Pleasanton Weekly

News - May 13, 2011

PUSD board backs parcel tax legislation

Bill would require 55% approval instead of 67% for tax increases

by Glenn Wohltmann

In the wake of last week's defeat of the parcel tax, Measure E, the Pleasanton school board is endorsing legislation that would eliminate the two-thirds majority needed to pass parcel tax measures.

The legislation was recently proposed by state Sen. Joseph Simitian (D-11), who wants the supermajority of 67% to be changed to 55% to approve a parcel tax. The bill would apply only to school districts, community college districts and county offices of education.

In discussing the idea Tuesday night, Superintendent Parvin Ahmadi noted that the recent parcel tax measure would have won in a landslide had it been a simple majority vote.

David Miller spoke out against the idea, calling parcel taxes "confiscatory" and noting the tax would affect homeowners more than renters or seniors. He said the benefits from the tax wouldn't be distributed evenly, since not all residents have children in school.

Sandy Piderit pointed out that most states don't require a supermajority to pass a tax increase, adding that "taxes are something people pay in exchange for services." She also noted that the school board's primary responsibility is "to act in the best interests of students."

Ahmadi and board members agreed that a parcel tax is one of the few ways the district could have local money under local control. Board Member Jamie Hintzke said she was originally against parcel taxes because the state Parent-Teacher Association opposed them with the idea that such taxes could cause inequities in districts, with higher earning districts able to pass them while poorer districts are unable to afford them.

Hintzke said poorer districts are now passing them, adding, "Maybe things here need to get worse, much worse."

The school board resolution in support of Simitian's bill passed unanimously. Similar bills have been around since 2009, when state Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Oakland) proposed changing parcel tax votes to simple majorities. That bill never made it out of the Legislature.

Even if Simitian's bill does get legislative approval, it would still need to be approved by voters.

In discussing last week's parcel tax defeat, three fundraising options were brought before the board at Tuesday's meeting.

The first is a new CORE (Community OutReach for Education) campaign. Similar to last year's effort, which raised nearly $570,000 for the current school year, the new campaign would have funding goals for elementary, middle and high schools, with intermediate steps along the way.

For example, if $50,625 is raised, elementary schools would each have an hour of added tech support daily. At $101,250, an additional hour of library each day would be added to the tech support, with the steps adding tech or library hours at increments of just over $50,000. The ultimate goal is just short of $400,000, when four hours of tech support and three library hours would be added per site daily, with $5,000 per site for student support programs to be determined by the schools.

Similar goals are set for middle schools, while high schools would raise money to maintain and upgrade hardware and software, for extra student support services and restoring library personnel.

A grassroots effort to maintain class-size reductions is also under way. The idea, announced by Christina Hicks, would begin by requesting pledges but not actually accepting any money. As support grows, with marketing and a website, backers hope they can eliminate increased class sizes, although Hicks suggested they might ultimately look to the schools or the union if they get close to their goals.

Hicks noted that low student-teacher ratios are especially important in early grades.

A third option mentioned by board members is the possibility of forming a foundation similar to one in place at San Ramon Valley schools, which, unlike CORE, would raise funds continually and distribute them where needed, as well as asking parents for a specific donation when registering their student.

The board also finalized union contracts. The California School Employees Association agreed to additional furlough days to save jobs, specifically the Health Services Liaison, Barton Reading Program Instructional Assistant and office workers.

Concessions from the Association of Pleasanton Teachers (APT) saved an estimated $1.7 million. The money saved, largely by continuing reductions made last year, would go to the general fund should money promised by the state not come through.

Both unions have agreed to reopen negotiations if the BRL (Base Revenue Limit) -- state funding which is multiplied by average daily attendance to calculate how much the district gets -- drops below $337 or goes above $399.

The district also formalized layoffs for FTE (Full-Time Equivalent) employees. Superintendent Ahmadi noted that the layoffs will hit more than 70 employees, since FTE figures include part-time workers.

Right now, the district is awaiting the May revise, in which Gov. Jerry Brown will announce revisions to the state budget. That's expected to come May 16, and district officials are concerned that Brown may opt for an all-cuts budget, which could mean an additional $3 million to $4 million in cuts for the district.

In other actions at its meeting Tuesday, the board:

* Approved a resolution in support of the "Week of Action," May 9-13, in which teachers, parents, students and others are encouraged to lobby lawmakers to support education.

* Endorsed both the "Day of the Teacher," May 11, and "Classified Employees Week," May 15-21.

* Thanked Rick Davis for a $10,000 contribution to Eric Thiel's biology classroom. Davis is a former student of Thiel's.

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