Mar 12 2017

Report: PUSD Spending on Maintenance, Services, Books, Health Insurance, and Materials Increased, Tax Exempt Properties Raised Once More as an Issue

Report showed an increase of School District revenue by $378,166, or nearly one percent of the total $39,253,395 District Budget revenue taken in during the period.  Tax exempt parcels raised once more as a funding issue.   

The PUSD Budget Advisory Committee met on Thursday, March 2, at the School District offices to review their second Interim Budget Report for the 2016-2017 PUSD budget.  Those in attendance included three PHS students, five district-affiliated persons, not including the presenter, Assistant Superintendent Song Chin Bendib, and one private citizen.

    The purpose of the meeting was to understand the District’s finances, and how they have changed recently, and how they will continue to change over the next few years.  The second interim report showed an increase of District revenue by $378,166, or nearly one percent of the total $39,253,395 Budget revenue taken in during the period.  Of this increase, nearly 60% percent came from fees or donations paid to the District for programs such as sports teams, field trips, PAINTS, CHIME, and other similar groups.  This income can only be reported after it is collected by the District, and, according to Bendib, cannot be used to offset other District costs, or saved in the General Fund.  The remaining 40% percent of revenue increases came from the State of California, in the form of one hundred nine thousand dollars of aid.  Expenditures grew by $369,689 in the same interim period, a smaller amount than the increase due to specialty payment revenue.  This reduced the District’s previous interim deficit of $869,467 to $860,990 in the second interim budget review.

Spending for books and materials increased nearly eight percent, or about $80,000, in the second, or mid school-year, interim.  Maintenance and services costs increased by nearly $200,000 during the period, an increase that Bendib attributed to so-called “discretionary spending” of the income from athletic, arts, and field trip donations.  Bendib indicated that neither the increases in maintenance expenditures, nor those on books and materials reflected long-term growth of expenditures.  The increase in income in the period, however, did not reflect a reliable increase or a growth trend either.

The author wonders why spending increased for books and materials in the middle of the school-year, surmising that most textbooks and materials are purchased at the beginning of the school-year or over the summer.  Additionally, the author believes that the income for special-interest programs like arts and athletics should not be added to the same data used to compute changes in the General Fund, especially if said income cannot be used for general spending, and represents reliable growth in neither revenues nor expenditures.

Further increase in expenditures resulted from PUSD staff that changed health insurance status.  The District, instead of paying a two thousand dollar adjustment to staff who paid for their own health insurance or received insurance through a spouse’s employment, must now pay around $7,000, for an individual, to provide full health insurance.  This puts the District’s health insurance payments on par with the most expensive insurance available in Alameda County, according to “Health Insurance Companies and Plan Rates for 2016,” a report by government-established marketplace, Covered California.

The outlook for the next few years was then presented.  The District is required to have a reserve of 3% of its projected budget every year.  For the 2016-2017 budget, there is a projected reserve of almost 4%, but for the following two years, that is the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 budgets, the projected reserves fall short at 2.7% and 1% respectively.  This is due to a decreased outlook, by $465,000, for state LCFF funding.  This amount of funding has yet to be finalized by the governor in his May revise of California’s budget.

PMS teacher Annie Holland asked a question to make sure that the numbers shown in the meeting did not indicate, or would not be seen to indicate, an increase in teacher salaries.

Private citizen William Blackwell asked that the Committee look into parcel tax exemptions.  He stated the the number of parcels in Piedmont multiplied by the flat parcel tax per parcel amounted to more than the parcel tax revenue reported by the district.  The gap, according to him, is nearly $114,000 dollars per year, and is caused by unlawful exemptions to the tax claimed by some parcel owners.  Blackwell said that several lawyers have looked into this and agree with him, including a former PUSD School Board member.  Bendib responded that the District has looked into the issue and that the District’s lawyers have advised that there is nothing illegal about the exemptions.

When asked if he learned anything from the meeting, he responded that he has attended PUSD Budget Advisory Committee meetings for four years trying to get the District to claim the money that he purports is owed to the District.  He said “I’ve heard almost the same presentation every year,” Blackwell says.  He claims that “there is a discrepancy [of] about forty-four parcels… that should be paying the taxes [and are] not.”

Blackwell also believes that paying for maintenance of current buildings using H1 Bond money will make maintenance more expensive in the long run.  He would like to see “a mandatory set-aside for maintenance every year… [that] would not be kicked down the road.”  Blackwell is disappointed by the District’s lack of action on the issue and plans to meet with Superintendent Randall Booker and other PUSD officials to discuss the issue.

by Grady Wetherbee, Piedmont High School Senior

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.

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