Monday, June 13, 2011

The Armageddon That Wasn't

The Sky Was Falling

Pleasanton Teachers Union president Trevor Knaggs boldly predicted “If Measure E fails, our schools will be facing Armageddon.”

The California Teachers Association declared a “State of Emergency”, held a week of protests, disrupted state legislature meetings, and got arrested (including CTA President Sanchez at 2:12 in this video).

Superintendent Ahmadi trumpeted around Pleasanton to Realtors, business leaders and school parent groups that PUSD had a $7.7M budget shortfall and championed a new school property parcel tax. She authorized the expenditure of a district-wide four page glossy mailer claiming schools are “protecting our property values.”

School board trustees and community members predicted significant property value declines if parcel taxes are not passed. Former mayor Ken Mercer in 2009 predicted property values would fall if Measure G did not pass. Mr. Mercer repeated the same claim in 2011 with Measure E.

One month after Measure E failed, PUSD is flush with cash and is spending it

The PUSD second interim budget report shows a $4M net for this school year

In the latest 6/3/11 budget update at the school board meeting (which PUSD has yet to post online), the fiscal situation looks $3.2M to $6.9M better than it did just two months ago. Luz Cazares, assistant superintendent of business services said that if the CA tax *increases* are not implemented, California would likely re-implement an already anticipated deferment of funding, with little to no impact to PUSD. This echoes the advice written here, from School Services, Inc. and from the CA LAO.

Earlier this year, PUSD quietly increased teacher salaries and benefits by $1.8M by not continuing furlough days in the upcoming school year.

On 6/3/11, PUSD restored $2.45M in funding for K-3 CSR, elementary PE and reading specialists, middle and high school counselors, and a few extra sections for the comprehensive high schools.

Armageddon talk and fake layoffs destroys trust

Like the May 21, 2011 Armageddon-that-wasn’t event that raised millions for Harold Camping, the PUSD Armageddon-that-wasn’t along with the CA state budget theatrics was messaged/timed to condition voters to extend the temporary state tax increases and to heighten Pleasanton voter angst to impose a new parcel tax.

Why should voters trust either PUSD or its union leaders to give an honest accounting (or prediction) of the district’s fiscal health? And should we trust those who claim that failed parcel taxes will destroy housing prices?

Lack of Trust in PUSD is a key component of why all three attempts at a school parcel tax failed.

When PUSD and union leaders change their practices and behavior to be fully transparent and utilize all local fiscal controls before crying ‘wolf’, they will see an educated voter population supporting their new-found fiscal maturity.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Measure E - Do the Math, Part Two

One argument Measure E supporters make is that a $98 annual parcel tax is equivalent to 27 cents a day. Then by some form of logic, if you are against this tax, you are a cold-hearted rigid tea party ideologue (or worse). 

Some opponents of Measure E say 'it is not about the money, in fact, the tax should be larger.' Leading to some very interesting conversations.

Well, it is about the money. Lots of money. PUSD's 2010-11 total revenue is $142 million dollars or $389,000 a day.

Where does PUSD get $142 million dollars?

From YOU. From your federal taxes, state income taxes, local property taxes, sales taxes, fees, and anything that puts your money in the federal and state government coffers.

Let's do the math.

With 52,000 residents in Pleasanton over the age of 18, the average adult is paying $2,700 a year to fund the local school. The average married couple pays $5,400. If you have a house, two kids and cars, you likely pay far more than the average. And you've been paying an additional $1,400 more per year to the state via the 2009 temporary taxes, and the reduced dependent exemption.

So when your favorite teacher, union boss, or school parcel tax advocate says to you that you are a cheap, miserly, penny pinching weasel who doesn’t support the kids, remind them that you already support the kids and fund the entire school budget of $142 million dollars. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Measure E - Do the Math, Part One

Measure E supporters have a history of claiming the parcel tax will protect property values. Let's look closer at the numbers and 'Do the Math'.

The 'Protect Property Values' claims.

