March 2012

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BREAKING: Teachers reject class size and pay deal

Updated at 6:34 p.m. Friday, March 30

Alameda's teachers have rejected a contract deal that their union leadership has caled "inferior." The deal, which would have kept class sizes where they are and offered teachers some additional pay, was rejected by the 524-member teacher's union by a two to one vote.

“At some point AUSD will have to make teachers a priority and stop presuming that we will be able to continually sacrifice,” Alameda Education Association president Gray Harris was quoted as saying in a press release issued Friday evening.

Union leaders accused the district of failing to negotiate in good faith and also refusing to accept compromises they offered.

Superintendent Kirsten Vital said she was disappointed by the news.

"We are disappointed. And we will move forward from here," Vital said. She said the district would offer additional comment next week.

The agreement would have kept class sizes in kindergarten through third grade at 25 students per teacher in exchange for a one-time, 1 percent salary bump and another 1.5 percent in 2012-2013 that would have become permanent if certain state funding thresholds are met. The one-time bonus would have netted teachers between $398 and $799 each, said the union's release, which said the pay offer "was not sufficient to warrant the permanent concessions they demanded." The deal did not address teachers' health care costs, the release pointed out.

The agreement also would have allowed the district to raise K-3 class sizes to 30 students per teacher in the event of a severe fiscal emergency, and to 32 students if the Measure A parcel tax is revoked. The Board of Education would have been required to hold a hearing on such a declaration before it could be made.

The agreement also would established tentative school year calendars for the next two years the contract is in effect and offered a new, union-added academic freedom clause that would allow teachers to bring supplemental learning materials into their classrooms above and beyond the standard curriculum they teach. It also established a one-year collaboration pilot that would shift the hours of one school day per week.

The deal teachers rejected also laid out separate rules for teachers interested in working in one of the district’s magnet or innovative school programs and new rules for handling complaints against teachers.

In a letter to county schools officials, Chief Business Officer Robert Shemwell said the deal would save the district $586,370, which they had planned to put toward strategic cuts he said the district would need to make in 2013-2014. The district’s recent interim budget report to the county shows that cuts need to be made, though it doesn’t include $12 million in Measure A funds and shows K-3 class sizes at 20 students per teacher.

Keeping those class sizes at 25 students per teacher would have saved the district about $3.7 million over the term of the agreement, a document submitted with the letter shows, while the increase teacher pay would have cost $2.14 million.

The announcement is the latest salvo in a heated battle between teachers and district administrators over class size, pay and treatment of the district’s teachers, who have complained of poor morale.

District officials and the teachers union were in mediation talks over class sizes after the district asked the state to declare an impasse on the topic. District officials had wanted to keep K-3 class sizes at 25 students per teacher, while teachers wanted them to drop back to 20 students per teacher.

In late February the teachers union submitted a proposal that would have lowered class sizes to 20 students per teacher after three years and shrunk other class sizes. They hammered out the deal last week after four late-night mediation sessions.

Alameda Hospital’s managers are making some dramatic service changes that they hope will help them stanch the flow of red ink on their balance sheet and keep the doors of the hospital’s emergency room open, though some are questioning whether the changes will do enough to right the hospital’s shaky finances.

A domestic violence task force made up of Alameda city and nonprofit social service leaders started up again this month, after a nearly seven-year hiatus. The aim of the task force is to better coordinate prevention and intervention services for domestic violence victims as funding for such services dwindles, the city staffer managing the task force said.

City leaders are spreading the word about a new single-use plastic bag ban that went into effect this month. Enforcement of the county-enacted ban, which affects 65 stores locally and 1,900 countywide, starts in 2013.

School board update: District office, adult school moves

New details about Alameda Unified’s plans to move the district office and its adult school emerged at Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting. Efforts to move both began after district officials learned the portions of Historic Alameda High School they’re housed in aren’t earthquake safe.

District administrators are now saying they’re not sure they’ll be moving all of the district’s adult school programs at the Woodstock Education Center next year, and they said they may ultimately seek to purchase a Marina Village property to house the district office.

