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Budget Process, Expanded Sunday Use of Witter, Revised CAC Charge, All Get Nods from Board of Ed

Highlights from the school board's Dec. 8 meeting.

Agenda Item: Review first interim financial report and approve a positive certification of the district's ability to meet financial obligations for the current and subsequent two fiscal years.
Bottom Line: Though the balance sheet currently shows that PUSD won't be able to make ends meet by 2012-2013, the board is trusting that the budget process will yield enough spending cuts and revenue enhancements to keep the school district in the black.

As was explained at the , with the help of an infusion of state and federal funds and the implementation of furlough days, the school district's finances will stay on the positive side this year, and with a transfer of $2.1 million from savings can achieve a zero balance in 2011-2012, but by the end of 2012-2013 its projected to have a $3.9 million deficit.

Wednesday, Assistant Superintendent Michael Brady pointed to devastation of state funding as the heart of the problem. He pointed out that revenue limits funds from the state started plummeting in 2008-2009. In the current academic year, PUSD is receiving $5,255 per student from the state, though California's statutory obligation is $6,403. That shortfall is expected to continue.

Noting the structural problem of the drop-out of state funds, the board gave a unanimous vote of confidence in certifying the district's ability to meet it's financial obligations through 2013.

However, in order to create a sustainable education program—one where revenues meet expenditures—board member Ray Gadbois suggested that the district needs to cut more over the next two years than the $1.4 million that was originally suggested as a target. Gadbois identified March as the deadline to identify the needed cuts.

Board member June Monach said the district needed to get away from its reliance on one-time funds, such as the federal stimulus funds and furloughs used to balance the current year's budget. 

Board member Richard Raushenbush delivered the starkest comments.

"If we have to make these cuts and there's no other options, we have to layoff enough people to make theses cuts. ... It will be brutal and destructive to our program. ... Fortunately our discussions [with the teachers union] so far suggest we're gonna make a lot of progress doing it a different way." Raushenbush said. He went on to note that the project $3.8 million deficit in 2012-2013 equivalent to the compensation for about 38 teachers. "It's not pretty."

Agenda Item: Conduct public hearing and approve pilot program for expanded Sunday use of Witter Field.
Bottom Line: Starting this weekend, Piedmont sports groups will be allowed to rent Witter Field for Sunday practices from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and for games from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The board held off on voting at their on whether to allow youth sports groups to book Witter for Sunday games and practices in order to have a chance to reach out to the neighbors and get feedback from the community about the pilot program.

After mailing letters to 300-odd neighbors and posting notice about Wednesday's hearing in local media, board member June Monach reported that the board had received 16 e-mails on the matter, most of which expressed support for the pilot as a way to address some of the demand from youth sports groups for in-town field access and curb unauthorized use of the facility.

The El Cerrito gate will continue to remain locked between Saturdays at 5 p.m. and Mondays at 6 a.m., which will allay some concerns about traffic and parking congestion in the neighborhood. Witter's public address system will be off-limits, and private systems will also be a no-go, in keeping with the neighbors' desires to keep Sundays quiet. The neighbors also wanted a monitor there to make sure everyone plays by the field-use rules; a member of the district maintenance staff will be on site from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays to do that while conducting regularly scheduled grooming. PUSD administrators will be keeping track of the costs to make sure the district breaks even on the deal.

For the first time in the two months that the board has been discussing the idea of expanding permitted use of Witter, a Piedmonter stepped forward to lobby on behalf of the pick-up soccer games that have been accused of cutting off casual access to the field. Sinan Sabuncuoglu, a resident for more than 25 years, told the board Wednesday that Sunday pick-up soccer games at Witter were a long-standing tradition that had introduced many parents to the sport and helped their kids learn the fundamentals in the '80s when the the sport was new to town.

"If you ever come down to the pitch on a Sunday morning, you will find the most diverse crowd you will find anywhere in the Bay Area, it is indeed better than the United Nations,"  Sabuncuoglu said, "We all come together for two hours."

Despite Sabuncuoglu's comments, the board concluded unanimously that the demand from local youth sports groups outweighed the desire of some adults to use Witter. The pilot program gives first priority to groups serving kids ages 18 and under.

The board will reexamine the Sunday use program in a year.

Agenda Item: Approve final revisions to the charge and structure of the Citizens' Advisory Committee on Parcel Tax Program Measures B and E.
Bottom Line: The board voted unanimously to clarify that the scope of the CAC's work should be limited to making recommendations on whether and at what level the school district should levy parcel taxes. 

The big fuss over the CAC's original charge stemmed from the committee's research and analysis regarding teacher benefits and compensation, which prompted accusations that it was acting as a "shadow school board" and resulted in the resignation of one original member of the group a year after its founding.

At their , the remaining CAC members expressed concerned that a more limited charge would prevent them from reading up on issues they felt they needed to know about in order to make informed recommendations about parcel taxes.

The new charge appears to strike a balance, mandating in fact that the committee "conduct an independent examination of the district's budget and related documents" while limiting its recommendations to parcel taxes unless a majority vote of the school board directs the group otherwise.

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Everybody makes mistakes ... even us! If there's something in this article you think should be corrected, or if something else is amiss, e-mail editor Amy Jeffries at amy@patch.com.

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