Berkeley Unified Seeks to Renew Taxes 

A parcel tax and school bond have wide, but not universal, support.

Next month, Berkeley Unified will turn to its taxpayers to approve the renewal of maintenance and construction taxes that supporters say the district is heavily dependant on for basic facilities maintenance and necessary construction. Both Measures H and I would go toward construction and maintenance projects throughout the district — which recently cut $14 million from its $90 million budget.

If passed with a two-thirds supermajority, Measure H would continue for the next ten years to assess Berkeley's already-existing special maintenance tax at a rate of 6.31 cents per square foot on residential buildings, 9.46 cents per square foot on commercial buildings, and $20 on unimproved parcels. The tax, which is expected to raise about $5 million annually, would go into effect in 2013, when Berkeley's current maintenance tax expires. According to Cathy Campbell of the Yes on H and I campaign, the funds raised by H would pay the salaries of the district's groundskeeping and custodial staff. "Simply put, the district isn't going to stop doing that maintenance," Campbell said. "If Measure H fails, we'll see an increase in the district's deficit, and very soon we may have a situation with the county where we can't balance our budget."

Measure I, on the other hand, is a $210 million school bond for academic and athletic facilities construction projects, including the renovation of Berkeley High's gym and the construction of new classrooms at several schools. If passed with 55 percent of the vote, the bond is expected to cost taxpayers about $60 per $100,000 of assessed value. Like H, it wouldn't impose any new taxes, as voters are currently paying off another construction bond, the payments for which Measure I will replace.

Thus far, both H and I have been endorsed by the Berkeley City Council, the School Board, and several local Democratic clubs and progressive political groups. Measure I, however, has received some criticism from those who argue that Berkeley Unified hasn't proven itself to be a good steward of bond money. Opponents of Measure I argue that the first tax was largely a failure, failing to finish the projects it purported to support while funding other, unnecessary projects, including the relocation of the district's offices and the construction of a new transportation complex on Gilman Street. Priscilla Myrick, who recently came out as the only school board candidate to oppose either measure, said that even though Measure I requires two separate audits annually, she's concerned that the school board and the district won't be held adequately accountable. "I think that there is kind of a mindless endorsement," she said. "But nobody's really asking questions about whether the district's done what it's supposed to."

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