School board candidates agree on key issues, differ in solutions

Budget, teacher retention, communications among key issues in forum

If the answers to questions posed to them at last night's school board candidates' forum are any indication, voters will have a tough choice deciding which two of the three they should vote for.

All three candidates, Sandy Piderit, Joan Laursen and Jeff Bowser, emphasized their unique experience that they say qualifies them, in particular, to be elected, but there was general agreement from the three on many of the issues. All three have volunteer experience at Pleasanton schools, and all three think the school board needs to do a better job of communicating with the public. All agree the district is, in general, doing a good job, but needs to continue to attract and retain qualified teachers, and that having students do well on tests is not the best way to measure a teacher's ability.

Piderit, a visiting associate professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, said that she was sought out to chair the superintendent interview panel that ultimately chose Superintendent Parvin Amadhi to head the district.

In addition, she said, "I have a unique perspective of what happens when students go off to college," and that she has helped students make the jump from elementary to middle school.

Laursen focused on her 15 years as a volunteer at schools, and hopes to "rebuild a shared vision for our future."

Vowing not to make any "pie crust promises" -- a line from the movie "Mary Poppins" -- Laursen said," I can promise to be an advocate for our children."

Bowser, an executive at Qwest Communications who holds a Master's degree in Educational Leadership, promised to bring a business approach to the board.

"I know the business of education," he said, adding, "I manage multi-million dollar companies."

The differences among each candidate became more apparent as they answered questions submitted by some of those attending the forum, which included supporters of each of the candidates. While each of the three steered clear on whether they support a parcel tax, they had different views about other revenue enhancements.

• Bowser, for example, supported the work being done by groups such as Core (Community OutReach for Education), PTAs and site councils at the schools.

• Laursen, who helped with the CORE campaign, as well as fighting for Measure G, a prior parcel tax measure, noted the state of California is funding schools below the national average and said the state "needs to realign priorities."

• Piderit proposed drawing on existing relationships with parents and businesses to help support the district.

On the issue of attracting and retaining qualified teachers, Laursen noted that at job fairs the line for the Pleasanton school district's booth usually runs around the corner, adding, "This is a great district to work for" and "We have a number of other ways to attract employees."

Piderit said Pleasanton "has the benefit of a great teaching staff," to help retain teachers, and that parents "understand how much teachers do.

Bowser, who called the teaching staff "the stars of the district," said Pleasanton is "a place to be envied," and that the district "will continue, even in these tough economic times, to attract the best and the brightest."

In helping people from different cultures assimilate into the district, Piderit said "we need to understand what their expectations might be," especially people from cultures that sometimes discourage parents from approaching teachers with questions. She said there needs to be "less legalese" in the district.

Bowser said programs already exist to address that issue, but added, "I think outreach is the key.

Laursen said, "We need to change our understanding of the background they come from," and ask the question: "What are they passionate about?"

The three also have different ideas about the issue of homework.

Bowser said the current policy is good, but needs to be age-appropriate, adding that his own family has at times struggled with the amount assigned.

"Kids need to have a balance in their lives." He said.

Laursen, pointing to the film "Race to Nowhere," said different people in the community will have different opinions about how much is appropriate.

Piderit said homework can help build an "attitude of perseverance," but added that schools need to take into account all the other activities that are going on in peoples' lives, explaining that homework is one way to communicate progress to parents.

On motivating students, Laursen recommended a partnership between teachers and parents. Piderit said teachers need to "find that spark" that can draw a student's attention and create motivation. Bowser pointed to Village High School, saying that the school's graduation ceremony in particular is a success story for some students who might be called unmotivated.

All three agreed that how well a teacher's students do on standardized tests is only a part of the way to evaluate performance, with Piderit suggesting a "multiple measures approach" that includes tests but adds observation by a teacher's peers and the administration, patterns of teaching, and the role of the teacher in the school.

Bowser pointed out that test scores in a district can even affect the real estate market, agreed with a broader approach, including observation and peer review, but added, "Can we measure the success of a student by an SAT score?"

Laursen said test scores are "just one piece of the puzzle," and "should not be part of a high stakes decision about the hiring and firing a teacher."

On the issue of keeping the 60% of Pleasanton's population that's either childless or with grown children informed, Bowser recommended outreach, saying "We need to get out into the community, while Laursen pointed to a successful program that brings older residents into schools as volunteers. Piderit said, "It's a matter of consistency" in communications, adding that news headlines "can really take people up and down the roller coaster." She recommended using recent grads as role models, bringing teachers out into the community and bringing residents into the schools to "put a living face on history."

When asked about how they dealt with a collaborative team on a difficult decision, Laursen pointed to the narrowly failed Measure G parcel tax proposal, calling it a "contentious issue" and saying "people don't want to talk about it."

