Pleasanton Weekly

News - January 8, 2010

Nearly 200 meet to discuss school finances

District plans second special budget meeting for Jan. 19

By Emily West

Standing crowds wound around bookshelves and back to the fiction section of the Amador Valley High School library for a community forum regarding the Pleasanton Unified School District's budget. The group of nearly 200 concerned community members were there to learn about the impacts to Pleasanton schools as well as ask questions of district staff.

The district had intended to have a two-hour meeting, with equal parts dedicated to presentations of the school budget from Luz Cazares, assistant superintendent of Business Services, and a parcel tax Q&A with Larry Tramutola, chief strategist with a political consulting company. It was set up a little differently than past forums on the topic, with the school board not seated at a table in front of the audience.

Kevin Johnson, senior director of Pupil Services, acted as the moderator, and said the meeting was successful enough to schedule another for Jan. 19. He did say, however, that the district had not anticipated the large audience and shouldn't have attempted to cover the two topics in one evening.

In Cazares' presentation, she explained the source of the PUSD funding, how the money is spent, that their finances are audited by external parties, and how they are anticipating a budget deficit of more than the current projection of $3.6 million.

Ninety-three percent of the district's funding, Cazares said, comes from the state.

"We rely on the state so much," she said, "that when the state has a good year, we have a good year. And when the state has a bad year, we have a bad year."

With California projecting at least a $20-billon deficit for this fiscal year, Cazares said updated numbers were expected to be released today and that Tuesday night's presentation did not reflect a worst-case scenario.

If the state's budgeting solutions are similar to last year -- solving the budget with expenditure reductions, accounting techniques and revenue enhancements -- Cazares said it would translate to an $8 million loss in revenue, in addition to the $3.6 million. She was quick to add that at this time, however, they have no reason to believe the state would act in this way because they don't have a magic ball or inside information. In fact, there are months of negotiations ahead to the May revise, with more negotiations following that.

A general idea of what $3.6 million in cuts would entail, would mean the loss of about 50 full-time positions (which could be more than 50 people), including 34 in teaching, 14 in classified and two in management. This would be in addition to the 150 to 160 people laid off last year.

The district is currently about $100,000 short of their required 3 percent reserve, about $3.6 million. In years past it had a reserve of about 4.5 to 5 percent. The district was forced to use the "rainy day fund" last year in order to make up for mid-year cuts imposed by the state. In order to maintain the 3 percent reserve for the following school year, Cazares the district will have to reduce spending or increase revenue.

Questions and suggestions were taken from the audience, with ideas ranging from an aggressive fundraising campaign similar to what's done in San Ramon to shortening the school year and negotiating a freeze in step-and-column raises to cutting from special education funding. The district said written responses to these questions will be posted on their website, www.pleasanton.k12.ca.us.

As for the parcel tax discussion, Johnson insisted that the district has not decided to pursue another parcel tax. Instead, they brought in Tramutola to offer some insight and advice after some requests from the community.

Tramutola said the same type of discussion is likely happening across the state because the need for funding is so great, but his advice was not to rush because a parcel tax will not solve every problem. His estimations say it takes about six months to a year to effectively campaign.

The board will meet for their regular meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday night at the district offices. The meeting place for the Jan. 19 meeting was not finalized by press time. The second of two meetings to survey the community about the search for a new superintendent will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday at the district offices.

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