Opinion - February 6, 2009
Save our schools, property values with a parcel tax
by Beth Limesand
The current discussion about the proposed parcel tax for schools in the Pleasanton Weekly thus far has me worried. For those homeowners who balk at paying a parcel tax to keep our schools from making devastating cuts to their programs, I must say that I think you are missing a very important point.
Pleasanton property values have stayed relatively stable during these trying economic times, unlike our neighboring cities. Over the last year, prices for Alameda County houses have dropped on average 26.7 percent. Our closest neighbors, Dublin and Livermore, have dropped 15.9 percent and 25.1 percent respectively. Pleasanton, on the other hand, has dropped a mere 2.9 percent. (Source: Real Estate Report www.rereport.com)
Why has Pleasanton property retained so much more value than the property value of the county and of its immediate neighbors?
Two words: our schools. Pleasanton Unified School District is consistently at the top of the county's schools. Our schools have a state ranking of 10 out of 10 of all California elementary schools. This rank comes from the 2007 California Academic Performance Index (API) Base report. By contrast, Dublin schools average ranking is 9, Livermore schools range from 2-10, with an average of 7.6. (Source: http://school-ratings.com/counties/Alameda.html). US News and World Report ranked Foothill and Amador Valley High Schools among the top 3 percent in the nation in December 2007.
Many people want to move here because of our schools. This, in turn, keeps the real estate inventory (the amount of homes for sale at a given time) low, and our sale prices high. Supply and demand.
So, what will happen when our tests scores fall? Don't think they will?
Think we can increase class sizes for children in grades kindergarten through third grade from 20 to 30 students, and cut reading specialists and counselors without consequence to the children's education and test scores? That the teachers will be able to cover the same amount of material as thoroughly for 30 students as they did for 20? That seems unlikely. Because there will be 10 more hands raised needing the teacher's individual attention, and 10 more students who potentially could really benefit from the intervention of a reading specialist or a counselor, but will be unable to get that help because these positions will be eliminated by proposed cuts.
The proposed cuts to our schools include the following:
* Elimination of the class size reduction program, resulting in a 50 percent increase in class size for grades kindergarten through third grade, and ninth-grade math and English classes;
* 50 percent decrease in reading specialists for elementary schools;
* Complete elimination of many academic intervention programs designed to help students struggling with reading, writing and language arts;
* 50 percent decrease in counseling staff to elementary students (that will mean one counselor per 2,400 students);
* Decreasing counseling ratios in middle school and high school to one counselor per every 600 students (imagine what happens when kids need help planning for college);
* One vice principal to serve all nine elementary schools;
* 33 percent decrease in vice principals for secondary schools;
* Complete elimination of elementary strings and band programs;
* Complete elimination of athletic coaches for all schools;
* Elimination of support for English language learners;
* 50 percent reduction of library hours for elementary and middle schools
A parcel tax will go a long way to fix this. Vote for it. The estimated $15/month investment is worth it. Protect our schools, our home values, and our children's futures.
Beth Limesand is the president of the Mohr Elementary School Parent Teacher Association. She's lived in Pleasanton for 13 years with her husband. They have a 12-year-old daughter at Harvest Park Middle School and a 9-year-old son at Mohr.
Posted by Disagree with Beth,
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Feb 9, 2009 at 10:06 am
I'm afraid this article passes along more incorrect/incomplete data. Someone on the blog has already pointed out the errors on the real estate figures. Schools are only one reason (a big one) people choose this community. Proximity to jobs, lifestyle, and the city and arts, all are part of the equation.
The US News and World Report and Newsweek rankings are only one measure, and not always the best measure, of school performance. To understand the success of any school district, you need test scores, graduation rates, parent satisfaction with their child's experience, student success (not always related to higher education), overall community satisfaction, and yesteachers and other staff members for their ability to teach the curriculum with latitude and with provisions for professional growth. That also includes looking beyond K-12 education to see how our high school graduates perform in the workplace, in college, and as a part of society.
Baby boomers like myself and my children have all been successful without class size reductionsome of those classes had 35 students and more. Class size reduction is wonderful for classroom management and for the experience of each child, but there is no empirical data to support 20:1 and resulting higher test scores. Now, I support CSR for the lower stress it provides teachers and students, but it is an expensive stress reliever. One report speaks to results in CA and WI: Web Link
This is the conversation I don't see occurring, and that should be coming from the leadership of this district. What is the cost to reduce class size to 25K-3; K-5; and in core high school courses (math, language arts, science)? If CSR is dropped, what creative ways can additional counselors be used to supplement teachers and students? What other creative solutions are being ignored or aren't even being brought to the table?
