The words "parcel tax" and "cuts" were used abundantly Tuesday night as the school board discussed the Pleasanton Unified School District's (PUSD) plans to deal with the $4.5-million budget cuts.
After hearing public comments during the budget workshop and regular meeting, the school board voted to again explore the option of a parcel tax to be included on the November ballot. Board President Jim Ott said they will consider which programs would be supported by the tax, the amount and duration of the tax, whether it could be used to increase reserves, and if it could contain a variable collection schedule tied to increases or decreases in state funding.
Many of the board members showed support for the parcel tax at the meeting, but Trustee Steve Brozosky said he doesn't want to "pull the trigger" quite yet.
"We have until August [to decide about the parcel tax," he said. "We have no idea what the budget is going to be. Until we know that, it's premature."
Calling a rush to a parcel tax a "cop out," Brozosky also said the district should consider that a parcel tax might not pass when considering borrowing money; otherwise it could bring the district into bankruptcy.
Ott said that the board hasn't decided and that they need to explore options before voting for or against a parcel tax.
However, the board decided Tuesday to use up to $2 million of the reserve funds for the 2008-09 school year.
"Staff will review options and recommend whether tapping into the reserves would come from unrestricted carryover, borrowing from the Sycamore fund or a combination of the two," Ott said.
Several times during the night, the board expressed how difficult it was to consider cutting programs that they worked so hard to initiate over the past few years. However, they also approved possible cuts recommended by the cabinet and the Budget Advisory Committee. The preliminary action was in response to a March 15 deadline for giving notices to employees who may be laid off.
"If we are going to go for a parcel tax," Brozosky said, "we need to show we've actually tried everything."
Superintendent John Casey said he wants to do everything possible to keep the district "team" together.
"If we do have to reduce positions, hopefully we are able to do it through attrition--people retiring or moving out of the area," he said. "We do need to take care of our people. They are integral pieces of the successful team we've put together. No positions or services should be diminished or underestimated."
Reducing reading specialists was an item that was moved to the cut list after the board's 3-2 vote, with trustees Pat Kernan and Chris Grant voting against.
"We're hopeful none of the reading specialists will have to be cut as we learn more about the 2008-09 state budget in the weeks and months to come," Ott said.
"The cuts we did were preliminary cuts," Brozosky said. "Nobody should get excited over it. We have to be conservative."
He noted some possible ways to save money and increase efficiency: the Horizon program, for example, supports students from outside communities; and management was recently given cost-of-living pay raises.
Casey said reducing salaries and work days is a possibility, and that people have stepped forward offering to have a decrease in pay or work fewer days.
"The problem with that is getting back to having a competitive salary schedule and we don't have the authority to do that unilaterally," he said. "When you start cutting salaries and reducing days, you become less competitive. It's something that we're going to consider, but it's hard to pull salaries back up to where they were."
The district has recently been compared to San Ramon Valley Unified School District (SRVUSD), which is reportedly faring well amidst the cuts and didn't increase management salaries this year. Brozosky said Pleasanton receives $625 more per student than SRVUSD and has more students, and he recommends a site visit to learn more about their budget and plans.
Continuing with comparisons, Grant said 13 of 15 school districts in Alameda County have initiated a parcel tax.
The majority of residents and parents speaking to the board showed support for reading and language programs as well as a parcel tax.
Hua Yin said one of the main reasons she moved to Pleasanton from Fremont last year was because of the schools, making her home purchase a good investment.
"The reason to keep the [property prices up is because of the school district," she said. "That's enough reason [to pass a parcel tax to all the residents here."
Lary Aladeen, Pleasanton Teacher's Association president, spoke as an individual in support of the reading specialists, adding that penologists--those who manage jails--plan prison capacities 20 years in advance by looking at third grade literacy rates.
One of the items on the recommended cut list was coach stipends. Longtime resident and Foothill High School Athletic Director Matt Sweeney said it would be preposterous to have students "pay to play." And as it stands, he said coaches receive pennies on the dollar for their hours of work.
Speaking for the board, Ott said that it "breaks our hearts" to make any reductions.
"This is why we would like to explore whether a parcel tax makes sense for our schools," he said. "Many other districts in Alameda County have parcel taxes and our children deserve nothing less to ensure that we continue to offer the high quality of education we're known for in Pleasanton."