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Alameda School Parcel Tax Appears Headed For Victory

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(Adam Jan/AFP/Getty Images)

(Adam Jan/AFP/Getty Images)

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ALAMEDA (CBS / AP) — A closely watched property tax to help cash-strapped schools in the East Bay city of Alameda appeared headed for victory Wednesday.

If Measure A is approved, property owners on the island city would pay some of the highest school parcel taxes in California.

Unofficial results show that 68.4 percent of nearly 19,000 votes were cast in favor of Measure A, according to the Alameda County Registrar of Voters. Parcel taxes require a two-thirds majority — 66.7 percent — for approval.

About 3,000 absentee and provisional ballots still need to be counted, said Noe Lucio, an election technician at the registrar’s office. Those ballots should be counted in the couple days, and the final results should be available next week.

“We are feeling pretty good about the results so far,” said Michael Robles-Wong, who chairs the Yes on A campaign. “With its vote on Measure A, our community has made a strong statement of support for our schools and for the continued quality of life of Alameda itself.”

Tuesday’s hotly contested election in the Alameda Unified School District was held less than a year after a similar ballot proposition, Measure E, fell just short of the two-thirds threshold.

As financially troubled California slashes education spending, many communities are turning to parcel taxes to help their local schools. At least three other parcel tax elections were held Tuesday, and more are scheduled this spring.

Alameda’s robust support for Measure A gives hope to other school districts seeking to pass parcel taxes, said Eric Heins, a board member of the California Teachers Association.

“It’s indicative of how strongly communities want to support their public schools,” said Heins, a teacher in Pittsburg.

State budget cuts are forcing districts across the state to lay off teachers, cut programs and close campuses, but many cannot muster the electoral support to pass a parcel tax.

“It’s not a long-term solution,” Heins said. “We really need the state to step up to the plate.”

Under Measure A, each parcel would be taxed at a rate of 32 cents per square foot of building space, with the maximum tax capped at $7,999. For example, property owners would pay $320 annually for a 1,000-square-foot home or $640 a year for a 2,000-square foot home.

Measure A would raise about $12 million annually for seven years to maintain small class sizes, high school athletics and Advanced Placement classes, among other things. It would replace two existing parcel taxes and take effect July 1.

District officials said the measure was needed to prevent widespread layoffs, school closures and academic program cuts in the 9,500-student district.

But opponents say Measure A’s $7,999 cap benefits large property owners at the expense of homeowners and small business owners. They also say the district needs to reduce expenses and operate more efficiently.

“We’re overdue for reform and restructuring in the school system, but if the parcel tax passes we’re not going to get that. We’re just going to get the same status quo,” said David Howard, an organizer for the No on A campaign.

In other school parcel tax elections held Tuesday:

— Tahoe Truckee Unified School District approved a measure to increase its parcel tax from $98 to $135. It’s expected to raise $4 million annually for seven years.

— The Brisbane Elementary School District approved a measure to raise its parcel tax from $96 to $119 to keep arts and music programs for the next five years.

— Santa Clara Unified School District rejected a measure that would have levied a $19 parcel tax and authorized construction bonds.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)

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