Opinion - April 1, 2011
Vote Yes on Measure E
The sample ballot and voter information pamphlet on Measure E, the school district' proposed $98 a year parcel tax, has been sent to all registered voters in the Pleasanton Unified School District. The actual ballot will be mailed Monday and will include a postage-paid return envelope, with the ballot due back at the Alameda County Registrar's office by close of business Tuesday, May 3. Postmarks will not count, so voters are urged to vote early to ensure their ballot is received by the registrar by 8 p.m. May 3.
If approved by two-thirds of the votes cast in this special mail-in ballot election, each parcel of taxable real property in the school district will be assessed $98 a year for a total of four years. For purposes of this special tax, "parcel" means any parcel of land that receives a separate tax bill from the Alameda County tax collector, large or small.
This will be the second time that the Pleasanton school district has asked voters to approve a parcel tax. Measure G, which sought approval of a $233 a year parcel tax, was defeated in June 2009, with just 61.7% of the total number of votes cast, or less than two-thirds, supporting it. This time, the school board hired a consulting firm to conduct a public survey, which showed that more than two-thirds of those queried would support a parcel tax of under $100, but not a higher amount. The board chose to set the proposed tax at $98 and also to limit it to four years at the most.
Faced with a budget deficit of $7.7 million, the school district needs this parcel tax to continue quality education in Pleasanton. Frankly, we wished the district would have asked for more because this tax will bring in only about $2 million annually for the next four years. The school district has already made tentative cuts in personnel, with 67 teachers, 25 school staff and 17 administrators and other services on the chopping block for a total of $3.5 million unless more funds come in. Measure E will not prevent all of the cuts, but it could prevent the most devastating by providing stable and predictable funding.
With Gov. Jerry Brown's decision last Tuesday to call off negotiations for legislative approval of his much-touted special election in June to extend higher taxes on income, vehicles and sales, hopes are dimming for school districts around the state, including Pleasanton's, to see an uptick in state education funds our schools so desperately need. The Pleasanton district, skeptical anyhow that the Brown plan would succeed, has moved forward on preparing a fiscal 2011-12 budget without any of the increases his tax measure might have produced.
Still, with millions of dollars in new state cuts looming, we cannot allow Pleasanton's high-performing schools to decline. As parents, students and property owners in Pleasanton, it is in our collective interest to continue having schools that are among the best in the state, that attract and retain highly qualified teachers, that stress continued improvement in math, science and reading skills, that keep school libraries open and class sizes as low as the district can afford. Measure E mandates that no funds from the parcel tax can be used to increase teacher of administrator salaries or benefits, and establishes an independent oversight committee to review the use of the funds and report its finding publicly.
When your Measure E ballot arrives next week, vote Yes and mail the ballot back promptly.
Posted by been there, done that,
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 3, 2011 at 7:36 pm
Thank you for your kind words and the questions you raise. When a merit system was installed at my university, it was done so on the belief that it would serve to motivate teachers to achieve at a higher level. But the merit system did not do that; it did just the opposite. First, most of my colleagues already were teaching at a high level; they did not need a merit system to make them the excellent classroom instructors that they already had become over their careers. Second, it soon became obvious that a number of unwanted effects were being created by the merit system. Human nature being what it is, some teachers began teaching in order to elicit higher end-of-semester evaluations from their students. This was achieved by raising students' test scores, essay scores, and passing students who otherwise should have failed. Those of us who had always rec'd high student evaluations noticed that some of our colleagues were giving out only A's and B's to their students, likely as a tacit quid pro quo arrangement: I'll give you an 'A' (even though you deserve a 'C-'; and you, student, give me a high evaluation at the end of the semester). Suddenly, a lot more students were being graduated and, unfortunately, some administrators liked the inflated grades. Higher student retention rates; increased student 'satisfaction'; higher 'student achievement levels' to be shown to the chancellor; higher student evaluations of their teachers. It became, in rather short order, something not entirely unlike what Wash DC's teachers and administrators were doing when Michelle Rhee was chancellor: Doctoring results in order to make oneself look better. It remains to be seen just how devastating the effects of Rhee's programs will be felt among DC's young people. It remains to be seen how employers will judge the students at my university who were graduated with inflated grades.
