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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Letter to the Tattler: John Affeldt, Emery School Board Member

The newest member of Emery's School Board, John Affeldt, responds to the February 13th Tattler Op/Ed piece by Brian Carver titled 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire?'.  The letter was submitted to the Tattler directly from Mr Affeldt as as such, the opinions within do not necessarily represent the opinions of the School Board in toto.  CAB refers to Emery School District's Capital Appreciation Bond, ECCL refers to the Emeryville Center of Community Life, the site where Emery is building a new schools facility on San Pablo Avenue and Anna Yates refers to Emery's existing elementary school.

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A Response to Brian Carver by EUSD Board Member John Affeldt

Brian, thank you for your thoughtful consideration of the CAB issue.  I have admired your dedication to improving the Emeryville community over the years, and I appreciate the opportunity to respond here to a number of the points you raise.  Note, these are my own personal thoughts and comments, not an official board or district response.

A Reasonable Growth Estimate

First, you criticize the School District’s assumption that the overall assessed value (AV) of property in Emeryville will increase by an average of 4% annually over the next 32 years.  This assumption is hardly an “absolute fiction” propelled by “blind faith.”  It is reasonable, indeed, conservative.  For starters, your analysis seems to leave out the impact of underlying inflation on the cost of housing.  If inflation runs at 2%-3% and housing is able to keep up with inflation, then a 4% annual increase is just keeping its head above the level of underlying inflation.  

Next, your argument incorrectly assumes that all of the growth in the assessed value of property derives from rising market values.  In fact, a significant piece of AV growth comes from the fact that every time a home or commercial property is sold it is re-assessed at current market rates.  In addition, every time a new building is built or renovated, the value is added to the tax rolls at a substantial increase.  Thus, even though our home values may be close to where they were a decade ago, during the last ten years Emeryville still experienced an annual average 5.4% increase in assessed value.  
In fact, over the last 30 years, going back to 1982, assessed property values in Emeryville have grown on average every year at a 7.49% rate.  As such, the modest 4% estimate is a much better gauge of likely growth than simply looking at a snapshot of housing values alone and limiting that snapshot to the last decade during which we experienced the single biggest housing bust and economic downturn since the Great Depression.  

Of course, no one has a crystal ball, but current economic projections of which I’m aware point to a return to normalcy, not another economic cataclysm.  Yet even if there is another big downturn or three during the next thirty years, the data from the last thirty—in which there were seven downward dips including four years with negative growth and a Great Recession—amply supports the conclusion that we can experience such dire events and still end up at or above an average annual 4% AV growth rate.

A Sound, Long-Lasting Facility

Secondly, contrary to your suggestions, the new facility will endure longer than the 32 year, 6 month debt owed on the Series D bonds.  In fact, it is designed to withstand a major earth quake and still be safe for use as an emergency shelter for the community.  By comparison, the high school was built to much less rigorous standards in 1964 and lasted 48 years; similarly, Anna Yates dates back to the 1950’s or earlier.  

Investing in Education and Our Community

You compare bond financing to financing a car, the value of which depreciates over time, and take issue with the overall cost of the Measure J bonds.  I respectfully disagree with your comparison and your conclusion.  When you finance your car, it is a private act that has no ripple effect on your neighbors—on the quality of their or their children’s lives, on the quality of their community or on the value of their homes.  Bonds, including the recently issued Series D CAB, do more than purchase a product which gets used up over time.  They are investments in making possible the education of our youth, in improving the quality of our schools going forward, in strengthening the bonds of our community and, yes, even in increasing the future value of our homes.  

Ensuring Basic Educational Opportunities

Bond funds serve to build the buildings that house our 700-800 students and staff and make possible the free public education that will last a lifetime.  Yes, you could give graduates $50,000 each instead of investing in their educational facilities, as you whimsically suggest—but then there wouldn’t be anything to graduate from.  Much better, I think, to invest those dollars in ensuring those students have a high quality educational experience.  Indeed, the average high school graduate, without college experience, earns $290,000 more over a lifetime than a high school dropout, and contributes $100,000 more to federal, state, and local taxes.  The figures only increase if the students are ready for a 2 or 4-year college as most of Emery’s recent graduates are.

