The following letters and other commentary express only the personal opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Piedmont Civic Association.

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Oct 30 2018

On October 24th, I attended the Piedmont Board of Education Meeting. It took place in City Hall and these meeting occur twice a month. The purpose of the meeting was to review and discuss activities in the Piedmont Unified School District. There were four main items that were discussed at the meeting.

First was the approval of the 2018 Piedmont High School Accrediting Commission for School Western Association of Schools and Colleges (ACS WASC) Self Study Report. Before this item was approved an extensive presentation was given by Piedmont High School Principal Adam Littlefield and Piedmont High School Social Studies teacher Dave Keller. They elaborated on the process of accreditation and how WASC representatives will be visiting Piedmont High School from November 4th through November 7th. After the presentation the item was unanimously approved by the Board.

The second item that was discussed was the approval of the 2018 Piedmont Adult School Accrediting Commission for School Western Association of Schools and Colleges (ACS WASC) Initial Visit Report. Millennium High School Principal and Piedmont Adult School Principal Shannon Fierro gave an informative presentation on the initial accreditation process that Piedmont Adult School is undergoing. This will accredit them for two years after which they can apply for a full accreditation, which lasts six years. The WASC representatives visited Piedmont Adult School on October 25th. The item was unanimously approved by the Board.

The third item that was discussed was a review of the 2018-2019 General Fund Working Budget and Multi-Year Projections and the authorization of appropriate budget transfers. A lengthy presentation was given on the budget by Ruth Alahydoian, the Chief Financial Officer for the district. The District is over budget and will not meet the 3% required reserve. Ms. Alahydoian stressed the importance of taking action to ensure that this reserve is met in future years. The budget transfers were all unanimously authorized by the Board.

The final main item from the meeting was an update on the School Support Tax and timeline. The current School Support Tax is going to expire on June 31, 2021. This tax is on the 3,921 taxable parcels in Piedmont. It raises $10 million dollars for the district which is around 25% of the district’s $40 million dollars worth of revenues. In the spring of 2019 the Board will poll the citizens and hold public meetings on the topic. There will be campaigning in the fall of 2019 leading up to the election in November of 2019.

I spoke on the issue of the School Support Tax. I advocated for student involvement in the public meetings and in the campaigning. They are the group that is going to be most significantly impacted by whether the tax passes or not. Without the money from the tax, the program across all Piedmont Schools will be significantly changed for the worse. Students could get involved by creating flyers and short PSAs advertising the public meetings in the spring. They can also help with the canvassing that is going to be happening in the fall. The Board should get students involved with this process.

I interviewed Board of Education Member Sarah Pearson. She was at the meeting because she is the President of the School Board. As an elected official Dr. Pearson has to listen to the difficulties and problems brought forth by the community. Given the information that was presented during the meeting by the Chief Financial Officer, Dr. Pearson is concerned about the budget. The next step is at the Budget Advisory Committee Meeting on November 8th the Chief Financial Officer will present a much more in depth breakdown of district expenses.

by Anna Smegal, Piedmont High School Senior

Oct 28 2018

Why I believe that Measure CC should be rejected by Piedmont voters.

Measure CC has no credible factual support in the public record. It is void of any demonstrable need. It is poorly designed. It is totally without conceivable merit. It turns good governance on its head. If adopted Measure CC would only underscore the present Council’s abdication of its responsibility to the public and waste of public resources in proposing to the voters such a vacuous and worthless proposition.

I was a California public agency lawyer for the 34 years before I retired in 2006. One of my primary responsibilities as a lawyer was providing legal advice and legal services regarding the Oakland City Charter provisions applicable to the independent Oakland Port Department. I was certified by the State Bar to provide legal instruction to members of the State Bar regarding the Oakland City Charter, and Bar members who received my instruction received credit toward their mandatory continuing legal education requirements.

The Oakland City Charter provided that the Board of Port Commissioners was responsible to both hire and fire Port officers and employees. Neither the authority and responsibility of the Port’s Executive Director for the day-to-day performance of all non-Port Attorney staff Port officers and employees, nor the authority and responsibility of the Port Attorney for the day-to-day performance of all Port Attorney staff, ran into any conflict with the Board’s exclusive power to hire and fire all Port officers and employees.