District administrators had recommended the board allow them to move the entire adult school to Woodstock, though Chief Business Officer Robert Shemwell said he thinks the district will maintain the Bay Area School of Enterprise’s lease there through the 2012-13 school year. The charter school has a lease on space at the school through 2016.

“It’s a wish and a prayer that we can get that whole program in one place,” said Shemwell. “But I think we have to set that goal.”

He said the district needs 10 to 12 classrooms to house its adult school programs and that he hopes to find a site nearby for anything that doesn’t fit at Woodstock next year; backup sites included Wood Middle School, Longfellow Education Center and Haight Elementary School.

Board president Margie Sherratt said she thinks moving to Woodstock could be a good opportunity for the adult school, which Shemwell said will be completely moved out of Historic Alameda High School after school ends in 10 weeks and will never return.

“Even if looking at Woodstock is a difficult shift for BASE, I really like the idea that it’s going to be serving the community where a lot of our adult students live,” Sherratt said. “It could be a great opportunity.”

Meanwhile, Shemwell said district officials wish to lease space in Marina Village to house the district office with the option to own, though the Atlantic Avenue space they hoped to lease has been sold.

The lease for the nearly 22,000 square foot building would have cost close to $30,000 a month, or $1.8 million over the five-year term recommended by district administrators. Shemwell said he didn’t know what the property was sold for, though he said it was listed at $3.9 million.

He said the offices would hold 80 to 100 district employees, though maintenance and operations workers would remain at Historic Alameda High School and food services staff will move to the central kitchen at Wood Middle School. Special education staff would be farmed out to the district’s schools.

Trustee Mike McMahon said he would not be able to make a decision on whether the district should lease or consider leasing and then buying a facility until he has a better understanding of state of district-wide facilities. But Superintendent Kirsten Vital said administrators have no choice but to rent space for the district office.

“We’ll continue to look at this commercial space, but as staff, we’re feeling like this is the only solution to this,” Vital said.

First Lady to make Alameda appearance

First Lady Michelle Obama will be in Alameda on Saturday, to participate in the commissioning of the Coast Guard Cutter Stratton. The event is slated to take place at 10 a.m. on Coast Guard Island.

Mrs. Obama, who sponsored the ship, helped christen it in 2010 in Pascagoula, Miss. by breaking a bottle of champagne over the bow. The ceremony in Alameda, which follows tests and sea trials, will formally introduce the Stratton to the U.S. Coast Guard’s fleet and place it in active service.

The 418-foot long, $551 million national security cutter is named after Capt. Dorothy Stratton, director of the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve during World War II, and it’s the first to be sponsored by a first lady. It’s the third of eight such ships planned for the Coast Guard and is berthed in Alameda alongside its sister ships, the Waesche and the Bertholf.

The day before the event, Mrs. Obama is scheduled to make remarks at a Democratic National Committee event in San Francisco, and after her Alameda appearance she will present on Nickelodeon’s Kids’ Choice Awards.

Alameda County transportation leaders are set to ask voters for more money for roads, trails and transit in November. The Alameda County Transportation Commission wants to double the county’s existing half-cent sales tax for transportation projects and make it permanent.

Alameda’s Board of Education is set to discuss new locations for adult school classes and the district office since the facilities they’re in now aren’t earthquake safe. District officials are recommending that adult school classes be moved to the Woodstock Education Center, and that the district lease space for its headquarters in Marina Village.

Alameda’s teachers and school district leaders said they have reached a tentative agreement on class sizes, though neither side would offer details of the plan. Teachers are slated to vote on the deal Thursday and Friday, Alameda Education Association president Gray Harris said.

The accord was reached following several late-night rounds of mediation.

Updated at 3:49 p.m. Friday, March 23

Opponents of a proposed half-cent sales tax have filed a suit to try to get the measure yanked from the June 5 ballot after failing to hand in their ballot argument on time.

Heather Rider learned of the city’s plans to initiate a streetscape project on Park Street the week before it began, in the form of a flyer than was handed to her and other Park Street business owners.

Measure C is a 30-year, half-cent sales tax increase to be considered by Alameda voters on June 5. Below are the text of the ballot measure, the ballot argument for the measure, and an argument against the measure.

Ballot language:

John Tredgold looked down from his office at the bright, airy bakery below.

