their decision to allow limitless anonymous political contributions from corporations.

    “Seeking higher profits” sounds rather benign next to the full scope of the wealth transfer which has taking place with increasing momentum since Reagan set out to deregulate everything. I hope you do understand exactly what deep shit we are in.

    It takes a lot less than 120 minutes to read Moyer’s speech and for me it’s always great to be reminded of historical precedent so I don’t drown in despair, even if some of the historic outcomes aren’t triumphs for my beliefs.

    One of the great quotes in the speech is about the primary objective of the good fight not being to win, but to do the right thing. That’s how I feel about education reform. We have to win the public education fight to preserve democracy, but what would be worse than just losing would be if it was due to inaction. Like Chuck Heston said about his right to desperately clutch his gun, I’ll throw in the towel on my ideals when it’s used to cover my “cold dead” corpse.

    BTW, I hear sales at Zales are flat this holiday season but at Harry Winston they’re up 10%. Merry Christmas!

    Comment by M.I. — December 22, 2010 @ 1:45 pm

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