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LWV League of Women Voters of California Education Fund
Alameda County, CA February 7, 2012 Election
Smart Voter

Sarah Pearson
Answers Questions

Candidate for
Board of Education Member; City of Piedmont


The questions were prepared by the League of Women Voters of Piedmont and asked of all candidates for this office.
Read the answers from all candidates (who have responded).

Questions & Answers

1. If the State makes mid-year cuts in school funding, as a school board member what would you do to balance the school budget without sacrificing the quality of Piedmont schools?

The latest proposal shows the District budget getting cut by $65,000 and the District had already prepared for $620,000 in one-time cuts. Although we are still dealing with a serious and probably ongoing problem of insufficient state funding, the current program will not be affected this year. I applaud the District for its careful planning and conservative estimates in this time of budget uncertainty, and it is critical that the school board and administration continue to focus on how to allocate scarce resources wisely.

Because of declining revenues from the state over the past five years, the District has 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.

Our program has stayed strong despite the shrinking revenue from the state. This is due to some reductions in services, compensation sacrifices of all employees and continued generous support from our community and parents. Our current school parcel tax now accounts for over one third of the PUSD operating budget and an additional $100 per child from parent donations is now transferred from Parent Clubs to the District to compensate for losses from the state. Thankfully, the past few years have shown record levels of fundraising through the Giving Campaign and Spring Fling.

As a result of this combination of careful planning, sharing the costs, cutbacks and successful fundraising, the current educational program should continue this year and next. However, costs exceed revenues. To provide the current program requires spending down the reserve. The reserves are large enough to cover through 2012-13, but then steps will need to be taken to balance the books.

In the coming years it will be critical to come up with creative, innovative solutions to achieve more with less. It is critical that we start planning now, and think strategically about how to use our resources most effectively. 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, to preserve as much program as possible. As a school board member, I will actively seek input and research ways to allocate scarce resources wisely so that we can ensure the best possible educational experience for Piedmont's children + now and in the future.

2. Recent issues in the city have created tensions and polarized the community. What would you do to foster civic engagement and dialogue if you were on the Piedmont Board of Education?

In speaking with citizens, a frequent refrain is that we need to "restore civility" in Piedmont. One of the reasons that I am running for office is to bring people together and work collaboratively. I'm interested in hearing both sides of an argument. I try to understand and validate all sides of an issue and then see where to find common ground. I honor difference of opinion and work to maintain civility and respect.

As a school board member, I will actively engage the community so I can understand the perspectives of all the constituent groups. I understand that busy schedules often prevent residents from attending open meetings. One of my strengths is that I'm approachable and accessible. I love discussing issues, and I welcome phone calls, emails and letters from residents. When there is a need for extensive public input on an issue, I would propose a series of well-publicized study sessions. For citizens who couldn't attend, I'd suggest email or surveys to solicit the spectrum of opinions.

In addition to receiving input, it is important that the School Board communicate clearly with residents. I believe that the School Board should provide the public with a rationale for the decision-making process on controversial issues. I will listen to all voices, carefully weigh the pros and cons, and make my decisions based on what's best for children, while considering the implications for the entire community.

Responses to questions asked of each candidate are reproduced as submitted to the League.  Candidates' answers are presented as submitted.

Read the answers from all candidates (who have responded).

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Created from information supplied by the candidate: January 28, 2012 02:04
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