Piderit said she formed a team to deal with some college courses that were suffering from "benign neglect." She said she worked with small groups to build trust, and that each member of the team cross-trained the others to solve the problem. Bowser pointed to his work in negotiating contracts in business, and then described a discussion over whether to form a PTA at Hearst Elementary School, adding that "the key was bringing people together."

Asked why they are seeking school board positions, Piderit said she has a "lifelong passion for education," and that she wanted to "play it forward." Bowser joked that his parents taught him to "leave a place nicer than you found it," while Laursen said she was educated in the public school system, herself, and that "public education is really important to me."

On the topic of what the role of a school board is, Bowser said the chief role is to "listen to the community," and that while people may not agree with a decision the board makes, at least they can be sure their opinion was heard.

Laursen outlined three areas of importance: hiring of a superintendent and staff, balancing the budget and setting the direction and vision of the schools' future.

Piderit said one key role is accountability; she said "schools guide students to the path of responsible citizenship."


A videotape of the candidates' forum will be shown on Community Television's Channel 28 on the following dates and times:

Friday, Sept. 17 - 11 p.m.

Saturday, Sept. 18 - 6 p.m.

Sunday, Sept. 19 - Noon

Monday, Sept. 20 - 11 p.m.

Tuesday, Sept. 21 - 2 p.m. and 11 p.m.

Videotape coverge of the Livermore school board election forum and the Dublin City Council candidates' forum also will be shown as various times on Chennel 28 starting Sept. 17. Check with TV30's Website for more information.

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Like this comment
Posted by Stacey
a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Sep 20, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Stacey is a registered user.

The school board also has to look long-term in addition to annual budgets. Common Core standards are coming to California within the next few years or so as the State ramps that up, now that is has been approved. (Common Core is a new national curriculum standard which has been adopted by over half the states.) It is going to include Algebra in the eighth grade. What are these candidates' thoughts on this issue?

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Posted by Stacey
a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Sep 20, 2010 at 12:42 pm

Stacey is a registered user.

More info on Common Core here: Web Link

The bigger question, of course, is how will California pay for the adoption of these new standards?

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Posted by Stacey
a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Sep 20, 2010 at 1:15 pm

Stacey is a registered user.

Just for some background on the issue of 8th grade Algebra and Common Core standards: Web Link

My understanding is that California's current standards are much higher than Common Core's, notwithstanding any debate around whether the current standards are too high. So adopting Common Core may be perceived as a step backwards. I haven't looked too closely at the issue of Common Core's preparation in earlier grades for Algebra.

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Posted by Glenn Wohltmann
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2010 at 1:51 pm


Please note that 85 percent of students in Pleasanton already take algebra, and that the API tests show 70 percent proficient or advanced.

Web Link

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Posted by Stacey
a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Sep 20, 2010 at 2:34 pm

Stacey is a registered user.

I wasn't clear in my first post regarding my mention of Algebra which is why I posted that additional link to some background information on it. The issue is that critics of Common Core believe that it doesn't do enough to prepare students in earlier grades for Algebra in 8th compared with current California standards.

"the all-consuming debate has been whether the state could adopt common core and maintain its rigorous math standards, including Algebra I in eighth grade."

There's three different outcomes posited:

"Five years after the adoption of common core math, what will be the impact on eighth graders?

A) The percentage taking Algebra I, currently about 60 percent (including 7th graders the year before), may increase, but even if it doesn’t, the proportion of those who are proficient in it after eighth grade, now about 48 percent, will rise.

B) The percentage taking Algebra I will fall drastically, probably in half right away, then decline over time to the teens, because common core leaves them unprepared for algebra at the end of seventh grade and overwhelmed in eighth.

C) California will once again have two tracks in math, with, you guessed it, more low-income and brown kids taking pre-algebra in eighth, with middle class Asians and whites taking Algebra I, with big implications as to who goes on to CSU campuses and the University of California."

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Posted by letsgo
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2010 at 2:35 pm

Stacey - I think you are right about the budget, yet it seems to be a very low priority for these candidates. We need a long term realistic plan. Just saying we need a "balanced budget" means nothing.

And how is finding an retaining good teachers a problem? I don't see a lot of teachers leaving our schools (by choice) every year. This would seem to be a waste of time and resources. But its an election and it sounds good, so lets just say it.

I don't think Common Core is much of an issue because as you say California Standards are at least as rigorous and usually more than the Common Core (at least as far as I could tell).

"I know the business of education," he said, adding, "I manage multi-million dollar companies." - This quote bothers me a little. If he his saying that education is exactly the same as a private company than that is a problem. If he just means he understand finances and how to control spending, then that is good.

