Alamedans strongly believe their teachers are underpaid, but support for a proposed parcel tax measure on the March 2020 primary ballot is at or below the two-thirds majority required for it to be a success at the ballot box, according to a poll commissioned by the Alameda Unified School District.

An early version of the proposed measure asks voters to approve either an 18 cent or 28 cent per square feet parcel tax that would generate between $7.6 million and $11 million in new annual revenues for the school district. The aim is to fortify teachers’ wages in Alameda that are consistently the lowest among their peers in Alameda County.

The opinions of Alameda voters toward a school parcel tax appear based less on the cost of the parcel tax and more with political ideology. The pollster split the 600 respondents into two controlled groups. One asking opinions about a parcel tax rate that generates an estimated $7.6 million in new annual revenues, while the other for a higher rate involving $11 million. The numbers showed few differences in opinion.

A baseline of 58 percent of Alameda voters support either version of the parcel tax, according to polling results released last week by the Oakland-based pollster EMC Research. The percentage increases to 62 percent when voters leaning in support are added.

Conversely, 32 percent of Alameda voters oppose the parcel tax with the number jumping to 34-35 percent when those incline to vote no are included. Three percent are undecided.

The rate of opposition is consistent with 33 percent of Alameda voters who said they believe taxes are already too high, according to the poll.

However, when additional information about how the parcel tax will be spent is included in the survey, support rose to 65-68 percent, a number that borders at the minimum of 67 percent for passage.

“We see some movement, but not a lot,” said Sara LaBatt of EMC Research, although it is consistent with previous polling over the years in Alameda. “We see some elasticity in their opinion.”

The results are not entirely disconcerting for proponents of the proposed parcel tax, but most campaigns are more comfortable with initial polling that shows support in the low 70 percent-range for tax and bond measures.

The school district’s poll also tested possible opposition messaging. The polling showed the parcel tax, as proposed, could be susceptible to a concerted opposition campaign, said LaBatt. Questions including possible attack lines against the parcel tax neutralized any gains that were amassed with positive information about the measure was asked.

Alameda, however, has historically been at the margins for barely passing tax and bond measures. In fact, seven have been successful in recent years, with only the Measure E parcel tax in 2010 failing at the polls.

The polling also revealed the impetus for the parcel tax measure, that it would help retain and attract teachers with higher wages, was not entirely compelling to those surveyed.

“When we focus on pay levels, it’s not as compelling — as effective — as when we’re talking broader about what it does for the families in this community,” said LaBatt.
Questions about specific increased pay for teachers and employees failed to crack 50 percent in four separate queries.

The lack of a sunset clause in the proposed parcel tax also poses a significant vulnerability for its passage next March, said a campaign consultant. He suggested the inclusion of a end-date, perhaps seven years, could placate concerns by some voters about supporting a new tax in perpetuity.

Further problematic for the parcel tax is the fact it has so far received tepid support from Alameda teachers, who believe asking property owners to foot the bill for increasing their salaries may not be the best available method.