Practically, the Board acted on recommendations of the Executive Director or Port Attorney regarding proposed hiring and firing, but importantly the necessity that the Executive Director and Port Attorney justify to the Board in advance of proposed and recommended hiring and firing avoided serious disruptions, damage and liabilities that a runaway Executive Director or Port Attorney could cause.

The hiring and firing authority for top City officers should be unitary so that the authority to hire and authority to fire rest in the same hands, and that authority rightly belongs to the legislative body, not one of its appointed officers. No better day-to-day measure that combined hiring and firing authority will timely inform a City Council of the health and status of the public agency than its receiving advance notice of proposed and recommended hiring and firing of the public personnel responsible for carrying out the very public functions for which the Council or board is primarily responsible.

In Measure CC, the present Council for no good public reason effectively proposes to grant a veto power to the City Administrator over the Council’s hiring decisions. The Measure CC proposal by the present Council and each of its Councilmembers is a disgraceful failure to carry out their public obligations. The lack of any credible rationale for the proposed Measure CC suggests, at best, unanimous Councilmember thoughtlessness and laziness.

Thomas D. Clark, Piedmont Resident

Oct 28 2018

I am writing in support of Julie Caskey for Piedmont School Board. I am the mother of two young children soon to be in elementary school, a high school teacher at a nearby high performing district, and like many of you moved to Piedmont for the schools and the community.

I have known Julie and her family since before moving to Piedmont. Over the years we have often discussed her commitment to public education and her service to her community. Those conversations have convinced me, both as a mother and as a teacher, that Julie is the sort of person we need supporting Piedmont’s public schools.

As a high school teacher I have first hand experience with all the issues facing our schools in terms of teacher retention, recruiting, and morale. Julie has solicited my opinion in her volunteer work in the Piedmont schools, and has thoughtful, nuanced approaches to solving our problems. There is not a one size fits all solution to the challenges of public education, and I am confident Julie will do the necessary research and outreach, consider all available information and viewpoints, and arrive at the best outcomes for our community. That’s the background she brings as a volunteer, a lawyer, and public servant.

As a parent, I am even more excited to support Julie. It isn’t enough just to have great work and professional experience. We need to consider the perspectives of parents whose children are currently in our schools. It is vital that the Board has a member that is closely connected to our elementary schools. Julie is the only candidate or board member that currently has a child in elementary school. I am concerned about the dearth of representation of elementary school families on the Board. The Board should represent as many stakeholders in our educational system as possible and this perspective is sorely lacking. I am confident between her role as an elementary school parent, connections to current elementary school families and volunteer work in the elementary schools that Julie would be a strong advocate for this significant part of the Piedmont community.

Please join me in supporting Julie Caskey this November 6. She has the experience, dedication, and perspective to continue the tradition of excellence for Piedmont schools.

Carolyn Cahill, Piedmont Resident

Oct 28 2018

I first met Amal Smith when she was President of the Beach School Parents Club. She impressed me with her ability to listen and include everyone in the decision making process. Her collaborative manner and enthusiasm was reflected in her Board.

When she was elected to the Piedmont Board of Education four years ago, I knew that she would be an excellent addition. Amal began her Board service with proven leadership experience and a recognized commitment to the well being of children in Piedmont.

Amal also had years of extensive experience in finance including ten years of consulting at KPMG to colleges and universities. She is currently an Associate Dean for Financial Affairs at UCSF School of Medicine.

When I watch Piedmont School Board meetings on KCOM I see evidence of her past and current leadership and financial expertise. Amal listens and respects the opinions of others, asks probing questions, analyzes data, constantly thinks of what is the best for children and applies common sense to her decision making.

I enthusiastically endorse Amal Smith for re-election to the Piedmont Board of Education.

Sue Smegal
Former Piedmont Board of Education President

Oct 26 2018

I’m writing to encourage my fellow Piedmont citizens to vote for Amal Smith for School Board. I believe that having Amal on the School Board for a second term would benefit our community because Amal is a thoughtful listener who makes wise decisions. She considers all viewpoints and always aims for the best possible outcomes for our students and teachers.

Amal cares deeply about Piedmont students and education in general. Amal has spent her career working in higher education, and her values strongly align with the Piedmont school district’s goals of creating a safe and inclusive learning environment, and providing a rigorous, relevant, and differentiated education for all students. Amal is truly an advocate for the “whole student,” promoting programs that our community values, including the arts, athletics, and wellness.