Improving the Quality of Our Schools

Beyond just maintaining the educational experience for our students, however, the Measure J bonds will make it possible to significantly improve the quality of our schools.  I understand you have a different point of view about the ECCL project and would prefer to maintain separate locations for Anna Yates and the high school.  You have raised reasonable concerns but, for my part, I believe that the risks of program quality dilution for Anna Yates are not high, that the safety concerns can be (and are being) addressed, and that the potential rewards from a full service K-12 community school substantially outweigh the risks.  

It is wrong to characterize Anna Yates as “shutting down.”  The school and its quality staff, programs and practices will move.  And the new site will be a seismically safer, state of the art, technologically updated facility that will enable staff to continue and improve program delivery.  The high school, which needs serious quality improvements, stands to benefit even more from the integration of services and the upgrades that co-location and the City’s investments will engender.  ECCL will enable us to establish a new school-based health center to deal with our students’ physical and mental health needs (when many California districts have abandoned even school nurses); to keep our librarian and expand the library (when many districts have shuttered their libraries); to upgrade our science and technology resources and spaces for art and music.

Strengthening Community

On top of these improvements, the ECCL project will create new community spaces for the Emeryville community to gather after hours and on weekends:  a community center, playing fields, a public commons, a senior resource center, a public library with a cafĂ© and an upgraded gym.  

Investing Wisely & Within Our Means

Yes, we could simply build a cheaper replacement high school that will largely retain the status quo (though doing so for less than 300 students is hardly an efficient use of taxpayer dollars as it divides our resources and requires higher administrative and operating expenses).  Instead, we are choosing to invest in a project that will enable staff to better serve our students now and will substantially increase the ability of our schools (and not just Anna Yates) to attract families and teachers going forward.  At the same time, the Center will create new community spaces for all Emeryville’s citizens.  

As we build this Center that could well become a national model which other cities and districts will look to, we’re doing so within our means.  Even with Series D, which I see as a prudent and measured CAB and you see as irresponsible, the four Measure J bonds together will cost taxpayers much less than the bond program anticipated at the time of the Measure J campaign.  When Measure J was approved by 73% of voters in 2010, it was anticipated that the bonds would issue at then prevailing interest rates of roughly 6% (like the Series A bond), have a maturity of as much as 40 years, and total up to $95 million in principal.  Instead, the ECCL project is being built for less than $65..6 million in Measure J bonds, with a combined interest cost of 4.58%, and over a shorter period of time (the longest maturity is 32½ years).  (See also the CAB FAQ on the EUSD website.) 

I wouldn’t ask taxpayers to invest in anything I wouldn’t consider worthy myself.  That means my family will pay approximately $240 per year in Measure J-generated taxes on our approximately $400,000 home.  That’s a bargain in my mind for what our children and we as a community stand to gain—and it would be to me even at your doomsday scenario of $360 per year. 

And if our schools do significantly improve as these bond investments portend, then the increased demand for Emeryville schools will have one other effect—our housing values will rise too.  There are no guarantees in life but, to me, for a few hundred dollars a year this is a community vision worth investing in.

John Affeldt has a son in Kindergarten at Anna Yates and was appointed to the School Board in July 2012.  For over twenty years he has worked on educational equity issues at Public Advocates in San Francisco where he has twice been recognized as an Attorney of the Year in California for his education work.


  1. Nah! I don't buy it. With all due respect to Mr. Affeldt, I disagree. Taken in overview of the Bay Area, Emeryville is but a pimple on the Landscape. Why do we have to be a "National Model"? Brian Carver is right. My TRUTH is that Emeryville is NOT a children's community, and future enrollment is expected to diminish. I don't have any children, and I don't want to pay for a pioneering concept that is ill conceived. That's how I really feel.

  2. I don't buy it either. Remember everyone, this is coming from the same person that said no to the 70 petition signers to save Anna Yates the Tattler reported. One of them was me. I just don't trust anyone on the board at this point.

  3. I thought that was a thoughtful and considerate response. Thank You John. This is community engagement people. While a bit late, it is good. I wish that this kind of conversation would happen before decisons are made so people can feel good about them. It tends to get shut down far too often.

