Pleasanton school board reviews ethics, finances

Union leader asks board members to 'sit down at the table' to hear issues affecting district

Trustees became students at Tuesday night's meeting of the Pleasanton Unified School District board, with back-to-back workshops on ethics and finances.

"We believe in ongoing professional learning as a school district, and this is modeled by our Trustees, who are always willing and interested in learning together as a team," said Superintendent Parvin Ahmadi.

Representatives of the Kingsley Bogard Law Firm led the five elected members of the school board through a detailed review of laws governing ethics and conflicts of interest. Attorney Mary Bogard cited a 1985 court case, in which it was established that conflict of interest laws are to halt not only impropriety, but also "the appearance of impropriety."

Attorney Paul Gant reviewed specifics of the Political Reform Act, noting that the underlying principle is to ensure that "public officials are here to serve the public interest."

Each year, school board members, district administrators, school principals, and other designated staff members are required to file a form listing their income and assets, including gifts.

As noted in the Board Handbook, gifts could include "money, food, transportation, accommodations, tickets, flowers, and articles for household, office, or recreational use.

Gant said trustees are prohibited from accepting honoraria for giving a speech or writing an article.

There are exceptions, including that of returning the unused gift within 30 days; donating it to a non-profit (501©3) organization, or paying fair market value for the item. The intent is to prevent decision-makers from being swayed by personal financial gain, either for themselves or for their family members or businesses.

The handbook outlines the "Three D's" for a public official who may be in a conflict of interest prior to a decision: Disclose by publicly announcing the specific financial interest that is the source of the disqualification: Do not participate in the discussion or vote upon the issue, and, depart, not only from the dais, but also the room during the discussion and vote.

The school board also discussed and reviewed Government Code Section 1090, which forbids them from having any financial interest in contracts they make for the school district.

The focus of the next workshop will be on the long-term debt of the district and how it is being managed.

Luz Cazares, deputy superintendent of business services, described the four kinds of long-term debt the school district currently has: General Obligation Bonds; Certificates of Participation; capital leases; and other post-employment benefits.

As of the June 30, 2013 audit, the school district owed $65 million for General Obligation Bonds approved by voters in Measures A and B for school facility renovations and expansions. This year's payment was $13 million.

Cazares explained that the county determines the tax rate based on assessed valuation and the debt payments due. Currently the district's tax rate is $92 per $100,000 assessed valuation, placing it in the middle of the K-12 districts in the county.

The highest rate for Pleasanton in the past 26 years was $121 in 1996-97; lowest rate was $57 in 1989-90.

The tax rate for the district is expected to drop to $69 next fiscal year, then to zero in 10 years, when the General Obligation Bonds are paid off, providing that the projection of 2-4% growth per year in assessed valuation holds true. According to Cazares, the district's assessed valuation increased by 4% this year.

Certificates of Participation were issued to finance additional high school classrooms, build a child care facility, acquire land for Thomas Hart Middle School and pay for the infrastructure for the Neal site. The district currently owes $17.5million in this category. Developer fees were used to pay for Certificates of Participation, with a special reserve set up for economic times when developer fees might not be available.

The smallest amount of long-term debt is in the capital lease category. The district owes $215,750 for lighting retrofits and heating/ventilation/air-conditioning at school sites.

This year's payment was $143,908. The final payment will be made in the 2015-16 fiscal year, and then the money formerly budgeted for this purpose will be added to the fund for technology.

Deputy Superintendent Cazares noted that because the district has been able to reduce the amount it pays for annual debt service, the savings have been set aside in a separate fund for technology.

This prompted a discussion of the rising importance, and cost, of up-to-date technology for students. Trustee Chris Grant suggested that the board begin planning a long-term financial strategy not only for school facilities, but also for technology.

The final type of long-term debt is "other post-employment benefits," meaning other than pensions.

The present value of future benefits is $41 million, with $17 million accrued actuarial liability. Government Accounting Standard Board Statement #45 now requires school districts to demonstrate how they will pay the accrued actuarial liability.

Pleasanton has set aside $2.4 million in a special reserve fund. The deputy superintendent said that she may bring a proposal to the board next fall to establish a trust fund to fulfill the obligations for other post-retirement benefits. That looks more feasible now that the economy is improving, she said, since trust funds cannot be tapped for other purposes. No action would be likely before 2015.

The school board has asked staff members to draft a request for proposal to accomplish two tasks: Identify, evaluate, and acquire land for an additional elementary school, and explore the possibility of a sale or exchange of real property.

Board president Jamie Hintzke asked that the latter include researching whether it would be worth it to move the district's central services to a different location, develop and lease a portion of the current district office site, and build new schools for Village Continuation High School and Horizon School for teen parents.

