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Archive for September 19th, 2010

School Board Calls for Public Input on Budget Options

Posted by Len Gilbert on September 19, 2010

On Thursday, September 16, the Board of Education held a special afternoon meeting in the City Council Chamber in City Hall to discuss the District budget.  The District projects a budget shortfall of $5 million over two years, starting in 2011-12.

This meeting, which can be seen on KCOM or the City’s video archive http://www.ci.piedmont.ca.us/video/, is the first of a series of public meetings on the District budget, and the Board members urged the public to participate in these meetings and provide input on how to address the shortfall.

Superintendent Connie Hubbard presented an overview of the budget, including historical information about State education funding as well as Piedmont’s parcel taxes and community fundraising.  The District, along with all school districts in California, is facing an unprecedented budget crisis. The projected $5 million shortfall is the result of sharp reductions in State education funding, as well as the escalating costs of salaries and health benefits.

Hubbard explained that the Piedmont community currently contributes more than one-third of the District’s budget through local parcel taxes and private contributions.  Even the extraordinary financial support of the Piedmont community has not kept pace with the increases in cost and decreases in State funding in recent years.

Board member Ray Gadbois noted that, since 2008, the District has resorted to one-time, temporary increases in revenue (such as Federal stimulus money, the emergency parcel tax and contributions of reserve funds from parent clubs) and decreases in cost (such as teacher, staff and administrator furloughs) to stabilize and balance the budget. These “one-time fixes” have made it possible for the District to avoid the significant program cuts that are being made in other school districts.

The Board members thanked the community for its financial support for education, including the emergency parcel tax, but all agreed that relying on private funding and temporary fixes is not sustainable — a more permanent solution is needed.

The Board presented a menu of “budget options” for public consideration that attempt to distribute the burden.  For example, by raising the basic (Measure B) parcel tax assessment by 5%, the District could raise an additional $1.2 million over two years.  By freezing health benefit costs at the 2010-11 level, the District could reduce expenditures by $1.25 million over two years.  By making changes to the educational program, such as increases in class size and reductions in support services, the District could reduce expenditures by an additional $1.5 million over two years.

The complete range of budget options presented are available for review on the District website at http://www.piedmont.k12.ca.us/board-of-education/meeting-materials.

Board member June Monach urged the public to review the options and provide input on how to combine some of the options, or identify new options, to close the $5 million budget gap.

Representatives of the Parcel Tax Advisory Committee, which has divided into subcommittees to study different aspects of the District’s budget, presented the Committee’s findings.  Mimi Felson presented charts and graphs showing dramatic decreases in State education funding, and the equally dramatic rise in local contributions to make up the shortfall.  Ken Jensen and Matt Lifschiz presented a comparison of employee compensation and benefits in a range of districts.

During the public comment period, Andrea Swenson, the Chair of the annual Giving Campaign, the schools’ most important fundraising event, noted the difficulty of finding sustainable solutions.  This year, the Giving Campaign is asking each family with children in the schools to contribute $1,500, an increase of $300 over last year.  Although the Giving Campaign may succeed in raising more money for the schools this year, Swenson noted that the $5 million budget crisis cannot be solved by private fundraising.

Mary Ireland, President of the APCP and PHS Parent Club, noted that many of the budget options would directly and negatively impact teachers.  She emphasized that this is not a reflection of community dissatisfaction with the service and care the employees provide our children–this merely reflects the magnitude of the budget crisis.

Amal Smith, President of the Piedmont Educational Foundation, echoed these points, and emphasized that the burden of balancing the budget cannot be borne by the community alone, or by the employees alone, but that the pain and sacrifice must be shared.

Board President Roy Tolles stated that Piedmont’s exceptional educational program was created and maintained through a partnership among teachers, staff, administrators, families and the Piedmont community, and that the same spirit of partnership is needed to address the funding crisis and develop sustainable solutions.

Tolles concluded the meeting by asking the public to provide input, in person at any of the upcoming public meetings on the budget, or by email addressed to the Board and Superintendent at: rgadbois@piedmont.k12.ca.us, rtolles@piedmont.k12.ca.us, mjones@piedmont.k12.ca.us, jmonach@piedmont.k12.ca.us, rraushenbush@piedmont.k12.ca.us, chubbard@piedmont.k12.ca.us.  Some of the upcoming meetings include:  Budget Advisory Committee meetings on September 23 and December 2; and Board of Education meetings on September 29, October 13 and December 8.

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