Nov 27 2018

Piedmont Board of Education Meeting on November 14th, 2018

I attended the Piedmont Unified School District Board of Education Meeting on Wednesday, November 14th. These meetings take place twice a month, usually at 7:00 P.M. at the Council Chambers in the City Hall. The purpose of this meeting was to discuss various topics and issues affecting the school district and community, and if relevant, vote upon various items noticed for that meeting. The public is allowed to attend the hearing, and are permitted to speak out for a limited period of time during the meeting on any relevant issue they see fit to raise. The School Board members are then required to listen to the public’s comments and can take them into consideration.

There was a pre-arranged agenda that was followed for the meeting which outlined the main topics and announcements of interest that were to be covered. There was also a regular agenda item concerning the Consent Calendar, set for the very end of the meeting. The Consent Calendar covered various non-disputed administrative items that required approval from the School Board, such as approving donations benefiting the school district from various organizations throughout Piedmont and ratification of various contracts. The Board unanimously approved the Consent Calendar.

The main issue on the agenda that was discussed at the meeting was the possibility of a School Resources Officer (SRO) being implemented for Piedmont schools. PUSD Superintendent Randall Booker talked about how he and the Chief of the Piedmont Police, Jeremy Bowers, have been considering a position for a SRO since last year after observing “recent events around the world”, especially regarding the safety of schools. It was mentioned that many other school districts around the Bay Area already have a SRO and that this position will help implement the “Safe School Plan.”

Chief Bowers was also in attendance and went up to the podium to further elaborate on what this position entails. He explained that a SRO is a police officer who becomes a part of the community/schools for a positive impact and would play the four main roles of a counselor, teacher, social worker, and law enforcement professional. As a counselor, this position would serve as a resource to support students/staff. As a teacher, this person would do things such as give classroom presentations or educate students on the duties of the police. As a social worker, they would be involved in helping resolve conflicts/issues involving the school community. Furthermore, Bowers said the ultimate goal of this position would be to strengthen the relations between police and students/families, along with improving the overall safety of our schools. However, Bowers added that implementing this position will all depend on funding from a grant that has been requested since the school does not currently have sufficient funds to make this happen.

Discussion regarding the issue of a SRO then followed when Board member Cory Smegal expressed concern over running out of funds from the grant that would be needed since the School District is on a very tight budget. She also added that although she felt this was a good idea, maybe just having the district increase counseling services would be a more cost-effective solution. Smegal also said she is nervous about the idea of the officer carrying a gun on campus and then proceeded to raise questions about whether teachers have the time in their agenda to have an officer educate in the classroom.

Another Board member, Amal Smith, raised concerns over this only being a short-term program and raised questions about what will happen afterwards since this program will only last for about three years.

A Piedmont resident named Richard Turner spoke up by suggesting that we should not have preconceived notions about this officer and that “hard, tangible metrics” must be put into place to evaluate if the goals of the SRO are being achieved. He also proposed the question of whether or not the funds from the grants needed are restricted solely for this program or if they could also be put to use elsewhere.

On the issue of what the extent of the SRO’s duty of a law enforcement official should be, Board member Doug Ireland stated that he felt it was appropriate that arrests may have to be made if students are caught with possession of drugs/alcohol on campus. He added that “you should always be careful what you wish for” and that extra precautions should be taken before introducing a SRO.

On the same debate of law enforcement duties, another member of the public stated that they wanted to see more consequences for students if they are caught performing illegal activities, and that the school has a history of taking a “blind-eye” on problems such as these in the past and are not doing everything in their power to stop this. Additionally, they said that a figure of authority serves as a powerful position and public schools are at a disadvantage to private schools because private schools have more funding for safety measures such as this.

In response to the guest speaker’s prior comment about how the School District is not doing enough to address concerns of illegal activities, staff member Cheryl Wozniak described how the school is in fact aware of these issues and spoke out about the anonymous reporting system for students that was put into place a few years ago. She explained that this system works by forwarding complaints to the administration and confirmed that it is being put to use by students/teachers in the District.

Then, Piedmont High School student Betty Hosler spoke out in front of the Board by expressing concerns that students may be overwhelmed by having an officer present on the campus and that many will view this as a negative development in that the school is out to get them in trouble instead of help them. She continued by saying that in order for this program to work well, the school must make their intentions very clear to their students since their ultimate motive can easily be misinterpreted.

In my opinion, the implementation of a SRO will be a benefit to us students and help create a safer environment on campus, especially when taking into consideration the real threat of physical violence, drug use, and vaping — all of which are major challenges that today’s schools face.

