May 3 2018

Piedmont School Board Tackles Retirement Plans, Hears Student Activists

    Last Wednesday, April 25, 2018, the Piedmont School Board held its bi-weekly meeting to discuss a host of local affairs, from expulsion requirements and retirement benefits to early education services and AP tests. Though characterized as a run-of-the-mill meeting by various board members, it was notable that several Piedmont High seniors spoke up about issues weighing heavily on their minds as the end of the school year draws near.

    After no action was taken during the Board’s closed session, Heather Frank, Executive Director of the Piedmont Education Foundation, opened the meeting by reporting to the Board. She noted that the recent Piedmont Spring Fling netted $350,000 on top of the $2.5 million already raised, which will provide for a grant to Piedmont Unified School District (PUSD) that will be larger than last year’s.

Board President Sarah Pearson expressed her gratitude for the money, which allows for luxuries such as the Maker Faire and animation classes, which are special and easy to lose sight of.

    “It sets Piedmont apart,” said Pearson.

    Piedmont Associated Student Body Vice President Anna Goldberg reported to the Board next, reminding them that at PHS, AP exams are coming up, CAASP testing just finished, Spring sports are ending, and dance and a capella will hold events over the weekend.

    Following Goldberg’s report, Pearson opened up the meeting to the public to aire any concerns. A group of PHS seniors, making up the entire audience in attendance besides Frank, took the stand one by one. Sarah Beasley requested greater recognition for Jewish holidays; Katherine Wiesbrock voiced a complaint regarding spiders in the science building; Vincent Titterton made note of “senioritis”-stricken seniors neglecting to attend study halls; and Elka Sorensen advocated for moving such study halls to the middle of the school day to avoid this issue.

    My own comment was in regard to the senior service trip to the Oakland Zoo, which I felt has not been adequately advertised to students. An important part of service-learning projects is the education that takes place before the project or trip itself. By better understanding the issues that the trip hopes to address ahead of time, I feel that the service conducted will be more meaningful.

    Sarah Beasley returned to the podium a second time to call into question the purpose of CAASP testing and raise an additional concern regarding bloodstains in the girls’ bathroom. Senior Toni Ali-Daggo was present in the audience but did not address any comments to the Board.

    Moving into its main agenda items, the Board first discussed last Monday’s adjustments to the District expulsion requirements. Piedmont Superintendent Randy Booker called the matter “perfunctory” because Piedmont has never had to expel a student. Over the past year and a half, various changes in the law have made it such that students cannot be suspended for first offenses except in grave circumstances. A new piece of legislation is expected to be passed at the state level, which will prohibit suspension for Category K “willful defiance” offenses in grades 3-12. A triennial plan for alternative education and expulsion was moved by Board member Amal Smith, seconded by Cory Smegal, and approved unanimously.

    The Board also examined an actuarial study which examined how the District retirement plan is affecting PUSD. The study was conducted by outside consultants and reviewed health, not pension, benefits. Booker explained that many District employees choose to work until age 60 because PUSD only pays for 5 years of coverage, so someone retiring at age 55 after working for ten years would not make it to Medicare age. With the new proposal, $395,00 will be paid out of the General Fund to health benefits for currently retired employees, whether they retired last year or ten years ago. Moved by Board member Doug Ireland and seconded by Andrea Swenson, the Board approved the actuarial study unanimously.

    The next agenda item that the Board discussed was measure 13-17-18 to provide additional services for childcare and early education services, which will be on the ballot in June. Almost all counties are supporting this measure, and I agree with Booker that high quality childcare for low and middle income students is important because research shows that the brain develops the most during the first five years of life, so it is critical to take advantage of this period.

    Pearson concluded the meeting by graciously expressing thanks to various individuals and groups, including the Piedmont Youth Educators, Principal Littlefield, and the Piedmont High English Department, which put on I-Search Night on Tuesday.

