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WHY CAN'T PUSD WRITE A BALLOT MEASURE THAT GUARANTEES WHAT PARENTS WANT?

Original post made by Also Waiting on May 29, 2009

I've read the blogs and all the information from the different parcel tax sites.
The deal breaker for me is that the ballot doesn't guarantee the things I want for my child's education.
I have asked myself why the ballot was written the way it was when so many parents stood up at the school board meetings and talked about the Barton reading program, class size reduction and other programs.
I don't know the answer and it doesn't look like the school board is going to give one.
I'll vote yes when the school district writes a ballot that offers some real numbers. Maybe they will do that the next time around.
But for now, I have to vote NO.

Comments (29)

Posted by Pleasanton Parent, a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on May 29, 2009 at 7:12 pm

I think the fact the ballot language is ambiguous speaks volumes to the true intent for what the money raised will really be used for.


Posted by YES ON G, a resident of another community
on May 29, 2009 at 9:29 pm

I think the ballot language is pretty good. Why tie the hands of the people who have given us this great school district? They've spelled out what they intend to use it for. If they don't, and don't have a good reason, they'll have to answer to the voters.


Posted by a resident, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on May 29, 2009 at 10:37 pm

"They've spelled out what they intend to use it for" Yes they have raises for staff. This fish stinks from the head down.


Posted by Pleasanton Parent, a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on May 30, 2009 at 9:01 am

Yes on G,

The ballot language is far from good. We as a community should approach the ballot language of measure G with the same scrutiny that a venture capitalist approaches the business plan of a potential investment. If you take this approach, measure G fails. What is more disappointing is the clear deception of the ballot language. Clearly raises and salaries were considered during the crafting of the ballot, however limitations on funds were specified for administration only. This clearly indicates that the discussion took place, and a conscious effort was made in not including language that prevents raises for all PUSD employees. Pair this with the vague language surrounding what the funds raised will be used for and it doesn't take much effort to figure out why.

I prefer to be proactive to problems instead of reactive. Why wait until money is wasted to "vote out" those that wasted it? Instead, lets be on the forefront of the solution before we throw more money at a growing problem and use this opportunity to really make the required changes.


Posted by Just thinking, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on May 30, 2009 at 1:45 pm

I think the ballot language does say what programs the money will go towards... What it doesn't do is give exact numbers with each program. My thought on the reasoning is because at the time of having the ballot language written the district could not be certain on the final state budget shortfall and therefore the final cut in funding to the district. The budget has only gotten worse since then and there is always the possibility that because of the state budget crisis, the state could take away the $4 million they give the district to subsize CSR. It's obvious the district wants to have their classes at 20:1 but at the same time the district needs to play it safe. They don't want to put the district in worse shape because they are caught without the state money for CSR but are required to have 20:1. Let's face it, if the state money is taken away there will be no way the district can keep classes at 20:1. At that point, perhaps "smaller class sizes" is 25:1 still better than the max of 30:1 in the primary grades.

The whole issue about the money going towards salaries is kind of funny if you think about it... What do you need to keep class sizes small, offer reading and math intervention programs, offer a music/band program, have school counseling services, clean schools? You need teachers and staff ... so to provide these things, the district needs money to pay for the staff to facilitate them.

To clarify, the ballot language does specifically say that NO proceeds of the tax will be for administrators' salaries.


Posted by parent, a resident of Amador Valley High School
on May 30, 2009 at 2:16 pm

Just thinking, keep drinking that kool-aid to make you feel better. The district has stated they have no intention of putting a freeze on step and column raises. Even if they gave out step and column raises for just this next year of the contract (and no raises in the future), that will cost us $6M over four years. Based on the starting teacher salary of $55,646, that one year raise will cost the jobs of 30 starting teachers for 4 years. Another step and column raise given in the next year will cost the jobs of another 30 starting teachers for the next four years. So you see the reason we cannot afford CSR is the raises require us to layoff teachers in order to balance the budget. Year 3 it is another 30 starting teachers to lay off. Year 4 it is another 30 starting teachers. You see we cannot sustain this and the only way our current salary schedule is sustainable is assuming that we consistently get more and more money from the state each year.

We need to fix this problem NOW. Vote NO on G. Then workout a salary schedule/raises that can be sustainable. plus look at the list of items suggested by Board Member Arkin. Once that is all done. We can analyze the needs and see if, or how, a parcel tax can benefit our kids. I do not like the district's: Ready, Fire, Aim approach.


Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger, a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School
on May 30, 2009 at 2:36 pm

Parent: "Ready, Fire, Aim . . . " perfect!


Posted by Be accurate and truthful, a resident of Birdland
on May 30, 2009 at 3:11 pm

There was nothing stopping the district from stating on the ballot that class size for K-3 classes would not exceed 25:1.
There was nothing stopping the district from stating that there would be no administrator raises during the life of the tax.


