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    Albany to go to polls Nov. 3 for schools vote

    October 22nd, 2009

    By Barbara Grady-Ayer
    an endorser of Albany ballot Measures I and J

    Albany voters will be asked to consider two parcel tax measures on November 3 aimed at saving Albany schools from the state’s worst financial crisis in half a century.

    The Measures I and J would restore less than half the money the state took away from Albany’s school district this year. However, they would keep Albany schools from a rapid deterioration by paying for a number of the academic programs and teaching services that Albany is holding onto with virtual band-aids and shoe-string this year.

    For the current year, the district is using 2009 federal Stimulus program grants of $1.2 million to fund some programs. That money won’t be available next year. It’s also using donations from Albany parents and citizens. Although those donations poured in at a record-breaking amount this year, they still added up to only a fraction of the $4.2 million the state took away from Albany in its education budget.

    So in many ways, Measures I and J are a referendum on whether the community wants to preserve the kind of education Albany has had or let it slide downhill, many believe.

    “I feel that I cannot stand by and watch the quality of education in Albany sink along with the state budget,” said Miriam Walden, a parent and board of education member who is leading the Measures I and J campaign.

    Buoyed by the thought that Albany can bypass the troubles experienced in other school districts by passing the parcel tax measures — and by fear of what would happen if Albany does not get this funding — dozens of volunteers for the Measures I and J campaign have been out canvassing neighborhoods in recent weeks talking to people about the two measures. Last weekend, the volunteers visited 850 homes, bringing to 1,500 the number of front porch conversations or visits that have been had about Measures I and J in recent weeks.

    Measures I is an emergency tax of $149 a year per house or residence. It is designed to get Albany schools through the current crisis by lasting five years.

    Measure J is not a new tax. It would renew an existing tax that is set to expire in a few years and thereby stabilize funding by keeping all past parcel taxes on the books. It also provides an exemption for seniors and low-income residents. (Go to www.savealbanyschools.org for more information)

    “The message we need to send about supporting public education is not to a state legislature that won’t respond. It’s to our kids and to our teachers. And we’re the only ones who can deliver it. I’m voting yes on I and J,” said Bob Menzimer, one of the volunteers.

    Marla Stephenson, superintendent of the Albany Unified School District, has said that renewing the existing parcel taxes is absolutely crucial if Albany is to maintain the level of educational offerings and quality it now is holding onto so tenuously. That is because as the state has withdrawn money from education, Albany and other districts have used parcel taxes to fund core programs, rather than extras, and to hold classroom sizes at teachable amounts. Still this year, classes in Albany schools are more crowded than they have been in a generation. Stephenson said Albany needs the emergency tax, Measure I, if it is to hold on to the quality that people have come to expect of Albany schools.

    “Those parcel taxes are essential to the running of the school system,” Stephenson said at an Albany Board of Education meeting last summer when the parcel tax was being decided. She said if the renewal measure doesn’t pass “we will go back to the voters again and again until it does” because Albany desperately needs those funds.

    If measure J does not pass, there would be a $2.5 million hole in the budget in addition to whatever reductions the state may or may not pass. The emergency tax, Measure I, would bring in $1.2 million. A committee of volunteers and the board of education determined last summer that to seek more than this amount would be too burdensome on some Albany residents. The committee did a research survey of a few hundred homes to see what level of a parcel tax most people would be comfortable with. They arrived at $149 a year instead of $200 or $250 because the recession is already putting stress on people’s pocket books. Stephenson said restoring all cut programs would cost above $250 in new taxes per household.

    Measures I and J need a two/thirds majority vote to pass, so the committee felt it was essential that most people were comfortable with the tax.

    A number of the volunteers no longer have children in the school system. But as several people said, the quality of Albany schools seem to be what has been holding up property values in Albany.

    “Why should we impose this tax burden upon ourselves when prospects are currently so uncertain and funds so scarce? The reason is simple: self-interest. Albany property values far exceed expectations, primarily due to Albany’s commitment to schools,” said Robert Cheasty, an Albany resident whose children are grown and no long in the schools.

    He said that while he definitely wants to support the education of children, “Any quick survey shows that those communities that pass school taxes are the communities with the best property values.”

    To visit the Albany Unified School District web site go to http://ausd.ca.schoolloop.com

    Barbara Grady-Ayer has endorsed and contributed money to the Measures I and J campaigns for Albany schools. She is also a parent of two children in the Albany school system.

    Albany “Dry” Triathlon coming up

    October 20th, 2009

    By Barbara Grady-Ayer 

    So what if there’s no pool?  Organizers of the second annual Albany Triathlon are not deterred by the lack of a pool.  They’re just calling it the “Dry Triathlon” and it’s coming up this Sunday, Oct. 25.

     The running and biking but hold-the-swimming event will launch from Memorial Field in Albany, with the first wave of racers taking off at 8 a.m. for a biking course of nine miles and a running course of two miles.  There will also be a “Mosey” edition of the race involving a four mile bike ride and one mile run.

    “The reaction of the community to the flexibility and openness of the triathlon’s structure where people could race or just participate, and feel supported by all, was great,” said one of the organizers, Michael Mejia, recalling how it went last year.

    “Every Albany High School student has to run a mile for timing every week. Residents run and ride bikes on the BART Trail and Bay Trail and also ride to work,” he said.  “Clearly hundreds of kids ride their bikes to school every day – over 50 to Albany High School alone. With these sorts of numbers of active people, an event like this a natural,”  Mejia said.  Volunteers with the Albany Athletic Boosters organized the event.

    If last year’s Albany Triathlon is any guide, the event will bring out young and old, serious athletes and Saturday morning joggers as well as those who just like to walk.  Last year, the 70 participants ranged in age from 10 to 68 years old and you can see the enjoyment they had by reading the Albany Today 2008 story on the event go to http://albanytoday.org/2008/09/29/504/

    Albany’s pool has since been torn down for reconstruction.  But participants from last year have been asking when is the next Triathlon, so organizers went ahead and planned something — sans swimming.

    In addition, the triathlon is a fundraiser for Albany High School athletics whose budget has been cut in half.  Last year’s triathlon brought in $1,100 but organizers are hoping for both more participants and more revenue this year since the need is so great.

     The nine miles of biking entails 15 cycling laps around the Portland, Masonic, Thousand Oaks and Carmel block that surrounds Memorial Field and Albany High School. The two-mile running track is four laps around the sidewalks and lawn of the same block.

    The “Mosey” event will take off at 9 a.m. for eight cycling laps around that block and two running laps on the running course. Streets will be closed off to automobile traffic and event organizers will supply water, first aid supplies, course marshals as well as T- shirts and water bottles to participants.  It costs $30 to enter and the race will accommodate the first 100 people who sign up. To do so go to http://Albanyhs.schoolloop.com/boosters/general and click on “Albany Dry Triathlon.”