Employees and parents push schools for program restorations
Concessions from teachers union lets district stop some cuts
The Pleasanton School Board is looking at restoring nearly $1.3 million in programs and jobs cut made earlier this year, to the relief of parents and district employees who packed the board room to overflowing Tuesday night.
"Believe me, I wish that I could sit here and say, 'We can bring back one-tenth of what's been cut (since 2008),'" Superintendent Parvin Ahamdi told the crowd.
The district's administration recommended bringing back the equivalent of 5.1 fulltime counselors -- the equivalent of 1.5 counselors at both the elementary and middle school levels and the equivalent of 2.1 fulltime counselors at high schools. That would cost $408,000.
The plan would spend $320,000 to add four reading specialists, for a total of six, but would not restore the popular Barton Reading Program.
Instead, those six specialists would do interventions, with the plan of catching elementary school students before they fall too far behind their classmates. The interventions would be "needs-based and district-wide," Ahmadi told the board.
The equivalent of five physical education specialists would be returned at a cost of $400,000 as part of the restoration plan. Ahmadi said that would serve several purposes: It would give students instructional time by P.E. specialists; it would free up 45 minutes for teachers; and it would open the door to allow for staggered reading schedules so teachers would have more time with young readers.
Two additional sections would be restored at high schools at a cost of $64,000, and the district would contribute $100,000 more to the Regional Occupation Program, which has seen a number of sections cut as the district allocated funds elsewhere.
Most of the 16 speakers who commented on the potential restoration of programs focused on counselors. Among them was Jennifer Corbin, a junior at Foothill High, who said she's a regular visitor to her counselor's office.
"Our counselors deal with so much," Corbin said, citing a list that included drugs and fighting. "It's really comforting to know we can go there."
Counselor Linda Carey, who stood with about a dozen other counselors, all wearing red, said research shows that students that have counselors available perform better in school.
"This is what counselors do: We dry the tears and get them back to class as soon as possible," she said.
Although most support went to counseling, Joyce Sanborn stood up with her colleagues in the hope of ending the layoff of seven library assistants. Sanborn said cutting the assistants at the nine middle and elementary schools would gut the program, leaving the five remaining not even enough time to shelve books. She said unlike many programs, libraries touch every single student.
Some, including Christina Hicks, want the district to reconsider class-size reductions, which she said is "hugely" supported by parents. Hicks asked that the board add a discussion of bringing back smaller classes.
"I'm not ready to give up class-size reduction," Board Member Chris Grant said. Board Member Jamie Hintzke asked that an agenda item be added to discuss that.
Board Member Valerie Arkin pointed out that the board agreed to borrow money from the Sycamore Fund -- proceeds from the sale of district property -- to fund the facilities master plan. Arkin asked that administrators consider using money from the general fund that originally was earmarked to pay for the facilities study for Barton.
"It's an effective program, it's relatively low cost, and it targets the kids that need it most," she said.
Some in the crowd also brought up the need for a parcel tax.
Andrea Stokoe said she was among a group of residents that went to 13 other districts, where they learned that most high-performing districts have an average $250 parcel tax and a strong foundation to raise funds.
"We shouldn't have to choose between clean classrooms and kids that can read," Stokoe said.
Board Member Jeff Bowser told the crowd the district has tried twice to pass a parcel tax, adding, "If the community wants it, step up."
The board will vote on the proposed program restorations at its June 5 meeting.
Hintzke noted that the programs restored would cost the district $1.3 million, although negotiations with the Association of Pleasanton Teachers yielded $2.3 million in savings.
"It isn't a good idea to spend everything. We need to have some set aside," she said.
That money could be needed if neither of the two school funding measures expected to be on the November ballot passes. Gov. Jerry Brown's May budget revision, known as the May revise, shows the budget deficit has grown from $9.2 billion in January to an estimated $15.7 billion.
"That's a growth of $6-1/2 billion," said Luz Cazares, assistant superintendent of business services.
While she said the governor has promised to support education, he's cutting other programs to do it, and Cazares said that traditionally has not gone over well with state legislators.
In other actions Tuesday night, the board:
* Awarded a $305,000 contract for repairs to the roof of the administration building at Amador Valley High School;
* Approved a modification of salaries for management and confidential employees, adding five unpaid furlough days and cutting stipends, a continuation of last years' agreement;
* Approved spending $75,000 to fund band and strings teacher positions at elementary schools; and
* Passed a resolution calling on Congress to continue its overhaul of the bill known as "No Child Left Behind." Board members and district administration have said NCLB is costly and ineffective.