I first met Amal when I started volunteering for the Piedmont schools about 10 year ago. I was immediately impressed by her organizational skills, leadership abilities, and understanding of the issues facing our schools. Amal’s warm personality brings out the best in those around her. We are lucky to have Amal Smith on the School Board and I hope you will join me in voting for her again.

Christine Wente von Metzsch, Piedmont Resident

Oct 25 2018

Proponents of Measure CC overstate the ambiguity of the City Charter.

First, the Charter defines two job categories: officers (department heads) and employees (everyone else). The current Charter is clear that Council hires/fires and provides direction to officers. The Charter does not say that Council will “manage” departments.

For the City Administrator, the Charter states:

“The City Administrator shall be the chief administrative officer of the city and shall be responsible to the City Council for the administration of all City affairs placed in his/her charge by or under this Charter.

The administrator shall have the following powers and duties:
(1) Shall appoint, discipline, and, when deemed necessary for the good of the City, suspend or remove City employees except as otherwise provided by law, this Charter or personnel rules adopted pursuant to this Charter.
(2) Shall supervise the administration of all departments, offices and agencies of the City, except as otherwise provided by this Charter or by law and except further that the internal administration of each department shall remain with each department head.”

Two points. Google “chief administrative officer” – by definition it says this position does not have the authority to dismiss department heads. All other authority is clearly defined in the Charter – the City Administrator supervises all departments and can fire employees while department heads administer their departments.

So drafters of the Charter crafted a very specific management structure for the city, yet proponents claim this is not how City Hall is run. If so, is the question really that of an ambiguous Charter or City Council and City Administrator who aren’t following the Charter?

Department heads have been disciplined by Council and Council implemented a performance appraisal program to evaluate department heads. Specific examples of problems with the management structure would help voters understand why they need change it.

And judging by the satisfaction most Piedmonters state with city services, they don’t want a change.

Vote NO on CC.

Garrett Keating, Former Piedmont City Council Member

Oct 25 2018

Mr. Titan’s Claim That the School Board “Lost” $18.8 Million Is Baseless – 

In his October 20, 2018 Opinion posted on PCA, Mr. Titan responded to my October 17, 2018 Opinion posted on PCA. It is unfortunate that Mr. Titan continues to try to bolster his campaign by unfounded attacks on the successful Piedmont seismic bond program and by claiming credit for a bond refinancing for which he is not responsible.

Mr. Titan’s response does not support his past claims (that he saved Piedmont over $26 million) or his new claim that a past School Board “lost” $18.8 million. The District’s intent to refinance the 2013 Series E Capital Appreciation Bonds (CABs) was stated in 2013 when the Board directed their sale, so Mr. Titan did not initiate this commonsense idea (which reduced total interest payments by $26.1 million when approved in 2017). Mr. Titan’s idea that the Board “lost” $18.8 million is based on his suggestion that voters could have approved an additional bond measure to double the authorized tax rate and significantly increased their tax burden to pay off bonds more quickly. This is not “something for nothing” financial wizardry, but a legally uncertain policy proposal that would have imposed greater burdens on current taxpayers for the benefit of future taxpayers that Piedmont voters never approved.

It is worth noting that none of the current School Board candidates served on the Board from 2006 to 2013 when the seismic bond program was approved by voters and implemented by the School District. Indeed, the 2006 Measure E, authorizing the sale of $56 million in bonds to ensure the seismic safety of our schools, and the resulting school construction, occurred before some Piedmont residents moved here. Mr. Titan has chosen to attack these past School Board bond authorizations, and to claim credit for past School Board decisions, in an effort to establish his claim of financial expertise.

As an initial matter, Mr. Titan’s effort to claim credit for the refinancing of the 2013 Series E CABs remains unconvincing. (Mr. Titan makes this assertion in his October 18 campaign email). First, the Board in 2013 clearly expected to refinance the CABs in the future—Mr. Titan did not originate the idea and thus save Piedmont taxpayers $26.1 million. At the May 8, 2013 Board meeting, KNN explained the District’s ability and expectation of refunding the CABs early. http://piedmont.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=3&clip_id=916 at 46:00-46:50. The Minutes also so state. http://www.piedmont.k12.ca.us/aboutpusd/agenda.minutes/2011_12/052213packet.pdf. Second, as discussed in my October 17, 2018 Opinion, Mr. Titan originally opposed the CAB refinancing during the Nov. 8, 2017 Board meeting. Mr. Titan helpfully pointed out that he reversed his position later in the meeting, after hearing KNN’s professional advice (My apologies for missing his change of view). However, changing his view to support KNN’s recommendation and the Board’s position does not mean Mr. Titan is responsible for the Board’s refinancing of the CABs.

