Pleasanton Weekly

Opinion - February 12, 2010

Guest Opinion

Wheels of progress move slowly

by Al Cohen

A couple of months ago, I resigned from the Budget Advisory Committee (BAC) due to a growing frustration that this was an ineffective committee. The assumption I had, after being asked to join by a school board member, is that the committee was in need of parents with business experience. I was amongst several parents with corporate backgrounds that came on board for the '09-10 school year. Of that group, several no longer attend meetings or have resigned.

When several parents expressed our frustration with the BAC to a board member, we were told to go to the school board meeting and propose the same issues we had at the BAC meeting so that there was a public record. This recommendation in itself spoke volumes as to the effectiveness of this committee. The reality is that the BAC is given the role of ambassador to the community to carry the message that comes down from the district and the school board. It is given a Hobson's choice of cuts that there is simply no good answer.

In my last meeting back in the fall, I had suggested several potential revenue enhancing ideas to the committee. I had mentioned: 1) selling of non-core assets (such as the Neal property in Ruby Hill). This is standard practice in the corporate world to refocus your business; and 2) looking at increasing revenues from the school facility use by clubs and other groups during non-school hours. These were just illustrative ideas since we had no real picture of how revenue is generated beyond taxes.

At that time the mention of a sub-committee for revenue was brought up. I volunteered to join and subsequently never received any info that I had asked for. As stated I have since resigned due to a great frustration with the glacial pace of this committee. Recently I spoke with a member of the BAC and he stated that they just decided at the meeting held a few weeks ago to get this sub-committee organized and appoint a facilitator.

I have spent more than 30 years in business and 10 years as a volunteer at various school sites in PUSD. The difference in sense of urgency is astounding. I have heard board members state that you can't run schools like a business. I don't particularly agree (that is a subject for another time perhaps), but at least show a sense of urgency when it comes to thinking outside the box. Be open-minded and allow non-traditional thinking to be encouraged. Think of different scenarios other than cut expenses and initiate a parcel tax. What would it hurt to convene some business minds and let see if there are things that can be done so we don't have to layoff teachers, custodians and counselors?

The outlook for the next several years looks grim. I encourage all parents to get involved. The schools are paid for by our tax dollars for the primary service of educating our children. My experience at the school sites working with teachers and administrators gives me comfort that they are doing the best they can given the situation.

Al Cohen is on the AVHS School Site Council and was previously on the Harvest Park School Site Council, Harvest Park Technology Committee and Walnut Grove School Site Council.


Posted by Sandy Piderit, a resident of Mohr Park
on Feb 12, 2010 at 9:03 am

I wonder what would have happened if Mr. Cohen had offered to chair the committee?

I went to two BAC meetings in January, and that seemed to be a key factor in slowing the creation of the sub-committee for revenue -- the lack of a chair. I would have volunteered, but only members of the BAC are eligible to chair sub-committees.

Because I work for a university, I don't think I would be considered qualified to join the BAC in the role of representing business interests.

I hope others who are willing to fill the vacancy that Mr. Cohen left will contact Luz Cazares promptly.

Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger, a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School
on Feb 12, 2010 at 10:43 am

What impact would Mr Cohen have had as chair that he didn't have as a member? If the charge to the committee was to primarily listen, then all you need is Dumbo. If it was to be ambassadors . . . you could recruit the Emperor.

Without a charge that has teeth, and with a committee that is over represented by in-house members (17:11 is what I recall), it seems fairy tale characters will do as well as anyone with a genuine interest.

Posted by Sandy Piderit, a resident of Mohr Park
on Feb 12, 2010 at 10:46 am

Kathleen, you're right. It may have made no difference. We cannot know, since it did not happen.

Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger, a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School
on Feb 12, 2010 at 10:56 am

I think we do know--without a fundamental change to the charge, you become the chair of the same group who has no real role. To waste the time of ALL the people on this committee shows the pervasive disrespect for their time, expertise, and possible observations and recommendations--and for the entire community.

Posted by 20 years of trying, a resident of Amador Valley High School
on Feb 12, 2010 at 11:33 am

Every district committee I have sat on has been just like this with the process and information very controlled and the outcome, if there is any, determined by staff. I have spoke to other community members from the BAC that were astounded by the same experience that Al has described.

To the new parents in the district I wish you well trying to make changes but understand why so many of us will no longer support the district.

Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger, a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School
on Feb 12, 2010 at 12:19 pm

Anyone remember that scene in Dumb and Dumber where the girl tells Jim Carrey his chances with her were, like, one in a million? And he smiles and says, "So there is a chance!"

There is a lot of dissatisfaction with unions (not teacher bashing), pensions, increasing taxes, and debt. Arne Duncan is on the right track and he's got the money to back his demands. It could be Arne has a rare opportunity, and it may be the time for all of us to speak up at the federal and state levels, especially with Sacramento legislating over a gaping fault line.

"So there is a chance!"

Posted by disappointed resident, a resident of Livermore
on Feb 15, 2010 at 6:27 am

It's not the teachers, pensions, etc. It is mismanagement of funds. Look at what the administrators are being paid and then they are overbudget? Everyone needs to balance their check books. The schools also have more $ available here making them great schools. Why are the taxes not enough when the real estate and taxation so high? Follow the money. The budget is an open book. Everone take a look. You will see where it goes when parents have to provide paper and pencils anyway.....

Posted by Rat Turd, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Feb 15, 2010 at 6:42 am

I have not seen the budget but would bet that wages and benefits is the highest line item on the budget. I think we have way to many administrators and both administrators and teachers make way more money than they should be paid in this current economic model. Additionally, in this environment I have no idea why every two or three high schools as their own school district. When this is done there is redundancies in all management functions, fleet, janitorial,library etc. A tremendous waste of money we cannot afford.

Posted by Translator, a resident of Happy Valley
on Feb 15, 2010 at 7:33 am

In other words, Rat Turd is saying, "I don't have the facts, but I sure have a strong opinion about what I IMAGINE they are!"

Keep up the good work, RT.

Posted by True Tea Party, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Feb 15, 2010 at 10:46 am

Translator you are a liberal. Why do you hate America?

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