Pleasanton Weekly

News - October 1, 2010

Finances, test scores among topics at PUSD

With no state budget, district unsure about funding

by Glenn Wohltmann

Three months into the Pleasanton school district's fiscal year and a month into classes, and there's still little word about how much the state will actually be giving schools.

"We still don't have a state budget," Luz Cazares, assistant superintendent of business services, told the board at its meeting Tuesday. "We now have a new record."

The budget is more than 90 days late, and Cazares said the current estimate is that a final vote could come "sometime next week."

However, some federal stimulus money -- about $2.7 million -- is headed to the district and should arrive any day. The money is part of the $10 billion federal jobs bill, designated to help schools keep employees on the payroll and reduce furlough days.

The catch, Cazares recently said, is that California could ultimately want some of the money or could reduce funding by the amount of the federal funds -- or more.

Meanwhile, with public institutions coming under increasing scrutiny, the board discussed its commitment to show the public "where we spend every dollar," Trustee Pat Kernan said.

Kernan mentioned that the board hadn't voted itself a raise in 14 years; board members currently make $400 per month.

He also said budget issues were part of the reason for hiring Parvin Ahmadi as the district's new superintendent.

"She's very data-driven," Kernan said.

Other board members agreed that the district has to keep its books and its decision-making process available to the public.

"We do need to be as open and transparent as possible," Jamie Hinztke said.

The board approved the district's unaudited fiscal financial statements from the 2009-10 school year, which among other things, maintains a 3 percent reserve, nearly $3.5 million, for economic uncertainties; Cazares explained that reserve will help the district when seeking money from outside sources.

The district's inability to fully finance a trust for retirees brought some concern from school board candidate Sandy Piderit.

"We should have made $1.3 million in payments," Piderit said. "We still need to make sure, as a district, how to honor that obligation."

The board approved borrowing $100,000 from the Sycamore Fund, to be repaid with interest over five years.

The board also heard a report about its Academic Performance Index (API), Advanced Placement (AP) tests, Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SAT) and Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) scores. In general, the district is doing well; with scores above average and improving every year. However, some students, particularly those with disabilities and the socio-economically disadvantaged, score far below their peers and are of particular concern for the district, which is required under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act to improve the scores of all subgroups.

Ahmadi said improving scores for underperforming students is "a moral imperative."

However, Board Member Jim Ott pointed out that the 100% success rate expected by 2010 is unrealistic.

"If you have a school with 1,000 students, one of them is not going to be proficient," he said.

School board candidate Joan Laursen said it's more likely that NCLB will not require 100 percent proficiency but will look for improvement instead.

"What are we doing and what can we do to increase parent involvement?" Laursen also asked.

In other matters, the board did the following:

* Thanked two organizations that provided backpacks filled with school supplies for needy children in the district. The National Charity League, a mother-daughter organization headed locally by Dana Dotson, Renee Kantor and Lainie Krieger, donated 125 backpacks; Darlene Phillipe and Loren Hirst, founder of Physical Therapy Specialties, donated 32.

* Heard from teachers' union president Trevor Knaggs, who talked about a growing national trend of blaming teachers for poor performance. Knaggs mentioned a new movie, "Waiting for Superman," which was featured on Oprah Winfrey's television show, and the Los Angeles Times database of teacher effectiveness as examples.

* Acknowledged a gift of $10,000 for a science mobile lab at Hart Middle School from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and a $2,500 gift from the Wells Fargo Community Support Program, which will pay for "smart classrooms" at Alisal Elementary School.

* Discussed the Summer GATE (Gifted And Talented Education) program, which focused on creative writing, visual art and renewable resources. The program expected 50 students but 100 signed up for the program at a fee of $180 per student.

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