Bond discussion shows district security issues, technology aspirations

From fire alarms to security cameras, staff say district needs immediate updates

Pleasanton Unified staff presented a surprising picture of isolated decay and troublesome security holes at some schools due to a lack of funding to update buildings.

The reports were made as part of a board discussion on how best to pursue a bond measure this fall.

The school board is considering asking voters to approve a bond measure during the Nov. 8 elections. The bond would likely be used for facilities construction and upgrades and for technology enhancements.

At Saturday's special board workshop, district staff and experts outlined schools' immediate needs and described a plan to pass a bond of $312 million. A bond of that amount would mean an additional property tax of $60 per $100,000 assessed valuation -- a rate that polled above the needed 55% voter threshold.

Pleasanton Unified has not passed voter-approved funding since 1997, when voters approved a $69.8 million bond measure. Pleasanton property owners are currently paying $23.90 per $100,000 assessed valuation, which gives it the second-lowest bond revenue among Alamada County school and community college districts, according to a presentation from financial advising firm Keygent Advisors.

Staff described how the district's phone system lacks the ability to make district-wide intercom announcements in an emergency, how the fire alarms don't alert all classrooms in some schools and how strangers are able to walk on some campuses because they aren't fenced in. Staff stated the problems range from leaking roofs to playground tripping hazards from cracked asphalt.

Board members said the reality is the district has scrimped and saved to avoid the disastrous cutbacks that occurred at some districts during the recession, and needs like paint and new pavement took a backseat to employee salaries and challenging student programs.

"Clearly, there are huge needs. There's no way we are structurally, facility-wise, matched with any of our neighbors," board president Jamie Hintzke said in an interview after the meeting.

Of the $312 million, $283 million would be used for facilities and $29 million would be used for technology. The final amount, along with ballot text that would include an itemized list of projects, is expected to be approved in a June or July board meeting ahead of the August 12 deadline.

During the three-hour meeting, district interim director of facilities, maintenance, operations and transportation June Rono said security concerns are the most urgent.

While fire alarms work in all classrooms, some schools' systems aren't connected campus-wide, he said.

"The problem is when you do have a major fire, it is possible there are wings in that campus that wouldn't know," he said.

The district's phone system is 26 years old and lacks basic modern capabilities, like the ability to make a district-wide emergency alert over the intercom. Voicemails aren't even able to be forwarded on some phones, Pleasanton Unified director of technology Amy Nichols told the board.

"The only way we can buy many parts for our phone system is to go on eBay and cross our fingers, and I am not kidding," Nichols told the board.

Staff said there had been situations where students and staff had been minorly hurt by cars in parking lots due to inefficient traffic flow. Romo mentioned the roofs on some school are still made up of gravel and tar, and some schools' security cameras are failing or broken.

In general, schools said these were their top priorities for facilities improvement:

-Reconfigure parking with new canopy and access driveway

-Multipurpose room expansion for music, physical education and lunch

-Classroom buildings to replace portables

-New lunch shelter

-Reconfigure rooms into science labs

-Repair skylights, new lighting, HVAC

The district is also looking at getting overhead projectors and better audio systems for classrooms, Nichols said. The projectors would provide a clearer image and the wires could be installed under the floor and behind walls to eliminate tripping hazards, which are especially a problem in elementary classrooms.

She said the estimate also includes the possibility of providing a device -- perhaps a Chromebook or a tablet -- to each teacher, each student from fourth to 12th grade and enough devices for younger students to share.

Board members said they'd need to work out the details around giving every student a device, such as a rollout schedule and considerations about allowing students to bring their own devices.

"Over the long haul, we would hope this would replace the need for school sites to come up with innovative ways to fund," Nichols said.

Nichols said the benefits are that it allows teachers to incorporate digital studies into each subject and testing can be done online. She also said providing the right type of furniture is critical because teachers need to be able to move desks and chairs easily for certain lessons, and some types of furniture use space more efficiently than others.

Board member Chris Grant said since many Pleasanton Unified parents work in Silicon Valley or in the technology sector, they expect their schools to teach critical skills related to computers and innovation.

"Our community is very technologically advanced and we as a district aspire to have kids who can compete anywhere in the world, and part of that is learning in an environment that is conducive to group thinking, to critical thinking skills and to utilizing technology," board member Chris Grant said.

The board didn't make any decisions at its Saturday meeting since the meeting was arranged as a workshop but asked staff to bring back more information at upcoming public meetings.

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2 people like this
Posted by Interesting
a resident of Birdland
on May 24, 2016 at 8:58 am

Interesting that this article states that $26 million is proposed to technology with possibly devices for every student 4-12th. With the current budget cuts to the technology department...there will be less support. Crazy how the district wants to go forward with technology but continues to make cuts to the technology support department.

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Posted by Pete
a resident of Downtown
on May 24, 2016 at 11:03 am

Someone is committing afraid here. I was surveyed and not once was $60 per $100,000 mentioned. I think the number was $30 to which I said no until such time as the two other school bonds we have are paid off. I have been talking about this issue at the senior center and around town and 90%+ of the people I talk to would vote no. Same reasons are high taxes and why haven't these facilities been maintained out of the annual maintenance budget. Where has all the money gone?

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Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on May 24, 2016 at 11:12 am

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

The isolated decay and troublesome security holes are all a matter of deferred maintenance-the money the district should put aside for repairs or upgrades. While the state, unsurprisingly, cut off their portion of funding for a period, it did not absolve districts from contributing funds to those needs.

