10-Point Plan for Local Revenue to Save Quality Public Education in Oakland
by Ben Visnick
March 26, 2011
While the current Oakland Board of Education (BOE) correctly laments the fact that state and federal resources are dwindling, they have done nothing collectively since regaining “local control” to hold corporate Oakland accountable for an increase in funds to our public schools. Instead, the BOE continues to vote for charter schools which drain students and revenue from Oakland Unified (OUSD). Meanwhile, the Alameda County Office of Education rubber stamps rejected Oakland charters which lead to further lay-offs of unionized educators and classified employees as well as more decentralized inefficiencies in the operation of our public schools. Therefore, it is time to raise/save revenue here in Oakland and Alameda County for our beleaguered school districts.
We cannot count on Governor Jerry Brown. His attempt to reach accommodation with Republican politicians has already led to more cutbacks in higher education/social services and threatens us with two-tier pension “reform”. Therefore, Oakland must serve as a model for what California legislators should be doing to promote progressive taxation to solve the worst budget crisis since the Great Depression.
Local Proposals for Progressive Taxation
1) We need local taxation which exempts middle and low income homeowners and renters in Oakland. Very high income residents here can afford to pay more for the common wealth of our society. The top 1% receives almost 25% of all income in the USA and Oakland, California, is no exception. A Graduated Oakland Income Tax on single wage earners making over the Social Security Cap (currently $106,800) can be instituted at a rate which begins at 1% for payroll income over the cap. For example, a single person either residing or working in Oakland earning $125,000 per year could pay 1% to the city and school district ($125,000-$106,800) on $18,200 or $182 per year. Ultra high single income earners would pay 2% starting with $206,800, 3% at $306,800, etc. Two-income wage earning families would start paying the local Oakland income tax at $206,800. Million dollar earners would, of course, pay most of this local tax which should be a joint city/school district effort.
Let’s see how this local income tax would work. Oakland residents Governor Jerry Brown, Alameda County Superintendent Sheila Jordan, and Oakland Superintendent Tony Smith would all be required to pay this tax because they earn over $106,800 as a single person or over $206,800 as a two-income married couple. We will use Tony Smith and his $265,000 annual salary here as an example. Tony is married and we assume his wife is not currently working. He would pay 2% on the difference between $265,000 and $106,800 or 2% of $158,200 for a total of $3,164. Is this too much for highly paid managers like Dr. Smith to pay to the city and school district?
2) We also need additional corporate taxes targeted at the most profitable Oakland businesses. The following companies will not leave the public Port of Oakland and are a fair source of tax revenue for our city and school district:
Southwest Airlines, Federal Express, United Parcel Service, American President Lines, Matson Shipping, Union Pacific, and Burlington Northern Santa Fe
A simple tax on every container or airline ticket to be paid by these companies could provide many millions for our young people’s education and save the city millions of dollars for the cost of incarceration and poverty in the future.
3) While our professional sports teams are owned by multi-millionaires, they have shown no substantive concern for the neighboring youth of East Oakland. One owner, Lew Wolff, has continued to disrespect this city with his stated desire to move the 4-time World Champion Oakland Athletics to San Jose! Instead, he, Al Davis, and Joe Lacob need to become a part of, not apart from, this community by agreeing to pay for a ticket surcharge on luxury suites, courtside, and box seats for the affluent fans who use our public Oakland/Alameda County Coliseum/Arena facilities for their sporting pleasure.
4) Internally, the OUSD has done a poor job of managing its facilities. There are way too many schools and “schools within schools” that waste resources by requiring more principals and vice principals than are necessary for quality education. For example, there are over 30 separate secondary schools in OUSD! Furthermore, head teachers can be elected by their peers to oversee schools which could eliminate many administrators who have been out of the classroom for decades. Understaffed small schools have never been and are especially not now sustainable in Oakland. McClymonds, Fremont, and Castlemont High must be reconfigured with a full curriculum that includes field trips, a library, counselors, AP classes, foreign language choices, art and music, journalism, debate, drama, physical education options, driver/safety education, and career academies along with A-G classes.