In fact, I see no leadership at all. This conversation should have begun withthere is a problem looming, how can we brainstorm solutions for our community? Who are the right leaders to begin this discussionteachers, other staff, parents, business leaders, families with grown children or no children? Instead it began, as already pointed out many times, with threats. And the response could only be the anger we see here.
And my supposition is it had to begin there because of the bad management of our children's resources and the reluctance to say, "we screwed up, badly." To say this $8.5 million problem is because of the state is disingenuous. There was $4.5 million wasted on two lawsuits for a school that enrollment figures didn't support and that the district could not afford to operate. (Longer-range thinking might have presented an idea to the community for a parcel tax for operating costs to use that campus for reducing school size at every campus. We can't answer that question now.) To follow this up with another ill advised lawsuit is a classic case of throwing good money after bad.
There were a series of COLAs awarded (read raises) that could not be sustained with ongoing funding. Worse yet, there were raises awarded to management that were taken from the very reserves we should have in place now to soften any blows coming from the state. There is now a suggestion to raid the technology fund. A one-time source of funds that may never be replaced for its intended use and that WILL NOT solve the ongoing commitment.
I don't think it is too strong a statement to say that good will with this community; the people who have overwhelming supported schools in the myriad ways already listed, has been squandered, or worse, assumed to be an enterprise of blind faith from us. And if it true that Dr. Casey hopes to retire in a year(ish), what will we be left with after he's scored his highest year of pay for retirement calculations? (I expect this to be denied.)
In short, there are no credible suggestions coming from and no credibility left with this leadership (one Board member did suggest management and non-teaching staff take furlough days, which seems out of balance to me), and, more importantly, no leadership to begin a more creative discussion about what can be done to engage this community in looking at what adds value and keeping it and what can be lost without impact to children. If you start with the children and move outward, it seems those answers won't be hard to come by. Realistically, that may mean a parcel tax, but it would be a parcel tax with meaning.
Posted by Mom,
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Feb 9, 2009 at 8:29 pm
read article and see where your tax money has gone....the K-12 aren't the big spenders!!!
All of us should be upset about the misuse of our money, but at the state level. Hey, P-towners, stop beating up on each other. Since I moved to this town from Fremont, that is all I have seen over and over again, the same players arguing at council meetings, in the paper, in front of supermarkets. No wonder, Livermore is passing this town by in the arts, parks, services, restaurants, theatre, and soon the schools..... Maybe this isn't the best place to raise a child. I thought this town as KID-FRIENDLY. I feel after reading these blogs (a friend said to check them out) this town is full of angry, negative people who can't make their point without bashing someone else. What's wrong with arguing with the facts rather than the bashing. A person strong and informed doesn't need to bash and hurt others, at least that's what I'd like to teach my children. Maybe, not in Pleasanton. I guess those banners hanging around town are simply words. What a shame.
California budget mess: Where did our money go?
By Paul Rogers and Leigh Poitinger MediaNews
Posted: 02/08/2009 12:00:00 AM PST
and Leigh Poitinger
California is broke.
But lost in the day-to-day drama over IOUs, furloughs and huge deficits is a basic question many Californians might be asking: Where has all our money gone?
A MediaNews analysis of state spending since Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger took office in late 2003 found that he and the Democratic-controlled Legislature have spent money well beyond the rate of inflation and California's population growth $10.2 billion more.
Yet the programs that received most of that money are priorities that Californians broadly support or have demanded at the ballot box: tougher prison sentences for criminals, health care for uninsured children and an aging population, and a cut in the "car tax" that they pay every year to register their vehicles.
The problem, according to a report last week from the state auditor, is that Republican and Democratic politicians in Sacramento have shirked their responsibility for the past decade, papering over shortfalls that started after the dot-com bubble popped in 2001.
Like homeowners paying off one credit card with another, they used accounting gimmicks and more debt, rather than raising taxes or cutting spending, to balance the books. As the economy worsened and tax receipts plummeted from $102.5 billion last year to an estimated $87.5 billion this year the house of cards collapsed.