Although it is clear some students/families will be strongly opposed to this idea, especially given that the officer may be armed, I strongly feel that the advantages outweigh any real disadvantages. Threats of violence and substance abuse are difficult challenges for our schools, which also happen to be important law enforcement issues. Therefore, our police officers should be part of the solution because they are trained to respond appropriately under these situations.

The second main topic that was discussed concerned the Review Process of the Reorganization of the Board. The Board members brought up that Reorganization of the Board takes place every December Board meeting (December 12th this year) and that each elected official serves from when they are elected until the following December.

It was also noted that they fill officer positions on the Board through mutual agreement, but they cannot do so until Alameda County finishes counting all of the votes regarding the election of School Board members.

After the meeting concluded at 8:45 p.m., the first person I decided to interview was Megan Pillsbury. After I asked what brought her to the meeting, she told me that she came to observe the general process of how these meetings work due to recently being elected to the Board and will serve on it for the next term and wants to continue to attend every meeting she can. I then asked her if there was any issue in particular that was of great interest/concern to her and she told me it would be the proposed SRO position. She explained she still has many unanswered questions about having an officer with a gun around students.

The second person I interviewed was Sarah Pearson, who was there because she is the President of the Board. Likewise, she told me she is interested in learning more about the SRO, but is slightly hesitant about the budget issue and is always extra cautious when trying new things. Moreover, she found PHS student Betty Hosler’s comments about how students may perceive the officer insightful and has been reading up on as many studies as possible that deal with what types of interventions from schools have been most valuable to students. She also looks forward to reaching out to other schools and their students to hear about their opinions on their own officer in the future.

By Wilson Van Gundy, Piedmont High School Senior

Nov 21 2018

The race narrowed to under 50 votes between School Board candidates Amal Smith and Julie Caskey.

As of this publication, none of the previously announced results changed; only the number of votes changed. 

Apparently, the many ballots sent by mail or placed in the community ballot boxes were not counted on election night, hence the reporting delays in Alameda County.

On November 17, 2018, the Alameda County Registrar of Voter posted the following results.  Candidates elected and measures approved are noted with an *.

Members of the Piedmont Unified School Board:

*Megan Pillsbury      3389      31.71 %

*Amal Smith               2833       26.51%

  Julie Caskey               2785      26.06%

  Hari Titan                    1669      15.62 %

 Write-in                             12        0.11%

Members, City Council – Piedmont 

* Betsy Smegal Andersen     4796     34.38%

* Teddy Gray King                   4377      31.38%

* Tim Rood                                 4255     30.50%

   Sunny Bostrom-fleming       451        3.23%

   Write-in                                        70        0.50%

Measure BB: Reduced requirements for contract bidding and Council meetings, increased years to prevent former council members seeking re-election from 4 to 8 years.

* Yes         3923        65.07%

    No          2106        34.93%

Measure CC: Requires top officers of the City to serve at the pleasure of the City Administrator rather than the City Council.

* Yes           3887       66.54%

   No             1955       33.46%

For any further, yet unlikely, updated results, click below:

https://www.acgov.org/rovresults/236/index.htm

Nov 16 2018

Correction Provided by Piedmont School Board Member

The Piedmont Post November 14 cover story on campaign finances reported that my campaign “self- funded roughly $6,500”. That is incorrect and would be a surprise to my campaign’s fundraising volunteers and to the dozens of campaign donors.

I did start my campaign with $2,200 from my 2014 campaign. During this 2018 campaign, my campaign raised $5,000, six donations of $100 or more and the remaining donations of $99 or less. One of those $99 donations was from my husband in support of the campaign. I did not self-fund.

Total spending on the campaign was just shy of $6,700. Because I did not need the funds, I declined the CTA donation. When I close the campaign account, the remaining funds will be donated to the Piedmont Education Foundation endowment fund.

Respectfully,

Amal Smith

Re-elected Piedmont School Board Member 

Nov 6 2018

UPDATED: The following are results from Piedmont voters as of 5:04 p.m. on November 9, 2018.  Those elected and measures approved are noted with an *.

School Board:

* Megan Pillsbury    2662    32.19%

* Amal Smith      2243    27.13%

   Julie Caskey     2091    25.29%

   Hari Titan      1265   15.30%

   Write-in       8    0.10%

City Council:

*Betsy Smegal Andersen   3714   34.55%

*Teddy Gray King     3367    31.32%

*Tim Rood     3276    30.47%

  Sunny Bostrom-fleming    348    3.24%

  Write-in    45     0.42%

Measure BB

*Yes     3049     65.21%

   No      1627     34.79%

Measure CC

*Yes     3013    66.62 %

   No      1510    33.38 %

Final results are pending until completion of all ballots counts and the election results have been certified. The results should be considered firm.