We need the school board to figure out how to keep the budget in check. A school board with well established priorities whether that is class size, educational opportunities (more program and courses), infrastructure, teachers, etc. Without clear priorities it becomes a debate every year over what should happen the next year. That should not happen we should have a clear road map of where we want to be in 10 or 15 years and that way if finances change for the good or bad we know immediately what is going to be added or subtracted and they don't have to send out random polls.

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Posted by Stacey
a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Sep 20, 2010 at 2:40 pm

Stacey is a registered user.

Look at it this way, the State (and the district) is going to need to spend a lot of money implementing these new standards and for what? So that math proficiency decreases?

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Posted by letsgo
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2010 at 2:48 pm

Why do we want to force younger and younger students to take Algebra? Some students are ready and some are not. In Pleasanton, its basically been a standard for a while now that 8th graders take Algebra. The kids get through it and many never really understand it. Algebra is a fundamental need in math and truly understanding it would help many students make great strides in higher math courses as well as many science courses. Yes, we want to push them through earlier so they all don't have to take a math course senior year.

People talk about having "tracks" as this horrible thing and its only certain minorities/groups that are in one track and everyone else in another. The problem is we try to assume that everyone is the same. There are people who are good at math and others who find it more challenging (as with any other subject). Why do we continue to insist that they all learn at the same rate?

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Posted by letsgo
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2010 at 2:50 pm

Stacey - I didn't read the whole common core thing, but do you know what they would be spending money on to adopt these standards? Would it require different textbooks and things? My first impression is that its more for show than anything that would truly affect the schools here in Pleasanton (but again, I haven't read all the details).

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Posted by Hitsoketido
a resident of Ridgeview Commons
on Sep 20, 2010 at 3:10 pm

test Web Link - Yahodsddso!!! meeee

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Posted by Stacey
a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Sep 20, 2010 at 3:19 pm

Stacey is a registered user.

Money will be spent on new textbooks and other instructional material, new standardized tests, teacher and principal training, etc. An EdSource report from earlier this year predicts the cost to be something like $1.6B statewide: Web Link

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Posted by Sam Davis
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2010 at 8:35 pm

"And how is finding an retaining good teachers a problem? "

Where are you getting it that finding good teachers isn't a problem. And my older son's teacher left the profession though we thought she was very good, so losing good teachers is an issue as well.

Do you have children in the schools? Do you have any experience with the schools?

Like this comment
Posted by Yet Another Teacher
a resident of Hart Middle School
on Sep 20, 2010 at 10:23 pm

Hm, how to cut the budget...

Break the teachers' union and have all of the teachers be at-will employees? That way, salaries could be forced down.

Yep, that'd work, since most of PUSD's expenses are salaries for teachers and staff.

The problem of attracting and keeping good teachers is a long-term one not just for PUSD but for California as a whole. The teaching profession is looking less and less attractive to young people, for many reasons.

One, it's a stressful profession, and very much so. Teaching demands a lot of one's "family time" without the compensation of overtime pay (for example, I started grading and lesson planning at 5 am today and just finished a few minutes ago, at 10 pm--so I didn't get any time with my own family).

Two, teaching has always been low-paid, but with furlough days and no real pay increases in sight for the profession in this decade, how can graduates who owe $25,000-$50,000 in student loans afford to choose a teaching career?

Three, the turnover in the teaching profession as a whole is very high. Half of all new teachers leave the profession in the first five years. If I told you that half of all new doctors quit in the first five years, you'd say there was a crisis in the medical profession, and you'd be correct. Yet the same people are quite sanguine about the turnover in the teaching profession. With larger class sizes due to layoffs, most teachers are now, in effect, teaching an extra class a day. This makes it harder to maintain discipline, of course, and it is struggles with discipline that new teachers (and even us veterans!) cite as one of their primary reasons for being frustrated with teaching.

Fourth, out of 5 comparable districts, PUSD ranks either 4th or 5th for starting pay for new teachers (the rank changes from time to time, but we are definitely not at the top and have not been for many years).

One of the compensations teachers had in the past was that, despite the low pay, it was a safe and secure job. Even in the Great Depression, children went to school, and a low wage was better than none. But with massive teacher layoffs and furlough days for those remaining, and stagnant or even declining pay that grinds on year after year, that safety and security of the past is gone.

I love being a teacher, but I could not honestly recommend the profession to a young person who wanted to start a family. It is a struggle to live on even the "fabulous" salary many Pleasantonians seem to think teachers earn, and certainly few, if any, teachers could afford to buy a house in Pleasanton (I know I can't) unless they have a spouse who works in...well, any field but education!

