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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.


    Citizen Journalism Anyone?

    July 17th, 2009

    A proposal for news gathering on Albany Today
    Dear Albany Today reader:

    Albany received an incredible gift when UC graduate student Linjun Fan decided to set up a news blog about this community for her journalism degree master’s project. AlbanyToday.org became a vehicle for residents to learn about local issues and events. But, alas, Linjun has completed her degree and gone home.

    Since January, I had been helping Linjun when I had time by writing education stories and a few business stories. I felt, and still do, that Albany residents need to know about the decisions and issues affecting their community and I admired the journalism experiment Linjun undertook. But I have had only limited hours to give to Albany Today because my real work must take precedent. That continues to be the case and, as you can see, I file stories only once in a while. Although Linjun in her farewell letter optimistically said I would carry on Albany Today, we had only informally discussed that and I had not yet decided. Now, I have another idea – that WE ALL carry it on. Read the rest of this entry »


    You can make Albany Today alive

    June 22nd, 2009

    Linjun and Barbara

    Linjun Fan and Barbara Grady on a biking trip recently. Barbara will continue working on Albany Today after Linjun returns to China.

    Dear Readers,

    I’ve finished my studies at the Graduate School of Journalism at UC-Berkeley last month, and am about to go back to my home country China. I am very glad that I’ve served you well with meaningful news stories about the community in the past two years, and thankful for your trust and support of Albany Today.

    At the City Council meeting last week, Mayor Marge Atkinson presented me an award, each members of the Council said words of appreciation to my work, and the audience applauded heartily. I was deeply honored and touched. Two years ago when I first arrived at the town from the other side of the globe, I knew not a single person in town. Now I feel I’ve built such great bonds with so many of you here that it’s hard to say goodbye. Read the rest of this entry »


    Senior reporter from Oakland Tribune joins Albany Today

    January 15th, 2009

    Dear Readers,

    I have been travelling in South Asia since the beginning of the month and am now writing to you from Mumbai, India. Barbara Grady-Ayer, a former staff reporter at Oakland Tribune, is covering news stories in town during my absence.

    Barbara has produced excellent works for several news organizations for decades. She is also an Albany resident and a dedicated member in the community — a primary reason why she has joined Albany Today. Read the rest of this entry »


    Please post comments on Albany Today with a real name

    November 24th, 2008

    Dear readers,

    Unlike a traditional news publication, Albany Today provides an opportunity for all members of the community to freely express their opinions by posting comments under news articles. A comment would appear automatically on the website once it’s submitted. Most of readers cherish this open forum and post comments with their real names. However, quite a number of comments have been made anonymously recently, especially on controversial issues such as Kay Sorg’s case. Read the rest of this entry »


    Albany Today puts forward advertising service for local businesses

    November 11th, 2008

    Dear Readers,

    As some of you might know, Albany Today was started by me as a class project a year ago to explore the new possibilities of journalism in the digital era.

    It has become a reliable and respected news source for hundreds of people in the community in the past year, through its timely, lively, and fair coverage of major issues in town.

    Now more than 2,000 Albany residents visit the website weekly, and more than 500 visit it daily. Read the rest of this entry »


    Discussion: should the accuser’s name be published?

    October 22nd, 2008

    Dear Readers,

    You might know that I have been following Ms. Kay Sorg’s case and written about it for about a year now. I disclosed some new information in the most recent story Hearing of Sorg’s sexual offense case centers on letters, including the names of two witnesses, who used to be students at Albany schools.

    But I didn’t include the name of the accuser and the first name of her father. The attorneys of the case concealed the names in their court papers. However, I’ve got them through research of public records. Read the rest of this entry »


    Repost your lost comments on Albany Today

    September 27th, 2008

    Dear Readers,

    As some of you might have noticed, Albany Today has changed its URL from www.albanytoday.wordpress.com into www.albanytoday.org recently. Yes, it has moved into a new house with better functions. Unfortunately a few comments from you on the latest posts have been lost in switching from the old server to a new one. Read the rest of this entry »