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Commentary: Surprises at the June 3 special meeting

In a surprising move last Friday, board members restored $150,000 more to the budget for 2011-2012 than had been recommended by Superintendent Ahmadi and the PUSD cabinet. The unexpected motion and debate occurred  between 6 pm and 6:35 when the meeting adjourned.

Background

For more background on this meeting, see my earlier post Cuts rescinded, programs saved in Pleasanton schools or the articles summarizing the meeting on the Pleasanton Patch and in the Pleasanton Weekly. There you will find more detail about the first part of the meeting, when cuts were rescinded so that class size reduction for grades K-3, PE specialists, reading specialists, and counselors can all be retained for next fall. In this post, though, I’m going to focus on the surprising events at the end of the meeting.

What happened in the last half hour of the meeting?

The board had heard public comment from several speakers, including parent Marilyn Palowich and high school studen Zane Manna, on their frustration that the seven-period day at high schools was not on the list of programs to be restored.

I also made a public comment expressing concern about the elimination of remedial summer school in grades 1-5. I acknowledged that it is logistically impossible to restore summer school so late in the school year, and urged board members and cabinet to work together over the next year to consider whether the program could be reinstated for 2012-2013, and how students who are not proficient at grade level could be supported.

In response to the public comment, board president Valerie Arkin made a motion to restore sections of high school courses. After some discussion, Chris Grant made a substitute motion, which was eventually approved by a vote of 3-2, with Arkin, Grant, and Hintzke in favor, and Bowser and Laursen opposed.

Why is this surprising?

Three weeks ago, I wrote in What Pleasanton students can expect next fall that

“Because enrollment was so negatively affected [in music and band classes] this past year [with the suspension of the seven-period day in high schools], and because the music teachers have agreed to teach outside the regular schedule, a limited number of those courses will be taught either before or after the regular school day.”

My prediction was wrong, though — the board acknowledged on June 3 that many other students who do not take music or band were affected by the suspension of the seven-period day. As student Zane Manna explained “I really do want to have seven periods because… I want to continue to take sciences [specifically biology]… I want to actively challenge myself because it’s getting tougher and tougher to get into the top colleges.”

In response to comments by Zane, Marilyn, and others, the board allocated $50,000 per comprehensive high school to fund additional sections at the beginning or end of the school day. That’s right — the board took action on the spot in response to public comment at the meeting. This is rare.  A favorable response to public comment is much more likely  to come in board reports, when a board member might request an agenda item for a future meeting to discuss concerns raised by members of the public. Furthermore, it is unusual for recommendations made by the superintendent to be amended by the board.

Just as surprising to me was Chris Grant’s substitute motion, which allocated an additional $50,000 (total) to elementary schools for additional intervention during the school year. I did not expect any action in response to my comments about summer school at the June 3 meeting. I expected to examine issues of support for students who are not performing at grade level during the fall, and then to wait for a recommendation from cabinet about how to address those issues.

Was it worth doing? Maybe not (yet)

The board members who voted in favor of these additional allocations of funds were responsive to public comment. However

  1. the funding amounts are token amounts. $50,000 for Amador and $50,000 for Foothill translates into 2.9 more sections at each school. $50,000 divided up across 9 elementary schools is about $5500 per school.
  2. Fundraising for the CORE program is still underway, and if the fundraising target is exceeded, some of those dollars could be used to restore sections at the high schools.
  3. The legislature and governor have not yet finalized a budget for 2011-2012.

The board members in the minority on this vote explained their decision differently.

Joan Laursen indicated her reluctance to restore programs beyond what cabinet recommended, while also noting that she is optimistic that the board might be able to restore other programs as the state budget is finalized this summer.

Jeff Bowser said “seventh period is a luxury, a luxury we can’t afford” and noted the impact of the $150,000 on the projected bottom line for 2012-2013 was negative. He voted against the motion based on his desire to be fiscally prudent.

Would you have voted for the motion, or against? 

I would have voted in favor. I support the original cabinet recommendation to restore $2.1 million in cuts. Reading specialists, counselors, and PE specialists provide valuable services to Pleasanton’s students, and a majority of parents believe that class size reduction in grades K-3 improves the quality of education for students just entering elementary school.

If given the option, I would have voted against allocating the additional $150,000. I think it was premature. However, there was no separate vote on the $150,000 along with the other $2.1 million in recommendations from cabinet. This was unfortunate, and a bit of parliamentary procedure hardball that took me by surprise (and I am a PTA parliamentarian!)

Given that there was no option to vote separately on the two issues, I would not vote against a motion based on my objection to $150,000 out of the $2.4 million that it concerned.

That’s my Tuesday-evening quarterbacking of the meeting, for what it’s worth.

Did you watch the meeting? What did you think of the board’s actions?

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Cuts rescinded, programs saved in Pleasanton schools

The special board meeting yesterday (June 3) was well attended by parents, teachers and staff. Several spoke in favor of restoring class sizes in grades K-3, PE specialists in the elementary schools, reading specialists and the Barton specialist, and counselors.

Parents and students also advocated for expanded course offerings in the high schools, and obtained a partial victory when the board amended cabinet’s recommendation and added $50,000 for each comprehensive high school to use to open additional sections so that more high school students will be able to include seven subjects in their high school schedule for next fall.

The archived webcast of the meeting is available online. I attended the portion of the meeting from 4:30 till 6 pm, but the vote was not finalized until about 7 pm. After I’ve had a chance to review the rest of the webcast, I will post an expanded summary of the meeting, with my commentary.

There is also a summary article up at the Pleasanton Patch.