Berkeleyans will have five local ballot measures on November 2 — in addition to the election of City Council, School Board and a variety of other Berkeley posts. Berkeleyside will cover all five measures, starting today with Measures H and I.

Berkeleyside does not plan to endorse any measures or candidates, but we want to provide an objective analysis for our readers.

H and I are both school district measures. H is a special tax, and I allows the BUSD to issue $210 million in bonds. The context for both measures is an undeniably harsh economic climate for education in California. The BUSD has cut about $14 million in the past three years out of an annual budget of $90 million.

Measure H

H provides for a continuation of the BUSD’s special tax for maintenance of 6.31 cents per square foot on residential buildings, 9.46 cents per square foot on commercial buildings and $20 on unimproved parcels, with annual cost-of-living adjustments for 10 years (the Alameda County Counsel’s impartial analysis of the measure mis-states the tax by 100-fold). It requires a two-thirds vote to pass.

Measure H, if passed, will provide the BUSD with about $5 million annually to fund all maintenance on school buildings, landscaping and grounds. Maintenance funds currently come from Measure BB which expires in two years.

Why does the BUSD need H now, if there are still two years to run for BB? In California, school districts now need to show financial sustainability over three years. Measure H’s special tax would start in July 2013. Without the maintenance funds, the BUSD would likely receive a “qualified budget” approval from the Alameda County Office of Education, which restricts the autonomy of the local school board.

To avoid a qualified budget the BUSD would have to either cut $5 million a year from its three-year budget or find the monies elsewhere.

Measure I

Measure I, which requires a 55% vote to pass, allows the BUSD to issue up to $210 million in bonds to fund specific projects listed in the measure (and only those projects). Among the projects are: a new classroom building, improved technology and athletics facilities at Berkeley High School; new elementary school classrooms; new science labs, career and technical education classrooms; and major replacements such as roofs and boilers.

The proposed tax rate for Measure I bond is $60 per $100,000 of assessed value. Together with other BUSD bonds, the total tax rate will not exceed $172.80 per $100,000 of assessed value.

Opponents of the measure have pointed to what they see as unkept promises from Measure AA and inadequate audits of that previous bond measure (see, for example, comments from Berkeleyside readers here).

Among the projects listed in Measure AA was a renovation of Berkeley High’s old gym to provide new classrooms. As the dilapidated state of the old gym shows (photo above), that renovation never happened. According to supporters of Measure I, two things derailed that original plan. First, the old Building B at the high school was damaged by fire and had to be demolished. Second, analysis of the old gym revealed that its renovation would have cost more than the $19 million forecast in AA. Some of that money was spent on design of the new building and will be spent on demolition of the old gym. The new building provided by Measure I, should it pass, is budgeted at $28 million.

Also controversial was the construction of a new transportation facility using AA funds, rather than new classrooms. The BUSD argues it was being financially prudent, saving $500,000 a year and avoiding further cuts to programs. The wording of AA did provide for the district to spend on facilities as it saw fit.

So what will be different with Measure I? AA was passed with a two-thirds majority and its terms did not require a separate audit. Further, funds from Measure AA were placed in the same account as funds from the earlier Measure A. The district accounts for all funds spent, but it’s impossible to untangle what came from A and what came from AA monies.

Measure I, with the lower standard of a 55% hurdle, requires both an annual performance audit and an annual financial audit of the bond proceeds, which will be separate from the district’s regular annual financial audit. Measure I funds will be held in a separate account. “Regardless of how you feel AA performed, there are many more safeguards added on to this now,” said Eric Weaver, co-chair of the Yes on Measures H & I campaign.

Opponents of both measures are concerned about high tax rates in Berkeley. The BUSD’s current bond tax rate is approximately $146.30 per $100,000 of assessed value and is designed not rise above a maximum rate of $172.80 per $100,000 of assessed value. This compares to a rate in West Contra Costa Schools that is currently $183.90 per $100,000 of assessed value and is predicted to reach a rate of $230.80 per $100,000 of assessed value. BUSD-related taxes, of course, are only part of the overall taxation paid by Berkeley property owners.

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Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...