Pleasanton Weekly

News - February 4, 2011

PUSD board backs parcel tax

Could bring in $2.1 million annually for schools

by Glenn Wohltmann

After months, two surveys and hours of discussion, the Pleasanton school board voted unanimously at its Tuesday meeting to approve a resolution to put a parcel tax up for a May vote.

There were, however, a couple of last-minute alterations to the measure. Board Chairwoman Valerie Arkin asked that a yearly expenditure plan be included to track what the money is targeted toward and where it actually goes.

That fits with what Superintendent Parvin Ahmadi had planned already, to address concerns she'd been hearing from the community.

"We would come to the board with a spending plan. We would come back with very specific plans for what we would spend the money on," Ahmadi said. "Hopefully that would satisfy the requests I've had to be more specific."

Arkin also asked that an oversight committee already included as part of the resolution be made up of a minimum of seven people, all payers of the tax, and with no board members or school employees on it. The parcel tax revenues and spending would be reviewed by the oversight committee four times a year.

She also suggested that the board include a commitment to put the spending plan on the district's website, but that idea was shot down by Charles Heath of TBWB Strategies, the company hired to help with the parcel tax campaign.

"You might want to give yourself some flexibility," he said. "Everything you write into this you are legally bound to do."

Heath suggested that opting to put the spending plan on the district's website could be done by a board vote rather than including it on the ballot.

No one spoke at the public hearing on the parcel tax, although several supporters commented later. To date, no opposition to the tax has been raised at board meetings.

Luz Cázares, assistant superintendent of business services, estimates the parcel tax could bring in about $2.1 million a year, even if 50% of seniors opt out of paying, as they are eligible to do.

Board Member Chris Grant said the tax could reassure teachers, some of whom have been laid off, then rehired just before school begins.

"The more that we can create a stable base of funds, the fewer pink slips we'll have to issue," he said.

Bill Faraghan, assistant superintendent of Human Resources, said the district has been losing teachers because of just that.

"A number of teachers laid off were hired by other districts," Faraghan said, adding he's heard that districts look to Pleasanton for highly qualified teachers.

The board allocated $250,000 for the mail-in election, something none of the members took lightly.

"It really is a lot of money," said Board Member Jamie Hintzke. "To me, it's not just spending $250,000 for $2 million, it's spending $500,000 because we lost last time."

New board members Jeff Bowser and Joan Laursen both campaigned for Measure G, the board's first attempt to pass a parcel tax, which received 62% approval, less than the two-thirds approval needed to pass.

"Nobody likes taxes. I certainly don't," Bowser said. "This is the only way we have to protect schools. This is the only way we have to raise funds.

Bowser pointed out that the parcel tax could not be used to increase salaries. That does not include step-and-column raises that are included in current contacts, although Faraghan noted the district is in negotiations with its two unions.

Laursen said she hesitated making a commitment to support a parcel tax when she was campaigning.

"At that time, we didn't have a survey," she said. With the new data, Laursen said public leaders have been approaching her asking, "How can I help?"

The most recent survey showed 72% approval for a $98 parcel tax, but board members know they still have work to do if they want the measure to pass.

In stumping to get the measure passed, Arkin said, "We need people behind us. … We need everyone to step up."

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