Mar 6 2011

Survey Results of Piedmont Education Finance Forum

Survey Results and Video from the February 16 Forum on Public Education Funding:

On Wednesday, February 16 the Piedmont League of Voters, the Piedmont Educational Foundation, and the Piedmont Civic Association co-sponsored an educational funding forum, “Make Resources Count.”

A panel composed of Oakland School Superintendent Tony Smith, Piedmont Education Board Members Ray Gadbois and June Monach, together with Pedro Rosado from State Senator Loni Hancock’s Oakland office discussed the topic of public school funding and how to make resources count in the current budget crisis.  (Since Senator Hancock was delayed in a State budget hearing in Sacramento, her district representative, Pedro Rosado, took her place on the panel.)

The Forum addressed the potential impacts of the Governor’s budget proposal and a possible tax ballot measure on the Oakland and Piedmont school districts funding.  

The audience listened to the speakers and submitted numerous questions for almost two hours.  Following the program, many continued informal discussions with the speakers and participated in the survey summarized below. 

The Piedmont Civic Association ( created a brief written questionnaire to learn what the audience gained from the Forum and the ideas they wished to contribute for coping with the current funding shortfall.  Approximately one-half of the audience  completed the questionnaire for a total of 33.  Except for two residents of Oakland and one from another state, the results reflect opinions of Piedmonters who attended the Forum.  The results are presented below.  The wide array of answers to the questions are grouped into related clusters and are followed by several specific quotes to indicate the language and variety of responses.

1.  What is the most important information you learned tonight?

Almost one-third of respondents noted Oakland Superintendent Tony Smith‘s information as important. A smaller number indicated State education funding and/or the possible upcoming tax  measure on the June ballot that will impact educational funding. The smallest group of similar responses indicated as most important the fact  that Piedmont’s per pupil spending is at the national average, while three people mentioned the amount of bureaucracy required by the State.  Two people responded that the forum was a good review.  Comments included:

“The Oakland Unified School District Superintendent very clearly stated the effects of budget constraints on schools.”

“The impressive nature of the Oakland Superintendent of Schools”

“Learned more about upcoming possible ballot measure”

“That National average spending is what Piedmont was spending”

“Problems of categorical funding and restrictions”

“That there are many people committed to fixing public education funding”

“Money can be saved by reorganization”

“How State funding to school districts is divided”

2.  If public school districts have to cut expenses, where do you think cuts should be made?

Two-thirds responded that payroll and/or benefits should be cut.  Five people indicated they don’t know or didn’t learn at the forum where to cut.  Four people suggested increasing class size.  Two mentioned cutting optional classes. Comments included:

“Looking at the pie chart, it would seem that reducing payroll and benefits is the only way …”

“School budgets are primarily made up of people–very painful situation”

“Roll back increases in step and column and benefits since June 2009”

“Copy the private sector. Step and column increases/advances should be temporarily canceled.  Part-time workers should get the % of benefits cost equal to % work”

“Unfortunately, personnel costs take up the majority of the schools’ budgets.  So that is where cuts must be.”

“Medical and pension benefits for teachers, classified and administrators”

“Temporary reductions in teacher compensation and benefits which return to “normal” when the good times return”

“Look at ways of decreasing pension costs.”

“Total comp and salaries for administrators”

“Paid aides should be cut and replaced with parent volunteers”

“Cut field trips, optional classes, increase class size in lower grades and add parent volunteers.”

“I hoped to learn that tonight but didn’t”

“State Legislators”

“Shorten the school year”

“In non-academic areas (Recreation–no more artificial turf, etc)”

3. Do you think local parcel taxes should compensate for loss of state and federal funds for public schools?

More than one-third of respondents think local parcel taxes should compensate for some but not all the gap in funding or should do so only temporarily.  Almost one third approve of using local parcel taxes.  Combining both groups, nearly three-quarters support parcel taxes for some or all the funding shortfall, at least on a temporary basis.  Seven people opposed parcel taxes for the educational funding gap, half of them because “local taxes favor school districts with high income residents.”

4. Where do you think additional public funding for schools should come from?

This question prompted the widest range of answers with few clusters.  More than one-third suggested additional funds should come from State and Federal taxes.  More than one-fifth suggested some kind of change to Proposition 13, either for commercial real estate only or phasing it out for everyone.  One-tenth thought it should come from businesses.  Two people suggested it should come from the Federal defense budget.  Single responses included parents, a tax on corn syrup products, equal distribution of funds by State, pension reform, and larger class size.

5. Do you have additional questions regarding school funding that were not answered tonight?

A large majority of respondents had no additional questions about education funding after attending the forum.  Others offered the following:

“How can Piedmonters work toward making education a State priority?”

“The panel did not answer the question about whether funds raised by parent clubs, foundations and other support groups for a specific district will someday have to be pooled at the state level to be equitably redistributed.”

“The panelists answered about State funding, but what right does the State have to the funds raised within a District?”

“Why does Piedmont not provide ‘over 65’ exemptions from the parcel tax like almost every other district in California?”

“Where does the Governor want California to be on the national level for education funding? i.e. What is the goal? Top 25?”

“How many more employees work for the Piedmont Unified School District than 30 years ago? Ratio of student to teacher/aide?”

“Would like more detailed budget/expense information.”

“Why is Piedmont K-12 more costly than Moraga and Orinda?”

“Where do property taxes go?  I don’t see them in the State general fund revenue pie chart. But I think part are collected by the State to pay for K-12. If so, then the State collects property taxes, but then expects local entities to raise money when services are restricted by budget cuts.”

“Key is 2 ballot propositions passing.”

“Thank you for organizing and hosting a very informative night concerning a vital topic.”

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