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Can Pleasanton school district afford another elementary school?

Uploaded: Jul 6, 2017
Hurray for Pleasanton school trustee Mark Miller who asked his colleagues to investigate the costs associated with building another elementary school.
The district owns a site near Ruby Hill that is notable only for how inaccessible it is to most residents and their children.
The issue came up when the board was discussing the staff’s recommendation for issuing the first round of bonds that voters approved last year. Miller became concerned when interim superintendent, Micaela Ochoa, reported that the district likely would have to slice $3.2 million from its budget by 2020 to balance it.
That’s despite revenues that have grown consistently under Gov. Jerry Brown who has favored k-12 schools and community colleges as state revenues have grown. State spending on k-14 has skyrocketed from $47.3 billion in 2011-12 to $74.6 billion after the new budget took effect July 1. That’s a 58 percent increase over six years.
In each of his last three budget messages, the governor has cautioned that a recession is coming because the economy has been growing since 2009 and that’s an average of three years longer than the normal recovery—of course, in many areas it has been the weakest recovery on record.
For Pleasanton, Ochoa said that increasing pension costs would be a major financial concern. Unlike Pleasanton municipal employees, who negotiated contracts with the city that included both the employee’s and employer’s pension contribution (since changed), school district employees have consistently contributed around 8 percent of their gross pay to pensions. It’s controlled by state law.
The problem is that earnings estimates have consistently been quite aggressive when they should have been the opposite. The teachers’ retirement system, facing a $74 billion funding gap, started raising rates in 2014. Employer contributions are increasing from 8.25 percent to 10.85 percent, while employee contributions have climbed 2.25 over three years. The state’s contribution also has increased to 8.828 percent.
Contributions to the state system serving classified employees also are going up big time, as well.
Ochoa shared a slide with trustees that showed rates going up 154 percent for the teachers over seven years and 127 percent for classified employees. That takes the district’s share from $7.8 million in 2013-14 to an estimated $19.1 million in 2019-20.
The contribution increases are necessary to backfill the shortfall in the system, but it will be a painful budget hit for districts across the state.
Miller and trustee Valerie Arkin are right about spending some money now to dig into the elementary school and determine both whether it is needed (an open question) and more importantly can the district afford to operate it if it is built.
Patrick Gannon, the district public information officer, did some research at my request. The district estimated the cost of operating an elementary school with a principal, support staff and utilities would be $838,138 this year. That’s about one-quarter of the cuts necessary in two years.
Another elementary school may be nice, but it is far from necessary. The board must exercise fiscal restraint because facilities do not educate students—they are a tool.
The district welcomes it new superintendent, David Haglund, this week.
One long-time Pleasanton resident put the current state of the school district and Haglund’s challenge in perspective when he said, “The Pleasanton school district is a good district to be from.”
Once upon a time, it was a great place to be.
That’s the task facing David Haglund who is approaching the new job with a great attitude—labelling himself the “chief servant.” His priority is to do a lot of listening—a wise approach. He will be the fifth superintendent in the last three years that included interim stints by finance chief Ochoa and retired principal Jim Hansen.
What’s needed is a steady hand who can rebuild the culture so it’s a district where teachers and administrators alike want to be. The district has churned far too many principals in the last few years—many leaving for lateral positions.
Haglund will make $265,000 plus a $3,000 stipend for advanced degrees. He will earn plenty of time off—27 days of vacation plus holidays so that’s seven weeks off plus 18 days of sick leave.
Local Journalism.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Ptrox, a resident of Hacienda Gardens,
on Jul 9, 2017 at 8:58 am

Thanks for digging into the numbers a bit. Most cries for a new school are tied to cries for the city to stop allowing any new housing to be built. It doesn't seem to matter that one isn't really needed now (or in the near future) or that PUSD can't afford it. If a new school is built, the quality of programming and education is likely to go down for all students in order to absorb the cost of operating the new school.

Posted by Michael Austin, a resident of Pleasanton Meadows,
on Jul 9, 2017 at 12:03 pm

Michael Austin is a registered user.

As a tax payer in this community and county for twenty years I pretty much ignored the school board until incidents begin getting my attention.

I became increasingly concerned with the direction of PUSD board. I involved my self with recruiting candidates to run for the board. I wanted some transparency, accountability and sound management.

My disappointment with the board continued. I begin to write my opinion along with a lot of other people. I received a phone call from board member, very upset with me, really ranted on me.

When I pointed out that I am being confused with other posters, the response was, I know you, I have your phone number, I called you.

I remain very skeptical of this PUSD board. I doubt if we will ever have stability.

Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger, a resident of Vintage Hills,
on Jul 10, 2017 at 2:23 pm

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

Tim, you are neglecting to mention the cost of teachers--who will move from multiple locations to a new school--are not a new cost, thus lowering that $800K operating expense. It would be further lowered by no longer needing vice principals at the larger schools, and by not paying for leases on portables. You neglect to mention the students jammed onto existing play space in portables--62 of them at the elementary level. You neglect to note those portables house, conservatively at 20:1, approximately 1,240 students--already more than the equivalent of two schools of 600. You don't mention students that cannot attend their neighborhood school forcing parents to drive them to another school--75 at last report. You neglect to mention the demographer's forecast includes: (a) current portables as permanent housing because they are told to do so and (b) their stated need for an additional two elementary schools in the not too distant future, especially when the East side development is determined and above and beyond the current needs for a school. You don't mention the conversations to consider a TK-2 and 3-5 on the Donlon site--an idea of Mr. Maher--and a location near where there is the most overcrowding and a site with 19.5 acres--ample space. You neglect to mention the plan is to tear down an existing school, putting several hundred more students in portables for years. Building a new school would also provide space and flexibility before tearing down an existing structure.

You do mention pensions, a crippling problem that all school boards in this state should demand the governor fix. We do not have a budget problem for operating schools, it is a pension problem that will also prevent future raises for staff, and any raises given exacerbates the pension problem further. It also threatens quality learning for students.

The growth is coming, slowly or otherwise. A new school under the best of circumstances takes 3-5 years to construct and open. Hiding behind pensions has been a scapegoat maneuver for as long as I can remember.

You do this a community a disservice in not reporting all the facts.

Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger, a resident of Vintage Hills,
on Jul 10, 2017 at 2:27 pm

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

And I neglected to mention, without plans for a new structure, we cannot get in line for the matching dollars from the state, in the range of $15MM for PUSD. $2 billion of the recent passage of $9 billion has already been spoken for--we are wasting precious time.

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