  4. Let me point out that we are NOT a family friendly town. We have limited open space for children to play, we have few family friendly restaurants (okay I cannot think of one), and our high school is terrible. My children have no park that they can walk to by themselves and play.

    I was watching the City Council meeting tonight. Who is running this City? The employees or the Council? Every time the Council asked for a change of process the employee whine was "NO! We can't!"

    If the Council asked for more information for the ECCL, the whine was "No! We can't!"

    And it doesn't help that there are 3 Council Members who repeatedly dismiss the concerns of the other two!

    Finally, we DO NOT need another City Manager with an economic development or legal background! All these types of City Managers care about is getting a deal done at the highest level of revenue with little regard to resident's quality of life! These City Managers don't care about the residents, don't care about the people who want parks, who want family friendly, quality housing. Get a City Manager in here who CARES about the QUALITY OF LIFE of the residents who are here now!

    Please City Council, find a new City Manager who CARES! Maybe if we had fewer Department Heads, we wouldn't need to prostitute all available land for commercial and non-family friendly housing. Maybe we would be able to save money in our operating expenses by reorganizing staff and we could have a large park or sports fields on the empty lot near Bay Street! A sports park for local soccer teams, baseball teams, and other events that children and adults in other communities enjoy and Emeryville does not. "But no! This is not economically sensible," our current leadership spearheaded by the current (economic development) City Manager and current (legal) City Attorney claim!

  5. Well said, Mr. Affeldt.

  6. Dear John,

    Thank you for your willingness to engage in this public forum based upon your belief in this project, public service commitment, and interest as a parent, property owner, and community member. I disagree for the following reasons:

    Economic Growth

    Your argument takes the form of “if…as…if…because...if…[since – 30]…even if…[since – 30]…then, of course, X,” which is not the way we should be modeling our public funding agreements. Obviously, bond financing for school development projects is common to every California community. Nevertheless, the rather unethical ties between underwriters and school boards has been much publicized (e.g. The Bond Buyer, Brokers’ Gifts That Keep Giving: The mere facts that (1) brokers are self-interested, and (2) CAP bonds are so risky as to merit state action, should have prompted the Board to go the extra mile in engaging the community with the type of reasoning you have presented above. Or did your grossly overpaid consultants recommend otherwise?

    Investing in Education

    As I posted in an earlier thread, Emery Secondary is a failing school with a suspension rate over 50%, and proficiency levels below 20%. This is publicly available information from the Student Accountability Report Card. The Report further identifies an 84% graduation rate, which might be how you thought to justify the comment that most of Emery’s recent graduates “are ready for a 2 or 4-year college.” Out of the 84% graduates, only 16% are proficient in math; that is not a successful program employing successful metrics. Rather, I believe that we are “graduating” extremely mediocre students because we have let our standards fall that far. You have made a great case for outdated facilities, but you have not demonstrated how CAP bonds resulting in a new multi-purpose facility equates to investing in education. Mr. Carver might be a bit jaded in wishing to give suggesting we hand every graduate a $50,000 check for the next 30 years or more. As you correctly observe, there will be no place to graduate from. Therefore, I alternatively suggest that this money would be better spent by issuing the parents of every high school aged student a check for $50,000, thereby allowing them to invest in home education system or regional charter school. I would gladly accept $50,000; over four years, I would spend about $1500 in internet access for Kahn Academy, and happily pocket the rest.

    Investing Widely & Within Our Means

    Your misguided subtitle says it all: our means. We don’t have the means, Mr. Affeldt. That is why we are pegging what we want now (a community wellness and education center, YAY) to interest rates and property values of the next generation. If we are going to do that, let’s at least do it responsibly. It’s a moot point this time around, but maybe next time.

    Kevin Christopher

  7. Finally a Board Member responds to the public. For too long Board Members have remained silent whenever the public has raised issues, Voters should consider this fact come election time.. Perhaps now other members will follow Mr. Affeldt's lead and address concerns that matter to the public. Whether you agree with Mr. Affelt or not, he has shown leadership and that alone should be commended.