Additionally, some of my hard-working colleagues, instead of attending to classroom matters as they had in the past, were seen increasingly shmoozing with administrators, hanging out in their offices, and competing (sometimes shamelessly) for positions on committees to implement some administrator's pet project. Upshot: excellent teachers were not getting merit increases nearly as frequently as those who conscientiously began gaming the system. It was not pretty. It was bad for teacher morale, as suddenly we were competing with one another for some extra crumbs being thrown to us by the administration. It was bad for administrators who, now with the merit schema, had new-found powers that took them away from what previously needed attending to. And it was bad for students who were not being taught and evaluated at the levels one should expect in higher education. Many of us mobilized in order to challenge the merit pay system, and the system was defeated by a wide margin. We have many of the same excellent teachers and administrators, and I think I speak for most when I say we're all relieved to not be saddled anymore by the unwanted impositions merit system necessarily brings with it.
Contrary to KR's assertion, what happened at my university is very similar to what happened in the schools under Rhee's province. Merit systems impose standards -- worded vaguely or strictly, pernicious in either case -- that cannot possibly do justice to all of the complexities involved in teaching. Because of the potential for abuse, most claim a desire for strict, objective language. This usually translates into student grades and test scores. But teaching is not simply about students' grades, or test scores. Much of what goes into good teaching, I believe, happens well before tests are administered and scores assigned. Good teaching usually does not translate into some strict merit formula. My most 'hated' high school teacher -- and believe me, students complained a lot about him -- taught us algebra and assigned two hours of algebra problems every evening. He was 'pointy-headed', 'frumpy', 'hard-nosed', uncompromising, and a lot of students in his classes ended up in summer school. His fellow teachers didn't like him, and some in their own classrooms even joked about him, his rigidity and stern mannerisms. Back then I hated him and I hated his class. But six years later I found myself teaching college algebra and modelling my own teaching after him. It took me six years before I was able to recognize he had been the very best of my high school teachers.
What about merit though? Well, I have found that a very large majority of my colleagues do not need added incitement to do a good job. Teaching is integral to their lives. They strive for excellence day in and day out because they believe in the value of knowledge. They are indeed mostly 'bleeding hearts', but they are what they are. They care about their students. Believe me, they know when they're not doing a good job. It can be seen in students' yawns or other expressions of boredom or disdain. It is, I think, very, very difficult for teachers to confront the fact that they are doing poorly without initiating changes. That is where one's colleagues -- not one's competitors for merit pay -- come into play. In addition to reading whatever we can find about successful teaching, we seek out helpful advice from our fellow teachers. Most of us, no matter what the level of education, enjoy our jobs. I can't begin to tell you how nervous with excitement and anticipation I still get every time before walking into a classroom or lecture hall.
Pleasanton has excellent schools, some of the best in the state. Its teachers are doing an excellent job. There is the need for additional taxpayer assistence to help the schools out in this time of need. Unfortunately, appeals for assistance like this usually do occur not when times are good but when they are bad. I understand this. My household doesn't have a lot of extra cash to play around with right now. But we do have $98 dollars for a good cause. One can cavil, a la KR, all they want about the language being too specific or not specific enough. One can do this with virtually any document. In my view, the Measure E language is clear enough. (Anyone who has ever sat on committees that write up documents can attest to how difficult it is to incorporate precision and flexibility to suit all members of the committee.) The Measure tells us what the raised funding is expected to accomplish, and, clearly enough, what the funding will help supplement. It is a good, common sense measure, needed in hard times, and I am happy to support it. Measure E is about the kids.