"We need to put everything on the table, think outside the box," Hintzke said. Scheduled for the next school board agenda is the update to the facilities master plan and a look at how it might be financed.

During the brief public comment section that preceded the workshops, four employees and one parent addressed the board.

Donna Willy, registrar for Foothill High School, said that because Foothill's enrollment is lower than Amador Valley High School's, it has fewer sections allocated and therefore larger class sizes. She asked the board to add up to 15 additional sections for next school year.

Also, two staff members repeated concerns they expressed at the March 11 board meeting.

Both Mary Snell, health clerk at Walnut Grove Elementary, and Linda Pipe, registrar at Amador Valley, claimed that their reputations have been damaged because they were inaccurately portrayed in an investigative report about Walnut Grove. Both acknowledged that the superintendent had responded to them in writing by March 13, but they were not satisfied by her invitation to review their personnel folders and add any comments they wished to write out. Both sought apologies.

Paige Wright-Henry, a Walnut Grove parent, asked the school board to consider a second investigation into allegations at her children's school, claiming that the last one was based on "unsubstantiated hearsay."

She said that both parents and staff members "fear retaliation," and that office staff members and parent club volunteers had not been interviewed as part of the investigative process.

Alex Sutton, president of the California School Employees Association, invited school board members to "sit down at the table to hear issues," to make sure they were fully informed of what was happening in the school district.

The next school board meeting will be held April 22 at the district office, 4665 Bernal Avenue.

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Like this comment
Posted by What a joke
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 10, 2014 at 9:10 am

Ahmadi says Trustees are "always willing and interested"? Valerie Arkin seemed to be the only one interested during the public comments when employees reported NO action per their requests. Bowser looked totally uninterested, didn't takes his eyes off his iPad. Disinterest is not what we need in the next Alameda County Superintendant's post. I'm sure there is a much better candidate out there. What a joke.

Like this comment
Posted by Pro-Law
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 10, 2014 at 10:07 am

It would be nice if the board picked a superintendent who either went to Pleasanton schools, worked for Pleasanton schools, or have had children going to Pleasanton schools for several years. I'm not sure if this current superintendent had any of those before being hired, but she does seem rather out of touch with our community. Does she have any association with the area before being hired here?

Like this comment
Posted by local
a resident of Birdland
on Apr 10, 2014 at 11:51 am

Ethics is apparently not a high priority at the district. Several years ago the citizen's committee investigating finances, with recommendation from the consultant that was hired to help unravel the finances (since our own finance people did not know how capital money was being spend), told the administration and board they needed ethics training. The school board accepted this but it has taken years to get to the ethics training. Obviously not a high priority.

Like this comment
Posted by Lou
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 10, 2014 at 1:05 pm

Does it seem a bit hypocritical that the Legal Firm who has been so instrumental in the Jon Vranesh debacle would be teaching about ETHICS? Is anyone else shaking their heads right now? Add that to the fact that PUSD can't even spell ETHICS let alone act ethically? REALLY????

Like this comment
Posted by Scumbag Central
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 10, 2014 at 1:46 pm

Also, PUSD has re-hired Louis Leone, the scumbag lawyer who recently blamed a child in a neighboring school district as being the child' fault that they were molested by a teacher.

The legal brief he filed said the 12 year old “was herself responsible for the acts and damages of which she claims”. Don't believe me? Read this Web Link or use Google to find all about it.

He was also the District's lawyer during the failed Neal School trial.

Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of Highland Oaks
on Apr 10, 2014 at 3:33 pm

If you live long enough, the chances are better than average that you'll see just about everything at least once.


Like this comment
Posted by Local
a resident of Birdland
on Apr 10, 2014 at 4:50 pm

Does anybody know how much the district paid the legal firm for this 'ethics' training? The City of Pleasanton already has this available for commissioners, staff and council so not sure why the school district did not just ask the city to give the class.

Hum, wonder if their ethics training covered arms trafficking being unethical? The leader of the Senate said that Yee might not have known that arms trafficking was wrong since it was not covered in their ethics training. You can see this at: Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Good lord
a resident of Amador Estates
on Apr 10, 2014 at 8:58 pm

Seriously? We need a superintendent who went to Pleasanton schools or has kids in Pleasanton schools? Give me a break. I'm glad Superintendent Ahmadi is outside of the school district. We need to get our children ready for the larger world and not be too Pleasanton focussed.

