August 28, 2008

School Board Talks Parcel Taxes, Election

By Linda Davis

Beach Elementary school parent and former Park Commission chair Terry London and pediatrician Sarah Pearson, who withdrew from this year's school board race, have volunteered to serve on the schools parcel tax committee.

The announcement was made at Wednesday night's school board meeting.

The board also discussed whether to have a standalone election in March, which would be costly, or one in June.

Superintendent Connie Hubbard explained that the current parcel taxes of approximately $1,771 per household expire in June 2010.

"The parcel tax supports 25 percent of our teaching budget," Hubbard said. "That's the salaries of 80 people out of the 350 teachers and support staff we have in the district."

Currently, Measure B generates about $5.3 million for district coffers. The money is used for instructional aides, reading and music specialists, core library and counseling services and maintaining smaller class sizes.

Measure C levies bring $2 million for 2007-08 and pay for teacher compensation, special academic instruction programs, technology upgrades and student support services.

Both measures were overwhelmingly approved by Piedmont voters in June 2005, to provide primary funding for a variety of school programs. Measure B renewed an existing parcel tax for four more years; Measure C levied an additional tax. Both taxes have a four- year term and can be increased up to 5 percent per year.

The district is still waiting for the state to finalize its budget. Assistant Superintendent Michael Brady had estimated a projected shortfall of $850,000 for the 2009-10 schools budget, and a 6.5 percent cut to categorical programs for next fiscal year to stay in the black.

Trustees Ray Gadbois and Martha Jones, both of whom have served on parcel tax committees, volunteered to lend a hand to London and Pearson when the time comes.

"It's a very big job and an important effort," Gadbois said. "State funding for Piedmont is inadequate. We need to fill the gap to maintain a high-quality program."

At the start of the meeting, Beach Principal Julie Valdez and Wildwood Co-Principal Carol Cramer gave an update on the new "Everyday Math" program being implemented in kindergarten through fifth grades. The controversial program dovetails with other math programs currently in the elementary grades. The principals shared timelines for introducing the program to parents and getting feedback.

"Teachers are generally excited by the new materials," Valdez said.

Hubbard said she "sat in on a planning session" and was impressed with "the enthusiasm and energy" for the program.

The board also discussed whether to fill three vacancies on the Measure E Citizens Oversight Committee. The education code mandates at least seven members on the COC. Piedmont's has nine now with the departure of Yvonne Gonzales Rogers, who became a Superior Court judge, Rick Raushenbush, who was elected to the school board, plus one other member. The panel will revisit the issue at an upcoming meeting.

The COC reviews the seismic bond projects' financial reports and physical improvements and prepares an annual report to the community about the management and expenditures of bond funds.

In other business, Assistant Superintendent David Roth gave a brief overview of the 2008 STAR test results, which were released in mid-August. Students overall scored high in most categories. Individual student reports were being mailed to parents this week. Roth stressed that the tests are only one form of assessment to guide student's learning.

The board also voted 5-0 to approve a contract with murakami/ Nelson Architects for $155,200 to continue upgrades at the school maintenance facility, the budget for which is not to exceed $2 million.

Gadbois asked about the possibility of installing solar panels to "green" the project. Two trustees questioned the expenditures. Brady responded that "we have our boots on the ground" as far as oversight is concerned.

Reach Linda Davis at [email protected]

Originally published by Linda Davis, Piedmonter correspondent.

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