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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Irony: Teacher Lay-Offs While Building New School

We're Building A New School While We Lay Off Teachers

Parents and Emeryville citizens have begun to stir; the recent spate of Emery School District teacher lay-offs is causing a whisper campaign about how the lay-offs and the building of the new school and recreation center known as the Emeryville Center of Community Life are conflated.  City Hall and the School District officials for their part, are showing signs they're worried about this kind of thinking taking hold.  They're trying to take the offensive on this issue, forwarding a new meme.
The way they're spinning it, the building of the new school /rec center is totally unrelated to the laying off of teachers.  A March 22nd e-mail to concerned parents from Emeryville City Manager Pat O'Keeffe put it bluntly, "The Center of Community Life is not causing teacher lay offs" he categorically states.

Mr O'Keeffe and the School District are together in this meme.
They note that the Measure J bonds voters passed in 2010 explicitly forbids spending the money on school operational expenses, including paying teachers.  It only authorizes the building of the facilities that will comprise the Center of Community Life.  They are also explaining how $25 million in city money the council voted to give to the project is also earmarked exclusively for the building of facilities.  This is due to the arcane esoterica of Redevelopment Agency funding mandated by the State.
Even though they'd like to pay teachers more and stop the lay offs, their hands are tied they tell us.

False Narrative
All this is just a bunch of hooey.  It's a false narrative meant to divert attention from an uncomfortable truth.  What Mr O'Keeffe and the School District is not acknowledging is that in fact the building of the Center of Community Life is directly responsible for the teacher lay offs.
The only way the School District can increase the operating budget for the schools, including teacher pay, is if the voters of Emeryville vote themselves another tax increase in the form of a parcel tax.  And there's the rub.  The passage of the $95 million Measure J bonding for the Center of Community Life has almost certainly tapped out the voters good will towards the schools.

"The Center of Community 
Life is responsible for 
teacher lay offs."

The last few years has seen the passage of two parcel taxes for the schools in Emeryville in addition to the Center of Community Life.  The voters here have shown great generosity towards the schools; the Center of Community Life alone will cost taxpayers some $400 million by the time the interest on the bonds has been paid (and that's only possible if the city starts to grow its assessed valuation like we did before the recession).
The voters have thus far been generous but their generosity is not infinite.  The fact that we've come up hard against the market realities of Emeryville's plunging Assessed Valuation and its attendant reel back of Emeryville's bonding capacity will help sink any nascent drive to push another parcel tax.

The Center of Community Life is going to be it as far as any extra school spending from more taxes is concerned we're afraid to say.  Perhaps voters will be in a more giving mood after the economy picks up and the middle class in America is restored and the Measure J bonds are paid off.....  In other words, it's going to be a while.

And that leaves us facing teacher lay offs and other cut backs at our schools.

It could actually get worse.  Schools are funded by student enrollment and our enrollment at Emery Unified is dropping.  The more it drops, the more funding dries up and the more cut backs and teacher lay offs we face causing more enrollment drop.  It's a spiraling negative feedback loop and we're already in the loop so to speak.

Perhaps we can call back some of the $95 million dollar Center of Community Life bonds, build a more modest facility by saving Anna Yates Elementary School and find some way to appeal to the voters that a new parcel tax could be swapped for the scaling back of the school building project.  It could be couched in terms of being revenue neutral...perhaps voters could see the wisdom in this and vote themselves another parcel tax.

What's needed is a new path for our schools, a different approach, and it should start with real transparency coming from the School District and City Hall.  We can't just obliviously build the whole Center of Community Life and hope for the best for its operating budget. Let's start by first spelling out where we really are and not just throwing up our hands as Mr O'Keeffe and the School District is doing.


  1. I voted for Measure a, I voted for measure J. As a property owner I'm tapped out. I am not the only property owner here who feels that way. If they are going to have to go back to the property owners in Emeryville to vote for yet another increase in their taxes to keep the ECCL afloat, it's a dead project.

  2. I like that revenue neutral approach.

  3. i too supported measure a in 2003 (without reading the fine print at the time) but did not support measure j due to the $9 million cost to renovate anna yates, and the city changing the strategy from a school parcel tax to a bond measure.

    the wording of measure j was deliberately misleading when it stated "no administrative costs will be paid." it did not specify teachers, district staff or staff employees. when coc members saw administrative expenses being paid and questioned this at a citizens oversight committee in the spring of 2011, suddenly an opinion from the state attorney general's office was produced, DATED 2004, SIX YEARS BEFORE the passage of measure j, allowing any administrative expense related to measure j. this means that the bond underwriters were aware of this but deliberately worded the ballot measure to deceive voters. my question is: were the city council and school board members in on this?

    all measure j expenses paid thus far is public record and may be obtained through the school district, the citizens oversight committee, or the city/school committee. the path to this information is circuitous if one is not a member of the coc. however, it is public record. so far, $25 million has been spent, mainly on staff salaries and consulting fees.

    the question of pixar's $2 million contribution to the arts center remains unanswered. is the city going to proceed with the arts center now? this $2 million was supposed to pay for the vacant lot behind ihop. what did pixar pay in school fees when they expanded their "campus." did the city waive their building permit fees to pixar? is anyone questioning school fees developers must pay on new projects based on gross square feet? what about emery ed fund's fund raising? how are these contributions being spent after their 5-10% for their administrative fee is taken out? why
    did former director eugenia bowman leave her position? why have so many coc members resigned or decided not to extend their one year terms?

    i have stated these comments many times before in the tattler. i don't like to sound like a broken record. but with the layoffs of teachers and staff at our two schools, emeryville is in a serious financial crisis and to proceed with the eccl is foolhardy and irresponsible, to say the least.

    1. Shirley raises some good questions. I too don't understand why Anna Yates redid their school all to move into another one? I hear that cuts will be made to the administration this year so maybe that will cut some of the fat.

      Concerning the Ed Fund I heard Eugenia resigned to take a new job at Ohana Community Outreach (ECAP), then was released a few months later. I've been on the Ed Fund's website before and their audited financial statements are posted, even their tax 990 is there. Seems transparent to me.

  4. As en ex-employee of Emery, I have to shake my head and wonder what where the hell all the money goes.
    The staff there is NOT well paid. As a highly skilled employee with 20 years experience in my field, and over 8 years at Emery, I was paid $45,000, and expected to do the work of 2.5 people.

    From what I hear from my contacts in the district, Eugenia left for many of the same reasons her predecessor did....malfeasance.

  5. Wait till you see next year's enrollment numbers. The High and Middle School's have no program, no teachers, and are not putting the education of the students as their main priority. None of the parents have any clue to as what will be happening in the 2012-13 school year and even if there will be a school district to send their kids. This is horrible management directly coming from the top of the school district and the City. I include the City in this because without a working school district, our City will be a disgusting failure. I believe the true enrollment numbers next year will be cut in half. At that time, no salaries will be paid. What do you think about that? Simon and Lindo have said that enrollment has decreased due to the area's high rents. This is not true, most kids still live here but due to the deplorable conditions in our Emeryville school district, parents have decided to send their kids elsewhere.

    1. I wouldn't call the conditions deplorable at the schools. As far as academics are concerned, I'd say at the High School they're bad but improving and at the Elementary School I'd say they are fair to pretty good overall (also improving). Teachers good all around generally. That's my opinion.

      I agree about the city being a faiure without a viable school district.