Posted by parent, a resident of Amador Valley High School
on May 30, 2009 at 3:20 pm

To "Just Thinking", you have to look at the way they worded the section on administrative raises. They did not say that no administrative raises would be given out. They stated that the "$100 bills" coming in from the parcel tax will not go directly to pay for administrative raises. There is a big difference. There is nothing prohibiting the district from giving out raises to administration during the life of the parcel tax. Remember, this parcel tax was written by the administrative staff so they would not want to have anything that restricts their income.


Posted by Maria, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on May 30, 2009 at 3:53 pm

Parent,
Didn't the PUSD administration put through a raise for themselves in late 2007?
What are car allowances except another way to give raises?
I have heard that there will be some cut back in car allowances, but only if Measure g passes. What's that about?
So many people in the community are saying that no matter what, the administration should give up their perks, but administration isn't really giving them up. They're offering a portion of their car allowances as an exchange for the parcel tax.
I get that some of the administrators have contracts that spell out their car allowances, so for those people, any reduction in their car allowances would have to either be re-negotiated if the administrator doesn't voluntarily give up his or her car allowance.
But how many other people are getting car allowances and it's not something in a contract, just a little bonus check every month that is not tied to job performance, and not even tied to a need to provide a stipend for district mileage.

That's just an insult to the taxpayers. We shouldn't be paying for these extras.
It's an insult to the teachers. It's not the administration that is doing a good job teaching our kids, it's the teachers. If anyone should be getting some bonus money, it's them.
How come they wind up giving two days pay if Measure G passes while administrators and other district employees are going to keep getting their car allowances and cell phones?
Lots of people use cell phones for their work - their own.



Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger, a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School
on May 30, 2009 at 4:07 pm

Contracts are usually for a period of one school year (Superintendent's is probably four). Still time to change any that aren't up until June 30?


Posted by parent, a resident of Amador Valley High School
on May 30, 2009 at 4:26 pm

If our administration really cared about the budget impacts, they would have the auto allowances and cell phones stopped now (not wait until next years budget). Same with administration raises. For most employees this funding is through policy and not contract so they can be modified right now. Management salaries can also be lowered to give back their last raise. This should happen right now; don't wait. The district has been giving out incorrect information saying that management salaries cannot be adjusted down because of contracts. That is simply not true. Administrators typically have 5 year contracts. The only thing in their contracts for lowering salaries is salaries cannot be lower then the beginning of the 5 year contract. It can go up in year 1, 2, and 3, and then in year 4 could go all the way back to what they made in year 1. That would not require any contract negotiation. Raises to administration is done through a resolution of a board vote and is a discretionary item.

As for cell phones, everybody has a cell phone now. If an administrator does not have one they can ask any kid from 3rd grade on, as they all have one. At one point a cell phone was a luxury. Nowadays it is a standard appliance. I would bet that every administrator has two cell phones; their personal one and their district one, or one phone being their district-issued one that they use for personal use. If there are needs for some people to have cell phones for specific safety items, they only need cheap, local-call only phones. I have also seen phones that can only call 5 or so numbers that you can give to your kids to control phone costs. That is all that is needed. If those people had verizon phones, they can call anybody on the verizon network for free so you would only need the basic service and the employee has to pay for any outside the network calls (they can always use a land line for that).


Posted by Maria, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on May 30, 2009 at 6:55 pm

Kathleen and Parent,
Why isn't the school board asking to re-negotiate some of the contracts?
If there are people getting car allowances that aren't under contract, why are they still getting car allowances right now?
Parent, I did not know all you said about cell phones. You should send that information to the School Board. I read that they have been spending $150K every year for cell phones. From what you said, they should be able to cut that expense down a lot.


Posted by Karen, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on May 30, 2009 at 7:29 pm

I started scanning this PW site for information to better determine how to vote on the parcel tax this Tuesday. What I'm picking up on is that the District, the Superintendent, Administrators and teachers could not have been fully aware, when they constructed the parcel tax measure, of the resentment that exists in a community of families who are worried about their own jobs and trying to make ends meet. The expenses I have seen on this site for car allowances and cell phones are amazing. And to think that teachers are buying classroom supplies from their own money while ridiculous car and phone allownaces exist - wow. Of course, that is just a drop in the bucket but those expenses are also an indication of a larger, inefficient administrative organization.

What is clear to me is that we need new leadership in the Administration - one with an understanding of efficient budgeting and the abililty and fortitude to say NO - not just now but in the good times too.