The $312 million ask is over the top. At one point, a few on the committee who reviewed this prior to a survey indicated the ask should be half that amount. It is less of a hit for property owners while we are still paying off prior bonds*, and it is an opportunity for the district to build confidence and trust in their ability to use tax dollars properly. *The fact there has not been a new bond is due largely to the cash out refinances that extended how long taxpayers would have to pay.

“…the district scrimped and saved to avoid the disastrous cutbacks that occurred at some districts during the recession, and needs like paint and new pavement took a backseat to employee salaries…” So, as was indicated at the time, they scrimped and saved to give raises they couldn’t afford.

Bond funds should be used for new structures and replacing old buildings, not maintenance. As for technology, had the district not spent years borrowing from the Sycamore fund (and are contemplating doing that again), there would most likely be enough money generated by interest to cover some, much, or all of the technology needs.

“…used for facilities…” There still is no project list?

The Board needs to make these decisions, or at least produce a list, before school is out. Every staff and board member knows families disconnect over the summer months and are likely not to watch this as it gets passed in late June or July. This is hardly a way to address transparency concerns.

This is truly a disappointment.

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Posted by money and taxes
a resident of Del Prado
on May 24, 2016 at 11:28 am

When I looked at the priority list "reconfigure parking and canopy" - I wish I had a Christmas list like what is wanted by staff.
On technology - if parents expect to have the highest technology for students because we are near the Silicon Valley, I feel that at lot of the parents can supply the tablets. If unable to because of income, then run it like you do for the lunch programs. I remember when children were responsible for all school materials except for books -

The article says we are paying $23.90 per $100,000 now. How long is this for and now you want an additional $60 per $100,000 - HOW LONG IS THIS FOR?

This reminds me of when we were asked for $250,000 to modernize part of the school districts offices - sometimes we just have to learn to live within a budget.

The teachers in Pleasanton are some of the highest paid in the area and I realize this makes it that we have a tremendous amount of teachers that want to work in the Pleasanton school district - but all of this costs.

No voter approved since 1997 - I can see why when you want the amount of money you are requesting. Again start charging more to developers that are coming in.

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Posted by Pete
a resident of Downtown
on May 24, 2016 at 3:48 pm


We had this discussion before when I was surveyed. They discussed $30 dollars per $100,000 of assessed value and I asked "well what do we need to have built and how does it cost"? His answer was well we don't know until we find out how much money the voters will approve then we'll figure it out. Life doesn't work this way or shouldn't!!

We have maintained annually what we have built and maintenance costs are expense spending and I bet they took the money allocated for maintain ce and used it for "other" spending.

This will never pass as people are not this stupid. PW you should investigate this school board and district.

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Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on May 25, 2016 at 11:28 am

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

The survey was supposed to ask about two thresholds because the committee was divided on the ask. I don't know how the firm handled the survey, but I thought they were to start at $60 and drop to $30 if the reaction was negative at $60. The idea was to test tolerance. I can't imagine why they would start at $30--different than my understanding.

I really want to support a specific list of non-maintenance projects at the lower amount. I cannot support $60 and a shift of expenses for a lot of deferred maintenance.

2 people like this
Posted by Ptown Parent
a resident of Birdland
on May 25, 2016 at 7:07 pm

Kathleen, how do you think the schools should pay for these repairs? Shoulda, coulda, woulda on past actions, but how should they try to fix things now? There is another PW article today talking about long time funding problems that continue now. It said they would only buy furniture when things break. They probably don't have the money to pay for repairing concrete if they can't pay for furniture and keep staff. I don't understand why the schools shouldn't look for other ways to pay for repairs? I do agree that paying more taxes would be hard, but don't our kids deserve a nice place to go to school?

2 people like this
Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on May 25, 2016 at 7:41 pm

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

Well, if you tear down a gym and there are peripherals, certainly fix them. But should we reward bad management with more money, and $312 million at that? Again, the Sycamore fund could be raided once again for a gym/kitchen at Village if a bond fails. And it isn't clear that project is worthwhile because no one is considering broader uses for that site. The city and district aren't thinking about a collaboration for a city "center." But that's a longer discussion.

Here is the link to the Facilities Master Plan: Web Link I apologize because I received a 10ish page excerpt from that report. It listed many *projects* many might not agree with paying for with a bond. Which is why I think the exact list should be released before school is out for the summer. The governance team has been discussing this on and off for years and should be ready now.

As I said, I want to support a reasoned approach. $312 million is not reasonable.

Like this comment
Posted by Me Too
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on May 25, 2016 at 10:16 pm

Pete - what other two bonds are you referring to?

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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on May 25, 2016 at 10:23 pm

Why is $312 million not reasonable?

There does not seem to be any foundation to your assessment of what is reasonable. If you think that there is not $312 million worth of repairs that need to be done, please share with us the "true" costs that it will take to make the schools up to date. I get the feeling you are just saying it is unreasonable because it is the first number. If they had started with $600 million and then come down to $312 million it probably would be better.

Our schools are falling apart. Are we going to punish future students because the district and our elected officials had difficulties with budgeting just to prove a point? The point is we all need to act now. We need to put a school board into place that can do the job. It doesn't matter what happened in the past. We need to move forward with what we have and what we have to work with.

I certainly don't want you punishing my children for a lack of school board control 10 years ago.

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Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on May 25, 2016 at 10:28 pm

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

I believe the bonds passed in 1988 and 1997. We are still paying on them due to cash out refinancings. Roughly $20 per $100,000 of assessed valuation (not the same as what you might sell your home for) for a few more years, although I think that rate gradually drops until 2021. This is from recollection, not my notes.

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

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