The newly-formed Save Pleasanton Schools citizens' coalition kicked off its campaign last Sunday to gain voter support for a $233 a year parcel tax, a measure that the Pleasanton school board has placed on the ballot in a special election to be held Tuesday, June 2. The tax, if approved by a two-thirds majority plus one of those voting, will provide an estimated $4,584,000 to a district that otherwise must cut $8.7 million from its budget through the 2009-10 school year. Already, notices have gone out to more than 150 district employees who, unless funds can be found to reduce the projected budget shortfalls, will likely receive termination notices on May 15. These notices went to 98 teachers, 40 classified employees (i.e., administrative assistants, clerks, custodians and other hourly employees), and 19 managers. In addition to reducing staff, the district has identified other reductions it will make to meet its budget shortfall, including $2 million in class-size reductions and $1 million of operational functions.
Except for the parcel tax, there's little financial relief on the horizon. Word is that an estimated $2.1 million could be heading this way in federal stimulus funds earmarked for special education programs. That could reduce the impact on the district's general fund that now pays the cost of these programs, freeing up an equivalent amount, or some of it, to help stem the budget shortfall. On May 19, Gov. Schwarzenegger and the Legislature are floating a number of measures that, if approved, would provide more tax revenue and allow the state to borrow from specific funding resources to reduce part of the state's current deficit. Some of those new funds could go to replace some of the state's reductions in education funding, but school analysts don't believe there will be enough statewide to make much of an impact on Pleasanton. The parcel tax, on the other hand, would provide specific, predictable and stable revenue. These funds would allow the continuation of class-size reduction at the current levels of no more than 20 students in kindergarten through third grade and no more than 20 in freshmen English and mathematics classes at Foothill and Amador Valley high schools. Also, the parcel tax would maintain the current level of counselors at the elementary and middle schools and, most important, at the comprehensive high schools, where only recently the district was able to boost the numbers to a counseling to student ratio of 1 to 395, close to the national average. Before that, the two high schools were at a 1 to 685 counselor-to-student ratio. Without the parcel tax, the number of counselors would be cut to a new ratio of 600 to 1.
We support the parcel tax proposal. In fact, we wish it was higher, like the dollar-a-day as one school board member suggested--or $365 a year--or even $400, which would have spared the district any cuts in personnel or programs. In a series of meetings in the community, at school sites and public hearings by the school board, commentators repeatedly said that most dear to their hearts are small class sizes, reading and math support programs, regular library hours, counseling services, technology instruction, elementary school strings and band programs and full-scale custodial services to make sure Pleasanton schools are safe and clean. Adding up the costs of maintaining these programs gave the school board the $4.5 million total they needed from a parcel tax, or $233 a year. With the board also establishing a parcel tax oversight committee to report regularly and publicly on how the tax receipts are being spent, we believe the safeguards are in place to make sure those programs and the personnel needed to support them will be in place to meet the public's demand for continued quality education in Pleasanton.