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Open Response to a Board Member's Email

Original post made by Kathleen Ruegsegger, Vineyard Avenue, on Apr 2, 2009

I am a former board member who has been watching the parcel tax issue. I decided to email the current board about the state of the district reserves. I was surprised by the response from one member. Here is my open response, with a cc to the community.

There is no direct reply to my original question of why the goal of a seven percent reserve was abandoned—a reserve that would buy the community time now to evaluate what really has been happening with the district's budget and how best to find long-term solutions. While the issues at the state level compound the district's problems, the response is an apparent abdication of responsibility for previous decisions that brought the district to this point.

Your question of why shouldn't the community decide about restoring programs on the chopping block, though, leads to many of my own.
Why have suggestions other than a parcel tax been ignored?
Why were teachers and principals not surveyed for their ideas of what could be cut (not what they would personally give up)?
Why was a survey not used to ask the community about what they support? Wouldn't that be less expensive and less risky than an election to ask the same question?
Why doesn't the ballot language or the accompanying resolution specifically state what it will save (# teachers, # counselors, etc.)?
Why doesn't the ballot language indicate that no one will receive a raise during the life of the parcel tax? Couldn't this be a better approach than asking for concessions from the unions? This would have made a smaller (less than $233) two- or three-year parcel tax easier to pass, allowing plenty of time to seek more permanent solutions without a heavier burden for tax payers in the current economy.
Are board members and staff preparing more than one plan for what will happen if the tax does not pass?
Why is the election in June and not May (nearly twice as expensive)?
It has been suggested the one-item June election is an attempt to keep opposition voters out of the booth. If most Pleasanton voters use absentee ballots, wouldn't this suggest that those who oppose the parcel tax will vote and that this additional cost is more money wasted?
How does it make sense to consistently spend more money (taxpayer dollars) to ask the taxpayer to provide more funding?

To respond to your other points:
Every one of the remaining days before June 2 is a just another campaign day—there has not been a sincere two-way conversation yet, only a drive from the position in favor of the tax.
There was not much listening at the meetings. Those who spoke in opposition were admonished for their efforts to seek additional time and a different approach. The sacrifice by the union is appreciated, but may not have been necessary as noted above.
Cutting class size reduction was the heaviest emotional hammer in the district's toolbox, so I don't agree the community/media endorsements have any real value to the voter.

Contrary to what seems to have been implied, I am very concerned for the 50% of my former co-workers losing their jobs, and I am equally upset for the dedicated teachers and classified staff members who find themselves in the same position. I'm also quite aware this tax isn't for building reserves, which means the district still does not have a plan for ever achieving it's stated goal.

The question remains—what happened to that goal for reserves? The answer points to money being spent with no regard for economic uncertainty and that this is the sole reason for the pink slips that were given throughout the district.

Saying it is "just 64 cents per day for four years" is how you don't say it is $18.4 million dollars. Is the presumption you mention one about the voters not figuring that out?

I appreciate the dialog and look forward to your response.

Comments (9)

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Posted by Parent of Two
a resident of Val Vista
on Apr 2, 2009 at 8:48 am

Parent of Two is a registered user.

Kathleen,

Thank you for articulating what many of us have been trying to say, albeit without your background or eloquence.

We're NOT against teachers, schools, or programs.

We're against knee-jerk taxation. We're against costly special elections. We're against tax-happy administrators and unions trying to make this a referendum on how much we like/dislike our teachers.

Rather than give the district a fish, let's teach them HOW to fish.


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Posted by Sensibly Save Our Schools
a resident of Amador Valley High School
on Apr 2, 2009 at 9:17 am

Sensibly Save Our Schools is a registered user.

Dear Ms. Reugsegger
Thank you for your post - you're asking the same questions so many Pleasanton community members are asking, but hopefully you will get answers.
The reason why there was not much listening at the "public" forums is because each forum was filled with PUSD employees - a tactic recommended by Lew Edwards Group, the consulting firm being used by PUSD to develop a parcel tax strategy. ("Packing public meetings with supporters.")
Could you also ask the School Board how much of the taxpayers' money is being used to pay Lew Edwards Group. (Pleasanton Unified School District is listed as a client). In 2004, Lew Edwards Group was paid nearly $450,000 for its work on two bond issues in the San Diego Area. (see The San Diego Union Tribune Article, "Bringing home the BBacon" dated October 28, 2004.
The lead sentence in the article is "How do you persuade voters in a fiscally conservative city of 140,000 to raise their property taxes for 30 years?"
Obviously, you spend a whole lot of money on a campaign consultant.
So Ms. Ruegsegger, could you please ask how much is PUSD paying or has already paid the Lew Edwards Group? And WHEN did PUSD contract with Lew Edwards Group for their services?
Measure G is already costing taxpayers up to $300K for PUSD to place it on the June 2nd ballot...that's up to $300K that will no longer be available to fund programs or retain teachers.
And that's before adding in the cost of a consultant!

Thank you again Ms. Ruegsegger for your post...I must assume you don't have children attending PUSD schools!


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Posted by Kathleen
a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School
on Apr 2, 2009 at 12:11 pm

Kathleen is a registered user.

I will ask the Board members to read this thread. While I don't expect they would openly debate anyone here, we can hope to see the responses come through other visible channels.

There is a little one who is a big part of my life and in the Pleasanton schools. I have every reason to trust the care provided by the wonderful people at that site.


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Posted by Kathleen
a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School
on Apr 2, 2009 at 4:53 pm

Kathleen is a registered user.

