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PUSD board to meet Friday June 3

See update below…

A new agenda has been posted for a special meeting of the Pleasanton Unified School District on Friday, June 3, at 2 pm. (PDF)

There are four items on the agenda…

  1. a board workshop on “relevant skills needed for collaboration as a board and with members of the governance team”, from 2-4 pm
  2. closed session (conference with the labor negotiator, and public employee appointment)
  3. report, discussion and possible action to approve modification to actions the board took on February 22, 2011
  4. report, discussion and possible action to approve the personnel document
I am heartened to learn that the board is continuing to develop collaboration skills. With a new superintendent hired last summer, two new board members elected last fall, and key policy and budgetary decisions ahead, taking time to talk about how to best work together is a wise investment.
I am curious about the potential for modifications to the February 22 list of possible budget solutions (PDF). Will this agenda item simply take action on the CSEA concessions, removing some staff positions from the cut list, or will there be a more substantive discussion of prioritizing items to bring back, if the state legislature actually manages to pass a budget on time for FY 2011-12?

UPDATE, Thursday, June 2:

I just learned via the Mohr PTA page on Facebook some details for the modifications being considered to the February 22 list of budget cuts.

At the Special Board Meeting scheduled for this Friday, June 3, Cabinet will recommend restoring the following programs for 2011/12:

.5 reading specialists at 9 elementary sites and .5 Barton ($400,000)
Physical education sections at elementary schools ($400,000)
Maintain 25:1 in grades K-3 ($1,300,000)
Counseling ($200,000)

It is anticipated that this issue will be addressed at approximately 4:30 p.m. on June 3.

I’m surprised to hear that these decisions might be finalized before the Sacramento legislature and Governor Brown finalize a state budget. Nevertheless, I’m delighted to hear that the school district might be able to bring back some of these programs!

I had especially advocated that reading specialists and the Barton specialists not see reduced work hours, because I believe that the services they provide are so essential. These staff members provide extra small group and one-on-one tutoring to any students who are not yet reading proficiently at their grade level. (In the Barton program, one specialist and one classified staff member support the work of more than a hundred volunteers who actually do the tutoring. I’m a volunteer tutor.)

If the board approves these recommendations, then the only items that remain on the list from February 22 would be:

  • grade 9 class size reduction in English and Math
  • three furlough days for management employees
  • securing funds from the Regional Occupational Program
  • securing funds from Categorical Programs (including summer school, adult education, TVIP for new teachers, and the Peer Assistance and Review program)
  • securing funds from Kids Club
  • eliminating the Health Services liaison position
  • reducing site and district office classified support positions
Those last two bullet points are probably also coming off the list, because of the way that concessions were negotiated with the Classified School Employees Association earlier this spring, but I’m not sure that’s a completely done deal yet.

Making sense of the Governor’s budget plan

Headlines can be so confusing. Here are some headlines from the past 24 hours, talking about Governor Brown’s most recent budget proposal for 2011-2012 (the “May Revise”):

Notice how the first two headlines emphasize a lower deficit, and the other four emphasize increased taxes? (And, actually, the Contra Costa Times and the San Jose Mercury News ran same article by the same reporter, but published with two different headlines — one emphasizing a lower deficit, the other emphasizing increased taxes.)

It just goes to show that skimming is not enough. To really make sense of the Governor’s budget plan, we have to read several different articles, commentary from different points of view, and ask our own questions.

What happens when we just skim? We draw erroneous conclusions. For example, here in a post on the Pleasanton Weekly Town Square forums, is some evidence of how those headlines can be misinterpreted:

State’s May Revise Gives More Money to Schools (WRONG!)

The parent who wrote the post implies that the Pleasanton school board might ignore the extra money the state might send to the district, still eliminate programs and fire teachers. Also, the parent misses a key fact: the May Revise is not the final budget.

Here’s what the Mercury News says the implications are for schools (in an article entitled “here’s what you need to know…“):

Q What happens to schools?
A Brown’s new plan would increase by $3 billion the amount of money going to schools from his January budget, funneling much of the unanticipated tax revenue to education. However, his budget message says that K-12 public schools could be closed a month early if the tax extensions aren’t approved and if an “all cuts” budget is needed. Neither Democrats nor Republicans in Sacramento support that.

There’s also another important detail that only a few news outlets (like the San Leandro Patch and the Orange County Register) have honed in on. The “increase” in education funding is not really an increase.

The OC Register quotes Ron Bennett, president of School Services of California, who explains:

“It would be a mistake to say education has a $3 billion windfall,” Bennett said.
“This deal is like saying to your brother-in-law, ‘I’ll loan you 50 bucks for your car payment,’ but then he comes up with the 50 bucks, so you say, ‘I’m not going to loan you the money anymore.’ “

School districts still have to continue making payments. They have just been given a brief reprieve.

The San Leandro Patch explains further:

Brown projected that the state will take in $6.6 billion more in tax revenue this year and next year than was originally expected, with $1.6 billion of that going to K-12 education and community colleges.

But that money is cash already owed to the schools. The Sacramento Bee reports that the extra cash would go towards reducing short-term IOUs to schools, which the governor’s previous budget proposal relied on, in part, as a form of “backdoor borrowing.”

Essentially, the state has been deferring payments to school districts. In this current fiscal year, the state told districts that they were budgeted to receive X million dollars, but they could only expect about 80% of that money to be paid in cash before the end of the fiscal year — 20% of the payments would be deferred, to be paid next year. Now, the governor is proposing that increased state revenue should be used to pay schools the remaining 20% on schedule, rather than deferring the payments.

So the fuss over education spending will continue. The budget is still being negotiated, and the best possible scenario is flat funding for next year. The worst possible scenario for next year looks less bad than it did last week — but it could still be pretty bad. After that, tax extension votes make everything uncertain again.

My prediction for Pleasanton

Based on what I have read so far, I would be surprised if the Pleasanton school board votes to rescind any layoffs at their next meeting. Rather, it is more likely that the budget will be approved in June based on conservative assumptions, and if the final state budget gives the district more leeway, then we may see some layoffs rescinded in July or August.