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Early returns suggest Measure L short of required votes

on November 2, 2010

Measure L, the $195 parcel tax that would have raised money for teacher salary increases, was receiving 58 percent approval in early returns tonight, with just over 10 percent of precincts reporting. But that fell short of the two-thirds super-majority required in California to pass any new tax increase.

The average teacher salary in the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) is currently $54,000, $10,000 less than the statewide average for unified school districts in California. Eighty percent of the tax proceeds would have been used to hike salaries by about 6 percent for teachers in the district, which laid off approximately 600 teachers and cut $122 million from its budget earlier this year.

If it had passed, the measure would have generated about $20 million per year for the next 10 years, according to OUSD estimates.

“As parents know, the most important factor in improving student achievement is ensuring that every student has an experienced, effective teacher,” OUSD said in a statement on its official website prior to the election results. “Oakland can only retain the best teachers if it begins to pay competitive salaries.”

While the measure was endorsed by scores of people involved with the city schools, including two former superintendents and six of the seven current OUSD school board members, it also faced criticism from some teachers and residents. “This is a tax that taxes the poorest man and the richest man at the same rate,” school board member Noel Gallo told the East Bay Express a little over a week before the election. Gallo was the only school board member not to endorse the measure, having previously voted against it when it came to the board back in August.

Despite the fact that the measure would have raised salaries, the Oakland teachers’ union voted neither to oppose nor support Measure L. Some members of the union, including president Betty Olson-Jones, objected to the fact that charter schools would also receive money if Measure L passed. While the majority of the measure’s revenue would go toward OUSD teachers’ salaries and professional development fees, 15 percent would be directed into salary increases for charter school teachers.

Measure L is not the first parcel tax that has appeared on the local ballot to support Oakland schools. In November 2008, city residents voted against a similar teacher salary-oriented parcel tax, Measure N, which the teachers’ union actively opposed because charter schools, which have private sources of funding, would also have received revenue. That same year, Oakland voters approved Measure G, which indefinitely extended a pre-existing $195 parcel tax passed in 2004.

District Four residents also voted on their school board representative today, as incumbent Gary Yee faced off against former Oakland teachers’ union president Ben Visnick. As of 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday night, with three of the 45 precincts reporting, Yee was leading with 71 percent of the vote.

Visnick, an Oakland High School history and driver’s education teacher, is an outspoken opponent of OUSD’s financing, and has urged the school board to reject the state budget even at the risk of relapsing into state conservatorship. Whereas Yee supported Measure L to fund teacher salary increases, Visnick proposed that Oakland consider alternate forms of revenue generation, such as taxing plane tickets at Oakland International Airport and shipping containers leaving the city’s port.

District Two representative David Kakishiba and District Six representative Christopher Dobbins ran unopposed in today’s school board elections, and automatically retained their seats. Three of the seven current school board directors faced no opposition when they were elected to their posts.

Check out all of our Oakland elections coverage on our Campaign 2010 page.

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