"We got what we wanted and we've never figured out
how to pay for it. And then we had this recession, and that made everything worse," said Stephen Levy, director and senior economist of the Palo Alto-based Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy.
"Everybody's got somebody to blame, but in the end these are services people wanted," Levy said. "Look at the screaming when you close a swimming pool, let alone try to cut education."
MediaNews analyzed state spending, line by line, from 2003 to 2008. The major conclusions:
California's general fund under Schwarzenegger's tenure has grown 34.9 percent from $76.3 billion in the 2003-04 fiscal year to $102.9 billion in 2007-08.
In the 2003-04 fiscal year, population growth and inflation together grew by only 21.5 percent.
If state spending had grown only at that rate, it would have reached $92.7 billion last year. Instead, Schwarzenegger and the Legislature spent $10.2 billion more.
Top Democrats cite voter initiatives as big drivers in the state's spending like the 1994 "three strikes" measure that increased the prison population, or Proposition 98, the 1988 measure guaranteeing at least 40 percent of the general fund for education. Add to that, they say, some major lawsuits the state lost, including a federal case requiring more spending to upgrade prison health care at about $1 billion a year so far.
So looking at the past five years, where did that "extra" $10.2 billion of state spending above the rate of inflation and population growth go? MediaNews found:
The state prison system received the biggest share, about $4.1 billion of it. Corrections spending has increased fivefold since 1994. At $13 billion last year, it now exceeds spending on higher education. Tough laws and voter-approved ballot measures have increased the prison population 82 percent in the past 20 years.
Public health spending mostly Medi-Cal, the state program for the poor received $2.9 billion above the rate of inflation and population growth. Part of that spike is due to an aging population; part is rising national health care costs. But state lawmakers also expanded Medi-Cal eligibility among children and low-income women a decade ago, increasing caseloads.
Schwarzenegger's first act as governor, signing an executive order to cut the vehicle license fee by two-thirds, blew a large hole in the state budget. It saved the average motorist about $200 a year but would have devastated the cities and counties that had been receiving the money. So Schwarzenegger agreed to repay them every year with state funds. That promise now costs the state $6 billion a year, or $2 billion more than the rate of inflation and population growth since early 2003.
Spending on a few other areas, such as higher education, general government, transportation and environment, also grew faster by about $1 billion each than inflation and population over the past five years. That was mostly to cover debt payments on bonds that voters approved for parks and highways, along with moves to limit university tuition increases.
General fund spending on K-12 schools and social services, like welfare, actually grew less than the rate of inflation and population growth.
Some budget observers say spending more than inflation and population growth is OK, particularly if the economy grows faster.
Conservatives call the spending an outrage.
"Like Reagan said, giving money to politicians is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys," said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.
Coupal noted that even though California's revenue has fallen dramatically this year, the state general fund still brings in about $90 billion in annual taxes. That's nearly 20 percent more than it received five years ago and only about 12 percent less than the peak last year before the economy tanked.
"Most business and families could take 10 to 12 percent out of their budget. They do, because they don't have a choice," he said.
One of the state's most famous tax-cut crusaders, U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Granite Bay, said the problem is that California's bureaucracy has grown too large and powerful. Salaries are too high, it's too difficult to fire state workers, and the entire system needs an overhaul, he said, including outsourcing to private firms everything from nonviolent inmates to highway engineering.
"We've got to put our wardens back in charge of prisons, and principals back in charge of teachers, and introduce competitive pressures back into those systems," McClintock said.
But Laird, the Democratic former budget chairman, said it isn't that easy to reduce the size of government.
"You can call teachers 'bureaucracy,' but in fact they are teachers," said Laird. "If you cut teachers, class sizes go up." His solution: More taxes are needed.
Fixing California's broken budget system will require a wide range of reforms, many experts say, from making it tougher to qualify ballot measures to spending caps to reexamining the two-thirds vote requirement to raise taxes.
In the meantime, legislative leaders say a budget deal could come as soon as this week. The "Big 5'' the governor and four legislative leaders are expected to resume talks this afternoon. Any deal is nearly certain to include big spending cuts and higher taxes.
"Our society is moving in the direction of, 'I want more from government but I don't want to pay for it,' " Genest said. "Right now we have leaders making hard choices out of necessity, and we need to continue that."