Next, as I previously noted, Mr. Titan did not educate the School Board about CABs or other financial instruments, all of which were discussed in public meetings from 2006 to 2013. Mr. Titan now asserts that he educated the public about such terms as “compound interest,” etc. I suspect that most Piedmonters were aware of such terms. Mr. Titan does not mention other key terms, such as tax rate, tax impact, and taxpayer cash flow, which a School Board member must consider in assessing bond structure.

The basis for Mr. Titan’s claim that the Board “lost” $18.6 million is as follows: “My proposal was not to defer the work and financing in 2013, but to use CIBs by getting a new voter authorization.” (Titan Opinion). Mr. Titan does not explain how he calculated $18.8 million and whether he took the CAB refinancing into account. Nonetheless, an important part of a School Board member’s job is to be transparent, carefully and publicly analyze potentially feasible options, and make a prudent decision that balances many competing interests. So, let’s unpack Mr. Titan’s proposal and claim.

Mr. Titan’s idea was that the Board should have asked voters to approve a new bond measure, so that bonds under that measure would be subject to a second $60/$100,000 assessed valuation (AV) anticipated tax rate limit in addition to the $60/$100,000 AV anticipated tax rate limitation on the 2006 Measure E bonds. In other words, to repay seismic bonds, Piedmonters could have been taxed up to $120/$100K AV rather than up to $60/$100K AV. As anyone with a home mortgage knows, if you pay down debt more quickly, your total interest payments over the term of the loan go down. But you must pay more in the short term.

What would the tax impact of Mr. Titan’s proposal, if approved, have been on Piedmont taxpayers? We do not have a 2013 KNN analysis of CIB interest rates, likely term, and the tax rate necessary to make payments on such bonds. For illustrative purposes, let’s consider an additional $30/$100K AV. Added to the $60/$100K AV already assessed for outstanding seismic bonds, the total tax rate for seismic bonds would be $90/$100K AV, or $900 per year for a home assessed at $1 million (this would have been added to tax payments on older bonds). But the tax impact would vary among homeowners. Young families, which may have stretched to buy a Piedmont home and have high assessed valuations, might owe much more and have trouble paying it. Seniors might be on a fixed income and have trouble paying the tax bill.

Moreover, the new school buildings are expected to serve children for at least 50 years. While some families plan to live in Piedmont for many decades, others may stay only while their children attend school. They may be more concerned about short-term cash flow than total interest payments as they would not make many of those future interest payments. If Mr. Titan wrestled with any of these concerns, he did not explain his position.

Mr. Titan’s claim has two other defects. First, Mr. Titan has not shown whether such a bond authorization would be legal. The 2013 Series E CABs refinanced existing Bond Appreciation Notes. Proposition 39 (Article XIII-A, Section 1(b)(3) authorizes school bonds for “the construction, reconstruction, rehabilitation, or replacement of school facilities,” but does not mention re-financing other debt. KNN did not answer this question at the May 8, 2013 meeting, but rather responded to my question about a potential theater bond measure. Nor did KNN state at the October 11, 2017 meeting that the BANs could have been refinanced by CIBs without a new bond measure.

Second, Mr. Titan’s claim rests on voter approval, which is entirely speculative. Measure E itself was narrowly approved, with campaign materials indicating the sponsors’ hope that the tax rate to repay the bonds would be no greater than $20/$100K (which contemplated the use of CABs). The recession and the opportunity to obtain near-zero interest Qualified School Construction Bonds (QSCBs) required exceeding $20/$100K AV, which the Board approved after numerous meetings seeking public input. But tax rate and tax impact was a key consideration throughout the seismic bond program. Neither Mr. Titan nor any other citizen proposed Mr. Titan’s idea in 2013 in lieu of CABs. Mr. Titan did not volunteer, or identify anyone else, to run a 2013 campaign seeking voter approval of higher taxes to reduce total interest payments. Nor does Mr. Titan discuss the timing of such a campaign or election, followed by bond authorization and sale, and how it would have meshed with the need to repay the BANs.

