This is an archive of a past election.|
See http://www.smartvoter.org/ca/alm/ for current information.
|Alameda County, CA||February 7, 2012 Election|
Answers to Questions posed by Piedmont Civic Association
By Sarah PearsonCandidate for Board of Education Member; City of Piedmont
This information is provided by the candidate
1. Taxation: The school parcel tax has increased at an annualized rate of 15% per year over the last 10 years and now represents 48% of the district's operating budget. A large disparity exists between the average school parcel tax for residents of Moraga (under $1,000 total K-12 assessments) versus Piedmont(averaging over $3,000). Both are excellent school districts. How would you address this disparity? Do you support further increases in the parcel tax? Many school districts provide an exemption to residents 65 or older. Do you think Piedmont residents 65 and older should be able to opt out of the tax?
To my understanding, the current parcel tax represents 30.3% of the district's operating budget. Combined with other parent contributions, this means that 44.8% of our budget comes from Piedmont residents. The parcel tax is essential for our schools, and is the primary reason that Piedmont's home values are higher than our surrounding neighbors.
While I don't know all the details of Moraga's finances, it's worth noting that Moraga is a larger community, in both geographic size and population, and also has more than 300 tax-generating businesses within its city limits. While there are similarities, it is not directly comparable to Piedmont.
I have spent many hours discussing Piedmont's school parcel tax and budget. I hope and expect that the next parcel tax campaign (in spring 2013) will be a renewal of the base and that we will not need to ask the community for a three-year emergency measure, as we did last time. Parents and educators greatly appreciate the generosity of our community.
Much has been done already to cut costs and increase revenues for our schools. The District has made cuts and employees have made concessions. In addition to paying the parcel tax, parents are also contributing to the Giving Campaign at record levels. (The "ask" per family is $1500 per year.) It is this partnership, with everyone making sacrifices, which has allowed our schools to stay strong in spite of more than five years of declining funding from the state of California. It is a complex tradeoff--balancing the concerns of the taxpayer, the needs of the employees and the programmatic needs of the students.
I am willing to explore the idea of a senior exemption. However, Piedmont thrives because everyone contributes. If there is sufficient community interest in the idea of a senior exemption, we could conduct a thorough study of the costs and benefits as well as the non-tangible results.
2. How would you personally demonstrate leadership and initiative in addressing fiscal/budget issues if you are elected to the School Board, especially during the next 12 months?
One of my goals is to improve communication between the school board and the community. I have the advantage of children at all levels of the system, so I am well connected to parents throughout the city. As a member of the Wildwood and PMS Parent Clubs and a parent who is active in many venues, I know what parents care about and can facilitate communication between the various stakeholders.
As a trained facilitator, I will foster collaboration and actively seek solutions that work for all members of our community. Three years ago as Co-Chair of the parcel tax campaign our schools, I worked collaboratively with administrators, parents, and citizens to devise a plan that allowed our district to stay afloat during the economic downturn. The emergency Measure E literally saved library, counseling, and other vital services. This measure was designed to expire after three years (this spring), so that it will not be folded in to the base tax.
I will explore creative, innovative solutions to achieve more with less. It is critical that we start planning now, and strategize about how to use our resources most effectively. Because of declining revenues from the state over the past five years, the district has already cut costs in a variety of ways. For example, throughout the district, class sizes are bigger. At the elementary level, cuts include the elimination of Occupational Therapy (except for Special Education) and reduction of math/reading/science/art/library/counseling services. At the high school and middle school, library assistants were eliminated. Last spring, teachers agreed to a three-year contract that includes five furlough days and teachers are now responsible for increases in health costs.
Clearly, in the absence of additional revenues, we will have to make further cost-reductions. The challenge will be to make these cuts in the wisest and most thoughtful way. As a school board member, I will actively seek input and research ways to increase our efficiency so that we can ensure the best possible educational experience for Piedmont's children -- now and in the future.
3. How do you see the city and school district working together to solve problems during the next 4 years? Please provide specific examples.
Good relations between the schools and the city are essential in Piedmont. The best outcomes result from everyone working together. The city council and school board need to collaborate on a number of issues such as sports fields, pools, gyms, facility use, recreation programs, schoolmates and safety. The maintenance and replacement of Witter field is a major issue that requires city/school cooperation. The Recreation Department runs middle school sports, and I am currently on a committee that is examining how to improve this program. The police department and the schools need to work together to address the ongoing problem of underage drinking and substance abuse.
I am pleased to have the endorsement of every member of the current city council as well as seven former mayors and nine former school board members (all of whom are still living in Piedmont). One of my strengths is getting along with people and encouraging people to express and respect differences of opinion. I believe that my ability to bring people together will serve me well on the school board. I hope I might help restore civility and a sense of community to our town.
4. Open Enrollment: The Romero Bill has recently been enacted allowing out-of-district students to transfer to the Piedmont school district from low-performing schools. Acceptance is automatic if capacity is available. What criteria and prioritization for enrollment in the Piedmont Unified School District should be given to the following groups: children of District employees, children of City employees, grandchildren of residents, students from under-performing schools.
I think this could be less of an issue than it seems because it's not clear that Piedmont schools have excess capacity. In fact, due to diminishing State funding and an effort to continue to provide the same course offerings, class sizes have increased K-12. Many classrooms are operating over the capacity guidelines as currently stated on the district website.
If the school board decides to change the guidelines and increase capacity, it would mean increasing class sizes or adding classrooms, because currently all of the elementary schools and all of the rooms at PHS are in use. If and when it is decided to increase capacity, then we'd need to have the interesting discussion of priority.
The board would need to ensure that any change would not be a financial burden on the district, and also that it could be executed fairly. I am interested in learning more but need detailed information to make an informed decision.
5. Employee compensation: Approximately 130 children of School District employees attend Piedmont Schools. How is the privilege of enrolling employee children factored into the compensation packages of employees?
Like most school districts, Piedmont does not consider the privilege of enrolling employee children as part of employee compensation. Collective bargaining requires that we apply a "uniform salary" schedule for all employees, whether they have children or not. That said, we should constantly reevaluate employee salaries to make sure they are in line with similar districts.
The benefit of allowing children of District employees to attend the schools is that it helps Piedmont attract and retain the best and most qualified teachers. Outstanding teachers are still in high demand, and have a choice of where to teach. Another significant benefit is that teachers become part of our community of parents. Teacher- parents are doubly invested in having Piedmont schools provide the highest quality education.
6. What are the most significant issues facing PUSD over the next 2 to 5 years?
Four specific goals deserve our focus in the next two to five years and beyond:
First, we must continually reassert our commitment to academic excellence and learning. In today's world, this includes an eye to innovation and best practices.
Second, if we are going to provide the best possible educational experience for Piedmont's children, we need to attract, retain, and enhance the skills of the highest quality teachers and staff, and ensure that employee compensation is appropriate. I am interested in closely following the new evaluation plan, which is being piloted by all Piedmont teachers this year and has been praised by the California Teachers Association as "groundbreaking."
Third, like every public school in California, our district will face ongoing financial challenges due to reductions in state revenue. I have been deeply involved in budget discussions and exploring creative solutions so that we can maintain a quality educational program despite diminishing resources. Determining the level and permanence of the parcel tax will be critical.
Fourth, creating a climate of trust and earning the confidence of our community is vital for success. I am running for School Board now because I believe that my personal skills and professional and volunteer experience make me particularly well suited to serve our community and our children during this difficult time.
|| Feedback to Candidate
|| This Contest
February 2012 Home (Ballot Lookup) || About Smart Voter