Pleasanton Weekly

News - May 27, 2011

New state money draws parents to PUSD meeting

Revamped PPIE will become a fulltime school fundraising organization

by Glenn Wohltmann

More than a dozen people spoke at Tuesday night's school board meeting, asking for help in keeping physical education instructors, reading programs and smaller class sizes.

With the May revised state budget, speaker Mary Jo Carreon told the board, "Things are not as dire as they were three weeks ago."

Carreon asked the board to bring back the two science specialists and physical education specialist that were cut from the budget for the 2011-12 school year.

"We are a team and those team members need to be reinstated," she said.

Karen De Baca Martens told the board it needs to show leadership following the defeat of the parcel tax, Measure E, earlier this month.

"How would you address the naysayers, the community that said no?" Martens asked. "They said, 'We don't trust you.'"

Martens and Carreon were among the group that spoke about raising money for class size reduction. The group, Pleasanton CSR, turned out about 50 people to lobby for its cause. The group wants class sizes in grades K-3 kept at 25 to 1, instead of being raised to 30 to 1 as proposed by the district for 2011-12. That group, which has been taking pledges, has raised $130,000 in promised money in less than two weeks.

Christina Hicks, organizer of the push to maintain class size reductions, pointed out that the group's goal is to raise $325 per student in kindergarten through the third grade. That comes to about $1.3 million, and Hicks hoped the difference between what the group raised and the total needed could be provided by the district.

The hope was that with some tweaking of the district's budget and with some funding restored under Gov. Jerry Brown's May budget revision that the district would have money for their programs. Those hopes were dashed -- for the time being, anyway -- when Luz Cazares, assistant superintendent of business services, explained that most of the money would go toward eliminating deferments of state money slated for schools across the state.

Cazares explained that what started as a $7.7 million budget deficit for the district now ranges between no shortfall and a maximum of $4.54 million. The district also has $1.7 million from teachers' union concessions that it's keeping in reserve.

For now, Cazares advised not making changes to the district's budget until the state passes its own budget, which would have the final numbers for school funding. She noted that the current state budget still contains a risky assumption. The extension of taxes that were due to expire July 1 would become tax increases. Republican legislators have vowed to block any increase in taxes.

"We have to hold steady just a little bit longer," Cazares told the board. "We're hopeful that if we don't have an on-time budget, we'll have an almost on-time budget."

Last year the state's final budget was passed in October, the latest ever delay in California, and well after the district was required by law to pass its own budget.

"The numbers are changing very quickly," said Board Member Joan Laursen, who worried that California still has a $10 billion deficit to address. "I'm still very concerned that this (promised funding from the state) is going to unravel in the next month."

The board, however, did agree to consider what programs could be restored should additional funding come to the district.

"If we do come up with a budget that allows us to restore some of the cuts we've made so far, we need to know what to do," Cazares said.

School board members also heard about plans to reorganize the fundraising group Pleasanton Partnerships In Education (PPIE) Foundation, which will move to year-round fundraising tailored specifically to the needs of schools.

PPIE plans to create a closer working relationship with schools. Its new structure would create a school advisory board with three members each from elementary, middle and high schools, which will decide fundraising priorities. The board, made up teachers and parents, would gather input from each school to decide priorities; that input would be used to set PPIE fundraising goals.

PPIE's CORE (Community OutReach for Education) campaign, meanwhile, has raised more than $91,000. That campaign, like last year's, will donate to specific projects with goals for each level of funding reached. That campaign was begun immediately after the parcel tax, Measure E, was defeated and will continue until mid-June.

The board also heard about steps being taken at Pleasanton Middle School to address program improvements after some Hispanic students failed to reach proficiency in math required by the state. The school began intensive intervention immediately after being notified, with a math academy held before and after school for the struggling students, along with additional help for English learners.

PMS is apparently not alone in failing to make the grade. Superintendent Parvin Ahmadi said she'd recently received a letter from the state that other schools in the district could end up in program improvement status for the coming year. She did not discuss what schools need improvement at Tuesday night's meeting.

The board also discussed its revised homework policy, although several members had concerns about specific aspects of the policy. Laursen said the policy, which allows, among other things, homework in elementary school, is not in keeping with research that says after-school assignments have little to no impact on student performance. She also questioned whether the new policy would draw down test scores, and said she was concerned about whether teachers would be able to coordinate assignments to avoid stacking homework.

Board Member Jamie Hintzke questioned what would happen if a teacher didn't follow the new policy and what recourse a student would have in that case.

A second reading, along with possible changes suggested by the board, is set for the June 21 board meeting.

The board also formally adopted $258,000 in concessions made by the California School Employees Association, calling for five furlough days for 12-month employees and three furlough days for others. That allowed for the return of some CSEA members, among them the school health liaison and some office employees.

The salary schedule for management was also approved by the board; the pay remains at the 2009-10 level, which, it was noted, saved the district $90,000.

The board also approved $185,000 for new math textbooks for fourth- and fifth-graders.

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