County Superior Judge Rules AUSD-Backed Measure Invalid

File Photo--AUSD Board of Education were told their Measure A parcel tax was a violation of county government code earlier this month.

County Superior Judge Rules AUSD-Backed Measure Invalid

An Alameda County Superior Court judge ruled against the Alameda Unified School District (AUSD) in a lawsuit declaring Measure A, the district’s parcel tax on property owners, a violation of county government code.

Under Measure A, property owners have to pay 26.5 cents per building square foot — capped at $7,999. Vacant parcels are taxed a flat rate of $299 (“Local Issues to Appear on Ballot for March 3” Feb.13, 2020).

However, many Island residents were weary of another tax when the measure was on the ballot.

Alameda resident Leland Traiman filed a lawsuit contesting the tax. Traiman’s contention was the tax was unfair because larger businesses, such as big box stores like Lucky Supermarket and Safeway, were taxed less per square foot than smaller businesses and residences because of the cap provision in the measure. Alameda County Superior Court Judge Julia Spain ruled in favor of Traiman on April 5 with the exception of a $299 flat tax on vacant properties.

“As sympathetic as this court may be to the desire to raise additional funds to support schools and quality education for students, it is nonetheless duty-bound to uphold the provisions of the California Constitution,” Spain wrote in her official decision. The judge ruled that the parcel tax created unequal taxation, a violation of Government Code 50079.

The school district has been collecting the tax for two years. It is not known if the county court will force AUSD to pay back the money received. The new tax was expected to generate $10.5 million in new annual revenue for AUSD, according to reports. AUSD is likely to file an appeal of the judge’s ruling, which would delay any reimbursement of funds.

AUSD said they proposed the new tax because they needed the funds to “attract, recruit and retain teachers and school employees.”

“[Twenty] percent of Alameda’s teachers leave our school district every single year, wrote Mia Bonta, who was AUSD Board of Education president when the tax was approved. “That’s largely because Alameda’s teachers are the second-lowest paid in the entire county (ahead of only Oakland) and many of our neighboring school districts offer higher pay and stronger benefits.”

Measure A was approved in the March 3, 2020, election. The final tally for Measure A saw 67.1 percent of votes in favor of the new parcel tax. The measure needed two-thirds of “yes” votes to be approved.

With the measure’s approval, teachers received an additional 1 percent raise retroactive to January 2020 and an 8 percent increase for 2020-21 school year. There are about 550 teachers in the district.

Measure B1, a parcel tax approved in 2016 with 74.2% of the vote, remains in place. Money generated by that tax funds a variety of programs for the school district, including music, physical education and fine arts classes.

Alameda voters will vote on another bond measure, Measure B, which offers further financial assistance to AUSD in the June 7 Direct Primary Election. If passed, the bond will fund Phase II repairs and upgrades to schools based on AUSD’s Facilities Master Plan (“School Board Finalizes Budget in Bond Measure,” Jan. 28).

Phase II projects include renovation to Emma Hood Pool, improvements to the Kofman and Encinal High School auditoriums, improvements to Wood and Lincoln middle schools and more. Projects for Phase II total approximately $324 million.