I don't know the answer to this so maybe someone can enlighten me...if our current administrators retire in a couple of years, where does the money come from to fund their retirement? Does that also come from the District? I guess my point is that most of us have no pensions and it's hard to fathom forking over a very generous retirement package for a job that many of us don't feel is necessarily worthy of a generous retirement. So can someone clear that up? Does the retirement come form the District, the State, or maybe the union?


Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger, a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School
on May 30, 2009 at 7:57 pm

The State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) pays for teacher and certificated staff retirements, but those funds come from taxpayers dollars too (district funds). (Classified employees are covered by the Public Employee Retirement System, also through taxpayer contributions out of the district budget.) With enough years in service, a STRS retiree can walk away with up to 100% of the average of their three highest years of pay. Health benefits are negotiated in a variety of ways and are often funded by the district until the age of 65. Pleasanton has NO money set aside for its liability. Others can let us both know if I'm not stating this correctly.


Posted by parent, a resident of Amador Valley High School
on May 30, 2009 at 8:17 pm

For PERS retirement, the PERS system assumes an average annual return of 7.75%. If the return is less, the district contribution (i.e., the taxpayers additional cost), has to be increased. Since PERS lost a significant amount of its portfolio, the district will be receiving a larger bill to pay for the retirement costs. Those who have retired have a guaranteed retirement amount being they have a defined benefit. Since their check is guaranteed, if the return on investments from PERS is below the required amount, the taxpayer is on the line to make up the difference. I image that STRS is in the same situation.

For health care, the district (i.e., the taxpayers) pay 100% of the medical insurance cost for retirees until they hit 65 (if you are in the district for at least 10 years) and are covered by medicare. The retiree does not have to make any payments once retired and there is no cap on the cost of the insurance so are insurance rates increase, which they are, the cost to the taxpayer goes up. To give you an idea on the cost escalation of this benefit, last year the cost for retiree medical was $860K and this year it is $1M (17% increase). I received my new medical insurance bill and my cost went up 17% for next year so I would expect the retiree medical cost will go up by another 17%.


Posted by Wow, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on May 30, 2009 at 9:12 pm

Holy C**P!

Are you kidding me? You have got to be!

"Health benefits are negotiated in a variety of ways and are often funded by the district until the age of 65. Pleasanton has NO money set aside for its liability."

We have NO money set aside for these retiring? OMG...

This district is out of control.

How did they justify the incessant raises over the past few years of those "in" if those going "out" don't have their "negotiated benefits" paid for? 14.5% raises?

I am getting the biggest headache...

Okay (clearing my throat), can someone tell me EXACTLY WHAT THE PURPOSE OF THE BOARD IS???

I sit and watch these meetings on the cable channel and they all say, "great work" when a teacher comes through to show something they've updated, OR "We're so proud of the students" when a group of kids show off a project.

I'm sorry, but I didn't know Board of Trustees meetings were for show and tell. This last week there was a teacher who came in to show the updates to the curriculum in the Middle School Arts program. He got to the end and no one had a question for him. NOT ONE QUESTION? They were there looking off into space and then all smiled for him at the end. They didn't have a clue what it was about. The woman who introduced the teacher clarified a few things, but I wasn't impressed with the Board.

I'm saying, in these times, the board meetings should be hearing reports of each line in the budget being reviewed and scrutinized whether or not it can remain and then discussing it. They should all have their heads down READING, not looking off into space with a comment here or there about what they are "up to" this next week around town for events.

I think I am beginning to see why this car is headed off road...NO ONE IS AT THE WHEEL, but DR. CASEY HAS THE GAS PEDAL TO THE FLOOR!

Our only hope is that the car will run out of gas before it goes into the ditch and is damaged!


Posted by Karen, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on May 30, 2009 at 9:18 pm

Thank you for the retirement information. The overall picture I am getting is that most Pleasanton residents have no pension (because most Americans don't have a pension plan) and we have also lost 30-50% of our retirement savings in 401Ks and other investments but....school district employees are contractually immune to any similar losses. They do not have to share the same pain as the rest of us.

So, it appears the District wants us to pay a parcel tax which, in part, may act to fund any shortfall to their pension/medical plans.

That means I lost a bunch of my own retirement savings but will now pay for the District employees full and amazingly generous retirement?

If I'm substantially wrong here, please let me know because I think I've figured out which way to vote.


Posted by Karen, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on May 30, 2009 at 9:27 pm

To Wow:

You hit the nail on the head! ...You expressed everything I've been thinking!

What the heck is going on with this District! Are there any CFOs out there who would be willing to run for the School Board and contribute their business experience to running this District and getting the Administration under control?


Posted by Wow, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on May 30, 2009 at 9:54 pm

Karen,

You are asking great questions!

I have been wondering a lot of the same things and although a member of my household has been convinced to not vote for this parcel tax for some time, I've been only leaning that way...until now.

