Nov 23 2012

School Board President Addresses Oversight Concerns

Role of New Parcel Tax Subcommittee –

Piedmont Civic Association periodically publishes “questions and answers” on community issues.  The following responses to PCA questions were provided by School Board President Rick Raushenbush regarding the proposed  role of a new parcel tax subcommittee as part of the Board’s Budget Advisory Committee. The subcommittee would replace the independent Citizens Advisory Committee that reviews the $9.5 million in local school parcel tax levy spending each year.  (See original article.)

I am responding based upon my understanding of the function of the Citizens’ Advisory Committee, the Board’s public comments and the text of the proposed Resolution.  As you know, the Board itself does not take positions other than through properly noticed action items on its Agenda.  

  • Why does the Board resolution propose to significantly and permanently reduce the CAC’s charge?
In the Board’s view, the proposed resolution does not significantly change the function served by the CAC, but rather moves it to the Parcel Tax Subcommittee of the longstanding Budget Advisory Committee.  The CAC was first created by the Board 4 years ago as part of the last parcel tax measure for various purposes, among them (a) to determine if the trigger for levying the Measure E emergency tax was met; (b) to provide advice on whether to levy some or all, or increase, the Measure B tax based upon consideration of whether the District needed the funds to provide its educational program; and (c) to serve as a resource to the Board by preparing a longer term trend analyses of the budget.  Measure E no longer exists.  The proposed new Parcel Tax Subcommittee will serve the remaining purposes.
  • 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?
It is the quality of the participating citizens, not their numbers, that matters.  In my experience, both the CAC and Citizens Oversight Committee for the Seismic Bond had difficulty in obtaining sufficient volunteers able to commit  the time necessary to serve on the Committees.  Fortunately, some citizens have been willing to serve multiple terms rather than rotate off the Committees, but that has not served the purpose of obtaining different citizens’ viewpoints as well as I would have liked.  Setting the number of the Parcel Tax Subcommittee between 3 and 5 seems likely to ensure a sufficient number to provide diverse viewpoints and collaboration in the work.
  • Why will former District staff members be permitted to serve on the subcommittee?
There is no good reason to exclude former District staff members who live in Piedmont and pay the School Support Tax from the Parcel Tax Subcommittee.  They have no personal conflict of interest as the current budget of the District no longer benefits them.  If a former District employee meeting those requirements wants to serve, they are entitled to express their view as a taxpaying Piedmont citizen as much as anyone else.
  • 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?
The proposed Resolution provides that the Parcel Tax Subcommittee reports directly to the Board.  The Subcommittee will provide its report to the Board and one of the Subcommittee members will present the report at a public Board meeting.  It is a BAC subcommittee in that its members must be members of the BAC, and thus have made a commitment to be educated about the Districts finances and budget.  However, being a BAC subcommittee does not block its reporting to the Board.
  •  How can a determination on the need for a levy and 2% annual increase occur without an independent review of the budget?
The Board of Education, whose members are elected by the vote of Piedmont residents, makes the determination whether there is a need to levy the base tax and whether to levy an up to 2% annual increase.  The Board members independently review the budget.  In addition, the Parcel Tax Subcommittee members will independently review the same information and provide advice to the Board about the levy. Thus your assumption that there is no independent review of the budget is mistaken.
  • 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?
The CAC is simply the name given to the citizens’ advisory committee regarding the current parcel tax.  The Parcel Tax Subcommittee will be the name given the citizens’ advisory committee under the proposed resolution.  The Parcel Tax Subcommittee is an independent body just as the CAC has been–a group of citizens, who commit to being informed, who will provide advice to the Board.  The key difference is that the Parcel Tax Subcommittee members will be members of the Budget Advisory Committee, who have thereby committed to attending the BAC meetings to learn about the District’s budget.  BAC members have always had the right to ask questions about the budget, and still will have that right.  Moreover, I note that the District’s budgets, and presentations about them, are available to the public on the District’s website.
  • Why will the Board President and Vice President approve nominees, rather than a review by the entire Board and the usual public hearing process?
The Board President and Vice President reviewed and approved the proposed members of the CAC and are proposed to perform the same function for the Parcel Tax Subcommittee members.  There has never been any public comment or Board dissent with respect to the members of the CAC or the Citizens Oversight Committee for the Seismic Bond.  As I previously noted, to my knowledge, we have never turned away any volunteer who was able to make the time commitment from either committee.  No one on the Board felt a need to have the Board as a whole review and approve the volunteers rather than to delegate that task to President and Vice-President.
  • What is the distinction in “resident of Piedmont” (BAC qualification)  and Piedmont “homeowner” (parcel tax subcommittee qualification)?
A Piedmont homeowners will pay the School Support Tax if the measure passes whereas a Piedmont resident who rents a place to live does not.  The goal was to have those who pay the tax on the Parcel Tax Subcommittee.
  • 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?
Because Parcel Tax Subcommittee members will be BAC members, they all should have the necessary information about the District’s finances and budget, and the State’s system of education funding, to perform their function.  This is one of the key benefits of having the Parcel Tax Subcommittee be members of the Budget Advisory Committee.  Moreover, annual applications may result in a diversity of viewpoints due to the shorter term whereas the experience with multi-year commitments is that we have very few volunteers for the committees.
  • What is the meaning of  ”determine” in the ballot measure language? What will the subcommittee’s role be in determining the tax levy?
The proposed Resolution says “report to the Board of Education at the first public hearing held each year to determine the subsequent year’s levy.”  That is simply setting the meeting at which the Parcel Tax Subcommittee is making its report.  The determination whether to levy the base tax, and whether to increase the tax by up to 2%, will be made by the elected members of the Board of Education.  The Parcel Tax Subcommittee, like the CAC now, will provide advice to the Board, but, like the CAC now, will play no role in determining the levy.
Richard Raushenbush, President, Piedmont Board of Education

