Parcel tax for Peralta Community College District passes

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The June 5 primary resulted in the passage of a measure that increases much-needed funding to the Peralta Community College District.

The district sought a two-thirds voter approval in yesterday’s primary in order to be able to levy a special parcel tax, named Measure B. The measure eventually passed with about 72 percent of the votes.

According to the text of Measure B, an annual tax of $48 will be levied on all parcels of land within the district for eight years, beginning July 1. The tax will be imposed on all residential, commercial, industrial and institutional parcels — regardless of the parcel’s development status — except for parcels that are already exempt from taxation. An estimated $8 million of funds would come from the parcel tax, according to Peralta Colleges spokesperson Jeffrey Heyman.

Heyman said that in the past, the district has used bond measures for purposes other than education, such as facility improvements.

California Community Colleges are paid to educate a certain number of students, and over the past four years, the state has cut back the amount of students they would pay for, according to Heyman. About $30 million in funding for the Peralta Colleges has been cut by the state, and as a consequence, nearly 4,000 students have been turned away from core academic and vocational courses due to overcrowding and unavailability.

Heyman also said that the district intends to restore some of the classes, but complete restoration of the classes that were cut is not likely.

“I did have a lot of trouble getting into (a core English class) because there weren’t too many sections,” said incoming UC Berkeley junior Peter Le about his experience at Laney College, one of the four colleges in the district. “I was on the very bottom of the waiting list and had to keep checking every day to see if I’ve moved up the list.”

The Alameda County Counsel’s impartial analysis of the measure shows that it set explicit objectives for the funding revenue. The district’s objectives include “maintaining core academic programs, such as math, science, and English; training students for their careers; and preparing students to transfer to four-year universities,” according to the analysis.

The document also states the funds would not be able to be taken by the state nor used for administrators’ salaries or benefits.

“We want to return to the mission of the California community colleges, ensuring open access to eligible students, and these additional funds are necessary to allow us to do this,” said Jennifer Lowood-Livingston, English department chair at Berkeley City College, in an email.  “To be honest, in my thirty years of teaching in California (at the UC, CSU and community college levels), I’ve never seen the kind of dire circumstances we find ourselves in now.”

An independent citizens’ oversight committee will monitor the expenditures funded by the measure. According to Heyman, the committee will consist of a wide range of individuals ranging from students, to citizens, to academics and businesspeople.

“I want to thank the community for the 72 percent win, which is pretty substantial,” Heyman said. “It underscores the support of our mission of education, and helps to ensure that a good number of those students will be able to attend school and continue their education.”