One week later, education community disappointed by Measure L’s close defeat
on November 10, 2010
One week after Oakland voters defeated Measure L, a parcel tax that would have boosted city public teacher salaries, members of the city’s public education community are frustrated and disheartened.
“I’m pretty disappointed, because it almost made it,” said Sam Davis, an adult education teacher at Manzanita SEED Academy in East Oakland. “It was so close. I just wish that there had been a little more energy to push it over the top.”
Measure L would have assessed Oakland residents a $195 per year parcel tax. The tax, which would have lasted ten years, was expected to raise $20 million for the district each year to be used for teacher salaries. After weeks of “Yes on L” campaigning, though, Measure L gained support from only 65.43 percent of voters, missing the two-thirds majority required for any tax measure by a slim .57 percent margin.
“It’s super disappointing, especially because it was so close,” said Carolyn Gramstorff, director at the North Oakland Community Charter School. “This kind of throws us back into the continual crisis management that we’re always in.”
All but one of the education professionals interviewed for this article said that they, their friends and family members voted in favor of Measure L. So who didn’t vote for the proposition?
“I think that there’s still enough people who live in Oakland and don’t have kids and aren’t particularly concerned about education,” said Nora Mitchell, president of Oakland Tech’s PTSA, speculating as to which people voted against Measure L. “They distrust how the city and school district spends their money and believe throwing more money at them won’t help solve our problems.”
Emily Sacks, a special education teacher at Redwood Heights Elementary School in East Oakland echoed Mitchell’s point, adding that the financial burden may have driven some to vote against the proposition. “I think part of it is just that timing was bad in terms of the tough economy and multiple parcel taxes being proposed at once,” she said. “If this passed, with the police parcel tax, it would have been $400 to $500 extra per property per year.”
For some, disappointment with the proposition’s defeat is heightened by frustration with the supermajority voting system under which it lost. Measure L, along with all other parcel taxes on the ballot in California this year, had to win by a two-thirds vote—or exactly 66 percent—instead of a simple majority of 50 percent plus one vote.
“The main thing that frustrates me is that it requires a two thirds majority and not a simple majority,” said Sacks. “Obviously, a lot of people supported the measure. It just wasn’t close enough.”
Mitchell agreed. “My reaction to Measure L being defeated is disappointment and frustration with the process to get these sort of things passed,” said Mitchell. “I think it’s absurd that it takes [a] two-thirds vote. The majority wanted this to pass in Oakland to help Oakland students.”
Some believe the lack of support from the teachers’ union was ultimately to blame for Measure L’s defeat. The Oakland Education Association—the city’s teacher’s union—remained neutral on the issue throughout the campaigning process. “There were a number of things that were wrong with it for us,” said Betty Olson Jones, president of the union. Olson Jones listed the measure’s support of charter schools and “effective teachers”—as opposed to all teachers—as primary reasons for the union’s neutrality.
“I’m certainly not cheering the loss,” said Olson Jones who declined to disclose whether she, personally, voted for the measure. “It was very difficult. We all know that teachers are underpaid and the retention rate of teachers is problematic.”
“I talked to a lot of teachers who didn’t even really know about the measure,” said Sacks, adding that she believed the teacher’s union could have definitely been a force in educating teachers about the measure. “The union is a big vehicle for getting information out to teachers. Their decision to be neutral definitely complicated things.”
A North Oakland high school teacher, who asked to remain anonymous, agreed. “I think had we had the teachers’ union campaigning for it, we would have had a greater shot of winning,” he said. “The teachers’ union has a significant number of members and resources at its fingers to help with the campaign. Not bringing those resources to the campaign made the difference.”
Olson Jones, however, rejects the idea that the union was a major player in the measure’s defeat. “I think it’s an easy out to say it was OEA’s fault,” she said. “We were very upfront. We had some real concerns, but decided not to campaign against it.”
Olson Jones said the teacher’s union is now working with the district to develop other ways to increase teachers’ salaries and that she hopes Governor-elect Jerry Brown will better budget for teacher salaries in the new year.
District officials also recognize the weight of Measure L’s defeat. “It’s obviously a major setback,” said Oakland Unified School District spokesman Troy Flint. “It’s disappointing to be so close to passage, but yet so far.”
“We’ve been working steadily to raise funds through other means,” he added, including corporate partnerships, philanthropic giving and federal grant opportunities among potential modes of funding for teacher compensation. “But, there’s nothing in the immediate future that stands to bear the loss.”
Until new sources of funding are discovered to fund staff development and compensation, many teachers and members of Oakland’s education community remain devastated by the loss.
“I’m just really discouraged,” said Sacks. “I hear from a lot of teachers, ‘I don’t get paid enough for this kind of thing.’ Teaching is hard and good teachers need to feel valued. “
Check out all of our Oakland elections coverage on our Campaign 2010 page.
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