http://pleasantonweekly.com/print/story/print/2012/03/30/pusd-discusses-borrowing-lauds-fundraising


Pleasanton Weekly

News - March 30, 2012

PUSD discusses borrowing, lauds fundraising

Short term loans and Sycamore fund borrowing approved

by Glenn Wohltmann

Financial issues once again dominated the Pleasanton school board meeting Tuesday night, with discussions about short-term borrowing, loaning money to itself, and a contribution from the Pleasanton Partnerships In Education.

After a lengthy discussion, the board voted 4 to 1 to borrow more than $292,000 from the Sycamore fund to pay for the district's facilities master plan and a new demographer's report. The Sycamore fund was created with the sale of land originally intended for a new school and was to be used for technology upgrades. Recently, though, the district has been using it as a source for revolving loans to itself and currently owes the fund nearly $2.5 million. At its peak, the fund was nearly $7.5 million.

The board received a legal opinion that it could borrow the money, but could not spend the money outright. City Councilwoman Cindy McGovern, a former school board member, wrote a letter in support of using the fund noting that the city has recently approved rezonings for high-density housing, and that the master plan and demographer's reports are necessary to make sure the district can support a potential influx of new students.

"Development funding should pay for both of these studies as part of the mitigation for the impacts of their projects on the needs for facilities in the school district," McGovern wrote.

Board Member Chris Grant agreed with McGovern's assessment, saying hundreds and "potentially thousands" of apartments could be built.

"I think we're going to see some of those projects come up kind of quickly," Grant said, adding that the district has to be sure it can accommodate the growth.

Superintendent Parvin Ahmadi told the board she doesn't have a problem with using the money but is concerned about whether the district will be able to repay its loan.

The money originally earmarked to pay for the demographer's report and the master plan will go back into the district's reserve and could be used to restore programs. Luz Cazares, assistant superintendent of business services, however, cautioned the board about spending the money, saying that as of the last financial update, the district was short about $200,000.

Board President Joan Laursen voted to allocate Sycamore fund money to the master plan and demographer's report but originally wanted to postpone making the transfer until later in the year.

"We will know more as we get into the (governor's) May revise and negotiations," she said.

Bowser was the sole member of the board to oppose using Sycamore money.

"The Sycamore fund has been meant to be a renewable resource," he said.

The board also approved a plan for short-term borrowing against anticipated income as a way to deal with state funding deferments that can leave districts cash strapped while they await state money. TRANS (Tax Revenue Anticipation Notes), issued through the California School Boards Association, would let the district borrow up to $15 million.

Board members had asked what would happen if the district defaulted on TRANS borrowing; Mark Farrell, vice president at the asset management firm Piper Jaffray, said the district would likely have other problems -- such as meeting payroll -- long before then. He said, historically, the state has stepped in to control the district until its debt is paid.

One piece of good news to the board was a report from Debi Covello, executive director of Pleasanton Partnerships In Education (PPIE), which said it had raised $296,000 to help reduce cuts to schools at all levels; $186,000 will go to elementary schools to bring back a reading specialist and two hours a day for technology support.

Middle schools will get $56,000 to pay for three hours per day for tech support and for a half-hour daily of library support. High schools will get $44,000 for counseling, technology upgrades and for additional sections.

In other financial matters, Alex Sutton, California School Employees Association regional representative, asked the district to consider its priorities carefully. He noted that the district, even with cuts, will still spend $53,000 for car allowances in the 2012-13 school year.

"That's almost a day's worth of furloughs for classified employees," he said.

The school calendar was also approved, although it could be modified as a result of ongoing negotiations with the CSEA and Association of Pleasanton Teachers. This year, according to Bill Faraghan, assistant superintendent of human resources, the district made a greater effort to have its calendar match up with Livermore and Dublin, but said San Ramon's calendar may not match as closely. The district's 2011-12 calendar was called into question when parents learned that the winter break began later than it did in neighboring districts.

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