PUSD board votes to slash budget by more than $5.3 million | March 2, 2012 | Pleasanton Weekly | PleasantonWeekly.com |


Pleasanton Weekly

News - March 2, 2012

PUSD board votes to slash budget by more than $5.3 million

Cuts include counselors, reading specialists and Barton Reading program

by Glenn Wohltmann

A split school board voted to keep a proposed list of cuts intact, despite a last-minute effort by two members to restore a reading program and a reading specialist.

On a 3-2 vote at its Tuesday meeting, the board adopted cuts that will mean the layoffs of the equivalent of 75.22 employees although, because some are part-time, the number of pink slips sent out will be higher, according to Bill Faraghan, assistant superintendent of human resources.

Board President Joan Laursen and members Jeff Bowser and Chris Grant voted to approve the cuts as listed. Board Members Valerie Arkin and Jamie Hintzke supported a modified cut list that would keep the Barton Reading Program intact and restore one reading specialist.

All five members said they support reading programs.

Arkin made a motion asking the board to reconsider its approval of spending $240,000 on a facilities study.

Laursen noted that parliamentary procedure did not allow for the motion; Arkin then changed her motion to approve the cuts without the reading specialist or the Barton program being cut, and requested the facilities master plan be reconsidered at the next board meeting, before layoff notices were finalized.

"I would ask for leniency on this because I asked for this to be on the agenda tonight," Arkin said, referring to the facilities master plan. She and Hintzke asked staff at the last board meeting to come up with other cuts that could keep the reading specialist and Barton program off the cut list; Arkin's motion to approve the cuts without the specialist and Barton on the cut list lost on a 2-3 vote.

Despite the vote to approve two cut lists, one of cuts that were made and then restored last year, and a new round of cuts, Laursen, Grant and Bowser said that doesn't mean the end of district support for reading or the cuts that include a reduction in counselors at high schools and middle schools, the end of class size reductions and a physical education position, among other things.

Those were cut last year but restored with fundraising, concessions from the district's CSEA (California Service Employees Association) workers and by using district reserve money. Those cuts, which totaled more than $3.1 million, were brought back on a one-time basis.

The new cuts total just over $2.2 million. They include the elimination of adult education and summer school, additional cuts for counseling at all schools, cuts in psychologists and program specialists, reductions in custodial services at middle and high schools and the district offices and cuts to maintenance and grounds services. They also include eliminating car allowances for managers and reducing car allowances for other management by $200 a month and cutting the work year for management by five days.

The new round of cuts was necessary because the district has to anticipate the possibility that a tax increase referendum proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown might not pass. Luz Cazares, assistant superintendent of business services, outlined the two scenarios that could occur, with the district losing $150,000 if the tax increase is approved and losing $5.4 million if the tax increase doesn't pass. The two cuts total more than $5.35 million.

More than 30 people attended the board meeting Tuesday night, many coming for a second time to ask the board to keep the Barton program intact. Seven people asked the board to restore the program, including Dianna Zachlod, a third-grader at Walnut Grove Elementary School.

"I'm a smart girl, but I've had a hard time learning to read," Zachlod told the board, citing how much her skills have improved during the single year she's been in Barton. Most of the others who spoke were parents who worry about what will happen to their children if that program and the reading specialist were cut.

Bowser suggested that they could be restored with savings that could come about through union concessions and with donations.

"This is like a bad movie," he said. "We're trying to anticipate what the bad scenario will be with so many uncertainties and knowing that we can go from bad to worse with the stroke of a pen."

Those uncertainties include whether some programs that are required but not funded by the state will be waived and whether a weighted funding formula that would direct money to poorer districts will continue as planned. Cazares said Pleasanton stands to be one of the biggest losers should that plan go forward.

While Arkin and Hintzke said it would be easier to keep Barton and the reading specialist than it would be to bring them back, Grant said he's committed to bringing back as much as possible.

"I will fight to have Barton restored," he said. "We need to restore all of these programs."

Regarding school funding, Cazares said she'd recently been questioned about "magical money" that appears at the end of each year in time to bring back some employees and restore programs. She attributed that to employee concessions that have amounted to $7.5 million over the last three years, and to $1.6 million in donations raised by Pleasanton Partnerships in Education and by the Pleasanton Schools Educational Enrichment Foundation over the same time.

Negotiations with the district's two unions are continuing and could offset some of the cuts. However, the board Tuesday night took the first step toward staff reductions when it approved the release of all of its temporary certificated employees, which total the equivalent of 50 fulltime employees.

The board also approved policy that will allow drug detection dogs on all three high school campuses. Those dogs -- which will be kept away from students -- will search student and staff parking lots and student gym lockers. With the OK, searches can begin any time, although they must have the approval of Superintendent Parvin Ahmadi or someone she designates to make the approvals for her.