Pleasanton Weekly

News - February 25, 2011

School board approves more cuts

Reading, remedial classes, teacher training on the chopping block

by Glenn Wohltmann

The Pleasanton school board asked staff, at its last meeting, to come up with other cuts as a way of saving reading programs and specialists, but on a split vote Tuesday, the board opted to cut reading along with the new cuts that were recommended.

That didn't sit well with the two dissenting voters, board Chairwoman Valerie Arkin and Clerk Jamie Hintzke.

"This is a social justice issue that we are cutting core education," Hintzke said. "It is a child's right to learn to read."

The new cuts total more than $3.5 million, up from the original $3.1 million originally suggested. Those additional cuts include a $50,000 reduction to summer school remedial programs for grades 1-5; $152,000 from teacher training and retention programs; and a $100,000 decrease to adult education, for a total of $302,000.

New cuts also include eliminating a health services liaison position, saving $70,000, and holding off on needed work on permanent portable trailers at the Kids Club before- and after-school program sites for an additional $40,000.

In voting for the aaaidtional cuts, the three board members who carried the motion promised to do all they can to restore them in the future

"I think we have an obligation to work our tails off not to let these cuts happen," said Chris Grant, who voted for the new reductions along with Joan Laursen and Jeff Bowser.

Other cost-cutting measures approved Tuesday include increasing class sizes, cutting specialists and support staff, and reducing the number of school counselors. The 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.

Because staff would be cut, the board approval was needed in time to prepare for layoff notices that must be sent out by mid-March, and the district's human resources department is putting together a list of names to get pink slips.

"Not a thing on this (list) is one we want to cut," Laursen said. "It is frankly terrifying to families who realize they may not have a job."

The approval for the cuts came despite an appeal from Christina Clark, a reading specialist at Valley View Elementary.

"Reading intervention does work. It does make a difference," Clark told the board, pointing out that 66% of students in intervention catch up with their peers, compared to just one student -- 4% -- who caught up without intervention.

"We need your leadership again to maintain reading programs," she said.

Former school board candidate Sandy Piderit agreed, saying cutting reading could impact every area of a student's schooling.

"If they aren't able to read fluently, they're not going to be able to take advantage of all the other opportunities," she said.

Carl Palowitch said all the cuts could have been avoided if the district had begun negotiations with unions last year.

"You have the ability to create a balanced budget now," he said, and quoted from the district's code of ethics: "My first commitment is to the well-being of our youth."

The board also heard from parents, teachers and students who all requested the restoration of seventh period, which was cut in negotiations with the teacher's union last year. Although there's no plan to cut the period this year, according to Bill Faraghan, assistant superintendent of human resources, the district is only beginning its negotiations with the union.

The period is used largely for band practice, gym classes and to help students who need extra credit to graduate on time. Worried that it could be negotiated away, a group spearheaded by Marilyn Palowitch packed the board room. Palowitch, best known as an Amador Valley High School music booster, came up with a plan that could offer early and late extra periods without additional cost to the district.

Under the plan, high school classes would be staggered, with some teachers agreeing to come in and leave early while others come in and stay later. Because their hours would be the same, the plan would be cost-free.

"I don't think it's going to be a problem to find teachers to fill those slots before school or after school," said Mark Aubel, a music instructor at Amador Valley. He said the plan would let students take gym and band, which typically have larger class sizes, along with other courses that would be offered earlier or later.

"Wherever there's an empty desk, it just makes sense to fill it," Aubel told the board.

The parents, teachers and students who filled the room supported the no-cost idea; although many of them deferred their time to Palowitch, 13 spoke, including band directors for both Amador Valley and Foothill high schools, a number of students, and parents.

Parents pointed out that more than just music comes from the music programs. While some noted that music knowledge increases a student's test scores and helps in math and reading, others pointed out that students are motivated to keep their grades up, a requirement to participate in music.

Wendy Wong, whose freshmen son is a member of the marching band, said that Amador Valley Band Director Jon Grantham helps build leadership skills for his students as well as teaching music.

"People go through their lifetimes and never get this. They're getting it now," Wong said. "They will take this with them into the workplace."

One parent joked that those in the music program never get bullied because they have 200 band members watching their backs.

In other action at its meeting Tuesday, the school board voted to support putting the tax extension measure proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown on the June ballot. That was unanimously approved, although two speakers said they wouldn't support the proposed parcel tax if the board voted for the tax extension ballot.

Bowser said he supports putting the idea out for a vote, and not necessarily the extension itself.

The board also held a public comment period on items proposed for negotiation between district and the Association of Pleasanton Teachers (APT). No one spoke.

Issues proposed for negotiations between the district and the California Service Employees Association (CSEA) were also "sunshined" by the board at the meeting. While the CSEA wants to renew its contract with no changes, the district want to bring pay, hours, health care, and leaves of absence to the bargaining table. A public hearing will be held on the proposed items set for negotiations in March.

The board will hold a special meeting on budget matters March 1, with its next regular meeting set for March 8.

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