Readers can view any updated Piedmont results at:

https://www.acgov.org/rovresults/236/index.htm

Nov 5 2018

Win or lose on November 6, I want to say thank you.

First, thank you to everyone who supported me in this school board campaign. My biggest thanks to my couldn’t-have-done-it-without-him, uber-campaign-volunteer husband, Rick Smith, who brought his own expertise to the campaign, took on all tasks with good humor, and has been fully and selflessly supportive throughout my time in public service. Deep appreciation to Mary Ireland who, amidst all the work she is involved in, found time to develop and manage my website and design some of my materials.

I am grateful to my campaign committee who signed up early and provided insight, support, and wise counsel: honorary co-chairs Doug Ireland, Valerie Matzger, and Sue Smegal; and committee members Conna McCarthy, Cathie Geddeis, Hilary Cooper, Charlotte Ero, Anne-Marie Lamarche, June Monach, and Rich Raushenbush. And I am honored by the Piedmonters who publicly endorsed my campaign, sent in contributions, agreed to lawn signs, hosted events, voted for me, and were gracious and generous with their encouragement.

Thank you to my fellow candidates. Campaigning with you made me reflect more fully on what I want to accomplish, hone my message, and up my game. It is so important for our democratic process to have choices for open seats and our community is well served by your participation.

It is a privilege to serve this community and to work alongside smart, dedicated, savvy, direct, thoughtful people, from co-school board members, to district leaders/teachers/staff, parents and students, and
civic volunteers. It is my experience that we all work with integrity and honor, keeping our commitment to our true north principles of “kids first” and “all means all.”

I am honored to have served this community for 18 years and, if things go the way I hope, will be honored to serve another four. And if they don’t, then I wish the new board members all the best, knowing they will bring their best selves, as well as their unique perspectives and expertise to this board and this incredible community.

Respectfully,
Amal Smith, Candidate for Re-election, Piedmont School Board

Nov 4 2018

The following Letter to the Editor of The Piedmont Post was sent to the Post, but was not published in the Post.  It is published here for PCA readers.

VOTE NO on CC – Unacceptable City Charter changes.

CC  – the “hire, but can’t fire” proposal –  would unacceptably change Piedmont’s successful government by prohibiting the City Council from acting to retain or terminate their chosen Department Heads – Fire Chief, Police Chief, Finance Director, Recreation Director, etc. 

Piedmonters should not enact this law. It promises problems found in other cities where councils have lost their authority and ability to act.  A new government layer will separate Piedmonters from Council authority. 

Only one person, the unelected City Administrator, would be allowed by Charter to evaluate, direct, retain and terminate Council-hired  key employees -Police, Fire, Finance, Recreation, etc.  

Piedmont’s current Charter works and is coveted by others. 

With 22 years in elected office – Mayor, Council Member, Planning Commissioner, AC Transit President and Director, I have reviewed the Charter proposals and found proposals not in the best interest of keeping Piedmont a great place to live. 

The Charter merits updating, but NOT as proposed by Measure CC.  

Keep Piedmont’s Council strong. Await appropriate Charter change proposals.

VOTE NO on CC at the end of your ballot. 

Alice Creason,

Former: Piedmont Mayor, Council Member, Planning Commissioner, AC Transit President, Director, Piedmont Beautification Foundation Trustee

Nov 4 2018

Still Undecided on Part of Your Ballot?

You can still drop off your heavy ballot with No Stamps in the Alameda County Registrar of Voters maintained Ballot Drop Box in Piedmont on Highland Way at Mountain Avenue next to the Post boxes and Book Drop Box behind the Wells Fargo Bank. Ballots will be retrieved three times on Monday and Tuesday.

LAST TIME TO PLACE YOUR BALLOT IN THE BALLOT BOX IS

8:00 PM TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 6, 2018, ELECTION DAY.

Nov 2 2018

As a retired CPA, I applied my auditing experience to the Piedmont School Board for this election.   About two years ago, I sensed that something was amiss when I read reports that PUSD refinanced some bonds to a type (called CAB) that roughly quadrupled the bond’s interest expense.  So, using KCOM’s online video archives I studied the applicable archives.  I know the justifications that many board members used for this school financing.   But I find their decision outlandish.  Ultimately, the School Board reversed its error and switched back to CIB financing, which saved the district from incurring an additional $26 million dollars in wasteful interest expense.  As the public archives confirm, Dr. Titan’s leadership led to this $26 million savings.

