Parcel Tax FAQ
Berkeley Unified School District is considering placing a special local tax on the March 2020 ballot to provide resources for recruitment and retention of quality teachers and staff. The measure under consideration is a response to underfunding of education by federal and state governments which has led to a sustainability crisis for educators in Berkeley.
Why do we need a new local tax to support public education?
The BUSD School Board wants to ensure that it can fill all of its positions with highly qualified teachers and staff and retain our excellent employees. The Board understands that a significant salary increase is needed to meet that goal.
Shouldn’t state funding pay for salaries?
California ranks near the bottom, at 41st in per pupil state funding. Following the Local Control Funding Formula law, passed in 2014, many nearby districts receive greater state funding than Berkeley to reflect their higher concentration of low income students, English learners and foster youth. Several nearby districts have also recently passed local taxes to support educator compensation. As a result, Berkeley’s compensation has slipped to near the bottom compared to other Alameda County schools. Without new local revenue for educator salaries, via a new special tax, Berkeley will still rank below most of the school districts in Alameda County in teacher compensation. In a competitive market for highly qualified educators, Berkeley’s relatively low salaries are making it difficult to recruit and retain the skilled teachers our students deserve.
Won’t this proposed tax distract us from statewide reform?
Many of us have been working hard to improve education funding via Red for Ed, the Schools and Communities First Initiative and other statewide efforts. BFT has active, informed and passionate members who can work to pass a local special tax while also continuing to push for national and state reform.
Why can’t the district cut its budget to pay for employee compensation?
For every 1% increase to employee compensation, BUSD needs to find an additional $1.25 million. BUSD has made significant budget cuts, with staff and community input, for the past three years. Further cuts may be needed but that will not be sufficient to provide the level of increase that is needed.
How is this tax connected to BFT/BUSD contract negotiations?
BFT has made a compelling case, through an extended contract campaign and at the negotiations table, that our members need a substantial raise. Current salaries are simply not sufficient to retain our talented and experienced staff. Recruiting and hiring new staff has also become difficult. Given the limited revenue (as discussed above), BUSD is now considering this special tax as a means to address the sustainability crisis in Berkeley. If BFT is satisfied that the proposed tax will meet our members’ needs, the union will support the tax and work to get it passed by Berkeley voters.
Why must the union and district agree to a new contract before the parcel tax is written? Can’t we keep trying for better terms while campaigning for the tax?
The best chance for BFT members to receive a substantial raise is through this local tax. Without agreement, there is a risk that the amount written into the measure will be too small to adequately improve our situation, or that the measure will not be placed on the ballot in time for the March 2020 election.
What is the timeline?
In order to be placed on the March 2020 ballot, which is necessary to provide revenue that will fund a raise during this contract cycle, the measure must be submitted to the county by December 6. The School Board must present the language in public at two meetings prior to that, on November 6 and November 20. The BFT and BUSD negotiations teams will meet three times in October, with the goal of reaching agreement at the last scheduled session on October 28.
Who will write this measure? Is BFT involved?
BUSD will draft the measure and place it on the ballot. BFT input has come from our great contract campaign and our strength and unity at the bargaining table, which has led the School Board to understand that only a substantial increase will be adequate.
What is the proposed structure and rate of the special tax?
This is yet to be determined. The School Board will decide based on polling and our strength of our contract campaign.
How much revenue would this special local tax generate and how would it be spent?
BFT is pushing for a significant raise at the negotiations table. The tax revenue from this special tax would support that raise. It is generally understood that the vast majority of this tax will be spent on employee compensation.
When would the raise take effect?
If the measure passes in March 2020, the parcel tax revenue will be available for salaries at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year. BFT has also proposed salary increases for 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 paid for by BUSD’s general fund. These would go into effect whether or not the parcel tax measure passes.
Does the measure provide raises for other BUSD employees?
Yes. Classified staff, site administrators and district office staff are represented by their own unions and have separate contracts with BUSD. Those contracts provide that their members will receive the same salary increase that BFT negotiates for its members. This is known as a “me-too” clause and reflects the reality that, as in most districts, teacher compensation is the benchmark for other employees’ salaries. BFT strongly supports increased compensation for our classified colleagues, whose work is essential to our students’ success.
How is this tax related to the BSEP Measure?
The Berkeley Schools Excellence Program was first passed in 1986 as a response to budget cuts resulting from Prop 13. It has been renewed by Berkeley voters several times, most recently in 2016. It provides many essentials for a high quality education, such as reduced class sizes, school libraries, music and performing arts, student supports and counseling, among other valuable programs. However, while the BSEP Measure pays for teacher positions in order to decrease class size, it does not create revenue for employee compensation.
Why would Berkeley voters support a new special tax for education?
The Berkeley community is one that historically has shown incredible support for public education and local taxes and bonds to keep our schools strong. Many Berkeley citizens have moved here specifically due to the quality of the schools and they are willing to tax themselves to maintain and improve our educational system. Berkeley voters support high quality public education, and they know that excellent schools help protect their property values.