“Right now, there’s no lights on in the facility,” said Tredgold, who is Semifreddi’s director of bakery operations.

Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan is casting a spotlight on cuts that state lawmakers want to make to health care and social services for the county’s poor, sick, young and old. Chan held a hearing at Alameda’s Boys & Girls Club on Wednesday night intended to detail the human impact of the cuts – and to ask participants to pressure lawmakers to reconsider them.

Alameda’s city leaders are inching forward with a plan to prepare Alameda Point for development themselves, instead of letting a private developer do it. The City Council agreed Tuesday night to let city staff seek out a professional advisor to help mold their strategy, and to use Point lease revenues to cover its $5 million cost.

The City Council is set tonight to consider a proposed development strategy for Alameda Point, most of which is expected to be in the city’s hands by the end of this year.

When city leaders announced plans to contract Alameda’s animal shelter services out to another city to save money, animal lovers here quickly mobilized to stop them. But instead of fighting opponents of the outsourcing plan, the city decided to hand them the Alameda Animal Shelter’s keys.

City and East Bay Regional Park District officials are at odds over a proposed deal that would move a planned veterans’ complex off property that has long served as a nesting area for the endangered California least tern and onto land where city officials had hoped to build a park, trails and a sports complex.

“People love the parks in Alameda,” longtime local activist Gretchen Lipow said. But the City Council’s recent consideration of a deal to trade the Mif Albright golf course to a developer for cash and vacant land led Lipow and others to believe the city’s parks could be in jeopardy.

Alameda school district administrators painted a grim picture of the district’s finances over the next few years, though school board trustees questioned whether constant changes in state funding and policies make it impossible to offer a true picture of the district’s financial future.

An opponent of a proposed half-cent sales tax increase launched his campaign against the tax Tuesday.

Alameda activist and blogger David Howard said the proposed Measure C sales tax increase that’s due to appear on the June 5 ballot was pushed through without adequate public input.

Alameda’s high school swimming pools are on life support, masters swimmer Barry Parker said, and the city and school district are unlikely to continuing paying to keep them open. But $5 million gleaned from a half-cent sales tax increase could build a new, Olympic-size pool that could be used by high school swimmers, young children and adult swimmers alike, he said.

Alameda’s city leaders are attempting once again to revise the city’s plan for housing to comply with state law and to avoid state funding losses and lawsuits. Alameda’s so-called housing element, which is designed to show that a city’s got enough land zoned in a way that allows its housing needs to be met, has been out of compliance with state law since 1999.

“I haven’t been a super duper activist for a while,” Katherine “Kat” Culberg said during a workday break. The school nurse and mother of two said she was energized by the Occupy movement, but found it tough to participate.

At this time of attacks on women by the right wing I want particularly to say a few words in defense of and praise for women. I am qualified to do this by my lifelong and deep-seated belief that the definition of pleasure is being enfolded in the arms of a loving woman.

Voters will go to the polls in June to decide the fate of a half-cent sales tax measure approved by the City Council on Wednesday night.

Alameda's City Council voted early this morning to nix a proposal to swap the Mif Albright golf course to developer Ron Cowan for cash and land he owns nearby and to direct city staff to negotiate with two firms for a management contract at the Chuck Corica Golf Complex. The swap proposal fell on a 5-0 vote, drawing cheers from opponents who packed council chambers.

Less than a year ago, local youth sports leader Pat Bail was anything but complimentary about developer Ron Cowan’s proposal to build homes on the Mif Albright golf course in exchange for cash and land he owns on North Loop Road that would be used for new sports fields.

Management at Alameda Hospital will be applying for an extension on the January 1, 2013 due date they face for making seismic upgrades to the hospital’s most earthquake damage-prone buildings.

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A controversial proposal to trade most of the city’s nine-hole Mif Albright golf course to developer Ron Cowan for cash and land he owns on North Loop Road is slated to come to a vote Tuesday night.

When Vice Mayor Rob Bonta asked his fellow City Council members to require Alameda to pay prevailing wages on its public works projects, some expressed surprise. They thought the city already had one.

“I thought it was very clear that Alameda followed prevailing wage,” City Councilwoman Beverly Johnson said.