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Dirty Politics in a Community of Character - Continued

Original post made by foothill parent on Apr 6, 2009

This message is in response to "Get Educated" in the category "Dirty Politics in a Community of Character". I do not want to register as I feel that would be disclosing too much about me to the weekly.

I need to correct a couple of items in the post today:
1) The reason the district did not bring a parcel tax to the ballot last year was because the polling firm they hired told them a tax would not pass at that time. That greatly disappointed many members of the board but especially Dr. Casey. They were dying to get a parcel tax in the community.

2) Valerie Arkin's list composed mostly of things that would save year after year. There are a few items that would be one time savings but a majority of her items would save money each year, not just the current year as you state.

3) On raises, you are partially correct in that the teachers negotiated for .738% less than COLA. They did not just give this up however. They traded that COLA raise in order to have less teaching time with the students and that money went to science specialists. While I feel that was good for everybody, they didn't just tell the district that they did not want the full COLA offered from the State. The district did make an error, in my opinion, to completely pass along the COLA increases from the State. Part of COLA should really have gone towards the step and column pay increases that the unions negotiated instead of those raises being paid for out of the General Fund. The current policy of paying for step and column out of the general fund and giving all the COLA adjustments directly to the teachers is not sustainable. It eventually catches up with you. Like it has this year. The district also neglected to keep their reserves high. At one point our district did have healthy reserves. Over the last 4 or so years, that reserve has gone down to dangerous territory. While schools are only required to have a 3% reserve, our district previous had much more that that, knowing that 3% would only cover a few weeks of operations.

We can all see that the State budget is a mess. Schools will be affected. So have most of the taxpayers jobs. I could support a parcel tax if the administration were honest about prioritizing the cuts and did the necessary administrative cuts, most have been identified by Valerie Arkins list. I would then give them an "A" for working hard and then I could support them. Hearing a board member say that he is not willing to make administrative cuts unless he gets a committment from the community for more money from a parcel tax feels like extortion to me. Interesting how that board member does not live in this community, would not have to pay the parcel tax, and has two daughters who work for the district and received pink slips; but I digress. This board was elected to give us the best service for the money we give them in taxes. I do not feel they are doing this right now. I went to a budget advisory committee meeting and was taken back. Members of the committee wanted to make suggestions of potential cuts but they were told to only focus on the potential cuts identified by the administrative staff. The staff members in that meeting were not looking for help from the community but rather they were looking for people to agree with them. After the meeting I asked a member of the committee if all the meetings were run that way. He said "sadly, yes."

Comments (12)

Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Apr 6, 2009 at 10:09 pm

Stacey is a registered user.

Foothill parent wrote: "Part of COLA should really have gone towards the step and column pay increases that the unions negotiated instead of those raises being paid for out of the General Fund."

What you wrote reminded me of some quote from some PUSD person I saw that I should have kept better track of. It was basically about how the District expects to pay for step and column from things like increased enrollment. Need to dig that up...


Posted by doglover, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 6, 2009 at 10:16 pm

doglover is a registered user.

Schools & Kids,
Your post is very informative.
Do you mean that the Budget Advisory Committee wasn't given a complete budget to work from, but were just given that sheet called Cabinet Identified List of Potential cuts and asked to work from that? Why even have a Budget Advisory committee if they're not given the actual budget?
Why was a board member who doesn't live in Pleasanton and has two daughters working for the school district even allowed to have a vote on whether or not to put a parcel tax measure on the ballot. Shouldn't that board member be required to recuse himself?


Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Apr 6, 2009 at 10:36 pm

Stacey is a registered user.

Doglover wrote: "Do you mean that the Budget Advisory Committee wasn't given a complete budget to work from, but were just given that sheet called Cabinet Identified List of Potential cuts and asked to work from that?"

If you haven't looked, there's information on PUSD's website about the Budget Advisory Committee. I found that they performed some sort of online survey in order to rank and prioritize possible cuts. They also wrote some entertaining comments. Web Link

There might be an inkling of the answer to your question about what the BAC did exactly in a comment on the survey. It was written by Al Cohen who identified himself as the author in the end of the comment:
"I have found this entire process, even though well meaning, quite confusing. We have prioritized and re-prioritized multiple times in multiple formats. Moreover, it was not clear when we were asked to participate, that rank ordering cuts were the primary function. Our expectations were that we would be engaged in more substantive solutions and become advocates for the overall solution. Given that our recommendations are being processed by the cabinet and then presented to the board, I will withhold judgement on my support for the outcome of this process."

