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Yes on L

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. “

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Post updated November 10, 5pm

10 Comments

  1. Oakland Resident on November 10, 2010 at 3:04 pm

    I am a property owner in Oakland and I voted against Measure L. I know several other property owners who did the same. Every election someone has their handout expecting property owners to foot the bill, meanwhile renters (who make up the majority of residents) don’t pay a thing. If it’s not the schools with their hands out it’s the libraries, police or parks.



  2. andrewoakland on November 10, 2010 at 3:10 pm

    Do we now the final count? The Alameda COunty Registrar of Voters updated their results yesterday and thay now have Measure L at 65.43%. Also a question for Oakland resident. I understand your point and don;t mean this provocatively but do you and/or your neighbors have kids in Oakland schools? If not do you think anyone;s vote would have been changed if they did have kids in those schools?



    • Oakland Resident on November 10, 2010 at 4:38 pm

      I don’t have school age children , but when my children reach school age they won’t be attending Oakland public schools.

      The other people that I know who voted against the measure have children who are no longer school age – most of them didn’t send their children to Oakland pubic schools either.



    • Whitney Pennington on November 10, 2010 at 5:08 pm

      Andrewoakland,

      Thank you for alerting us to this error. The post has been updated to reflect the most accurate election results. Thanks for reading Oakland North!

      Whitney Pennington



  3. OakGirl on November 10, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    It is abit premature to ring the death knell for Measure L, but I will not be disappointed if it goes down in defeat and I volunteer at an after school program for at risk youth. I am familiar with teacher pay and conditions but as a homeowner, I can not bear sole responsibility for funding these organizations. Unless efforts are made to pass these taxes to renters at full value then I as a homeowner will continue to balk at some of these taxes.

    Alternatively, Oakland can increase the stock of middle class housing thereby lowering the individual burden for each owner by spreading the tax across more households. This problem will probably only get worse with Jean Quan as mayor.

    I will also add that the language of the measure was a problem for me. The tax would have supported effective teachers, ensured that West and East Oakland students had the best teachers, and all students would be at grade level; yet, the measure contained no tools to measure any of this. I support improving pay for effective teachers but I can not if one does not define the measures by which effective teachers will be evaluated. It seemed like a way to give all teachers a raise, which is hard to do when everyone except Google employees is taking a paycut.



  4. guzzigal on November 10, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    I feel for the teaching professionals in Oakland because there is little proof of support among the communities they teach. I hardly consider it a handout when the measure over time could impact the communities in a positive way through education. As a property owner I voted pro. If you cant or wont invest then don’t expect things to change..EVER. Progress won’t come free..If you can afford a mortgage you can afford $16.25 more a month. Come people it takes a village!



    • Oakland Resident on November 10, 2010 at 4:41 pm

      But the problem is we HAVE invested in the schools. Many of these parcel taxes actually pass and I still haven’t seen improvement. How long do we throw money at a problem before we expect real results?

      And if it takes a village, why a property tax where only 40% of the village pay? Why not choose a tax or fee where property owners AND renters help foot the bill?



  5. momoftwo on November 11, 2010 at 10:27 am

    I have two young boys in the Oakland public school system, and I still voted no on measure L. I find it interesting that maybe two weeks ago, Katy Murphy ran an article in the Oak. Tribune about the reasons why teachers leave Oakland. Only something like 3% leave because the of the salary. I’m sorry to be so brutal here, BUT it’s not like teachers go into the job to get rich. They know ahead of time it’s a hard job with really crappy pay. I think they are deserving of much, much more than they get, but I can’t afford to pay them. My non teaching husband has seen many of his office mates let go this year, which means he has more work on his plate than before. He hasn’t seen a raise in 4 years. Ten years ago, he was easily making 25% more than now. Now we are thankful he has a job. So no, I did not vote for Measure L.



  6. Dana Hull on November 12, 2010 at 5:36 pm

    I voted for Measure L. But I have to say that the fact that the OEA was neutral on the issue is probably why it failed. The California Teachers Association is one of the most effective unions in the state. The fact that they sat this out raised a lot of questions, and left me with the impression that the school board and the teachers union are at odds.

    I also agree that voters, particularly in a recession, are tired of being asked to throw money at large bureaucracies that are widely viewed as dysfunctional.



  7. Oaklander on November 16, 2010 at 10:27 am

    The OEA’s ‘nuetrality’ shows us the reality of the people who “represent” OUSD teachers – they are willing to be neutral (aka not fight for) a pay raise for themselves and their membership, simply because the mere 17% of Oakland’s teachers who teach in charter schools would have been included in Measure L’s effort to enhance the entire profession’s value here in Oakland. (Didn’t the OEA lead a strike in April primarily about their pay?) We all know that teachers should be paid more – Oakland teachers are the lowest paid in Alameda County – yet OUSD literally has no capacity to make that happen right now. Measure L would have been the most immediate way to increase teacher pay and the ONLY guaranteed way to pump 200 million into our school system over the next ten years. Their argument against the “effectiveness” language truly exemplifies their refusal to ensure a basic right for children – THAT THEY ALL DESERVE EFFECTIVE TEACHERS. (Doesn’t the OEA see themselves a part of the effort to close the achievement gap in Oakland?) Ironically, there was NO stipulation that money be distributed differentially, so “effective teachers” just meant that all teachers would have gotten the same raise.

    Even more condemning than their neutrality was their semi-discrete activism against Measure L – i.e. a teacher from Kaiser Elementary (who is also an OEA Executive Board Member) that stood in front of the school telling parents not to vote for Measure L and bashed it in an email to HUNDREDS of parents on the Oakland Public School Parents yahoo group. Or union reps at Life Academy and others schools who used staff meeting time to urge their coworkers to vote against it. Simply stated, the union was NOT nuetral on Measure L. As an educator, I hope that OUSD teachers finally see the need for better leadership in our teacher’s union.



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