May 30 2016

SCHOOL: Budget Committee Deals with Controversy

Report on Budget Advisory Committee Meeting of May 19th 

Matters became heated at the Piedmont Unified School District’s (PUSD) Budget Advisory Committee meeting on May 19th. The Committee meets approximately once a month in the School District Offices.

The meeting started off with the Piedmont School District Business Services official, Song Chin­-Bendib reviewing the PUSD budget. When asked why she was there, she replied with a friendly, “It’s my job.”

Song was surprised that the tax revenue was less than projected to be in January. She showed her support for California Proposition 30.  She said that some areas of government do not support extending the proposition.

Song Chin­-Bendib expressed how important budget reports are. She noticed a trend in her reports where the ending balance is going down. When asked further about the budget, she said that 35% of the budget is paid by the Parent’s Club and Parcel Tax, and that 85% of the budget goes to personnel and staff, and 15% towards utilities.

Within the State budget, there are “rainy day funds”, which could be used to help school districts.  Song closed off her budget statement showing the trend changes the budget projections saying, “A lot of things can happen in 6 months.”

After Song Chin­-Bendib, the Committee transitioned to citizen statements; a Piedmont resident named William Blackwell spoke. He started off talking about the Piedmont school parcel tax, which is a flat tax of approximately $2,600 per year per parcel.   The school parcel tax, called Measure A, was passed three years ago by Piedmont voters.  The tax created no exemptions for Piedmont citizens to not pay the tax except for those on SSI.

Blackwell stated he noticed that 43 parcels in Piedmont were not paying the school tax, which he claimed is not legal. Out of 43 parcels, two are exempt from the tax under SSI.  Out of the remaining 41, 30 are double parcels. A double parcel means that there is one house on two parcels, and the property is taxed for only one parcel.

Blackwell further noted that the shocking thing is that 11 of the 43 are single parcels on individual properties not paying the Piedmont school parcel tax, some owned by religious entities.

“The Piedmont parcel tax issue is an ongoing issue.He was then cut off by a lady on the Committee who asked if he was a tax attorney. She then asked, “What’s keeping Piedmont from getting the money?”  Mr. Blackwell replied, “This issue is not being settled by who it should be settled by.” She did not believe his claim. Mr. Blackwell stated that she is supporting the parcel tax law being broken, which she answered with, “I’m offended you’re accusing me of breaking the law.”

The argument went forth for a couple of more minutes, until it was cut short by Song Chin­-Bendib. The meeting as a whole was then adjourned, but Mr. Blackwell stayed behind to talk a little more, with no interruptions. He said that exempting the church ­owned parcels may be a violation of the Separation of Church and State doctrine, that prohibits local government support for religion.

According to Blackwell, June 30th is the deadline for ending the unlawful exemptions to the school tax, and he is curious to see if there will be a change for next year. Terminating these “illegal exemptions” would add another $326,000 to the budget, which could be very impactful on the long term. When asked about how Mr. Blackwell came across this shocking trend, he said “I’m not a lawyer, but I can read.”

By Landon Campbell, Piedmont High School Senior

Editor’s Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.

2 Responses to “SCHOOL: Budget Committee Deals with Controversy”

  1. Good coverage and accurate, which I very much appreciate. Best wishes as you graduate and move out into the next larger phase of your life.

    Bill Blackwell

  2. I am concerned about the property tax exemptions. I wrote a letter to Board member Doug Ireland with a copy to Superintendent Randy Booker after Mr. Ireland’s Opinion Piece about the parcel tax in the local paper. I attached a copy of the tax bill from the Lake Merritt United Methodist United Church in Oakland where they are charged all Oakland Parcel taxes. The warehouse of the Women’s Board of the Oakland Museum also pays all Oakland Parcel taxes.

    We live in one house, two parcels – one in Piedmont, one in Oakland. We pay ALL parcel taxes in both cities. Oakland does NOT disallow any of the Oakland Parcel taxes.

    As a member of the Board of Education, 1982 -90, I always responded to communications from constituents and I expected a reply. I was President when the first parcel tax was passed and there were no exemptions, to my knowledge, at that time.

    Tamra C. Hege

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