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on the agenda for Sept 13 2011

The agenda for next Tuesday’s meeting of the Pleasanton Unified School District school board has been posted online. (PDF)

Items for report and discussion:

  • current student enrollment
  • district’s experience with cash-out refinancings
  • My note: This will be the final report to the board regarding the work of the citizens committee that examined the refinancings carried out by the school district. I wrote about the first report that the report received in July in this post on sources of community mistrust for the school district. I expect this part of the meeting to be the most interesting!

Items for possible action:

  • approving donations
  • amending the superintendent’s contract
  • My note: In the board packet, part 1, the purpose of this amendment is to make it easier to factor in concessions of unpaid furlough days.

  • approving unaudited financial statements
  • Gann appropriations limit
  • sufficiency of K-12 textbooks and 9-12 instructional materials (science laboratories)
  • resolution regarding AB 114
  • My note: The resolution, included in part 2 of the board packet, respectfully requests that the legislature and governor immediately restore the decision making and budgetary flexibility that educational agencies need to deal with midyear budget cuts, should they occur.

  • personnel document

The full board packet is available in two parts (PDF part 1; PDF part 2). Part 1 includes the minutes from the August 4 special board meeting and the August 16 regular board meeting.

Source of community mistrust for school district comes to light

Last month I wrote about the need for the Pleasanton school district leadership to rebuild trust with members of the local community who fund the public schools. Since then, significant information has come to light about how the district refinanced measure B bonds that local taxpayers are repaying.

Dan Borenstein’s column in the Contra Costa Times on June 25 was headlined “Pleasanton residents must pay for illegal bond deal” and opens and closes with assertions about why the refinancing was conducted improperly:

  • because past school officials lost their moral compasses in pursuit of more construction money […and because….]
  • many in the financial industry prey upon local governments and look for any opening [to earn refinancing fees for bonds].

Glenn Wohltmann’s article in the Pleasanton Weekly, which appeared two days later and was headlined “Cash-out refinancing practices get first PUSD review: Popular among school districts at the time, debate continues about legality“, treads more gingerly in its framing of the reasons why past district officials engaged in refinancing.

Nevertheless, both pieces lay out important facts that had not previously appeared in the press. The refinancing actions were taken without appropriate voter approval. The amount of the additional construction funds was significant, and the cost of paying interest on those funds means that taxpayers will see significant amounts on their property tax bills through 2016. If the refinancing had been carried out without the unconstitutional “cash-out” option, taxpayers would already be seeing declines in the portion of their property tax bills which go toward paying off the bonds.

In the university context, I have seen this before — when leaders focus on the appeal of bright and shining new facilities, they disregard the consequences for people who work in and financially support the organization. The consequences are bloated budgets, preventable layoffs, and corroded community relationships for years afterwards. I’m sad, frustrated, and angry to see it here in Pleasanton.

Past district officials are responsible for the decisions made at that time, and should be shamed for their hubris and disregard for the public’s right to oversee district financial decisions. That’s not the only benefit of pulling the scab off this injury to the school district’s reputation, though I’m glad to see the injury exposed to sunshine. Current district leadership, including both school board members and the district superintendent and senior management, knows that the decisions made were not in the interest of the district as a whole. By owning up to the facts, giving the issue a full airing out in public, and developing policies to prevent this kind of irresponsible action in the future, the district is not just uncovering wrongdoing in the past. It is also opening up possibilities for rebuilding trust with the community in the future.

I hope that the district will be fully transparent about how the additional construction funds that were the result of the “cash-out” refinancing have been used. There is another meeting of the measure B committee in the works (not sure when). The next regular meeting of the PUSD Board of Trustees is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, August 16, in the district’s board room at 4665 Bernal Avenue in Pleasanton. Regular meetings are normally webcast live, and recorded for televised rebroadcast on Tri-Valley Community Television. The agenda for the meeting is posted on the district website on the Friday before a Tuesday meeting. The district should continue to address these issues forthrightly.

Digging up history can sometimes seem a distraction from planning for the future. But if the consequences of that history are significant constraints on the district’s ability to execute future plans, then the thorough investigation of past decisions is essential.