Like many who read the just-mailed North East Berkeley Association newsletter, I had to check twice to see if this was really a mailing from the old and respected neighborhood organization, or just a Republican hit piece.
The NEBA board has apparently taken a position against Measure A, the school tax renewal—which is their right—but the arguments used to support this position in the President’s Letter are so distorted, loopy, or just plain false, that they need to be publicly corrected:
Argument No. 1: “The measure states that 200 million dollars “may” (NEBA’s caps) be used for smaller classrooms. It may not, just as easily.”
The actual text of the measure reads:
“Available revenues raised by the measure are to be allocated to the following purposes and shall be deposited in restricted accounts for these purposes: Smaller class sizes, expanded course offerings, and counseling—66 percent.”
None of the 66 percent can be spent for expanded course offerings or counseling until the stated class sizes of the measure are met—which means never, as anyone familiar with the current school finances knows. Section 5Bi provides for community oversight of the funds; section 5D provides for a yearly independent audit to determine that funds have been spent as specified in the measure.
The “may” so glibly emphasized by the President occurs in the measure with the stricture that “After resultant class sizes meet the goals stated above, additional teachers may be added first to allow for expanded course offerings and then for program support...”
The claim in the president’s letter that the funds “may not, just as easily,” be spent on class size reduction is not just a willful misreading; it is simply false. Nothing in the measure supports it.
Argument No. 2: “The initiative’s language is vague on this point (class size reduction)”
On the contrary, Measure A sets out with perfect clarity the percent of money to be spent on class size reduction (66 percent) as well as the actual class sizes to be met. If this is the president’s idea of vague it would be interesting to know what she calls precision.
Argument No. 3: the renewal period for BSEP, 10 years, is too long; “Albany, Kensington, and Oakland,” according to the NEBA president, “use a four-year renewal schedule.”
Reality: Albany has 3 parcel taxes, totaling $500 per parcel. About half of it, $260, has no sunset; it is forever—longer than four years, by anybody’s math. The remaining $250 has a seven-year schedule. Oakland’s is five years; Kensington is not a school district, but West Contra Costa, of which it is a part, has a six-year schedule.
The rest of the newsletter contains a flurry of insults and slurs (“What does the superintendent of the worst-performing school district in the county [Berkeley] earn?”)
The worst-performing school district in the county? Excuse me? The high school where our students—of all colors—outscore their group at any other school in the county? Which Newsweek placed in the top 2 percent of high schools nationwide?
A better question might be, what is a superintendent worth who takes on a district on the verge of insolvency, a dysfunctional accounting system, a multimillion dollar debt to the state, a high school about to lose its accreditation—whose principal jumps ship—(those are just the high points) and turns around all those problems in the space of five years?
But I stray from the point. The president’s letter in the NEBA newsletter is the height of irresponsibility for a neighborhood group, whose role should be that of careful arbiter, not shrill partisan. To make it worse, the Measure she has chosen to smear is vital to the future of 9,000 schoolchildren. The NEBA piece, in a close election, could cause it to fail. If the NEBA board does not act quickly to retract and correct the misstatements in this mailing, NEBA will suffer a complete loss of credibility. But that is really nothing to what they will have caused Berkeley children to lose.
Laurie Snowden is a Northeast Berkeley resident and member of the BUSD audit committee.
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