It literally feels that we are being asked to catch a falling knife that is headed for a child. The problem is that the district is the one that dropped it!

I discussed this with my father that is in his 70's and has been through his share of fiscal downturns as a business owner, etc and he said all of the emotional threats are nothing new. Every time someone wants you to pay for something, first they gotta make you cry.
My wise mother read the parcel tax info and the papers and said, "Something stinks in Denmark...and it aint the cheese!"

I'm a little late to practice, but I'm gonna hit a homer on Tuesday and vote No!!


Posted by PAUSD employee, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on May 30, 2009 at 9:55 pm

Interesting information about PERS, how ironic to hear Kathleen chime in on the subject since this will be her retirement package. Its ok for her but not PUSD. I have been hearing that one too many times.


Posted by Russell, a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School
on May 30, 2009 at 9:58 pm

I would rather spend more to keep our education system good. If San Ramon and Pleasantan spend more, I think it is a good thing. People in these communities value their schools. It is a major attraction.

This is going to sound made up, but it is fact. I just happened to talk to a couple (with to two kids) at a park, and they had spent their day house hunting in Pleasanton. They were following this web site and waiting to see the results of the election before making an offer on a house. Many people really do look for information on schools before deciding to buy.

As far as having a reserve, isn't the whole point of keeping a reserve in good times to use it in bad times? Wasn't the magnitude of the downturn greater than could be expected? Isn't this the worse economy since 1939? Didn't they go through the reserve after the budget turned down?

Even if you think the school board is to blame for needing a parcel tax (and all of our neighboring districts seem to need one), I don't see how you can "punish" the school board without punishing the kids. I've said before we can vote the board out soon. Why tinker with a good thing? Is the principle of never increasing taxes more important than maintaining quality education? I've looked at the graphs at the no on G site and have found them to be lacking, as I have shown in detail before.


Posted by Karen, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on May 30, 2009 at 10:08 pm

Russell:
Most of the parcel money isn't going to the kids. That's what it's all about.


Posted by Be Positive, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on May 31, 2009 at 10:46 am

The schools are all about the kids, directly and indirectly. I am sorry to hear that is what you really believe about this parcel tax. Your lack of trust in a school system that has consistently produced successful results is sad to me. I hope that at some point you can see beyond the doubt about PUSD that has infiltrated these blogs by people who are into the notion that "it's not my problem."


Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger, a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School
on May 31, 2009 at 12:38 pm

PAUSD Employee: Yes, I will retire on PERS. I haven't hidden that kind of information. In fact, the response I made was to someone asking about teacher retirement, and I thought it would be the honest thing to do to note PERS as well. I'm as open as I can be about any of this, so if you have a question, just ask me.


Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger, a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School
on May 31, 2009 at 12:49 pm

Russell: "If San Ramon and Pleasanton spend more, I think it is a good thing." This comment is a never ending spiral upwards with no logical limit. Do you use this for all your personal spending habits?

No, they didn't go through the reserve because of the economy; the district is in a shortfall because of the commitment to raises (the calculation has been confirmed by the district and posted enough times) so as to cause at least $15 million of the $18 million in the proposed tax to be spent for those raises.

This isn't about punishing anyone; it's about people doing their jobs properly and systemic change.


Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger, a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School
on May 31, 2009 at 12:53 pm

Be Positive: In thinking about your last sentence, it's exactly the opposite of "it's not my problem." As taxpayers, this is very much everyone's problem.


Posted by Russell, a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School
on May 31, 2009 at 2:58 pm

Kathleen,

" ... a never ending spiral upwards ..."

Spending increases don't have to be never ending, but could exceed inflation for the time being and be acceptable to me. We obviously can't do that for the long term. We have to get a handle on how we spend it, and I'd love to see ideas like merit pay get more consideration. I'm supporting measure G because I don't want to see programs or CSR impacted. I'm not willing to take the chance.

"Do you use this for all your personal spending habits"

Our family spending has increased year over for the last fifteen years, but has not kept pace with out income. I've gone from very stingy to just stingy. I have a problem with over-saving and being pessimistic about the economy. I will probably have to buy a new car at some point (I'm still driving the first one I ever bought 19 years ago).

I thought I saw that you favored the San Ramon tax at one point. Don't they have spending increases also? Maybe their raises were more sustainable.

Karen,

Even if only $3 million goes to the kids, and that saves the CSR, I'm for it.


Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger, a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School
on May 31, 2009 at 3:25 pm

Russell, The question was rhetorical, but I'm liking the Mini Clubman.

I don't think I said I was in favor of the San Ramon tax, just indicated they were on more stable ground for justifying the re-up.

A 17% ($3 million out of $18 million) chance for my money to hit a target goal is not enough (particularly when stretched over four years and without specific language toward the goal). I'd ask for a better return on my investment.


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