Pleasanton Weekly

News - February 18, 2011

PUSD eyes ways of making up potential $7.7 million shortfall

District and teacher's union reopen negotiations about salaries, hours

by Glenn Wohltmann

Budget issues continued to dominate Pleasanton school board discussions at a special meeting Tuesday night, with board members acknowledging they face tough choices as they try to cobble together a budget with uncertain state revenues.

Much of the meeting was a rehash of $3.1 million in cost-saving measures released last week, including increasing class sizes, cutting specialists, support staff and reducing the number of school counselors. The tentative plan also includes cutting the work year for management and reducing funding for the Barton Reading Program. The district is also working to get $150,000 in one-time funds from the Regional Occupation Program.

"We're looking at a total of about $7.7 million which we need to address this year," Luz Cazares, Assistant Superintendent of Business Services, told the board. The remainder would come from using reserves and spending one-time federal and state money.

While the district may get additional money from both state and federal governments, Cazares said much uncertainty remains, including whether the parcel tax would pass, and whether a tax extension proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown will get through the state Legislature and survive a vote. None of that money has been included in the current budget estimate.

Because staff may have to be cut, the review was to prepare for layoff notices that would have to be approved by the board in early March in order to be in the hands of employees by March 22.

The board also "sunshined" negotiations between the district and the Association of Pleasanton Teachers (APT). Up for discussion under current contract negotiations are salaries, class sizes, employment hours and the calendar for the 2011-12 school year. The APT also wants to discuss solutions to the rising costs of medical benefits; currently, teachers get a higher-than-average salary but pay for their own health insurance. The teacher's union also wants modifications to current job sharing limits, in which teachers move to a part-time schedule by splitting the position with other part-timers.

Step and column raises -- raises based on the length of time a teacher has been with the district and his or her continued education -- also continue to be discussed. Some have suggested that those raises be frozen under the current budget squeeze, and while school officials agree that could free up some short-term money, they also worry about longer term impacts. Cazares noted, for instance, that the district would have to set aside money to pay for the raises when the freeze is lifted, which would include both the new raises and back pay for the time they were on hold.

There's also the concern about inequities among teachers who achieve a new pay level but get less money than their counterparts who made it into a new column or step before the freeze, according to Bill Faraghan, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources.

Faraghan and Cazares both noted that step-and-column is the norm, not only for California but for most of the country as well.

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