ORINDA BENEFITS tremendously from excellent schools that turn out exceptional students and provide the foundation for the community's strong property values. So the city's voters should support the Measure B parcel tax on the March 3 ballot to protect their investments in their children and their homes.
But they should do so with their eyes wide open, for Measure B is not a perfect plan. It asks voters to raise the district's parcel tax 32 percent from $385 to $509 annually for each property. The money would be used to help cover the ongoing costs of running the district, including teacher salaries, class-size reduction and offsetting reductions in state budget cuts.
The tax is just one of several residents pay to fund education in the Orinda district, which serves kindergarten through eighth grade, and the Acalanes Union High School District. The levies above the standard 1 percent property tax rate on property owners' tax bills also include charges to pay off school construction bonds for the two districts, which total about $53.60 per $100,000 assessed valuation or about $536 on a $1 million home. In addition, the Acalanes district charges residents a separate parcel tax of $189 a year.
Add it all up and, if Measure B passes, the owner of an Orinda home assessed at $1 million would pay $1,234 a year in school fees to the two districts. That would make Orinda's fees more than those in the other communities where K-8 schools feed into Acalanes. Lafayette residents pay $1,121, Moraga residents pay $1,112 and residents of the Walnut Creek Unified School District pay $825.
Orinda is a relatively wealthy community whose residents value education and, for the most part, can afford the extra fees. With the state threatening major cuts to education, it makes sense for residents to help make up part of the shortfall.
We're disappointed, however, that there is no sunset provision for the parcel tax. In the area, only Moraga's parcel tax is permanent. Acalanes and Walnut Creek parcel taxes expire after six years and the levy in Lafayette has a seven-year life.
We are also troubled by one of the leading arguments for the tax — that Orinda teachers must be paid at or above the East Bay average. While we do not question that district teachers work hard and earn their incomes, we think that above-average salaries should go to instructors in districts with more challenging students.
If districts in wealthier communities try to outbid their neighbors, those adjacent districts will not be able to attract the quality teachers needed to turn around those schools. Moreover, if all districts aim to be above average, that sets off an upward salary spiral that taxpayers in many communities cannot afford.
So, while we endorse Measure B, we encourage Orinda school trustees to use the money judiciously — to pay teachers a fair salary, but not to try to outspend their neighbors. The high caliber of Orinda schools can be maintained without setting off a publicly funded bidding war.