    Following the meeting, Heather Frank expressed her view that Wednesday was  a relatively uneventful night for the Board. “There wasn’t much of substance discussed tonight,” said Frank, adding that the heated debates over the District math pathways from a few weeks ago were much more interesting. As Executive Director of PEF, Frank is expected to attend every School Board meeting to report on all three educational levels: elementary, middle, and high school. Regarding the outspoken high school advocates, Frank cautioned that the School Board meeting isn’t really the right place to aire concerns because there is a process to put an item on the agenda. Along those same lines, Board member Smegal wished to discuss a proposal to raise Witter field in order to support a new parking garage, but Booker shot down the conversation in order to adhere to what he called the “super strict” rules [The Brown Act] regarding the agenda.

by Rohan Srivastava, Piedmont High School Senior


 School Board Meeting: Community Voices and GASB

On Wednesday, April 25, 2018, the Piedmont School Board held their weekly meeting starting at 7:05 pm and ending around 8:20 pm at the City Hall. The meeting began with Heather Frank of the Piedmont Education Foundation (PEF) going to the speaker stand and speaking about the annual Spring Fling on how the auctioning and bidding went better than expected and the adults were having fun with casual cocktail drinking. The PEF was able to raise $350,000 in funds for the school (which they’ll need as we continue through this article). As a final statement Frank discussed the success of the Maker Faire at the middle school and how the fair was filled with creativity from the students and workshops helping teachers to learn better methods of teaching their students.

    The meeting moved on to ASB Vice-President Anna Goldberg giving a report on the activities happening at both PHS and MHS. AP exams are on the rise while the school just finished state testing for the CAASPP and the CAST that was spanned in two weeks( two days each week). The school is also getting ready for Day On the Green that’s held for both schools just a few days before finals as a way to give students a chance to relax and have fun for a day.

    The meeting moved forward with statements from PHS seniors. Sarah Beasley spoke on how the school should consider Jewish holidays as a legitimate holiday that students have the day off from school. This would make it easier for her and other students to complete homework on time so they can enjoy their time celebrating the holiday.

      I took the stand and spoke about how the school should consider funding the track team with new uniforms because the current ones have been used for both cross country and track for years and are in need of an update. Others spoke about the bug problem in the 20’s building, teachers cramming in homework during AP testing season, moving state testing to the middle of the day, parking issue for seniors, and the need for janitors to be quicker to cleaning up messes in the bathrooms.

    After allowing everyone to make their claims, the Board moved on to the main topic at hand. Mr. Randall Booker, the School Superintendent, and his assistant started a presentation on the annual report of health coverage for retired employees called the GASB [Governmental Accounting Standards Board].  His assistant led majority of the presentation by first explaining that she and Mr. Booker must go over this report with the Board and get approval and they went over it with them. The reason for this is because it is a new law required by auditors so instead of going over the report every two years, it’s now every year they must go over the report. The report consisted of who would eligible for retirement coverage; so depending on your age and the years you worked as a teacher, you would get a certain amount of years in coverage. For example, the minimum retirement age is 55 years old, and let’s say this person worked for the school for ten years, they would then get 5 years of health coverage from the school. The issue with this is because OPEB (other post employment benefits) is the liability they have to report. The District has a debt that’s constantly rising and reporting the OPEB only attracts auditors. Each year they pay a certain amount to their employees; in the 2016-17 year, the school paid $373,945 in retirement funding.

     This portion of the meeting was concluded by a motion being carried throughout all members of the Board and all agreed to approval of having looked over the report with Mr. Booker and his assistant.

    Another motion was passed for supporting a ballot measure providing aid for children in Alameda coverage in schooling; mostly for middle/low income families.

     They moved on to each Board member saying all the events they attended since their last meeting.

