Pleasanton Weekly

Opinion - April 8, 2011

Guest opinion: Five reasons to reject Measure E

by Doug Miller

Like many Pleasanton residents, when I was transferred to the Bay Area 20 years ago, I selected Pleasanton because of the quality of the public schools. They are still among the best schools in the Bay Area.

But like almost every community in the country, two overall factors have led to an unsustainable Pleasanton Unified School District financial situation. First, the local economy continues to suffer, which has led to diminished state and local tax revenue. Second, school administrators have lost control of spending. Most of the excess spending has been driven by recent increases in pay, benefits and retirement packages. Measure E fixes nothing and will have no impact on classroom programs.

The following issues must be addressed before many of us can support additional property taxes for PUSD:

1. Pay raises: PUSD must implement a pay freeze to include automatic "step and column" raises. It is unfair and unreasonable to lay off dozens of teachers but continue to offer steady pay increases to those who remain employed. Since the last effort to implement a property tax for the schools, PUSD has increased pay by $9 million. PUSD plans to give out approximately $15 million in pay raises in the next four years.

2. Excessive pensions: In the past few years, 15 PUSD employees have retired with annual pensions in excess of $100,000 per year. A former HR director is receiving $178,000 a year for the rest of his life. Excessive pensions, a majority being paid for by local and state taxes, are taking money away from classroom programs. PUSD must work to ensure that pensions return to more reasonable levels.

3. Trust: PUSD cannot be trusted to manage our money. We are still paying an average of $860 per parcel for a PUSD bond. Several years ago with favorable interest rates, instead of paying down our debt, PUSD "cashed out" $7 million and spent the money, increasing our debt without our approval. In 2009, Attorney General Jerry Brown called these activities illegal.

4. Seniors will pay the tax: Seniors must remember to file for an exemption each year or they will pay this tax.

5. Worse off in four years: Without immediate and meaningful reform of pay, benefits and pensions, our unsustainable financial situation will consume even more of our limited budget. Spending will continue to outpace revenue even with Measure E. We will just feel good for a few months if it passes. The money raised from Measure E will barely pay the automatic raises in the first year, with little money making it to the classroom. The automatic raises starting in the second year exceed any money raised from Measure E.

I call on the school board to make meaningful financial reforms first and then submit a new tax proposal to the voters of Pleasanton. I know we can do better for our kids now and in the future.

Doug Miller worked for 27 years as an information technology sales and marketing manager before retiring in 2004. He is also a retired U.S. Army Reserve officer who completed two tours in Vietnam as an Army helicopter pilot. From 2007-10, he worked for the U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program assisting seriously wounded veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. He has a BA in Economics from Norwich University and MA in Systems Management from the University of Southern California.

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