The second line of the Pleasanton Unified School District (PUSD) resolution says "Whereas, property values within the District are related to the quality of education available in the District's public schools." PUSD also claims in the first section of their four-page color glossy mailer, excellent schools are "creating a demand for homes and protecting our property values".  In an almost verbatim claim in the first paragraph on their website, Support Pleasanton Schools (SPS) says good schools are "creating demand for our homes and protecting property values."

Pleasanton has $16 Billion in residential property market value.

The Alameda County Assessor reports Pleasanton has a local assessment roll of $17,326,290,380.
That's $17 BILLION. If you remove the business property component (25% average in Alameda County), and account for residential market value vs assessed value (add 25%), you would reach a residential property market value of $16.24 Billion.

What will a $2 million parcel tax provide?

If we assume the entire $2 million is spent on NEW teachers, it could fund twenty-five teachers at an average $80,000 cost.
That's 1.7 teachers per school by placing those 25 teachers in the 15 schools.
Or one teacher per 600 students throughout the district.
Therefore, each student in Pleasanton will receive approximately 2 more hours of teacher attention per year.
Or about 36 seconds a day.

If the $2 million is used to fund employee step salary increases and higher longevity bonuses, then our children will have no benefit from this parcel tax.

Can anyone honestly say that $2 million will protect $16 billion in property value?

Monday, February 28, 2011

Measure E on the May 3, 2011 Vote-by-Mail Election

The Alameda County Registrar of Voters website contains the PUSD resolution, the County Counsel's Impartial Analysis, the arguments for and against, and the rebuttals.

A formal (FPPC # 1335504) committee has formed to raise campaign funds and promote Measure E. Save Pleasanton Schools plans to raise over $100,000 and conduct phone banking, yard sign distribution.

An informal group is against Measure E, and like their successful effort to derail the 2009 Measure G, they will rely completely on grass-roots and no-cost methods of educating voters about why Measure E is the wrong tax at the wrong time.

This is a Vote by Mail Election only. There are no Polling Places.
Vote by Mail Ballots will be mailed out starting on Monday, April 4, 2011.
Important dates:
  • First day to mail sample ballots - Thursday, March 24, 2011
  • Early Voting will begin on Monday, April 4, 2011
  • Close of Voter Registration Period - Monday, April 18, 2011
  • Last day to request a Vote By Mail Ballot - Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Election information was obtained from the Alameda County Registrar of Voters website.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Teacher Pay: How does PUSD compare statewide?

The Sacramento Bee published a searchable database comparing teacher salaries across California school districts. The first table shows Pleasanton has the 19th highest paying school district in the state. And ranks 3rd among all large districts. Among those highest paying school districts, Pleasanton has the lowest average years teaching.

It should be noted that many years ago, PUSD and the teachers union negotiated that teachers salaries would be dramatically increased in return for eliminating a medical benefit plan. PUSD estimates approximately 70% of Pleasanton teachers receive medical benefits through a spouse's plan. Not only are a majority of teachers receiving income for a benefit they derive elsewhere, their CalSTRS pensions are significantly higher as they are calculated based on the salary.

Bay Area News Group has submitted a request to the District to obtain employee compensation data.

PUSD scattergram of teacher salaries dated January 2010 shows 124 FTE earning the maximum salary of $98,045.

Other PUSD financial data is here.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

CA School Districts Demonstrating Cost Control

School Districts across California are utilizing a wide variety of options to control costs. Several are using across the board salary reductions in addition to furlough days to protect student programs and services. Administration, certified and classified employee groups have all demonstrated effective use of these options.

Some agreements use restorative language to give back furlough days and restore pay when revenue returns to a predetermined level.

Here are some examples:

Lodi Unified School District classified employees will have an across-the-board 2-percent salary reduction beginning Jan. 1, 2011, which saves the district about $645,000 per year. This is in addition to furlough days.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Parcel Taxes Stay and Grow - local examples

School District parcel taxes follow a pattern where once approved, never go away. The revenue becomes locked into the spending structure, usually for salaries and benefits which comprise over 80% of school district budgets. To remove the parcel tax would cause the same outcry as state reductions in revenues. When state revenue is reduced as in the last few years, districts must act to add more parcel tax revenues (instead of controlling expenses). Here are several local examples.