In short, Mr. Titan’s claim that the Board “lost” $18.8 million rests on (a) his policy preference to pay higher taxes now to reduce total interest payments, without consideration of tax burden and cash flow impacts on PIedmont voters as a whole, and (b) speculation that Piedmont voters would have approved a second bond authorization, though its legality is uncertain, and no one in 2013 proposed it, no one ran a campaign to endorse it, and Piedmont voters never approved it.

Finally, Mr. Titan’s discussion of the Board’s consideration of CABs under Measure H misunderstands the fundamental responsibility of School Board members. The Board has a responsibility to identify potentially feasible options, allow public comment, evaluate feasible alternatives and make prudent decisions that it believes are in the best interests of the community. Mr. Titan asserts that having KNN present options that included CABs somehow means that the Board would have approved CABs but for Mr. Titan’s opposition. That was not the case, as Board members made clear in several public meetings.

I encourage Mr. Titan to present his views on critical issues facing the District today rather than misrepresenting what happened in the past.

Rick Raushenbush, Former Member Piedmont School Board

Oct 25 2018

The current election cycle for Piedmont School Board has past and current Board members publicly criticizing Board candidate Hari Titan. The critiques are both highly unusual in Piedmont and frankly unwarranted. Hari has given great service to both the School Board and residents by uncovering the unnecessarily high taxpayer burden of Capital Appreciation Bonds (“CABs”) and the high cost of the failed Allen Harvey rehabilitation as compared to other new School theaters. The careful analysis by Hari unearthed the grossly excessive CAB debt costs and saved Piedmont taxpayers literally many millions. Instead of denunciations there should be public thanks from School Board members.

Beyond the School Board Establishment questioning Hari’s financial analysis, the bottom line takeaway is that Hari will shake things up in a manner neither welcome nor comfortable by the School Board; and yet this is exactly what we need. Hari has the expertise, determination and courage to drill down information put before the School Board by Staff and Consultants. As the Piedmont School Tax is literally double to 100 times any other School Tax in the state, and more money will be asked for soon, Hari Titan is critically needed on the School Board now. On November 6, Hari Titan has my vote.

By Rick Schiller, Piedmont Resident

Oct 25 2018

In addition to her 18 years of volunteer service to our District, and her commitment to serving all of our students, stakeholder engagement, and balancing academic rigor and wellness, Amal is the only candidate with relevant financial skills. In her 18-year tenure at the University of California, she has been responsible for financial management, reporting, and operations. In her current role as Associate Dean for Financial Affairs at the UCSF School of Medicine, she leads a team responsible for budgeting, reporting, and planning for a $2+ Billion enterprise. She understands state funding for education, accounting reporting requirements, compliance and controls issues, and the realities of balancing competing needs with limited resources.

In 2017, the opportunity to refund the Capital Appreciation Bonds (CABs) was presented to the board by the District’s financial advisors, KNN, and not at the urging or advice of anyone in this community. Amal, along with the rest of the board, voted to refund these bonds prior to January 1, 2018, saving taxpayers $26.1 million. Amal and the board chose to act because advice from KNN indicated that there was pending national legislation that would remove the District’s ability to refund the CABs (which did, in fact, pass) and that the likelihood of rising interest rates would impact potential savings.

We support Amal because of her strong financial skills, as well as her practical wisdom and reasoned approach to all issues that are brought before the board. Please join us in voting to re-elect Amal to our school board. She’s already demonstrated that she has what it takes to serve our community.

By Dana & Mike Serleth, Piedmont Residents

Oct 25 2018

The two most critical issues facing our school district are managing the budget, and teacher recruitment and retention. Two candidates have the professional expertise and personal experience to address these issues:

As Associate Dean of Financial Affairs for the UCSF medical school, Amal Smith has extensive experience managing budgets in a complex educational environment with government regulations and many stakeholders. With her tenure at the Piedmont Education Foundation including as President, Amal has a strong record of working with multiple parent constituencies to balance, fund and support the wide range of Piedmont student interests and needs from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Megan Pillsbury, a long-time educator and PUSD teacher, has the training, classroom experience, and credibility to address teacher recruitment and retention given budget limitations. Megan knows the intangibles that influence whether a teacher loves their job or leaves: a supportive teaching environment, professional development and belonging to a community of valued teaching professionals. Megan also knows first-hand the importance of partnering with parents to create the best learning environment for their students.

Please join us in voting for Amal Smith and Megan Pillsbury for School Board.


Chris & Katy Ford, Piedmont Residents