Pleasanton Weekly

News - August 27, 2010

School board takes first step toward parcel tax

Board members promise not to pursue without support

by Glenn Wohltmann

The Pleasanton school board has taken its first official step toward getting a parcel tax on the ballot in the spring. It voted Monday to hire a consultant group and also a company to survey residents on whether they'd support the tax to benefit the schools.

The board unanimously approved $66,770 for seven months of consultation services, which includes $21,270 for an 18-minute survey of local homeowners.

"Our desire would be to start as soon as possible," said Charles Heath, project manager with TBWB Strategies. That company's website notes that it specializes in placing "the best possible measure on the ballot" and "helping the volunteer campaign win the election."

Whether a parcel tax ever makes it to the ballot, however, will depend on the survey results, and the contract with TBWB Strategies will run month-to-month.

"We need to respect the data and what it says," said board member Valerie Arkin, whose comment met with general agreement.

Board member Jim Ott pointed out that the survey "is the piece missing last time." Starting on the survey as quickly as possible could also save the district money, since, as board member Jamie Hintzke noted, "At whatever point we decide it's not feasible, we would just pull the plug."

The school district had solicited bids in June for a parcel tax survey, without consulting services, but no one responded.

In other action, the board approved transferring another $147,000 from the Sycamore fund to pay for stucco and paint at Hearst Elementary as part of that school's ongoing mold remediation project, and accepted $5,450 in donations for its Barton Reading tuition program.

The board also learned that California is in line for $1.2 billion in federal aid to schools, although Luz Cazares, assistant superintendent of business services, said it's unknown how the state would distribute the money, which is restricted to compensation and targeted specifically for rehiring and retaining employees as well as eliminating furlough days.

Regarding employees, the board made official the appointments the school had announced over the summer. Trustees also approved one promotion, Sebastian Bull, from social studies teacher to vice principal at Amador Valley High School, and the hiring of Teresa Johnson as vice principal at Hart Middle School.

Board member Pat Kernan noted that nearly all the shifts due to retirements or staff taking other positions cleared the way for others to be promoted, and allowed the board to bring back some well-liked teachers and staff.

The board also received a briefing on STAR (Standardized Testing And Reporting), which showed marginal gains and losses in some test results. Academic Performance Index (API) and Adequate Yearly Program (AYP) results will be presented to the board in September.

STAR results did show some mixed results based on ethnicity. While white and Asian students generally do well on the test, other minorities have mixed results. Also, in general, when a class is delayed, a student is less likely to test well in that subject, according to STAR results.

School board candidate Sandy Piderit -- the only one of the three running in the November election who attended the board meeting -- questioned whether some of the data about students postponing harder work was related to those who transferred in from outside the district. Piderit also questioned whether the STAR data could be broken down to show differences in performance based on gender.

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