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The Kingdom for a Time Machine

Original post made by Kathleen, Vintage Hills Elementary School, on Apr 3, 2009

I had asked the Board (posted in another thread) what had happened to the plan to have a 7% reserve. The response was “I have not heard that as a goal of the board for many, many years.” I thought maybe I pulled up really old data on the district web site. Here is what I found went I went back.

Web Link Click on “Goals 06-07” or 0708 or 0809

Major Goals of a General Nature
2. Manage the District budget process to ensure financial stability by balancing income with expenditures, providing financial resources for the many competing priorities of the District, and implementing a long-range plan to reestablish reserves to a 7% level.

Major Goals of a General Nature
6. Establish a policy to address fiscal accountability and appropriate reserve levels.

Other Major Goals
3. Establish a policy to address fiscal accountability and appropriate reserve levels.

We went from a goal of implementing a long-range plan to reestablish reserves to a goal of establishing a policy . . . in one school year. I will mention that the rest of the response spoke of adding counselors and reading and science specialists—good things to be sure—and that a 7% reserve would have added $3.5 million, which represents less than 10% of the anticipated shortfall over the next 4 years—no reason to disbelieve that figure. But as noted on the blogs, there were also three years of large raises leading up to the current school year (roughly $14.5 million). That’s a total of $18 million. And if the federal funds arrive next month as predicted, we’re up to a possible $20.1 million. The parcel tax is $18.5 million.

I realize that district employees could not reasonably be expected to have zero percent raises for multiple years in a row, even with the annual step and column increases many receive, but there clearly was room to add services, give raises, and still have a healthier reserve that could be carrying the district through the problems created this year at the state level. It would also have bought the community precious time, particularly in this economy and with so many families acting responsibly to find ways to reduce their own expenditures as they face salary cuts and layoffs. Ask those in the district who received pink slips if they would trade smaller raises then for a job next year. I think even those who will have jobs next year would make that trade for their colleagues and friends.

The district did not act responsibly and should not be allowed to fall back on taxpayers for relief, particularly with no guarantee that the lesson is learned and the behavior will change. The kingdom for a time machine.

Comments (6)

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Posted by Sandy
a resident of Mohr Park
on Apr 4, 2009 at 6:49 pm

Sandy is a registered user.


It is a shame that the board does not have more reserves.

Even if I concede your point that the members of the board (not all of whom are still on the board) should have had more foresight....

why should we fix this "problem" at the expense of the kids who will be in bigger classes next year, with fewer counselors, intervention programs, assistant principals, and support staff?

I'm not going to punish the kids of the community for the sins of "the district". People who feel that "the district" has been irresponsible should run for school board, or petition board members to discipline "the district".

Hindsight is 20/20. Since we cannot turn back time, we need to face the challenges we have now, instead of wishing that we had more reserves.

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Posted by kathleen
a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School
on Apr 4, 2009 at 10:18 pm

kathleen is a registered user.

You would be handing $18.4 million in taxpayer dollars to the same people who got us here in the first place. The educational conversation is accountability. I believe that if you hold those responsible to be accountable for their previous actions, other options will appear. If you give them the money, they learn nothing. And past practice will likely continue.

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Posted by Sandy
a resident of Mohr Park
on Apr 5, 2009 at 12:10 am

Sandy is a registered user.

Kathleen, I appreciate your clarification, and I apologize in advance for asking another series of questions. I do want to be sure I understand your point of view.

When you write about "the same people who got us here in the first place" are you talking about members of the board? Or the superintendent? or the unions which sought the salary increases when (hindsight suggests) money should have been socked away into a rainy-day fund or reserve?

The board is accountable to the voters. Which board members do you think took irresponsible actions? If you believe they are not acting in the best interests of the children, then why not present specifics? If you were to run again for school board, would you run against the record of a specific board member?

It seems to me that holding the board accountable is best done through elections of board members, rather than through the budgeting process.

The superintendent is accountable to the board.

The unions are accountable to their leadership.

I'm new to Pleasanton, so I don't know the history, and it would be very useful for me to understand how the decision to reduce the amount in the reserves was made.

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Posted by Kathleen
a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School
on Apr 5, 2009 at 6:55 pm

Kathleen is a registered user.

Sandy, Sorry I couldn’t get to this sooner. No need to apologize. I’ll do my best to respond.

It’s difficult to slice and dice the who. There are two board members who are new since November, so I would leave them out. The board acts on and trusts the information provided by staff. The one consistent factor in this regard is the superintendent. Negotiations have an inherent problem, if one union negotiates for more than the other, both boats rise to the higher level. Non-represented employees and management often have what are called “me too” clauses, so their boat also rises at the same percentage or benefit. It’s a bit of the fox watching the hen house. It is a particular problem when administration has people close to retirement. Their payments (certificated staff—teachers, principals, management) are based on the three highest years of pay. The implication being that it’s hard to remain conservative.

That leaves three board members and at least the superintendent from the administrative side that were not fiscally prudent. First, I wouldn’t run again because I believe you should have children in the district. I could probably get by with having a grandchild (and I do). There are other threads where I presented specifics and other posters (on both sides) that have done so. The easiest ones are the fact that no money was put aside for economic uncertainty (a line item in the budget), funds were spent from the reserves*, a 7% reserve would have added $3.5 million (and provided the district and community time to consider all the options), the $2.1 million coming from the federal government not being included in the budget (I have seen the reasons the district states), the cost of the election doubling (from $150,000 to $300,000) to move it to June 2, the fact that the district does not have to have its 09-10 budget in place until after the election (June 30), the fact that a survey was not conducted because the previous survey indicated there was insufficient support for the tax, and large raises given over a three-year period $14.5 million). *Getting information about the movement of money in and out of the reserve account requires a request under the Public Records Act.

