Nov 13 2018

Call for more community input – 

     Superintendent Randy Booker will present the idea of a School Resource Officer to the School Board at their meeting this Wednesday, November 14, 2018, 7:00 p.m., City Hall.  I would like to hear more community engagement on this topic. I think it would be good to make sure that the members of our community are aware of the various security measures being proposed — including perimeter fencing around the middle school and high school, and new surveillance cameras around town.
    The current focus on security measures is troubling to me, reminding me of a culture of fear that has developed at a national level. I sent this letter to the School Board prior to their last meeting. Please feel free to reprint.
    Thank you,
     Elizabeth Shook
To Superintendent Randy Booker and the PUSD School Board: 
     My husband and I are strongly against perimeter fencing and a school safety officer at Piedmont Middle School or Piedmont High School.
     With the recent threat incident at PMS, we understand that emotions are running high. However, perimeter fencing and a school safety officer would have made NO DIFFERENCE in this recent threat.
     We agree that the safety of our students is our primary concern. We believe this is a mental health issue, not a criminal issue.
     Adding a school safety officer at either PMS or PHS is a major over-reaction. The presence of police on campus has not been shown to limit or protect from past school shootings. At our secondary schools, we already have the Piedmont police department located within two blocks. Our school is located in a quiet, safe suburban neighborhood. An officer on campus would actually heighten student anxiety and tension.
     If we have the budget, we should spend the funds on additional counseling staff who can work with students with unfortunate family, social, or mental health situations. This will do more to deter future tragedy than a school safety officer.
     We call on the Superintendent and the School Board to let emotions settle, and then survey the community on this issue. Where could the money be better spent? What do the students want? What about teachers?
     We believe that our families need: 1) Clear and transparent communication from the administration about school threats – and school policies. 2) Students and families need to be taught the best response to dangerous scenarios. 3) Zero tolerance for students who make threats or bring weapons to school.
      Here are some articles about School Safety Officers that make good points:
      Putting more cops in schools won’t make schools safer, and it will …
       New York Set to Revise Role of School Safety Agents
      I am also against perimeter fencing. I feel it can actually trap students in a dangerous situation and impede evacuations.  In reality, fencing will not deter actual bad guys.
        PHS Students considered the fencing when it was first proposed in this 2016 editorial:
“Fencing the campus entirely would cost an estimated $300,000 — far more than any college education — even before implementing monitoring systems that could actually keep dangerous individuals off the property.
       “Frankly, a fence alone will not be effective in deterring an active shooter, the fear of which has been a key motivation behind the push for revamping the district’s safety measures. In the wake of tragedies like Sandy Hook, this desire to proactively increase safety is understandable, but the decision to build a fence would be reactive and incomplete. Instead of actually improving our safety, we would be cultivating the mere illusion of security, a incremental measure not worth the significant cost.”
      Thank you for your consideration.
       Elizabeth Shook and Denis Fung, Piedmont Residents and Piedmont School District Parents
Nov 4 2018

Excellent publication by the California Association of School Board Officials (CASBO) about “What Every Board Member and Candidate Should Know” regarding School Finances in California. A must read to really understand school funding!

Randall Booker
Superintendent Piedmont Unified School District
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 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

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. at 46:00-46:50. The Minutes also so state. 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

Oct 21 2018

The historical record demonstrates that Hari Titan is not spreading falsehoods (nor widely).  While I’ll refuse to respond tit-for-tat to the semantical hair-splitting to which this debate has descended (and the careful use of ellipses to cloud the discussion), I firmly and confidently state that Hari’s positive influence on improving PUSD’s financial decision-making when it comes to bond financing, is neither a myth, nor false, nor exaggerated, nor can it be overstated.

The School Board may have fully understood that the financial impact of 2013’s Series E CAB sale was expected to be an incremental $18.8M in interest payments for Piedmont taxpayers and rationalized those excess costs as a ‘necessary evil’. However, denying responsibility for that decision by declaring that there was no opposition to it at the time is tantamount to deflecting culpability on the public (which was, indeed, ignorant about the significant trade-offs CABs entail, even if the School Board was not).

It is abundantly clear, and is supported by the historical record, that Hari Titan single-handedly (and unpopularly) discovered the use of CABs, dug in and did his homework to understand the long-term financial ramifications, and explained the issue clearly to the voting public.  It is also clear that once the public was aware of the use of this ‘creative’ financing mechanism, public opposition to the continuing or future use of CABs was broad-based, vocal, and vehement.  I admire Hari’s courage in vigorously waving the cautionary flag to prevent further sale of CABs*.

It is also obvious from the historical record that the School Board was open to considering continuing use of CABs in spite of this opposition.  CAB’s were presented as a financing option to refurbish the Alan Harvey theatre (the topic became moot when the bond proposition was not passed by voters**).

CABs remained in the School Board’s consideration set for use in the most recent $60M bond approval.  Board members rationalized keeping CABs ‘on the table’ as a financing vehicle because CABs provide the District  ‘flexibility’ to continue spending on construction projects while delaying payments on them (no downpayment!  0% financing!).  The fact that current and recent School Board members claim victory for deciding NOT to continue using CABs after 2013 belies the fact that the School Board may very well have utilized CABs as a financing instrument if it were not for the fierce opposition raised by Hari Titan’s public education on the subject and the consistent and vocal preference declared by many, many Piedmont parents, taxpayers and voters for the use of more classical, steady-handed, disciplined financing methods.

Hari will also receive my vote for PUSD’s School Board.

*It is germane to this point that shortly after the 2013 sale of CABs by PUSD, the CA legislature outlawed the sale of those same CABs to CA School Districts because the usurious rates charged on them had nearly, or actually, bankrupted many school districts state-wide who were similarly ham-strung by the Recession’s impact on school district finances.

**It is worth noting, for those unfamiliar with Measure H history, that Measure H, a $13-15M bond placement to refurbish Alan Harvey Theatre, was rejected by Piedmont voters, primarily due to the courageous communication and diligent research supplied by Hari Titan and Alicia Kalamas, which credibly questioned the District’s plan to renovate, rather than demolish and rebuild, PHS’s existing theatre.  Their time-consuming, competitive research provided local case-study evidence inferring that the proposed Alan Harvey Theatre project was projected to be excessively costly yet yield a facility with inferior amenities compared to the recent construction costs and designs of other Bay Area high school theaters.

Hope Salzer, Piedmont Resident