Like this comment
Posted by Annoyed
a resident of Del Prado
on Apr 11, 2014 at 9:32 am

Are you kidding me? Alex Sutton and ethics in the same column? Too funny and so wrong. (Comment partially removed by Pleasanton Weekly Online staff)

Like this comment
Posted by Also local
a resident of Birdland
on Apr 11, 2014 at 12:04 pm


Apparently you either do not understand irony, or are being deliberately misleading. Darrell Steinberg's comment about Leland Yee was not making the point that Yee wouldn't have understand that arms trafficking was wrong. He was making the point that it was so obviously wrong that it didn't need to be specifically addressed in an ethics class. Similarly, murder, burglary, etc. are also presumably not specifically covered in the Senate's ethics training - they are clearly illegal. Sheesh.

Also, way to take the thread off topic.

Like this comment
Posted by Brian
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 11, 2014 at 12:14 pm

California School Employees Association president Alex Sutton needs to pay close attention to that ethics/conflict of interest presentation by Kingsley Bogard Law Firm. His daughter, Valexis Sutton, is the person who filed the complaint accusing Mr Vranesh of using foul language and creating a hostile work environment which led to his removal as principle and is costing the district hundreds of thousands of dollars. I know Alex Sutton participated in the open discussions about Mr Vranesh, but I don't know if he participated behind the scenes. If he did, that's clearly a conflict of interest. He and his daughter should be investigated to see what role that conflict of interest played in the removal of Mr Vranesh.

Like this comment
Posted by Cholo
a resident of Livermore
on Apr 11, 2014 at 5:38 pm

What happens in a discussion about Ethics? What exactly is a discussion re: finances? Please explain.

Like this comment
Posted by highdiver
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 12, 2014 at 7:51 pm

We live in a country where we are all free to complain, anonymously even. If the current School Board doesnt suit you, a person has the opportunity to run for a seat on the School Board. During our last School Board election no new person ran for office. Is that a compliment to their handling of things or apathy?

If one really feels they are doing such a bad job run for office and not just complain even tho it's your right or is it privilege to complain.

Like this comment
Posted by Christine
a resident of Del Prado
on Apr 12, 2014 at 8:28 pm

I applaud Valerie Arkin for pushing for answers in regards to Mary Snell and Linda Pipe. Why on earth would the District be so reluctant to apologize for the damage they caused these women? Why should Mary and Linda have to keep coming back? And the comments by Paige Wright are equally disturbing. Banned from working at Walnut Grove because of a difference of opinion? Wow. McCarthy-ism at it's finest. The culture of bullying and retaliation at Walnut Grove is alive and well thanks to teachers who continue to revel in their "power". I look forward to more people coming forward now that there's a bright light shining all over this corruption. And I'd really like to know how many hundreds of thousands of dollars have been wasted on this dog and pony show run by our spineless, unethical District.

Like this comment
Posted by Jtjh
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Apr 12, 2014 at 9:25 pm

The video of the board meeting is now available online. Follow this link. (Or just Google Tri-valley Community television):

Web Link

To go directly to the Public Comments section (followed by Valerie Arkin's questions) click on "Community" in the menu below the video window. The Ethics training session comes soon afterwards.

Like this comment
Posted by Jtjh
a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School
on Apr 12, 2014 at 10:08 pm

I really admire Donna Willy, the Foothill registrar, for drawing the public's attention to the class size discrepancies between the two high schools, during the community members' comments section.

To take such a stand in a public meeting, before the superintendent (her boss), on behalf of the school's students, must have taken a lot of courage. I do hope it doesn't adversely affect her long career. And, as a community member and erstwhile district parent, I offer her my most grateful thanks.

Like this comment
Posted by FHS Parent
a resident of Del Prado
on Apr 13, 2014 at 9:45 am

Thank you Donna Wily for bringing the continued inequity between Amador and Foothill to the public's attention. The numbers don't lie and as a parent whose child is in a crowded Freshman English and other core classes, I am confused with the superintendent's response. She acted surprised as to why this is being discussed. Obviously it is NOT being addressed and Mrs. Wily felt the board needed to know. It is important to note that despite the high numbers, Foothill teachers continue to do a great job. They are committed to the students and continue to graduate students who go on to attend high level colleges like MIT, Stanford, Duke and CAL. It's time for the ' Amador' love fest to end and stop denying the facts. Add the sections FHS deserves.

Like this comment
Posted by sunflower
a resident of Amador Estates
on Apr 13, 2014 at 12:19 pm

Thank you to Linda, Mary and Paige for once again speaking out. I continue to be baffled over the discomfort some feel of honest, intellectual disagreement. A huge thank you also to our wonderful parent groups who work tirelessly to fund raise and advocate for our kids. Having served on the officer nominating committee in past years, I know how difficult it is to recruit the right people for the right jobs. Those who express interest deserve the fullest support and the integrity of the selection process must be respected - even by those with opposing views.

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

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