     As a final piece to the meeting, Randall Booker discussed the Consent Calendar and specifically the coaches of all sports. He talked about how all coaches get paid differently depending on their position; for example, all varsity coaches get paid the same, all junior varsity coaches get paid the same, and all freshman coaches are paid the same. However, if a season goes beyond 10 weeks, they get paid more for each week outside of the regulated season. After passing the consent calendar, the meeting was adjourned at 8:20 p.m.

    After the meeting, I introduced myself to Randall Booker for a quick interview. We talked about his part in the Board meeting. He explained to me how he’s the assistant to the Board President. He gives suggestions to her to plan out the agenda for the meeting. He also explained how something that affects the District as a whole must be discussed even if the president doesn’t want to. He’s also responsible for organizing the meetings and facilitating it  by answering any questions asked. He then went on to explain his position as the Superintendent of the School District. He explained how the Board is at the top and Mr. Booker is the single employee reporting to the Board. Underneath Mr. Booker is all the employees of the District: teachers, janitors, librarians, coaches, gym teachers, etc. His assistant reports to him and she has people that  report to her and follow her orders.

by Toni Ali-Daggao, Piedmont High School Senior


Where do you go when you have a suggestion to make about the Piedmont School District? You can go to a School Board Meeting.

    One of the first items on the agenda at the School Board Meeting on April 25, 2018, was letting the audience members speak their recommendations and comments about anything in the community. The School Board meets the second and fourth Wednesday of each month to review updates in the District and issues they need to resolve. Depending on the subjects that are on the agenda for each specific meeting, the meetings can run past 9 p.m. or end earlier.

    During the meeting on April 25, the major issues covered were policies regarding high risk or expelled students, low or middle income students, and retirement benefits of District employees. According to a law that’s still processing, schools would not be able to suspend students on most 1st offenses, and in grades 3-12, schools wouldn’t suspend for willful defiance. The action taken was a change of wording of the policies, which need to be updated every couple of years.

    The second largest topic covered in the meeting was concerning the retiree benefits from PUSD. Currently, the healthcare plan for retirees covers them for 5 years after the age of 55. Because Medicare starts at age 65, most employees will work until they are 60 so they can benefit from continued healthcare after retirement. All in all, this program costs the District about $395,000 a year. Having benefits for the faculty of the District is necessary, and as long as these funds do not interfere with the well being of everyone else in the District, retirees should continue to get coverage.

    There were no other members of the community at the meeting beside a student, but I did talk to Heather Frank, the executive director at Piedmont Education Foundation. She attends all the School Board meetings to stay updated on what is happening in the district and to inform the School Board of what is happening with the PEF. According to Ms. Frank, this meeting was much less dense and shorter than most meetings, which can get much more tense or information packed. Early on in the meeting, she reviewed the recent events that the PEF has been working on to raise funds for the schools. The auctions at the Spring Fling raised a net $350,000, and the organization has already raised 2.5 million this year on top of that. Ms. Frank pointed out that many schools are having to cut funds, but what makes Piedmont unique is our variety of athletics, extra-curriculars, updated technology, and up to date teaching styles.

    Following Ms. Frank’s report, PHS ASB Vice President, Anna Goldberg, summarized the activities and events that were going on at the high school. Along with the CAASPP testing that took place the weeks of April 16 and 23, Anna also mentioned Day on the Green, which was an upcoming event for the high school.

    Next was the non-agenda topics comments. Several high school seniors went up to the podium to talk, including Vincent Titterton, who talked about reasons for senior absence during testing and ways that the school could possibly solve it. Another student, Rohan Srivastava, discussed the lack of awareness and knowledge of the senior Service Learning trip. Directly after, Superintendent Randall Booker went over the policies for % Bonuses for teachers.

    The major action at this meeting was passing Resolution 13, 2017-18- Measure A, approval of change of wording in Suspension/Expulsion policies, and approving of the Actuarial Study of Retiree Health Liabilities under GASB 74 and 75.

by Edwyna Zhu, Piedmont High School Senior

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the authors

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