To the Editors: I posted this thread earlier today. Not surprisingly, it is now blocked to input from the community unless you are registered with the Weekly. Oddly, another thread that was begun asking questions of a personal nature about me, by name, remains wide open. Does the Weekly really want to leave the impression it is willing to shut down a conversation about an upcoming election, but leave blogs open about a specific individual?

To be clear, I have no problem with the second thread remaining open; I will respond as best as I can where warranted. However, I would like to understand why the this thread also cannot remain open. Why is this conversation being stifled? I have stepped forward on this topic because it is vital to the community discourse; please let others have the same opportunity to speak freely regardless of their position on Measure G.


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Posted by Jeb Bing
editor of the Pleasanton Weekly
on Apr 3, 2009 at 7:48 am

Jeb Bing is a registered user.

Just a reminder that we are restricting all posts related to the June 2 parcel tax measure to registered users of the Pleasanton Weekly Town Square forum. We have found that this keeps the conversations more civil and focused without any restriction on what posters say or the opinions they express.


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Posted by Kathleen
a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School
on Apr 3, 2009 at 8:26 pm

Kathleen is a registered user.

This is an email exchange between Jeb and myself. I did not put in the initial exchange; as you read you will see that I tried to press him on my first question after an unacceptable response, so there is no need to add length with the first exchange. Jeb says they shut down blogs that are "hurtful or personal," but that wasn't the case for me . . . because I oppose the tax?

Jeb, Thank you for taking the time to respond, but I don't feel you
answered the question. Why was it okay to have a blog be open to
everyone that asks questions that are"personal in nature," but not a
blog about a public election? I noticed that the one titled "Question
of Ms. Reugsegger"--me--(incorrect spelling) was only closed down when
my original post was put on it, but not when it asked me about my
private stance on an issue and about my compensation. How was that
not personal? Why was the rule not applied then?

This is a fundamental question about how and when rules are applied. I
certainly understand the paper's right to do this, but the reasons
stated and the action taken for the application of the rules are
clearly arbitrary. Allowing anonymity also allows teachers, parents,
students, anyone, and everyone to feel free to speak to an issue.
Forcing registration means some voices aren't being heard because of
the very real fear of retribution. Kathleen


Kathleen - Blogs such as ours are going through a maturing process. We try to keep ours
open and may be the only one that does. But occassionally we find that opinions are hurtful and personal and we simply are not going to allow those to continue without those posters taking ownership. We restricted access before on postings, including those related to two suicides in Pleasanton. We said early on that the Parcel Tax election raises many emotions and have had many phone calls and emails asking us to stop these endless attacks on those who work for the school district. Except for your post, there are only two or three who are using their real names to oppose the tax. There are also only a few who are opposing the parcel tax on our Town Square site, and they do that repeatedly, which is their right as long as they register.

As I've said to others, there are other media covering this area and many independent blogs where you can voice your opinion. If you don't like our policies, those might offer the unrestricted opportunities you seek.

Jeb


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Posted by Stacey
a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Apr 3, 2009 at 9:29 pm

Stacey is a registered user.

*ahem* There were A LOT MORE writers back in January and February who were both for and against the tax before the PW decided to kill the conversation.


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Posted by Kathleen
a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School
on Apr 4, 2009 at 8:41 am

Kathleen is a registered user.

Exactly! Isn't there an old saying about politics and sausage, you don't want to watch them in the making? I still think the blogs should be open to all opinions without registering. There a button for objectionable content. I also believe the community can speak without being abusive and that we should appeal to speak to the topic and not at those commenting.


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Posted by Kathleen
a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School
on Apr 4, 2009 at 8:49 am

Kathleen is a registered user.

Here is the update on the key part of my questions to the Board.

I had asked the Board what had happened to the plan to have a 7% reserve. The response was "I have not heard that as a goal of the board for many, many years." I thought maybe I pulled up really old data on the district web site. Here is what I found went I went back.

Web Link Click on "Goals 06-07" or 0708 or 0809

2006-07
Major Goals of a General Nature
2. Manage the District budget process to ensure financial stability by balancing income with expenditures, providing financial resources for the many competing priorities of the District, and implementing a long-range plan to reestablish reserves to a 7% level.

2007-08
Major Goals of a General Nature
6. Establish a policy to address fiscal accountability and appropriate reserve levels.

2008-09
Other Major Goals
3. Establish a policy to address fiscal accountability and appropriate reserve levels.

We went from a goal of implementing a long-range plan to reestablish reserves to a goal of establishing a policy . . . in one school year. I will mention that the rest of the response spoke of adding counselors and reading and science specialists—good things to be sure—and that a 7% reserve would have added $3.5 million, which represents less than 10% of the anticipated shortfall over the next 4 years—no reason to disbelieve that figure. But as noted on the blogs, there were also three years of large raises leading up to the current school year (roughly $14.5 million). That's a total of $18 million. And if the federal funds arrive next month as predicted, we're up to a possible $20.1 million. The parcel tax is $18.5 million.

I realize that district employees could not reasonably be expected to have zero percent raises for multiple years in a row, even with the annual step and column increases many receive, but there clearly was room to add services, give raises, and still have a healthier reserve that could be carrying the district through the problems created this year at the state level. It would also have bought the community precious time, particularly in this economy and with so many families acting responsibly to find ways to reduce their expenditures as they face salary cuts and layoffs. Ask those in the district who received pink slips if they would trade smaller raises then for a job next year. I think even those who will have jobs next year would make that trade for their colleagues and friends.

The district did not act responsibly and should not be allowed to fall back on taxpayers for relief, particularly with no guarantee that the lesson is learned and the behavior will change.


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