Pleasanton Weekly

News - June 24, 2011

PUSD budget OK'd without final state funding figures

School board also adopts new homework policy for next year

by Glenn Wohltmann

The Pleasanton school board has approved a budget for the upcoming school year that is not actually final, because California has yet to approve a budget of its own -- one that would specify exactly how much the district would get from the state.

Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a budget proposal last week and sent legislators back to work. With that in mind, the district used its best estimates, based on figures from Brown's May budget revisions, which gave a slightly improved budget picture and allowed the district to restore funds.

The budget outlined by Luz Cazares, assistant superintendent of business services, includes much of what's been outlined for months: $3.5 million in cuts to programs and services, $1.7 million in concessions negotiated with the district's two unions, and $5.3 million in reserves, including one-time state and federal funds.

Earlier this month, the board restored $2.5 million in programs and services, bringing back elementary school physical education, some class size reductions, and elementary school reading programs, among other things, leaving the district with $8.1 million in cuts.

Tuesday night, Cazares noted the district did not tap the Sycamore fund in its current budget, and has not needed the city's offer of a $1.2 million line of credit. The budget does, however, take $569,000 from adult education programs, $40,000 from Kid's Club funding, and continues the elimination of $96,000 in meals for needy students implemented in the 2010-11 budget.

The district will use flexibility options offered by the state to divert $4 million originally dedicated to other uses. That was approved by a unanimous vote.

The board also approved a deferred maintenance plan, which shifts money out of building funds so it can be used to pay debt service on school district bonds. The developer fee fund, which had been used to pay debt service, has dwindled in the recession. The maintenance plan still reserves some money for projects.

The district is now awaiting the state's final budget and fall enrollment figures.

The board also voted to approve a new homework policy; that policy has been 14 months in creation and was subject to a number of last-minute changes.

In a lengthy discussion, board members questioned the reason behind the new policy and the need for it in the first place. Board Member Jamie Hintzke voted against adopting the guidelines and said the bulk of homework problems are from "a handful of teachers" that could likely be resolved by parent meetings. She added the new policy could be read as micromanagement of teachers.

"I feel this thing is a little half-baked," Hintzke said, opposing the board's plan to "test drive" the new procedures to get feedback over the coming school year.

W. Ron Sutton, who was on the student achievement advisory committee that brought up the idea that the homework policy should be re-examined, also questioned the new policy. Sutton suggested that all homework assignments should have a goal and an estimated completion time and said the biggest problem is lack of communication.

Trevor Knaggs, president of the Association of Pleasanton Teachers, said the new policy is "an impressive document" that spells out the responsibilities for students, teachers and parents.

"There will be some time to assimilate this," he said. "Most of the teachers I've talked to have already started implementing this."

Trustee Joan Laursen questioned the length of time allotted for students to make up work after time away from school.

While Board President Valerie Arkin agreed with Sutton that goals and completion times should be part of the policy, she ultimately supported the plan.

Board members Jeff Bowser and Chris Grant both said the policy should be a work in progress.

"Our policies need to be more dynamic," Bowser said. "We don't just write them and put them on the side."

Grant said the policy is meant to be a guideline for the average student.

"No doubt we will have to monitor and modify this policy," he said.

The policy passed on a 4 to 1 vote, with Hinkzke the sole opponent. Teachers, parents and students will test it during the next year, with a report on how well it worked expected by spring 2012.

In other matters before the school board Tuesday:

* The board approved a one-year extension of Superintendent Parvin Ahmadi's contract after a year with glowing reviews. That contract will now run until 2014. Ahmadi, in her report to the board, said she plans on implementing guided tours of schools and facilities in the upcoming year.

* Debi Covello of Pleasanton Partnerships in Education announced that the CORE (Community OutReach for Education) campaign has been extended. So far, the fundraising effort has brought in just over $329,000.

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