5) In Alameda County, the existence of very small school districts requires more economies of scale. If Piedmont and Albany can share a fire chief while Emeryville and Piedmont share paramedic and animal control services, there is no reason why school districts cannot do the same. Oakland Superintendent Tony Smith ran Emeryville USD when it was coming out of state control and knows the limitations of small districts. Both Emeryville and Piedmont can share services with Oakland USD, while also working with the Peralta Community Colleges for expanded public/public partnerships to save student programs and the jobs of certificated and classified school employees while cutting administrative overhead. The lack of leadership from the Alameda County Office of Education on the above common sense proposal is striking.
Giving Something Back
6) Vendors who earn significant profits from OUSD and the City of Oakland must step up their support for the citizens of our city by freezing and reducing their rates. Whether it is Keenan Associates, Kaiser Permanente, Health Net, Delta Dental, or Vision Service Plan, these companies owe our youth nothing less.
7) P, G&E, AT&T, and Waste Management must also contribute to solving the economic crisis facing our city’s fire, safety, and educational institutions. They, too, must freeze and reduce the rates they charge the public.
Human Resources vs. Modernization
8) As we watch the devastation caused by the recent Japanese earthquake and tsunami, one is reminded that the headquarters of the OUSD resides in a building (1025 Second Avenue) that is not earthquake safe under the Education Code. Yet children and adults attend meetings in its inadequate Board Meeting Room and central office workers are at risk on a daily basis. Demolishing this unsafe building and leasing the valuable land next to Lake Merritt’s Channel is long overdue. It would raise revenue and allow the down-sized administration to move to a safer district location.
It is a fact that as OUSD seeks to lay-off hundreds of educators the district’s schools are being renovated with local and state bond money. Ironically, Oakland will soon have first class school facilities without the teachers to staff them!
During this emergency financial crisis, the state must allow some funds for buildings to be shifted temporarily to human resources with voter approval. It makes no sense to have new physical plants without physical education and physical science instructors!
Enrollment Numbers and Site Budgeting
9) Part of the financial problems facing urban and rural school districts relates to a past change in the state funding of schools based on “Average Daily Attendance” (ADA) as a percentage of actual enrollment. In the 1990s, school districts received funds for all enrolled students including those who were truant or ill. Now, our individual Oakland schools lose roughly between 1% and 10% of their funds due to the change in state law which eliminated ADA for absent and sick students. This state policy is exacerbated by OUSD’s own “Results Based Budgeting” (RBB) policy which penalizes the budgets of our flatland school neighborhoods where tardiness and absenteeism are generally greater.
School sites are also being told that they must hire “consultants” with Title I and Grant monies rather than spend this categorical revenue directly in the classroom. This places OUSD under the 55% state requirement for minimum instructional expenditures while tens of millions of dollars is spent on private programs that often demonstrate little success in improving the academic and social needs of our students.
The state must return to funding California public schools based on actual enrollment so that we have the resources to hire anti-truancy workers and more guidance counselors to get our youth off the streets and into the classrooms. Furthermore, OUSD needs to abandon RBB which encourages school principals to practice age discrimination in hiring and retaining experienced staff. Due to RBB, many Oakland elementary schools have a disproportionate number of new and “cheaper” teachers because veteran teachers are too “expensive” for their limited budgets. Much of the so-called debt OUSD owes to the State of California is based on the lack of ADA due to the above along with the fiscal mismanagement of OUSD under state control from 2002 to 2009.
That is why it is both morally and financially proper for the superintendent and school board along with mayor and city council to demand that the debt to the state be canceled immediately!
Why is there Always Money for War and Bail Outs?
10) Finally, a growing percentage of the budgets of school district, city, county, and state governments is consumed by debt service paid to large banks, hedge funds, and insurance companies. It is time to raise the demand that the current and future generations of children and youth not be sacrificed to the greedy capitalists running Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citibank, and Chase as well as the AIGs of this nation who are bailed out while they foreclose on the homes of many of the students we teach. The school districts and cities of America must not file for bankruptcy, but collectively tell the banks and bond holders that we are canceling their usurious interest payments to save our schools, fire departments, public hospitals, transportation infrastructure, and services for the disabled and destitute.
The above draft plan is offered based on my experience as an Oakland public schools teacher/parent and OEA leader for over 30 years. Your ideas and comments are welcome whether you are a teacher, school employee, parent, city employee, student or Oakland citizen concerned with the future of public education and essential services.
Ben Visnick currently teaches USA History and Driver Education at Oakland High School. His wife is a guidance counselor at Skyline High and his son is a student at Montera Middle School.