At What Cost Comes Education?

In his recent column (“Is Bigger Better?,” July 26). Ashley Jones rightly claims, “Any Realtor … will tell you that the Alameda Unified School District’s (AUSD) reputation helps to sell property.” Let us be honest; what is implicit to this statement is that AUSD’s reputation increases property values. As a politically correct city we join the chant for “affordable housing” but as individuals, we demand top-of-the market prices when it comes time to sell off our own chunk of Brigadoon.

We fantasize about selling, then relocating to buy something the size of the Cartwright’s Ponderosa Ranch with the windfall profits derived from our cozy Craftsman. In fact, we would like to see our property sold to the highest bidder — foreign or domestic — in what amounts to a combative real estate auction. Let someone else provide the “affordable housing” just give us a big cash-out.

Presently, the median list price per square foot in Alameda is $569, which is higher than the San Francisco average of $496; the median list price of a house in Alameda is $996,000, which for anyone unfamiliar with the decimal system, is $4,000 short of a million.

Given the steady escalation of housing prices, by the time you’re reading this, the median price will have zipped beyond $1 million. Yet despite the hue and cry for affordable housing, we still seem to implicitly root for higher property values in Alameda.

Could someone please describe the young couple, with two or three school-age children and one or two college loans that could afford to buy a home and settle in Alameda? 

Even with 20 percent down, their monthly costs for housing will be in excess of $4,000. Would these buyers be lottery winners, professional athletes, corrupt public officials, firefighters or people choking on silver spoons or silver gravy ladles? The irony is that you can either afford a family or you can afford to live indoors in Alameda but generally not both.

Ironically, quality public education leads to higher property values, which leads to fewer families affording Alameda, and ultimately, in the absence of new housing, fewer school-age children. Presently the raging debate is whether to close Encinal High School and “educate” all adolescents at the venerable Alameda High School. The concern is that this might detract from AUSD’s reputation for quality education (sic) and hurt the real estate market i.e. reduce housing prices. 

As Jones points out: after emptying Encinal High, that property can be sold and “Then AUSD would have a ton of money.” He adds, “It might be a good idea to sell Lum and Paden elementary schools as well.” I would put one additional parcel on the auction block: Sell the district headquarters at 2060 Challenger Drive. Given a linear relationship, the four sales should rake in four tons of money.

Assuming AUSD liquidated just three schools, and got three tons of money, would that mean that the district would immediately drop oft-recited words and phrases like “cut-backs, chopping block, austerity, curtail expenses, reductions, higher student-to-teacher ratio” from its vocabulary? Would we no longer claw back teacher supply money and close libraries? Would the district no longer speak of cutting sports, parcel taxes, slashing the music program, no cost-of-living increases, etc. 

Whoever covertly ushers primo AUSD property into the rapacious hands of salivating developers will get more perks than Parks and Recreation can come up with, and receive more incentives than the commoners of Alameda could ever dream of providing.
A few years ago, AUSD — with board approval — swapped a prime piece of waterfront property near Encinal Yacht Club for the parking lot between the long-closed Naval Air Station’s bachelor officers’ quarters and officers’ club.

Some poohbahs were clearly “incentivized.” Do the denizens of Alameda ever get a decent break? Admittedly, that parking lot consisted of several acres paved with 18 inches of military-grade concrete; it remains an AUSD resource at the ready. 

What are the odds that “educational opportunity” or the interests of families and students will successfully compete with the demolition plans? But, before demolition can happen, the educrats at AUSD — with the impeccable sartorial standards — have to provide the appearance of listening, if not harkening, to community input.

While it is one thing to listen to sentimental public palaver, it is another thing to respond to it.
Just because we might correctly augur the inevitable future, does not mean that we can’t act surprised when Encinal, Paden and Lum go mano-a-mano with the wrecking ball. As Jones’ daughter may have correctly opined, “Nobody cares.” Or perhaps, “Nobody cares what we care.”


Jeffrey R Smith is retired US Navy aviator and present-day sidewalk politician who teaches math at Encinal High School.