Boards have three major responsibilities: hiring and evaluating the superintendent, policy, and the budget. Budgets are required to be balanced, although PUSD had a qualified first interim financial report—a first for the district as far as I know. Four years is a long time to wait to oust a board member when there are budget problems, and this board is looking to rectify the problems they caused (exacerbated by the state problems) by asking for more money. PUSD has a recent history of appointing new members—outside the election process. Once appointed, they can run as incumbents—difficult to unseat. I believe some have run unopposed because of it. I say this because I was appointed and reelected. I’m pretty sure that when choosing a board member, the default is to find someone who most likely shares the views of the majority of the board. I certainly think that was possible when I was appointed.

I think you meant the union leadership is responsible to its members. I hardly think the teachers receiving pink slips feel the union, the district, or the board is representing them well. And there aren’t many ways for those teachers to hold those groups accountable. You should know the previous administration (four years) handed off a fiscally solid district and was able to do so because the previous administration (thirteen years) worked very hard through good and bad times to build a fiscally solid district. In less than seven years, it's gone. You can't lay that at the feet of the state.

I’ll do what I can to respond to any other questions you have. If I don’t know, I’ll try to get the answer.

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Posted by Sandy
a resident of Mohr Park
on Apr 7, 2009 at 5:16 am

Sandy is a registered user.

Hi Kathleen,

Thank you for answering my questions. You are correct, what I meant to say is that the union leadership is accountable to their members.

I was not aware of the dynamics of negotiations, and how increases that are in the union contracts also typically apply to management. This seems especially inappropriate this year.

What I do not understand is why Casey is so vilified by opponents of the parcel tax, and there is little or no criticism of the three board members who were in office as the salary increase decisions were made. It was very diplomatic of you not to mention the board members' names. I would like to know how long Pat Kernan, Jim Ott, and Chris Grant have served on the board, and also who served before them. I'd especially like to know if any of them voted to oppose the salary increases, or the transfer of reserve funds into the operating account.

I have a hypothesis about why Casey is the lightning rod for criticism. I would bet that he has been more visible when proposing key decisions to the board, and that his influence in issues that community members care about has been more visible than any of the board members' action or inaction. However, I do not have any data to support my theory, and frankly, I'm not all that interested in tracking that data down.

I'm much more interested in figuring out alternative ways to move forward.

I still support measure G, even though I acknowledge the concerns about past decisions made. I cannot argue with the statements that we would be better off if different decisions had been made three or four years ago. But I also can't base my decisions about how to move forward on what could or should or would have been done back then. Whatever the reasons, the board and superintendent approved the decisions about salary increases. We cannot know if we would have made different decisions three or four years ago, because we did not have the benefit of perfect knowledge about how severe the economic picture would become so quickly in 2008. At the time, assumptions made by the board may have seemed quite reasonable to a majority of members of the public. It is only with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight that we can wish for different decisions.

I support measure G because passing the parcel tax measure is the best way foward I have seen. I am open to considering other alternatives that are still feasible for next year. I wish that some of the opponents to measure G would begin proposing some alternative ways forward. I have heard rumors that there may be a way to move forward and still retain teachers. I'm dubious. I have not heard any specifics. What other cuts would opponents of G recommend to be put in place in order to balance the budget without the revenue from measure G?

I would like to know if the board members are doing contingency planning in case the parcel tax fails. If so, are they considering multiple possibilities? Have they examined the actual budget, rather than just the summaries provided by the superintendent's office? I was not able to attend the previous board meeting. I hope to be able to attend the meeting tonight at 5 pm. The briefing on the implications of the federal stimulus package for the district will provide very useful information, I am sure.

I would think that those who oppose this parcel tax would be interested in answering some of the same questions. I will continue to hope that those citizens who are opposed will attend board meetings and express their opinions in that open forum.

I thank you for sharing your background information and your assessments of past decisions with me, in response to my questions. Even though we are taking different positions on measure G, I firmly believe that it is engagement in reasoned debate, as has taken place on this thread of comments, is productive. It is, in fact, the core of the democratic process.

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Posted by Kathleen
a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School
on Apr 7, 2009 at 6:38 am

Kathleen is a registered user.

Good morning Sandy

First, proving that bad decisions were made is telling the community two things--we don't have all the information yet about why a parcel tax is the only alternative offered, and we can't trust that those in the administration (board and others) to be have differently if they are given another pot of money. I know they like saying it's 64 cents a day, but it really is $18.4 million. I think opponents have put up a good case that raises could have been given and money banked so there would be a fallback that allows for a rigorous look at the budget and for the community to prioritize what it values and is willing to pay for. I have indicated it is this tax I oppose, not any parcel tax.

I can't put years to it, but Kernan is now the longest seated board member, followed by Ott, followed by Grant. You have one board member who offered alternatives. I have been in contact with four of the board members by phone or email. One has responded they are looking at multiple alternatives for if the tax fails. The question then becomes, why didn't they do this first? I can't say what the staff is providing. You can look on other threads to see that the BAC has apparently (and I say this because I haven't spoken to them directly) never been given the opportunity to "advise."

What we have in common, I believe, is a goal to ensure the education of P'town's children. Where we differ is how to achieve that goal. Passing this parcel tax without an in depth look at what got us here dooms us to repeating the same mistakes because the lessons weren't learned.

I, too, appreciate the conversation and the democratic process. It's a big piece of what was missing from the district's approach with the community.

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

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