Pleasanton Weekly

News - October 28, 2011

School board OK's $240,000 facilities despite objections

Plan will consider current state of schools and look to the future

by Glenn Wohltmann

A plan to spend nearly $240,000 to update the Pleasanton school district's facilities master plan met with opposition Tuesday from a board member and a member of the public, but still passed on a 3-1 vote.

The facilities plan would look at the state of the district's buildings and plan for the future. Resident Julie Testa pointed out that schools are already overcrowded, with the need for two elementary schools. She pointed to district figures that show schools at 113% of capacity, adding that doesn't take into account almost 500 new apartments planned for the Hacienda Business Park.

She also said a facilities plan would be useless, since the district has no money for construction projects.

"Please use the quarter-million dollars to pay for teacher salaries," Testa told the board. "Tell the city that there needs to be a moratorium on building because the (school) district has not planned."

School Board Chairwoman Valerie Arkin opposed the spending for several reasons, including the back and forth between the city and the state over plans to build affordable housing, a new demographer's report that would tell what the district what to expect in terms of new students and the ongoing state budget crisis.

"It's a lot to spend without knowing what's coming," Arkin said. "I do think we need (a facilities master plan), but there's things we need to do first."

Arkin also proposed postponing a vote because she'd only received detailed information about the proposal the morning of the board meeting.

However, board Member Jeff Bowser called it "embarrassing" that it had been 14 years since the last facilities plan update.

The $239,920 contract was awarded to design firm LPA of Roseville. Spokesman Steve Newsom said the new facilities plan his company submits will incorporate demographics and the new housing element, and that many improvements could be done at little or no expense. The update will be done in four to six months.

Meanwhile, the school district is awaiting a mid-November report that could set the stage for more cuts. That report is the first of two about state revenues; if they are significantly below projections, automatic triggers could kick in, resulting in an estimated $2.8 million more in cuts to the district.

Luz Cazares, assistant superintendent of business services, said September revenues were $62 million short of projections included in the final budget, but the state has received $248 million more than the figures used in the May revision of budget numbers.

"We're short about $654 million of where the state needed to be," Cazares said. "And so we continue to wait."

In other budget matters, the district received about $15,000 from the CORE (Community OutReach for Education) campaign after the close of fundraising. That money will be distributed to schools based on population.

Last weekend's Bon Apetit fundraiser for Pleasanton Partnerships In Education (PPIE) netted between $70,000 and $80,000, according to PPIE Spokeswoman Debi Covello. She added that PPIE is changing its approach to raising money in the hope of having final donation figures from fundraising ready before the district has to issue layoff notices to employees, rather than the flurry of last-minute appeals from late spring until the beginning of the school year it has done the last two years.

Covello called the requested $150-per-child donation "a good deal," pointing out that many districts, including neighboring San Ramon, ask for much more.

The board also heard a first report on transitional kindergarten, a state-mandated program that would combine some of the features of traditional kindergarten with some of those of preschools.

Jane Golden, the district's director of curriculum and special projects, outlined the plan to change the entry date for kindergarten to 5 years old by Sept. 1, with younger children sent to transitional kindergarten instead. The idea, she explained, would send older, more mature children to regular kindergarten, and send younger ones to the transitional program, which would be taught by teachers and include what Golden described as "structured play" as well as elements from traditional kindergarten.

Golden said research has shown that transitional kindergarten improves social, emotional and academic development, boosts test scores, and increases the likelihood that a child will enter college. The district has until 2015 to phase in the new program, although it, like regular kindergarten in California, is not mandatory.

In other actions at its meeting Tuesday night, the board approved district goals for the school year. Those goals are to improve student achievement and school safety, to better communicate with parents and the community and to reduce spending and bring in more money. Each goal has a set of strategies attached to it so successes can be measured.

Superintendent Parvin Ahmadi also welcomed Sherya Gupta as a student member of the board. Gupta is a senior at Amador Valley High School and coincidentally shadowed Ahmadi during youth in government day. The student member cannot vote on board issues, but can provide input from a different perspective.

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