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Letter: 'Why Vote No on the Measure A Parcel Tax in March'

Piedmont resident Bruce Joffe writes that the PUSD needs truly independent review before a new school tax is approved.

Editor:

The PUSD Board is a body of elected members who are ultimately responsible for the activities, results, and fiscal strength of Piedmont's schools. They have proposed in Measure A, that a so-called "independent" subcommittee (The Parcel Tax Advisory Subcommittee) of the Budget Advisory Committee (BAC) be formed to review the School Support Tax uses, and to recommend the subsequent year's levy. The Subcommittee members would be chosen from BAC members and approved by the President and Vice President of the Board.  To me, this doesn't look like an independent review of the PUSD's operations and finances. It looks like a situation in which the Subcommittee members, who were approved by the Board, might feel obliged to agree with and endorse the Board's predilections.  

Why is a truly independent review important?  Piedmont ranks third highest of the State's top 10 Academic Performance Indicator scores. Yet, the proposed tax ($2,406) is more than twice that of top-rated San Marino ($1,169), while all of the other top 10 districts' tax rates are under $700. Is Piedmont's school district being managed efficiently? It takes a truly independent review to determine this.  

We recently suffered a similar situation with our City Council. They presided over a multi-million dollar public works fiasco which might have been prevented had there been some kind of independent oversight of the project. Let us learn from that disaster and build into Measure A, and future taxes, a more robust review and oversight mechanism.

I want Piedmont's schools to be top-ranked, and I am willing to pay taxes to achieve this. But I need to know that our tax money is being used as efficiently and effectively as possible. It would behoove our School Board to secure a truly independent review and oversight of activities and finances for which they are responsible.  

Proponents for Measure A argue that voting "No" will damage our schools.  In fact, the current school tax doesn't expire until the end of June, 2014. A better tax measure could go on the ballot in June 2013, or November 2013, or March 2014. We don't need to approve the deeply flawed Measure A at this time.  

Another flaw in the current Measure A is its unequal taxation.  With a single tax amount per parcel, irrespective of the parcel's size, this tax charges small parcel owners as much as 40 to 80 times more per square foot than large parcel owners. A fair and uniform tax would levy the same amount per square foot.  The Board's advisors think that the recent Borikas v Alameda Unified School Board decision by the Court of Appeals restricts a uniform size-based tax.  Others disagree. On January 7, 2013, the Court of Appeals agreed to rehear the appeal of the trial court decision, thereby, the previous decision is now vacated. And, on the same day, Assembly member Rob Bonta of Oakland introduced AB 59, which clarifies the existing law. So remedies for a fair and uniform tax are on the way.  

It would be unfair to lock in a tax that is higher for nearly 3,000 owners of smaller parcels while reducing the tax on approximately 800 of the largest parcels, compared with the current tax charge. There is adequate time to fix this inequity before Piedmont needs to approve another school tax.  

Proponents of Measure A point out that Piedmont's excellent schools raise our property values over similar homes in other cities. Indeed, if all properties enjoy the same percentage of increased value, the larger properties receive a much larger dollar amount of this benefit. Shouldn't they pay a larger amount of the school tax? A uniform tax based on parcel size would be fair and equitable.   I urge voting no on Measure A so that we can vote yes on a tax measure that assures efficient management and that taxes us equitably. 

Bruce Joffe
Long-time Piedmont resident, home owner and concerned citizen

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