Employees and parents push schools for program restorations | May 25, 2012 | Pleasanton Weekly | PleasantonWeekly.com |


Pleasanton Weekly

News - May 25, 2012

Employees and parents push schools for program restorations

Concessions from teachers union lets district stop some cuts

by Glenn Wohltmann

The Pleasanton School Board is looking at restoring nearly $1.3 million in programs and jobs cut made earlier this year, to the relief of parents and district employees who packed the board room to overflowing Tuesday night.

"Believe me, I wish that I could sit here and say, 'We can bring back one-tenth of what's been cut (since 2008),'" Superintendent Parvin Ahamdi told the crowd.

The district's administration recommended bringing back the equivalent of 5.1 fulltime counselors -- the equivalent of 1.5 counselors at both the elementary and middle school levels and the equivalent of 2.1 fulltime counselors at high schools. That would cost $408,000.

The plan would spend $320,000 to add four reading specialists, for a total of six, but would not restore the popular Barton Reading Program.

Instead, those six specialists would do interventions, with the plan of catching elementary school students before they fall too far behind their classmates. The interventions would be "needs-based and district-wide," Ahmadi told the board.

The equivalent of five physical education specialists would be returned at a cost of $400,000 as part of the restoration plan. Ahmadi said that would serve several purposes: It would give students instructional time by P.E. specialists; it would free up 45 minutes for teachers; and it would open the door to allow for staggered reading schedules so teachers would have more time with young readers.

Two additional sections would be restored at high schools at a cost of $64,000, and the district would contribute $100,000 more to the Regional Occupation Program, which has seen a number of sections cut as the district allocated funds elsewhere.

Most of the 16 speakers who commented on the potential restoration of programs focused on counselors. Among them was Jennifer Corbin, a junior at Foothill High, who said she's a regular visitor to her counselor's office.

"Our counselors deal with so much," Corbin said, citing a list that included drugs and fighting. "It's really comforting to know we can go there."

Counselor Linda Carey, who stood with about a dozen other counselors, all wearing red, said research shows that students that have counselors available perform better in school.

"This is what counselors do: We dry the tears and get them back to class as soon as possible," she said.

Although most support went to counseling, Joyce Sanborn stood up with her colleagues in the hope of ending the layoff of seven library assistants. Sanborn said cutting the assistants at the nine middle and elementary schools would gut the program, leaving the five remaining not even enough time to shelve books. She said unlike many programs, libraries touch every single student.

Some, including Christina Hicks, want the district to reconsider class-size reductions, which she said is "hugely" supported by parents. Hicks asked that the board add a discussion of bringing back smaller classes.

"I'm not ready to give up class-size reduction," Board Member Chris Grant said. Board Member Jamie Hintzke asked that an agenda item be added to discuss that.

Board Member Valerie Arkin pointed out that the board agreed to borrow money from the Sycamore Fund -- proceeds from the sale of district property -- to fund the facilities master plan. Arkin asked that administrators consider using money from the general fund that originally was earmarked to pay for the facilities study for Barton.

"It's an effective program, it's relatively low cost, and it targets the kids that need it most," she said.

Some in the crowd also brought up the need for a parcel tax.

Andrea Stokoe said she was among a group of residents that went to 13 other districts, where they learned that most high-performing districts have an average $250 parcel tax and a strong foundation to raise funds.

"We shouldn't have to choose between clean classrooms and kids that can read," Stokoe said.

Board Member Jeff Bowser told the crowd the district has tried twice to pass a parcel tax, adding, "If the community wants it, step up."

The board will vote on the proposed program restorations at its June 5 meeting.

Hintzke noted that the programs restored would cost the district $1.3 million, although negotiations with the Association of Pleasanton Teachers yielded $2.3 million in savings.

"It isn't a good idea to spend everything. We need to have some set aside," she said.

That money could be needed if neither of the two school funding measures expected to be on the November ballot passes. Gov. Jerry Brown's May budget revision, known as the May revise, shows the budget deficit has grown from $9.2 billion in January to an estimated $15.7 billion.

"That's a growth of $6-1/2 billion," said Luz Cazares, assistant superintendent of business services.

While she said the governor has promised to support education, he's cutting other programs to do it, and Cazares said that traditionally has not gone over well with state legislators.

In other actions Tuesday night, the board:

* Awarded a $305,000 contract for repairs to the roof of the administration building at Amador Valley High School;

* Approved a modification of salaries for management and confidential employees, adding five unpaid furlough days and cutting stipends, a continuation of last years' agreement;

* Approved spending $75,000 to fund band and strings teacher positions at elementary schools; and

* Passed a resolution calling on Congress to continue its overhaul of the bill known as "No Child Left Behind." Board members and district administration have said NCLB is costly and ineffective.


