The San Francisco Chronicle’s article on the Alameda parcel tax for schools vote posits a false choice. The article by Carolyn Jones makes it sound as if Alamedans have to decide between their schools and their businesses. In reality, the choice is between good schools and strong businesses on the one hand, and bad schools and declining business on the other.
If it passes, many small business owners, already struggling with the recession, say they’ll be forced to close, stripping Alameda of its mom-and-pop charm. If the measure fails, the district’s superintendent warns that half the schools in town would close.
“If this doesn’t pass, all bets are off in Alameda,” said Encinal High School Principal Mike Cooper, a fifth-generation Alamedan. “We’re watching the collapse of public education. We’ve been trying to make this work, but something’s got to give.”
Business owners agree that at this point, all bets are off.
“If this passes, then God help us, there’ll be no end,” said Ed Hirshberg, who owns numerous commercial properties in Alameda but lives in Oakland. “The schools want more money from us, but the problem is there’s no money available.”
The article goes on to make it clear that to most Alameda residents, good schools are the foundation of the community. And that makes sense – people want a good future for their kids, want them to be educated, want them to have opportunities and a better life. Only a sick and demented human being would choose profits over that better life for their kids.
Alameda businesses should want that as well. If Alameda schools close, it could trigger a flight of parents with children to other districts that have not been so reticent to fund their schools. And Alameda businesses will suffer as a result, when their prosperous customers, especially those with families, leave.
So the complaints of Alameda businesses are misguided. The parcel tax is necessary for their own survival as well as that of their own community. However, Alamedans do have a very good point when they say it should never have come to this:
The 9,500-student district has managed to scrape through the past few years, but with the latest round of state cutbacks, the district now finds itself on the precipice of disaster, Superintendent Kirsten Vital said.
“It’s devastating and abysmal,” she said. “We’re looking to Alameda voters because the state of California is not funding education as it should.”
That is exactly right. Because of Republican opposition to taxes, schools and students have been punished with massive cuts. Of course, poll after poll after poll shows that big majorities of Californians will support new taxes to prevent cuts to schools. If Sacramento wanted to stop cities like Alameda from having to raise local taxes, they could do so by proposing or even enacting a statewide tax increase on the wealthiest Californians and the largest businesses to support schools. It will pass.
It’s time for the defenders of public education in California to make this move. CTA has been planning to bring the corporate tax breaks to the ballot, but that’s just $2 billion a year. The public is willing to approve much more, especially if the upper income tax brackets of the Pete Wilson era were restored, especially if the corporate tax rates of the 1980s were restored.
Of course, one wonders if Alameda businesses that are complaining about the Measure E proposal support these kind of solutions. If not, it’s time they did so, because their survival depends on California restoring and improving the funding we give to our schools. There’s no justification for being cheap with our children’s future.