Community members gathered again Tuesday night to ask questions, express concerns and offer possible solutions regarding the $6.9-million school budget shortfall.
The meeting was designed to be a casual setting where Kevin Johnson, senior director of pupil services, acted as the moderator. He discouraged the audience from clapping and cheering in support of a particular side, in hopes that those with diverse opinions would feel welcome.
Comprised of Superintendent John Casey, and assistant superintendents Cindy Galbo, Luz Cazares and Bill Faraghan, the cabinet panel went over the current budget situation and also outlined the union negotiation process. School board members Chris Grant, Pat Kernan, Jamie Hintzke and Valerie Arkin were sprinkled throughout the audience of nearly 200 in Amador Valley High School's multipurpose room.
Parents and staff showed concern over the supposed disproportionate cuts to elementary education. In addition to possibly losing class-size reduction in kindergarten through third grade, elementary students may lose reading, science and physical education specialists, meaning the classroom teachers would be responsible for covering those subjects.
The Budget Advisory Committee recently created a revenue enhancement subcommittee, which met Wednesday afternoon to discuss finding alternate sources of funding. Having whittled down a list of possible solutions, they were expected to research a potential grant writing subcommittee and exploring the possibility of a parcel tax.
Last year, the BAC created an elected absence fund as a way to create revenue by asking for donations from parents when a student misses class. Cazares said state funding is paid through attendance and not enrollment, so PUSD lost about $2.6 million in absences, excused or not, in 2008-09.
Several of the solutions offered had limitations due to education code and employee contracts. For example, a parent volunteer couldn't replace a specialist, but could only assist a credentialed teacher, and other changes to the school schedule and the elimination of non-student work days would need to be negotiated with the unions. The contract negotiations are just beginning, Faraghan said, adding that it appears both sides are well aware of the budget situation and have agreed to look closely at the budget.
Members of a parent group holding budget information meetings at various school sites have created a Facebook group called Support Pleasanton and Its Students, as well as creating a website: psateam.org. Calling themselves the Pleasanton Schools Achievement Team, or A-Team, and the site said they will be a "nonprofit organization committed to advancing education and to helping to promote and improve educational opportunities for PUSD students."
Answers to the questions from the community forums, as well as resource materials distributed at the meetings such as the list of potential spending reductions, were to be made available on the district's website, www.pleasanton.k12.ca.us. The next meeting of the board is scheduled to be at 7 p.m. Jan. 26 at the district offices, followed by with a budget hearing at 5 p.m. Feb. 2.