Now I'll let you get back to the comparing of obscure facts and studies and launching veiled (and sometimes not-so-veiled) attacks on what little job security and guarantees against further declines in income (such as step-and-column increases).

Resume teacher-bashing in 3, 2, 1....

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Posted by Stacey
a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Sep 20, 2010 at 10:55 pm

Stacey is a registered user.

Here's one opinion on teacher quality:

"How to be top" Web Link

"McKinsey's conclusions seem more optimistic: getting good teachers depends on how you select and train them; teaching can become a career choice for top graduates without paying a fortune; and that, with the right policies, schools and pupils are not doomed to lag behind."

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Posted by no more teacher raises
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2010 at 11:43 pm

For Yet Another Teacher -- complain about your pay when you start working a "standard" work week. That means not having every weekend, every school holiday and every summer off. Yeah, you do work on your own time. Many teachers don't and most of the rest of us do as well. For no additional pay. Most people would love to work a part time job for a full time wage.

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Posted by question
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Sep 21, 2010 at 9:18 am

To "no more teacher raises",

Do you have any knowledge, contact, or experience with the Pleasanton schools system, or what the teachers here do? I'll go ahead and answer that. You don't have any. And if you aspire to be a teacher here, why not apply. You may not find it so easy.

We have one of the best school districts in the country here, and parents seek it out and pay a premium for their houses just to get their children in these schools.

Like this comment
Posted by Sensible
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Sep 21, 2010 at 10:49 am

The frequency, cost,and need for changing EDUCATIONAL material/books needs to be evaluated for JUSTIFICATION of expense. History books should never change, just thin update addendums purchased, etc. There are several new statewide & national RENTAL programs, that are working very well.
COUNTY education is a worthless, unnecessary layer that does NOTHING to further the CHILDLREN"S education. More prima donnas travelling to costly island conferences.
Current teacher pay would be OK IF bad teachers could be FIRED efficiently & quickly...without OPINIONS or interference of unions. "It's all about the children " is a big scam...a big lie. It's time for boards and councils to STOP the coddling & cowering at every word from the union rep. Your duty is to the parents of students, as to what they want. Always question the unions...HOW would that help the students.

Like this comment
Posted by Devon
a resident of Avignon
on Sep 21, 2010 at 10:51 am

I have the utmost respect for our teachers. Their pay is extremely low relative to the education they are required to attain. I know I can NEVER have the patience to deal with 33 children that I couldn't care less about on a daily basis. Throw a few of those juvenile delinquents into the mix and the teachers' job can become a nightmare. So please show some respect for our teachers.

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Posted by Sensible
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Sep 21, 2010 at 1:08 pm

To Yet another..... this is not teacher bashing just a reality check.
Likely a majority of all Mothers you could ask, would say their family-time is rare and hectic. Most couples you'd ask would say it takes TWO to save for a starter home, keep a house, and upgrade to moderate, longer-term takes two checks for many, forever. Pleasanton is an EXCEPTION. More here came with 'family' money and more than most parts of the state or nation, lucked out on the pot-of-gold in right place, right time in silicon valley startups....not reality any place except right around here. So the woe-is- me is not realistic. And quite the contrary. I've know many dual educators and that combo works very well, both teach one summer, both travel Europe the next summer, options most middle-class starting couple don't have....I chose home upgrades and as a senior, have never been to Europe. And educators continue to travel the world to their dying days, because they have secure pensions, which very few in the real world have. So, you better think long and hard about reality befored you make assumptions about most positions on the outside. Most jobs have stress, back biting for promotions, layoffs, company closures, deciding to contribute to 401k this year, or go to a state park , Hawaii for bi-annual vacation, etc...choices, choices.

Like this comment
Posted by Really?
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Sep 21, 2010 at 10:01 pm

Sensible, why in the world did you not choose to be a teacher? Sounds like you feel you didn't make the sensible choice.

Like this comment
Posted by Me Too
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Sep 28, 2010 at 2:54 pm

Sensible makes it sound so good, i think I will become a teacher.

At least teachers don't have to decide to contribute to a 401K, they are required to pay into the pension fund (8% of their salary). Oh, and sense I will be switching from private sector I will lose all of that social security I have been paying into, so no worry about trying to collect that. At least I won't have to worry about fighting for a promotion because there are none. I can make a little bit more if I take bunch of classes and do sometimes get a cost of living adjustment. Teachers never have to worry if their stock options are going to go up or if I should sell them now. They don't have to worry if their bonus is going to be 10% or 15%. They don't have to worry about how much PUSD is going to pay for healthcare because it is 0.

Sensible is right, there appears to be extremely high pay and no worries as a teacher. Why is there a shortage of math and science teachers?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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