If you’ve never attended a PUSD board meeting, please go to KCOM (Channel 27) and view any meeting in the archive.  You will begin to appreciate the dedication, determination, and backbone needed to accomplish what Titan has.

If you have been following the employment issues relating to the rogue teacher-student conduct, or the embarrassing decision to appoint Victor Acuna as full-time athletic director at roughly $120,000 per year.  Ask yourself, do you want a board member that has the backbone and perseverance to defend our students from such egregious personnel issues?

Prior to this election, I didn’t know Dr. Titan or any of the school board candidates, so I made a concerted effort to meet them, and study their prospective contributions.  I listened to them at two separate parents’ club candidate forums and via KCOM, I watched them speak at Piedmont’s League of Women voters’ forum.    It’s clear they are all nice people who want to make a difference for our schools.

But when you step into the election booth, set aside your friendships and vote responsibly for the one candidate that since 2013 has been working as a citizen watchdog to ensure proper conduct at PUSD.  Titan will provide the stewardship need now on Piedmont’s school board.

Dai Meagher, CPA (inactive & retired)

Oct 31 2018

We’ve all heard that old adage, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” That’s what comes to mind with Measures BB and CC on the upcoming ballot.

The proponents of BB and CC claim they are merely updates to our “outdated” City Charter and will result in more openness and transparency. But when you look at what’s actually proposed, you’ll realize that BB and CC do more harm than good.

Measure BB proposes to change at least fourteen sections of the City Charter.

Although the proponents of Measure BB claim it merely updates the City Charter, it’s so much more than that. It impacts several key areas, among them being the elimination of competitive bidding. BB allows Council to raise and, in some cases, waive competitive bidding thresholds. So voting for this measure gives carte blanche for city contracts to bypass competitive bidding. As written, this aspect of Measure BB could have tremendous negative financial impacts on the city.

Measure BB would also impact the election and meeting requirements of the City Council by eliminating the need for twice-monthly meetings and changing the interval from the current four years to eight years (two terms) before a City Council member could run again. School Board members have this same four-year interval, and they are not seeking a change.

Measure CC abolishes Council authority to discipline city staff.

These proposed changes weaken the authority of the City Council and decrease the public’s opportunities to participate in city government and hold its council members accountable.

Piedmont’s department heads – Police, Fire, Recreation Director, Finance, etc. – are currently hired and fired by City Council, allowing the Council to be aware of the workings of various city departments and providing accountability to the public from their elected representatives. Measure CC weakens this authority by giving all responsibility to the unelected City Administrator to evaluate and terminate city employees. This proposed change creates obstacles that currently don’t exist, removes transparency, and is rife with unforeseen consequences, including potential decreases in morale, increases in employee turnover, and wrongful termination lawsuits.

The City Charter has been serving Piedmont well since its last revision forty years ago. It’s not broken. The ballot text for Measures BB and CC don’t tell the whole story. Visit http://www.ci.piedmont.ca.us/city-council-places-charter-measures-on-ballot/to see what these measures really do.

Please join me in voting NO on Measures BB and CC.

Melanie Robertson, Former Piedmont Planning Commissioner

Oct 30 2018

Keep the current reporting structure of Piedmont’s City Charter.

Measure CC is a power grab and proponents of CC completely misstate the way City Hall is run as justification.

Measure CC is completely ineffective at telling voters what it will do.

First, as written, Measure CC is completely ineffective at telling voters what it will do. It should have read: “Shall the measure to amend the City Charter to reassign authority to terminate City department heads from City Council to the City Administrator be adopted”. Same word count. Such text would be much more informative to the voters and the fact that Measure CC is drafted so poorly should tell you something.

Measure CC reassigns important oversight authority from Council to the City Administrator with no justification on the record.

Second, from the Mayor in a recent news account: “[The Charter] contains language that suggests that the City Council is responsible for managing and directing the work of City officers. The Piedmont City Attorney strongly recommended that this ambiguity be clarified…” Read that carefully – “suggests” and “ambiguity” – if true then simply clarify the Charter language and keep the current reporting structure in place. Instead Measure CC reassigns important oversight authority from Council to the City Administrator with no justification on the record.

Grab or giveaway, Measure CC is bad for Piedmont and reduces the authority of our elected officials. Coupled with Measure BB (fewer meetings, less voter choice), these measures weaken good governance in Piedmont and should be rejected by the voters.

Garrett Keating, Former Piedmont City Council Member