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Dr. Bill laid great foundation for Pleasanton schools

Uploaded: Oct 24, 2017
Pleasanton lost an educational leader who played a key role in shaping the unified school district that is celebrated today when Dr. Bill James passed away earlier this month.

Dr. Bill, as he was known, arrived in Pleasanton as superintendent of two districts, the elementary district (K-8) and the unified high school district that served both Dublin and Pleasanton. The Murray elementary district had two schools in the Pleasanton city limits (Lydiksen and Donlon), while Dublin High (part of the Amador Valley high school district) was in Dublin. A citizens group started the drive to unify along the city limits (remember, Dublin was unincorporated until 1981) and it passed.

After that vote, the leadership of both districts and the employee unions worked together to maximize benefits. That meant Dublin loading up on benefits, while Pleasanton put all its benefit money on the salary schedule and teachers paid their own benefits for the final six months. Under state law at the time, no employee could lose benefits or salary in a unification (the state encouraged districts to consolidate). So, when it came time to negotiate as a unified district, employees were given the option of continuing to pay their own benefits (pre-tax) and have all the benefit money added to the salary schedule.

That meant about a 20 percent raise with the top salary at about $40,000 so teachers readily accepted it. Dublin maintained the traditional separation between salary schedule and benefits and has done so to this day. After the unification, the state law was changed so districts could no longer do what Dublin and Pleasanton did.

For Pleasanton, it has meant employees have borne the burden of the increase in health care costs. The challenge, in recent years, for employees has been the salary raises have barely covered the cost increase on the health care side. Given the skyrocketing pension costs, that situation will not get better any time soon.

During Dr. Bill’s tenure, the voters also passed two bond measures, including the funds to build Pleasanton Middle School. I remember criticism from the homebuilders, in particular, about the cost of the middle school. That came from Dr. Bill’s focus on building it so maintenance costs were minimized. Spend more upfront and save for decades to come.

During his tenure, the partnership between the city and the school district was formalized with the dual use gyms at Pleasanton and Harvest Park middle schools.
He was active in the community through Rotary, the Chamber of Commerce and other organizations. The chamber’s education committee was the forerunner to what’s now the Pleasanton Partnerships in Education Foundation.

Dr. Bill was a friend and we both appreciated a good glass of wine, particularly one at a favorable price. He came to Pleasanton from Paso Robles after a stint in Southern California. Trader Joe’s had just moved into Pleasanton, and I remember Dr. Bill sharing how he and a fellow wine-lover bought wine at TJs before the wine offerings expanded significantly. They’d browse the wine section and buy a bottle of anything that looked interesting.

They’d adjourn to the parking lot where a cork screw awaited. They would open every bottle, taste it and then immediately go back in the store and buy a case of what they liked. If they waited to take the wine home and sample it over time, it would likely be gone when they returned. I use the same system today with the Grocery Outlet in Livermore.

Pleasanton schools are better today because of the foundation laid during Dr. Bill’s 13-year run as superintendent. 
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