Voters defeated a potential funding source for the school district Tuesday, and now members the Pleasanton Unified School District and its board are looking to reduce staff and programs in order to end the year with a balanced budget.
The measure would have brought about $18.3 million--$233 per parcel annually--over four years to fund seven programs identified by the community: small class sizes, reading and math support, libraries, counselors, technology instruction, music, and safe and clean schools. Measure G needed a two-thirds majority to pass, but fell short in Tuesday's special election with only 62.3 percent (10,618 votes) voting in favor.
Countywide, Piedmont Unified School District had two measures on the special election ballot, both of which passed by more than 70 percent. The total number of registered voters in the two cities was 48,901 and about 41 percent (20,141 voters) went to the polls. As of press time, the county was unable to confirm the percentage of registered voters from Pleasanton that cast ballots. Records show 40,181 Pleasanton residents were registered to vote in the May 19 election, which would make the June 2 turnout around 42 percent.
"I'm certainly disappointed," Superintendent John Casey said. "The board will be meeting over the next couple of weeks to determine what measures we have to take to address this budget deficit.
"I thank those who voted and expressed their opinion," he added, "especially those who campaigned for Measure G because certainly the board and I felt the need for it to pass."
In a special meeting Wednesday night, the board was expected to approve final layoff notices to teachers and support staff by the June 4 deadline.
"If Measure G had passed, we would have pulled back those 127 [of 148 layoff notices and not distributed them on June 4," Casey said.
In the past, the school board had considered a parcel tax that was intended to enhance offerings, instead of saving them. A feasibility study conducted by the Lew Edwards Group and EMC Research in June 2007 showed at that time there wasn't a supermajority who thought the district needed more money. Survey responders said at the time, however, that they would support a tax that would address class-size reduction, vocational education and upgraded technology.
In January, the current board voted to not conduct a similar study, which would cost an estimated $30,000. Chris Grant, board president, said even without the survey he thought the board was obligated to bring the issue before the voters.
"Many community forums were held and folks strongly supported the parcel tax and wanted a much higher parcel tax," he said. "We felt it was important to allow the community to weigh in and to vote."
Kathleen Ruegsegger, a 20-year Pleasanton resident and former school board member and PUSD employee, said there were some deal breakers that kept her from voting in favor.
"The language could have been far more specific," she said. "It could have said 'X' counselors and 'X' number of specialists to be very specific in what it would maintain."
Ruegsegger said she is not opposed to the idea of a parcel tax and would like to see some changes if the board were to go for another parcel tax in the future.
"My first concern would be about letting the budget advisory committee actually comb through the budget and make suggestions directly to the board," she said. "My second would be that in another attempt, should it be needed, the community would be surveyed with specific questions about what they value."
People said they supported class-size reduction, but Ruegsegger said they should show the community the cost associated with various teacher-to-student ratios and make a prioritized list that would be used in developing ballot language.
The board held several forums and budget workshops in addition to the regular board meetings since the state announced there would be a reduction in funding earlier this year. Ruegsegger said she didn't attend these meetings, but wrote emails and spoke on the phone with the board members.
The pro-Measure G group called themselves Save Pleasanton Schools (SPS) and kicked off the campaign with a rally in April and continued with a town hall meeting as well as precinct walking. During Tuesday's election, SPS co-chair Tanya Ludden said they were tracking the seven polling locations, with 19 volunteers in the field and 30 in the office.
According to the group's website, www.savepleasantonschools.org, the group raised $60,000 of their $80,000 goal which would fund flyers, lawn signs, mailings, postage, office space and county fees.
While those opposing the tax didn't produce a formal campaign, some community members created a website called www.pleasantonparceltaxinfo.com, which appears to have been shut down following the election.
A document titled "The real facts regarding the Pleasanton School District (PUSD) and the parcel tax" circulated during the campaign, with no one stepping forward to claim authorship. It claimed that, at the time, the budget cuts could be made without a parcel tax, layoffs and program cuts. A response from Casey circulated as well, causing many people to say he violated code stating he could not campaign.
The topic was addressed at board meeting in April where Paul Thompson, attorney for the school district, said the district has the right to issue factual information regarding Measure G and that the memo didn't include campaign language.
Steve Brozosky, former school board member and city councilman, stepped forward against the parcel tax, saying that many others found it difficult to do the same for fear of retribution.
"With the money the campaign for Measure G spent and no opposition campaign, the district leadership controlled the public's opinion," he said. "The reason the measure failed was the result of the district leadership, not another party "winning.' The next month will define the leadership of the district."
Cloaked in anonymity, many people also found an outlet for their opposition on the Pleasanton Weekly's Town Square forum.
Joan Laursen, co-chair of SPS, said it felt good to have taken on the campaign challenge. Her more memorable moments were walking precincts and having parents thank her for "taking on the task for our children."
"The community is going to understand what is at stake," she said as she watched the voting returns come in Tuesday night showing G failing. "Voters were angry at Sacramento and didn't understand that [the budget deficit had nothing to do with Pleasanton."
Now that residents have voiced their opinion by way of a vote, Grant said the board will take another look at the programs and make difficult decisions about reducing programs "in a way that still preserves the great schools."
In the past few weeks, California's budget crisis has not improved. Instead, the deficit projections have reached $24 billion. The Pleasanton school board already identified $9.7 million to be cut, and the board could have to make up to $9 million more in cuts by June 2010.
The district has said it could receive about $8 million from the federal government, but they are only certain of $2.5 million in one-time dollars allocated to special education over two years. About $5.6 million was said to be coming through the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, but Luz Cazares, assistant superintendent of business services, said that amount isn't set in stone. Currently, this funding has not been received by the district.
Grant said the district has been developing a list of potential cuts for the board to look over in future meetings. As for changes to class-size reduction, he said the state still appears to be committed to providing funds at the current levels.
Recently, the state allowed modification to the class-size reduction agreement. It will still provide $4 million for a 20:1 student-to-teacher ratio in kindergarten through third grade, as well as ninth grade math and English classes, if the school district will contribute $1.6 million. If the ratio were increased to 25:1, the state would reduce their contribution by 20 percent, but would save PUSD $1.6 million in teacher salaries.
"It's anybody's speculation whether that will change, but we sincerely hope that it doesn't," Grant said.
"I'm very optimistic about the future of Pleasanton schools," he added. "We have great students, an amazing community, incredibly talented teachers and support staff, and an excellent administration. The economic challenge of the state is creating havoc for all school districts and I think Pleasanton is better prepared, financially and from a leadership perspective, to weather the storm. It will be an even better school district despite the economic challenges."