Jan 9 2012

School Board Candidates Discuss Issue 2: Demonstrating Leadership on Fiscal/Budget Issues

The PCA posed a series of ten questions to candidates for the Piedmont School Board in the upcoming election on February 7.  Following are School Board candidates’ entire responses to question #2:

2.  How would you personally demonstrate leadership and initiative in addressing fiscal/budget issues if you are elected to the School Board, especially during the next 12 months?

Response by School Board Candidate Jon Elliott

I would continue approaches similar to those I applied as chair of the District Parcel Tax Committee, and have advocated at other District councils and the School Board.  These include:

  • provide wide and early notice that particular issues are to be discussed, providing the public with meaningful opportunities to express their opinions and preferences, particularly if programs for students and/or staff compensation and benefits might be cut.
  • collect and synthesize information from all possible sources, sufficient to weigh tradeoffs effectively (this will include calls to District staff to produce more data, and offer more alternatives, than they typically have done to date)
  • provide balanced solutions, and explain them thoroughly to the community

The Piedmont community can deal with complex issues, and consistently has been willing to share burdens in order to do what’s best for our children.  But people react unfavorably when confronted with pre-ordained solutions developed without adequate public input.

Response by School Board Candidate Sarah Pearson

One of my goals is to improve communication between the school board and the community. I have the advantage of children at all levels of the system, so I am well connected to parents throughout the city. As a member of the Wildwood and PMS Parent Clubs and a parent who is active in many venues, I know what parents care about and can facilitate communication between the various stakeholders.  Recently I helped to convince members of the Wildwood Parents Club to donate an additional $100 per child to the district.

As a trained facilitator, I will foster collaboration and actively seek solutions that work for all members of our community. Three years ago as Co-Chair of the parcel tax campaign our schools, I worked collaboratively with administrators, parents, and citizens to devise a plan that allowed our district to stay afloat during the economic downturn.  The emergency Measure E literally saved library, counseling, and other vital services. This measure was designed to expire after three years (this spring), so that it will not be folded in to the base tax.

I will explore creative, innovative solutions to achieve more with less. It is critical that we start planning now, and strategize about how to use our resources most effectively. Because of declining revenues from the state over the past five years, the district has already cut costs in a variety of ways. For example, throughout the district, class sizes are bigger. At the elementary level, cuts include the elimination of Occupational Therapy (except for Special Education) and reduction of math/reading/science/art/ library/ counseling services. At the high school and middle school, library assistants were eliminated. Last spring, teachers agreed to a three-year contract that includes five furlough days and teachers are now responsible for increases in health costs.

Clearly, in the absence of additional revenues, we will have to make further cost- reductions. The challenge will be to make these cuts in the wisest and most thoughtful way. As a school board member, I will actively seek input and research ways to increase our efficiency so that we can ensure the best possible educational experience for Piedmont’s children – now and in the future.

Response by School Board Candidate Rick Raushenbush

The Board and I already have demonstrated leadership and initiative in managing severe cuts of approximately 20% in State funding since 2008.  Through additional community giving (parcel taxes and donations), cuts in employee compensation, and some reduction in personnel, the District has sustained and improved it excellent educational program despite a loss of revenue.  This has been possible only through the combined efforts and sacrifice by the community, parents, employees and students.

As a member of the Board, I participated in developing the District’s efforts to educate its employees about the budget crisis and the District’s negotiating positions with its employee groups.  In Spring 2011, the Board approved agreements with all employees that continued furlough days, froze various stipends and, most importantly, capped the District’s contributions to employees’ health insurance benefits.  These agreements reduced the District’s budget by at least $3.9 million over the three school years from 2011 to 2014.  I am proud and greatly appreciate that an overwhelming majority of PUSD employees recognized the District’s need for these painful cuts in their compensation and voluntarily accepted them to avoid major cuts in the District’s educational program.

As a result of careful financial stewardship, the District is not faced with the need to make any significant cuts in the next 12 months.  The District faces two significant issues in the coming years.  First, because State funding cuts continue, the District is projected to spend more than the revenues it receives over the next three years, with the balance coming from reserves.  If the State’s economy revives, or proposed ballot initiatives pass, we should be fine.  If not, more difficult decisions will be required.  Second, over the long term and only after State funding has stabilized, we need to develop a sustainable budget where expected expenditures roughly equal expected revenues.  I expect to continue to lead discussions about how best to sustain our excellent academic program with the financial resources available.

Response by School Board Candidate Andrea Swenson

For 15 years, I held leadership positions which required evaluating how to meet the needs of students while reducing expenses and  increasing income through fundraising. I know how to work effectively within a group and get things done. I held leadership roles at Wildwood School, Piedmont Middle School, Piedmont High School and I now serve on the Piedmont Educational Foundation Board of Directors.  I have presided over Parent Clubs, Parent Support Organizations and Site Councils.  I re-vamped and led the largest and most critical fundraiser for our schools: The Piedmont Giving Campaign.  I had leadership roles in the last three parcel tax campaigns.  As a Budget Advisory Committee member for 10 years, I regularly sat down with school administrators, parents and community leaders to hash out budget issues. I know first-hand that setting priorities by collaborating with the parent community allows us to best meet student needs, not deny them. Without a surplus of money we need to show a surplus of initiative. Over the next 12 months, vigilance over the PUSD budget must persist in anticipation of a budget shortfall in the 2013/14 school year. And, we must draw the community together to discuss the 2013 Parcel Tax vote.

Response by School Board Candidate Sunny Bostrom

I would suggest we study budgets of other high-performing schools for ideas they have incorporated.  I would suggest that we cannot assume we will be able to endlessly raise finds from parcel taxes.  We need Plans B, C., D. & E. in readiness for the day when taxpayers indicate they are “DONE” with school parcel taxes.



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