Posted by Sensibly Save Our Schools, a resident of the Another Pleasanton neighborhood neighborhood, on Apr 5, 2009 at 10:46 am
When the subject of a parcel tax was first raised, I was among those who thought "save teacher jobs, save programs, $233/year for four years, okay."
But I began reading information posted on the blogs, information I thought couldn't possibly be accurate, so I started doing my own research. I expected my own research would prove those asking questions about the need for a parcel tax to be wrong. What I found out was the more research I did (e.g. reviewing Valerie Arkin's proposal, the BAC paperwork, reviewing previous school board meetings, etc.) the more concerned I became about PUSD financial practices.
I was surprised to discover that indeed, $120K per year is spent to provide administrators with car allowances, and that in addition to those car allowances some administrators also have district gasoline credit cards.
That $120K alone would provide the additional funding needed to completely support the Barton Reading program, keep the Valley View reading specialist on the payroll, and still have money leftover for other programs that directly impact students.
I recognize that in better economic times, administrators were offered perks to attract them to PUSD. But these aren't better times, and all over the country, employers and employees are foregoing raises and bonuses and executives are giving up perks to save jobs and get budgets in line with these troubled economic times.
And it's not just being done in the private sectors.
In Fremont, the Superintendent of Schools had all employees turn in district credit cards, eliminated providing meals and beverages for meetings and nixed any workshops/conference except those that were mandatory to apply for grants or required by the government.
In San Jose, four top officials in City government took a pay cut, and salaries were frozen for 1,000 other management staffers for an annual savings of $2.5 million. That savings more than allows the City to save the police school crossing guard program. City Manager Debra Figone said "Every million dollars helps," and "it is critical that we lead by example."
I think we can all agree that the community's goal is to provide a quality education for our children. But I am also committed to ensuring that PUSD allocate our tax dollars in a way that prioritizes resources to meet that goal.
I don't see how using our tax dollars to ensure that administrators have zero costs for traveling to and from work benefits our children.
I began my research expecting to be convinced that PUSD was using our resources wisely and that a parcel tax was the only viable solution to the budget crisis. I began my research believing that the PUSD budget crisis was entirely due to the State's budget crisis.
The more I researched, the more convinced I became that PUSD hadn't managed our resources wisely, and the more worried I became that parcel tax dollars would allow PUSD to continue its spendthrift ways, and four years down the road, instead of the parcel tax expiring, Pleasanton, just like San Ramon and Livermore would be asked to not only renew the parcel tax, but possibly increase the amount.
I also became convinced that this particular parcel tax isn't necessary - not now. I can and will support a parcel tax in the future once I'm convinced that PUSD has cut all the fat, and put into place the kind of financial oversights that will allocate the bulk of our resources towards educating our children.
But first PUSD must do a line by line evaluation of their budget and look at each item and ask "Does this expense further our goal of providing a quality education?"
Regarding the issue of transparency, I must agree with Stacey. For example, reviewing the School Board meetings, I did discover that indeed, the School Board agreed to pay $100K to relocate the solar panels at Foothill High School due to a PUSD error.
But as you can see below, when PUSD was asked about solar panel costs on the Budget FAQs, there is no mention of the $100K expense. In this case, PUSD has been very selective about the information it's willing to allow the community to know. This error of omission has been pointed out to the School Board, and yet, no change has been made on the Budget FAQs. It's these types of errors of omission that make me concerned about what other information isn't being shared with the community.
I encourage all Pleasanton residents to not rely on the information which PUSD is willing to share, but ask to see actual records of expenses, transcripts of school board meetings over the past few years, and copies of employment and consultant contracts.
Getting this kind of documentation is not easy, but to truly get a picture of why PUSD is in its current budget crisis, it's necessary.
Below from PUSD Website, Budget FAQs section:
Did the installation of solar panels cost the District money?
No. The panels were installed at no cost to the District. PUSD signed a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with Honeywell which enabled Honeywell to install panels on our roofs and enabled the District to buy power at a fixed, lower price. Our current cost for power is 11.5 cents per kwh, and the agreement includes a 4.5% increase annually for inflation. The going rate when we signed the agreement was 15 cents and has now gone to 16. The estimate for first year savings was $35,000, which will probably turn out to be $44,000 in savings this year.
Honeywell is also responsible for maintaining the panels. At the end of the agreement (20 years), the District has the option to continue the agreement, purchase the panels at a depreciated price, or have Honeywell remove them at their cost. In summary, the project has enabled the District to realize a savings to the General Fund.