Apr 30 2015

Educational Foundation Increases Grant and Merges with Parent Clubs

– Piedmont High School student Sophia Mills reports on Piedmont Education Foundation grant, Piedmont Unified School District financial issues, Measure A Tax increase, and interviews three School Board members.-

On April 22 at 7:00 p.m., the School Board, responsible for the Piedmont Unified School District, met for one of their biweekly regular meetings.  On the second and fourth Wednesday of each month, this board of individuals meets in the Council Chambers of Piedmont’s City Hall in order to both assess the current state of the schools in Piedmont and to ensure that they are performing and running to the fullest of their ability.  At this particular meeting, the most important agenda items consisted of discussing the Piedmont Educational Foundation (PEF) Endowment Fund for 2015-16, approving a Request for Proposal (RFP) for Facilities Master Planning services, and deciding the amount of the School Support Tax, Measure A, to be levied in 2015-16.

With regard to the Endowment Fund for the upcoming academic year, there were two key announcements made at the meeting.  First, PEF member Mary Ireland announced that due to the growing and healthy nature of the nearly 6 million dollar Endowment, the PEF will provide a $275,000 grant to the schools in 2015-16.  Second, Ireland announced a proposal to merge the PEF with the Association of Piedmont Parent Clubs (APCP) so that they may share fundraising responsibilities in the future.

After the members of the School Board unanimously voted in favor of this merger, Ireland announced the plans the PEF and the APCP have for this upcoming year’s grant, which is $25,000 higher than the grant that was awarded last year.  Currently, the plans are for the additional money being granted this year to go toward computer science programs and for the rest of the money to go toward maintaining library facilities, counseling services, electives at the middle school level, and the seven-period day at the high school.

Following this discussion and a brief reading of the new Weight Training and Fitness course to be offered at the high school next year, Assistant Superintendent Michael Brady announced an RFP the PUSD plans to release regarding Facilities Master Planning services.  According to Brady, the District wants community input before deciding on how best to improve the infrastructure and long-term safety and accessibility of the schools in Piedmont.  Brady expects that they will receive responses from several architectural firms before the next School Board meeting, and after a question from Board member Amal Smith, it became clear that these proposals will be presented to the School Board, but will be reviewed by a separate facilities committee.  Additionally, Brady made sure to point out that the funds for this project will not be from the general community, but rather will come from the remainder of the money from a past bond program that dealt with modernization.

Although both of the main aforementioned issues also dealt with financial issues, the public hearing regarding Measure A was easily the most contentious issue brought up at the meeting.  Because it is written into Measure A that the additional percentage to levy the tax must be determined on a yearly basis, the discussion regarding the upcoming 2015-16 academic year began with a recommendation from a committee of community members dedicated to investigating the financial health of the District.  They recommended that the tax should be levied at the maximum level of an additional 2%, which is expected to yield an additional $191,747 in revenue and to leave a total of $9,724,121 collected during the upcoming year.  The committee suggested this levy because they want to save the extra money in the District’s reserves.  Somewhat shockingly, the School Board unanimously approved this increased levy after hearing just a short summary from the committee, citing voluntary sacrifice by community members as necessary to maintain our schools’ excellence.

Almost immediately after their vote, however, Mr. William Blackwell, a community member, took the podium to protest the tax.  He attacked Measure A and proposed a new tax be proposed based on the size of each citizen’s taxable parcel instead of on a uniform level.  This began an entire debate between Blackwell and Board Member Rick Raushenbush, who, as an attorney, reviewed the idea of a differential tax rate, which was evidently found unconstitutional after one such system in Alameda was challenged.  According to a conversation with both Doug Ireland and Raushenbush after the meeting, this was not the first time that Mr. Blackwell had voiced his outrage toward Measure A.  Thus, although it appeared rather surprising that the Board was allowed to forbid someone from voicing their opinion at a public meeting, it turned out that because Blackwell was raising an entirely new issue, he was allowed to be silenced during the meeting.

I find it strange that the Board approved the increase in taxes immediately, solely based on the idea that our funding from the state will be uncertain in the future, which seems as though it would be true whether or not taxes were increased. However, I appreciate the Board’s continued dedication to improving the quality of life for students of Piedmont schools.  After all, as Board Member Sarah Pearson told me after the meeting, it is the chance to improve and protect student well-being that encourages her–and others like her–to become involved with the School Board in the first place.

Editors’ Note:  Opinions expressed are those of the author.

2 Responses to “Educational Foundation Increases Grant and Merges with Parent Clubs”

  1. Mr. Blackwell is not the only Piedmont resident outraged at the grossly regressive nature of Measure A. Piedmont’s School Parcel tax is by a wide margin the most expensive in the State, and over double the nearly $1,200 School tax of the San Marino School District, which is ranked #1 academically in the state.

    Another troubling issue about the Piedmont tax is that all top ten school districts in the State with a school tax have a senior exemption except Piedmont. Throughout the State most Districts with a school tax have a senior exemption. Piedmont proponents of Measure A claimed compassion for needy seniors by including an SSI exemption but no senior exemption. To date two taxpayers have qualified and the District cannot release information as to whether either is a senior.

    George Childs suggested an income based senior exemption and was told this was likely illegal. This is odd as Oakland, Berkeley, Orinda and Moraga all have this exact exemption. The School District has not produced a legal opinion in this regard. Because the Piedmont tax is so high, a flat senior exemption would transfer too much financial burden to others; but, an income based senior exemption would only cost the District 2% of tax revenue.

  2. It is neither shocking or surprising to me, nor likely to anyone who is familiar with the history of CA education funding, that Piedmont’s School Support Tax was unanimously increased by 2%.

    Many residents know (or may not know) that the State legislature voted last year to increase (in fact, more than DOUBLE,

    see article: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/06/11/35pensions_ep.h33.html )

    the proportion that individual school districts are required to contribute to fund teacher pension obligations out of their own operating budgets. These financial commitments were initiated by the State and were to be paid out of the State General Fund. The State did not meet its financial obligations to teachers and now, instead of making the sacrifices and disciplined decisions to support the retirement benefits of hard-working and dedicated teachers, State lawmakers are passing the buck for the financial obligations they made to local School Districts– placing them squarely on the backs of current students. The pension obligations added to our District’s costs this year alone far surpass the incremental revenue from the 2% increase in the parcel tax, which, it should be noted, is not even sufficient to protect our school district from inflationary pressures (even if it were applied to our entire District budget, not just 30% of it).
    It is an encouraging sign that our elected School Board members have done their homework well and understand the options available to them as stewards of the educations of 3,000 Piedmonters.

    The author mischaracterizes the Board’s responsible decision as ‘based solely on future state funding uncertainty’. Even if this were the sole basis for their decision, their fears would be founded in reality. The LCFF (the Local Control Funding Formula by which State education revenues are distributed among CA’s approx 1K local school districts) is not anticipated (even with the rosiest of projections) to return State funding for PUSD to 2007 levels until 2020-21. Our School Board has met a very high bar of accomplishment by stretching every dollar it receives to the fullest extent, all in the midst of transitioning to the Common Core Curriculum and new State standardized testing demands.

    Thank you, Doug, Rick, Andrea, Sarah and Amal, for your dedicated volunteer service to our community and for taking your responsibility seriously.

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