Berkeley Voters Show Strong Support for Boosting Teacher Salaries and School Funding

Supporters of Berkeley Measures E, G, and H celebrate at an election night watch party at Spats in Berkeley on March 3, 2020. (Stephanie Lister/KQED)

Updated Wednesday, 7:30 a.m.

Three school funding measures in Berkeley seemed likely to pass by wide margins, in a show of the city's consistent willingness to tax itself to support public education. Measures E, G and H — which all appeared on Tuesday's ballot — were touted as a three-in-one package to support a raft of school district needs: teacher salaries, school construction and facility maintenance.

“This is the community saying we support Berkeley public schools. We support our teachers. We support staff that work in our schools. And we want to make sure that we keep our teachers here,” said Jenny Wong, Berkeley city auditor and a parent of two Berkeley High School students. "I’m just delighted to see this kind of overwhelming support for our Berkeley public schools."

As of Wednesday morning, Measure E was leading  by more than 78%, well above the two-thirds majority it requires to pass. If approved, Berkeley homeowners would see an additional cost of 12.4 cents per square foot on their property tax bills, which is anticipated to raise about $9.5 million a year.

For up to date vote counts see KQED's election result page. County election officials generally officially announce whether the measures passed a month after the election.

California State Senator Nancy Skinner talks with members of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers at an election watch party at Spats in Berkeley on March 3, 2020.
California State Senator Nancy Skinner talks with members of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers at an election watch party at Spats in Berkeley on March 3, 2020. (Stephanie Lister/KQED)

The measure is one of a growing number of efforts by cities and communities to increase teacher compensation by raising local taxes. With state funding depressed by Proposition 13’s cap on property taxes, Berkeley, like neighboring cities Albany and Alameda, put a parcel tax on the ballot to “address educator recruitment and retention.”

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Measure E was floated as part of a deal negotiated last fall between district officials and the teachers union: Teachers would get a 12% raise over the course of two years, with a large part of that raise funded by the passage of additional taxes.

"Everybody, I think, is aware that our teachers are underpaid," said Ty Alper, co-chair of the campaign to support Measures E, G, and H.

Jefferson Elementary School teacher Rick Kleine helps students with a class project on Feb. 28, 2020.
Jefferson Elementary School teacher Rick Kleine helps students with a class project on Feb. 28, 2020. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Some voters were hesitant to see more taxes added to their bills and expressed frustration with the complex method by which the taxes are calculated. Still, based on early results, voters seem to be swayed by the awareness that California schools are consistently strapped for cash.

Measures G and H, which would replace and extend existing measures approved by voters in previous years, were also approved by significant margins Tuesday night.

Measure G, which had nearly 79% support on Wednesday morning,  would allow the Berkeley Unified School District to raise up to an additional $380 million in bonds to fund school construction. Those bonds would be on top of previous bonds approved by voters in 1992, 2000 and 2010.

Election 2020

Measure H, with almost 82% support from voters Wednesday, would renew a parcel tax to fund school maintenance. Residential property owners would continue to see a tax of 9.1 cents per square foot on their property tax bills. The tax was first passed in 2000 and renewed in 2010, and is expected to raise $7.3 million annually.

"I’m excited that my child will be able to be in schools that have been retrofitted, and have had the updates and maintenance that they needed," said Nimota Dapo Abina, parent of a Berkeley student and graduate of Berkeley schools. "And that our maintenance workers will continue to be compensated for their hard work."

Berkeley voters’ apparent commitment to their schools are mirrored in other communities around California. According to a 2017 study by the Public Policy Institute of California, local school districts proposed 1,018 bond initiatives between 2004 and 2016, and voters passed 83% of them, approving $91.1 billion in funding for school construction.