PUSD discusses parcel tax recommendations, budget issues | January 28, 2011 | Pleasanton Weekly | PleasantonWeekly.com |


Pleasanton Weekly

News - January 28, 2011

PUSD discusses parcel tax recommendations, budget issues

More cuts likely to come in 2012-13 school year

by Glenn Wohltmann

The Pleasanton school board is one step closer to seeking a parcel tax after getting the go-ahead from its two consultants.

Bryan Godbe, president of Godbe Research, said the measure, with a tax set at $98, would pass, even with the margin of error of 4.8%.

"This could be 67% on the low side, which is still a win," Godbe told the board Tuesday night.

The tax needs a two-thirds approval rating, or 66.6%, to pass.

Earlier this month, Godbe Research did a follow up to its initial survey, done late last year, with similar results.

The latest survey of 400 voters showed 71% would support a parcel tax, and that 69% would back a tax of $98.

However, Charles Heath, principal of TBWB Strategies said a strong push is still needed to ensure a win.

"There needs to be an independent campaign to make sure those 'probably yeses' become 'yeses,'" Health said.

He said there's enough support for a committee at each school, and the push should involve the school site committee, the PTA and parents to push for the measure, which would be on the ballot in May at an estimated cost of $200,000 to $250,000.

Part of the effort would be to offset potential opposition, including that the tax would protect union jobs, allow for salary increases, would have no rules about spending, and that school administrators make too much and have too many perquisites.

Nine people in support of a parcel tax addressed the board, including several businessmen, seniors and parents.

A $98 parcel tax would likely net the district about $2 million a year over the four years it's in effect. Board Member Chris Grant said that's only about 10% of the money that's been cut by the state and less than half the amount school employees gave back to the district through furlough days.

Based on comments from the board Tuesday night, the parcel tax is likely to be approved, although it will come up for a formal vote at the next board meeting on Feb. 1, and board members said they'd like to hear more input from residents.

The board will also discuss its budget. Tuesday night, however, Luz Cázares, assistant superintendent of business services, offered the board two budget scenarios based on Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed budget. In what she called the bad scenario, the district could find itself with a $13.7 million shortfall by the 2012-13 school year. That's if an extension of taxes slated to come up for a statewide vote in June fails and the district is required to pay for county mental health services currently covered by state funding.

Even in the better of the two scenarios, she said the district could have to cut another $3.5 million from its budget for the 2012-13 school year.

Cázares pointed out that neither of the scenarios included revenue from a parcel tax or income generated by Pleasanton Partnerships In Education (PPIE) which, including donations from its CORE (Community OutReach for Education), raised $660,000 over the last year or so.

She said there are only three ways to deal with the shortfall: reducing spending by cutting programs and through further employee concessions; increasing revenues, as with a parcel tax and fundraising; or by spending the district's reserves, which amount to $4.6 million, including $2.7 million in one-time money from the federal jobs act.

Cázares repeated something she's said during the last few board meetings, that no matter what, the budget picture will change.

"This is step one of many, many steps that are going to be taken," she told the board. "This will change many times."

The board did receive some positive news about its finances, however. An annual audit required by the state showed few problems with the school's accounting practices, although some tweaking will need to be done with relatively minor issues. Cázares said similar adjustments are made every year.

In other matters Tuesday, the board heard about proposed revisions to the district's wellness policy. The policy has been seven years in the making, said Diane Howell, director of human resources, and it covers both student and staff physical and mental health. Howell noted that many of the proposed changes have been implemented gradually over the last few years.

The proposed changes have met with some resistance from parents and teachers who are worried the revisions would require all students to have recess rather than to be able to spend time in the school library, make up unfinished work in class, or even if a student misbehaves.

Bill Faraghan, assistant superintendent of human resources, said that's still being discussed, although the revised policy states that "recess should not be used as a punishment or a reward."

"What we're looking for is a balance," he continued. "We're looking at how we can generate alternatives to keeping children in on a regular basis."

The board also heard from several school principals about plans to close the achievement gap. Kim Michaels, principal of Fairlands Elementary, for example, has begun a mentoring program that brings fifth-graders into kindergarten classrooms to help the younger students learn.


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