Alameda Unified School District (AUSD)

AUSD placed Measure A on a March 8, 2011 ballot. This seven year parcel tax is designed to raise $12 million per year. It will replace two existing parcel taxes that raise a currently combined $7.3 million per year and expire in 2012. This is a 64% increase in taxes.

The two existing parcel taxes were approved in 2005 for $3.0 million and 2008 for $4.3 million. These taxes provide 11% of AUSD revenue, and would climb to 18% with the new parcel tax. This in spite of a 7% decline in student enrollment since 2008.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Jerry Brown's Budget and its Effect on K-12 Education

It's been a week since Governor Jerry Brown released his proposed budget for California. For analysis on the effect on K-12 education see the Association of California School Administrators, School Services of California, and the Silicon Valley Education Foundation. For the next several weeks, this post will be updated with new analysis as it becomes available.

The big question is whether CA voters will extend the temporary tax increases imposed in 2009. Voters already said 'no' to the additional two year extension proposal in 2009, and it is not certain by any means voters want a five year extension.

Governor Brown declines to say what additional cuts to the budget would occur if the $9 billion in annual tax revenues are not approved. Estimates for the impact to Education range from $2 to $4 billion. This political posturing immediately enjoins public education unions and organizations to carry Jerry Brown's water for the June special election. SacBee columnist Dan Walters calls the California Teacher's Association "The elephant in the budget room."

Locally, PUSD reports the CA budget proposal maintains this year's funding (removing the fear of a mid-year cut) and extends categorical and CSR flexibilities for two more years giving PUSD additional options for expense control. If the attempt to raise/extend the state taxes in June fails, Assistant Superintendent Luz Cazares roughly estimates the impact to be $5.6 million. PUSD has many unused options/tools available to continue to control and reduce expenses.

Not surprisingly, teachers union president Trevor Knaggs ended his remarks at the January 11th PUSD school board meeting with a plea for everyone to vote for the state tax increases.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Governor Brown, CTA and the CA Board of Education

Governor Brown's appointees to the CA Board of Education are being viewed as influenced by the teachers unions according to this LATimes article :

"CTA president David Sanchez said the union was thrilled by the new appointees because he believed the board had been stacked with too many members connected to charters, which are mostly nonunion.

He said that although there was no quid pro quo, "we did work our butts off with getting the word out" about Brown's candidacy, adding that he had told Brown of his concerns about the board numerous times. Sanchez also said that if Brown proposes June ballot measures to help fund schools, "we're going to invest time and money in it."

Critics say the string of appointees was more than payback for the union's support during the election, it was an effort to keep them and their coffers in Brown's corner. "

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Here Come the Carrots and the Sticks

The astute political observer watches how debates are framed. Governor Brown insiders are explaining how he will use the threat of "drastic cuts" to education to "galvanize powerful education support for tax hikes in a June special election."

California Schools Chief Tom Torlakson has "declared a state of financial emergency" in the schools while admitting his options for addressing this problem are limited. He urges Californians to support "an extension of current tax levels now set to expire, to prevent another round of devastating cuts to schools."

Framing a debate ignores other options including the concept of "permanent reset." Dan Walters says:
"Brown's greatest barrier may be his fellow Democrats in the Legislature, who have very close political ties to the groups - such as public employee unions - that would be most opposed to any deep spending cuts, especially if it meant a permanent reset. They will want temporary cuts at most, hoping that an eventual uptick in the economy would close the income-outgo gap. But unless the spending cuts are credible, it will be very difficult, perhaps impossible, to persuade voters to raise taxes..."
Talking points and political rhetoric flow freely in the education circle. As PUSD prepares the school board to approve a parcel tax election, how many carrots and sticks will be used at the local level?

Or, just maybe, PUSD might explore the complete range of serious fiscal solutions, "permanent resets" and other options to gain credibility with the voters.