6 Responses to “School Board President Addresses Oversight Concerns”

  1. 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?
    “It is the quality of the participating citizens, not their numbers” — because 7 gives a bigger chance of not having the group be “yes” people, i.e. their friends and supporters.

  2. In response to President Raushenbush’s response to the question about retired District employees and their lack of any vested interest in the current school district budget, I beg to differ. Negotiated elements of District contracts with both classified and certificated employees do effect retired employees… ie: health care. From my experience on the school board, retiree issues were often the most difficult in the bargaining process.

  3. I agree with Tam. Former employees receive not only retiree medical but also pension benefits – and these are quite contentious school budget items. Moreover, the Council is currently attempting to minimize the impact of the municipal tax review committee. Combining the school tax oversight group with the parcel tax oversight group seems a step in the wrong direction.

  4. In response to Ms. Quenneville, I think there is some confusion. First, the School District and City are separate; the school tax oversight committee (aka Parcel Tax Subcommittee) has nothing to do with any City parcel tax oversight. Second, the California pension system for teachers (California State Teachers Retirement System) sets pension benefits as a matter of state law, and the District has no role in setting either contributions to or benefits from CalSTRS. That is different from the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) to which the City’s employees belong. Pension benefits are not “contentious school budget items” because the District has no say in setting them.

  5. I’m not quite understanding Mr.Raushenbush’s last comment, that the District has no role in setting pension and medical contributions by district employees. My concern is cost to the District and ultimately residents. There are no negotiations with employees? The District just pays what they are told by the Unions and either reduces programs or passes the cost on to residents in the form of a higher school parcel tax?

  6. In response to Mr. Schiller’s comment, his summary does not reflect what I said. Under Cal STRS, the State sets the pension benefits and contribution rates. The District has no role in either, and does not pay any portion that the State identifies as the employee share. As for health care, retirees are entitled to whatever benefits existed in the collective bargaining agreement at the time when they retired. Mr. Schiller’s final “question” defies obvious facts–the “Unions” (the folks who teach our children) did not “tell the District” to cut their compensation by $3.8 million from 2011-14, but the employees agreed to that sacrifice after the District explained the dire economic circumstances facing the District after years of State funding cuts.

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