Posted by Sandy Piderit, a resident of Mohr Park
on May 24, 2012 at 5:21 pm

I hope that negotiations with CSEA can be concluded soon. If staff also agree to furlough days in the event that the governor's tax proposal fails, then I would like to see library staff and Barton on the list of proposed restorations at the June 5 meeting.

Class size reduction definitely merits discussion as its own agenda item. It does not seem likely that the state legislature will return to the old model of providing funds specifically for smaller class sizes, so the district will likely have more flexibility to establish its own approach in the future.

Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger, a resident of Vintage Hills
on May 24, 2012 at 5:46 pm

Of all the places you can spend millions to help students succeed, I am not convinced CSR is where it should go. Is there is evidence that is is "hugely" supported by parents? Would a parcel tax solely for CSR pass? You have four grade levels (K-3) and a few specific classes at the high school level (9-10) with CSR, that leaves the majority of 4-12 students without that benefit.

I cannot support a parcel tax if it again proposes the same vague language. However, if a parcel tax with specific language for funding usage--be that X counselors, Barton, K-3 CSR at X:1, X librarians, X custodians, etc.--was proposed, I would support it.

Posted by olfthfl, a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on May 25, 2012 at 8:27 am

I couldn't agree more Kathleen!

Posted by Sandy Piderit, a resident of Mohr Park
on May 25, 2012 at 10:19 am

Some of the plans for early start/late start for Kindergarten, to give teachers time with their students in groups of 15 rather than 30, may help parents to feel less of a sense of loss as small class sizes are phased out. Still, that's only for 45 minutes each day.

In the years before CSR, and even now in schools where CSR is not funded, school leaders can be much more systematic about encouraging parent volunteering in the classroom. During our one year in Cupertino, we choose to enroll our daughter in a public elementary that emphasized parent participation. Parents who choose to place their children at the Christa McAuliffe Elementary School are told up front that they are expected to volunteer 6-10 hours per week. There are opportunities for working parents to volunteer by doing work at night or on weekends, or to take days off to chaperone field trips. There are also a lot of parents in the classroom -- 2 or more during most of the school day. They get some training, and work with students in small groups so that other students can get one-on-one time with the teacher.

In other districts, rather than reducing class sizes, teachers in the early elementary grades are automatically assigned one aide per classroom, so that the adult-to-child ratio is 15 to 1, rather than 30 to 1. Aides have training that parent volunteers do not, although they do not need a teaching certification, and they are paid much less (as hourly workers, rather than salaried).

I definitely believe that PPIE could provide a mechanism for parents who support CSR to donate for that specific purpose. They have not done so in the past, choosing instead to designate funds raised from parent donations to pay for librarians and technology specialists at the elementary level. I think PPIE would receive more and larger donations from elementary parents if they also accepted donations designated for class size reduction or for additional aides in K-3 classes.

Is another parcel tax on the horizon? I don't think so, in the next 18 months. If the two tax initiatives on the November ballot fail, and there is a groundswell from parents and community members pressuring the school board to try a third time for a parcel tax, then maybe. If one or both tax initiatives pass, I would not want to see the board entertain the expense of another $250,000 parcel tax election until after they review funding projections for the next 3-5 years.

If the governor's weighted funding formula is enacted, that could have dramatic effects on PUSD's funding (potentially negative ones, because we have low numbers of English Language Learners and low income students. Given that the governor is now suggesting that the weighted funding formula should only take effect after school districts are "made whole" and all the current funding deferrals are paid back, this seems like a more long term issue for Pleasanton.

Posted by TAMom, a resident of Valley View Elementary School
on May 25, 2012 at 10:59 am

What about the survey recently conducted by PPIE? What did it show that parents were willing to support? Does/did PUSD even look at this data when it decided what departments/jobs to restore?

Posted by Sandy, a resident of Mohr Park
on May 25, 2012 at 11:16 am

TAMom, I believe those survey results were only reported to the PPIE school advisory board last Thursday, so I don't think it would be possible for the school district to have looked at that data in any depth. Some of the parents who commented on the proposed restoration items on Tuesday night mentioned results of the survey, but I haven't been able to get my hands on anything in writing.

The purpose of the survey when it was announced by PPIE was to help develop priorities for what PPIE would raise funds for next fall, in order to provide input to PUSD before PPIE transfers funds to the district next year at this time. While I agree that the data may be useful for this year, that was not the intent for which the data was gathered.

PPIE works very hard to ensure that the money it gathers and then donates to the district is used for the purposes that were described to donors when they were invited to contribute. For the funds raised between August 2011 and April of 2012, the purposes of the donations are described on the PPIE website:

Web Link

Posted by PPIE survey, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jun 1, 2012 at 9:36 pm

So, what are the survey results regarding the programs that parents value in this community? It's been weeks now since the survey closed.