Will Decisions on Oversight Procedures, Appointments, and Charge Be Taken Out of the Board’s Hands?
Piedmont Civic Association (PCA) readers have raised a number of questions regarding the proposed demise of the School District’s independent Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC), which since 2010 has studied and analyzed the school parcel tax levy and reported its findings directly to the School Board. The CAC has consisted of 7 to 10 Piedmont residents, appointed by the School Board, who have provided vigilant oversight of parcel tax expenditures.
Under the proposed school parcel tax ballot measure presented to the School Board by staff on November 14, the CAC will be replaced by a 3 to 5 member parcel tax subcommittee of the District’s Budget Advisory Committee (BAC). The BAC currently consists of up to 32 members, including School District employees, union representatives, and parents.
While the BAC is open to the general public, the District Superintendent selects the Committee members. According to the Board resolution, parcel tax subcommittee nominees will be “identified” (presumably from BAC members) prior to being “approved” by the School Board President and Vice President. The process required by the resolution has the potential effect of limiting subcommittee members to persons selected by the Superintendent and allowing District staff to participate in the selection of their own oversight.
Unlike the CAC, former District staff members may serve on the parcel tax subcommittee (provided they are Piedmont homeowners).
A More Limited Charge?
The CAC’s current charge is not only to advise on th
e tax levy, but also to:
“. . . help review and project the financial needs of the PUSD with respect to the levy”
“conduct an independent examination of the District’s budget”, and
submit an annual report on “The amount of funds collected and expended from the proceeds of school parcel taxes . . .” and
“a high level, comprehensive analysis of the District’s budget, including relevant metrics, historical trends, and comparisons with similar school districts, that provides an analytical basis for the Committee’s recommendations.”
In contrast, the language of the proposed parcel tax ballot measure creates a “parcel tax subcommittee” with a more limited charge, without the option to adjust or expand that charge through Board action over the next 8 years:
“. . . review School Support Tax uses and report to the Board of Education at the first public hearing held each year to determine the subsequent year’s levy.”
At the November, 14, 2012 Board meeting, School Superintendent Constance Hubbard proposed the changes to the CAC structure, stating
she felt staff time would be saved by reducing the number of required Brown Act notices and avoiding duplicate staff presentations . Reasons for the limited charge, reduced number of members, and altered selection procedures were not offered or discussed at the meeting. The proposed ballot measure language basically takes decisions on the Committee composition, appointment procedures, and charge out of the Board’s hands.
Questions to the School Board regarding the proposed change of the Citizens Advisory Committee to a Parcel Tax Subcommittee:
- Why does the Board resolution
propose to significantly and permanently reduce the CAC’s charge?
- Why is the number of independent citizen oversight members reduced from “at least 7” to as few as 3, while the parcel tax is expected to continue to increase?
- Why will former District staff members be permitted to serve on the subcommittee?
How can the parcel tax oversight group be a subcommittee under the BAC and at the same time report directly to the Board of Education?
- How can a determination on the need for a levy and 2% annual increase occur without an independent review of the budget?
- Why will the CAC no longer exist as an independent body permitted to
acquire information on the need for the $9.5 million tax obligation?
will the Board President and Vice President approve nominees, rather than a review by the entire Board and the usual public hearing process?
- What is the distinction in “resident of Piedmont” (BAC qualification) and Piedmont “homeowner” (parcel tax subcommittee qualification)?
- Previous CAC membership has generally been for multiple years, while the proposed change requires an application be made annually. Will continuity be lost and require an increased learning curve?
- What is the meaning of “determine” in the ballot measure language? What will the subcommittee’s role be in determining the tax levy?
Proposed ballot measure language:
“(e) Parcel Tax Subcommittee: An annual written report shall be prepared and submitted to the Board of Education by the School Support Tax Subcommittee (“Subcommittee”) of the Budget Advisory Committee (“BAC”). All residents of the Piedmont Unified School District are eligible to apply for membership on the BAC on an annual basis. Members of the Subcommittee must be homeowners in the Piedmont Unified School District community and subject to the School Support Tax and not current employees of PUSD. Each year there shall be no fewer than three (3) and no more than five (5) volunteers identified by November of each year to serve on the Subcommittee. It is the responsibility of the District Superintendent or designee to verify eligibility of the volunteers. The President and Vice President of the Board of Education shall approve all nominees to the Subcommittee. The Subcommittee shall work directly with the Chief Business Officer of the District to review School Support Tax uses and report to the Board of Education at the first public hearing held each year to determine the subsequent year’s levy. Members of the Subcommittee commit to regularly attend meetings of the BAC.”