By Tim Hunt
Time for school district to ask what if?Uploaded: Dec 17, 2019
The Pleasanton school board, at its final 2019 meeting, heard a report of the options the city is considering to add a second left-turn lane at Bernal Avenue and First Street.
The city can either cut into the hillside on the southside and build major retaining walls or work out a deal with the district to cut down some trees and take some of its parking lot. The choice is obvious and should be a pre-curser to a broader discussion between the two agencies.
The block between Abbie/First/Bernal that the district owns is terribly under-utilized for such a valuable parcel. It’s devoted to the continuation school, the district office, some other offices and the district’s corporation yard, all in buildings that have been remodeled but date to the 1960s or earlier.
With the city expecting to restart the planning process for East Pleasanton and also has finished updating its downtown specific plan, it’s a perfect time to ask “what if” facilities can be relocated and what kind of joint ventures can be planned with the city? The two agencies have different financial situations, but share the same clients—the citizens of Pleasanton.
The district office parcel would be attractive to developers who know people want to live within an easy stroll of downtown. The district also has the Vineyard Avenue school site that could figure in. It’s the wrong place for an elementary school, but would be ideal for upscale homes like the type of houses that surround it.
Trustees have placed another facilities bond on the ballot for March. It totals $323 million, potentially taking a bite out of the estimated $1.1 billion needed facilities upgrades or new construction identified in the district’s 2018 Facilities Master Plan. This will maintain the same tax rate as two existing bonds that will be paid off in next year.
The measure did not promise specific projects, letting trustees and senior staff evaluate how to best spend the money should 55 percent of voters approve it in March.
In the public hearing, parents complained about the old facilities such as the Amador gym that dates to the 1970s.
This measure will address facilities, but the looming elephant in the room is how to deal with the operating budget that continues to be squeezed by the soaring retirement contribution. All districts are part of the State Teachers Retirement System that the Legislature addressed in 2014 by approving a series of increases to bring it back toward financial stability.
State funding for schools has soared almost 50 percent since the low with the booming California coastal economy, but lots of it has been eaten up by these contributions. In addition, because of the agreement between the teachers’ union and the district that teachers would pay for their own benefits, the compensation package is not competitive with other Tri-Valley districts. And, Pleasanton receives the lowest per student state rate.
Perhaps it’s time for Pleasanton trustees to consider a parcel tax that would be local money that can be spent locally.
That won’t necessarily be an easy sell, but it doesn’t matter how good the facilities are if the teachers don’t measure up.