Maybe we need Al Cohen to run against Pat Kernan for Board Trustee.


Posted by doglover, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 6, 2009 at 10:49 pm

Stacey,
I couldn't open the web link file - got a message that it was damaged.
If I'm reading between the lines correctly, it doesn't sound as if PUSD wanted the Budget Advisory Committee to do anything. It sounds as if PUSD picked the things they thought should be cut and all they asked the Budget Advisory Committee to do was rank the cuts PUSD already selected. What does that have to do with advising on a budget?
That makes no sense, but from all the things I've been reading, it's just one more thing the School Distict is doing that doesn't make sense to me.
Al Cohen isn't related to anyone who works for the School District is he?


Posted by All the wiser now, a resident of Amador Valley High School
on Apr 6, 2009 at 11:44 pm

Allow me to digress just a bit further....
A good many years ago I was asked to participate in a district/city transportation committee. Although I had been organizing the parking lot volunteers at my son's elementary school, I was new to the district and therefore quite flattered to have been chosen.
Our "task," as told to us by the district liaison-now retired-was to evaluate the traffic around school sites and come up with possible solutions to the problems we identified. A few of us took the job quite seriously and went from site to site taking notes and then talking to the city traffic engineers about possible changes to signage and road striping to improve circulation and safety.
After about the third meeting we realized that the district and city liaisons were not paying that much attention to our "findings" and were in fact presenting information to the group about all the great things that were already taking place, the laughable "Walk and Bike to School Plan" for one, and some unused carpool matching service for another. Each and every one of our suggestions were pooh-poohed as being improbable or unworkable.
When, at the last scheduled meeting we walked in to find a completed board report sitting on the table without a single bit of "public" input included, we realized we had been duped into participating in a process that was designed to maintain the status quo. I gave up about 9 weeks of family time so the district/city could say they had community input into a process that essentially changed or improved nothing.
What an eye opening experience. I heard from a few members of the "Blue Ribbon" 3rd High School Study Group that a similar process was followed. From the above comments I can't help but believe that the BAC was run in exactly the same manner.
So beware when you hear the term "community input" coming out of some study group. It isn't always the case.


Posted by Diana, a resident of Foothill High School
on Apr 7, 2009 at 2:45 am

Wow, I could have written the same post about past district committees that I have been on. I have refused the certificate of participation at the end because we were not allowed to do anything.


Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Apr 7, 2009 at 8:09 am

Stacey is a registered user.

Hrm, I didn't realize how widespread this experience seems to be. It makes me wonder now if any BAC members looked at the budget themselves and what they found.


Posted by BAC Committee Member, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 7, 2009 at 9:54 am

We did look at the budget and I also personally reviewed the entire district's budget. There is not much left to cut. 90% of the district expenses are salary and salary related costs. That means people have to be cut to make the $9.7M in ongoing reductions. The "cabinet list of cut" was only the beginning. BAC member comments and suggestions were included in the recommendations. Al's comments were about the process on how we prioritized the reductions, including our recommendations. With any large group (31 people) it a bit confusing at first. The survey was helpful.


Posted by Sam, a resident of Downtown
on Apr 7, 2009 at 10:00 am

Did anyone even look at about the over $10 million dollars in consulting expenses that the District spends every year? Was that even looked at?


Posted by Diana, a resident of Foothill High School
on Apr 7, 2009 at 10:22 am

Sam please give a link to what you reference.

I have heard from two parent/community BAC members that they were not really given an opportunity to give input. They felt the committee was set up. From the number of district staff that was on the committee each looking out for their own piece of the pie I heard it was not possible to accomplish anything.

Is "BAC Committee Member" a district staff person? Why would you not identify yourself?



Posted by anonymous (yeah right), a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 7, 2009 at 10:23 am

Did anyone review the specific cost to hire consultants to determine that PUSD needed its own special election as the tax would likely fail at the general election? Is that not money spent that should have been used more wisely?
Did anyone ask that the car allowances be cut? Did anyone ask that the travel budget be cut? There is enormous waste in the district.


Posted by Archie & Jughead, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 8, 2009 at 7:24 pm

We live with Doglover. We are experts at waste, but that's not what Doglover calls it when she steps in it. She says a bad word and then says "oops, sorry." If there is enormous **bad word** in the district, did someone at least says "oops sorry" and clean it up?


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