‘Between a rock and a hard place’ | School Board holds public hearing about planned budget cuts

As mediation drags on between the Piedmont Unified School District and the Association of Piedmont Teachers, the Board of Education held a four-hour public meeting on Feb. 14 about proposed budget cuts that impact a wide range of programs across all school sites. PUSD says it needs to cut $2.4 million in order meet its current compensation offer to certificated staff of 9% raise over three years.

The public hearing was part of a required two-step process before the Board meets again on Feb. 28 to finalize the reductions. Classified staff and administrative reductions will also be considered at the Feb. 28 meeting, the District said.

As has been the case for recent School Board meetings, City Hall chambers was at capacity with teachers and parents who showed up to protest the planned reduction of specific programs and/or teachers in Special Education, Art, counseling, and more. Emotions were high as APT President Dr. Elise Marks, Piedmont Education Foundation Executive Director Heather Frank, PUSD Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Hawn, and School Board President Veronica Anderson Thigpen delivered prepared remarks before turning to comment from students, teachers, and parents that lasted for two hours. In addition to the public comments, Anderson Thigpen said the Board had received hundreds of letters from the community.

“Numbers on a spreadsheet do not tell the story of what these teachers provide to our most vulnerable kids,” said APT President Dr. Elise Marks as she highlighted the proposed reductions to Special Education and counseling services in her remarks. She said that proposed cuts to high school language and English will mean larger class sizes of close to 30 students. She said the plan to eliminate elementary visual arts and the secondary dance program and to drastically reduce high school art instruction, librarian staffing, technology teaching at elementary, counseling services, and nursing staff — among other cuts — took her breath away. “I am deeply concerned about the integrity of our amazing programs at Millennium (High School),” she said. “I have to believe that our community will rally now and fight for what’s best about our schools.”

Fundraising won’t bridge the gap — but parent donations may help stem some losses

PEF’s Frank said the foundation had determined that an emergency fundraising campaign was neither realistic nor a sustainable way to cover budget cuts. She noted that most of the District’s cuts are adjustments to account for declining enrollment and affect departments that have maintained staffing at pre-COVID levels.

“Piedmont is an incredibly generous community — between property taxes, parcel taxes, and donations, each family’s contributions to our schools can add up to thousands of dollars a year,” she said. Frank said that additional donations to the Giving Campaign and a successful Spring Fling fundraiser may make it possible to buy back some of the programs targeted for reductions. (This year 66% of the school community contributed to the campaign, which raised $3.4 million.) Frank also made a plea to families to contact their state legislators to let them know that “it is not acceptable for our state, with its wealth and high cost of living, to rank 33rd in the state in per student spending.”

PUSD Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Hawn reiterated points she made in her Feb. 12 weekly email to the school community. “These reductions feel really deep,” said Hawn. “We are at an inflection point — we are being forced to look at our educational programs in a new way. It does not mean we can’t be outstanding.”

Hawn noted that things could change before May — an increase in enrollment numbers could help offset some of the reductions, she said. “At lot can change in the months ahead of us, but we have to move forward now.”


Before turning to public comment, School Board President Andersen Thigpen read a statement on behalf of the Board of Education that was both personal and focused on the big picture. She said the Board had received hundreds of emails related to the proposed cuts. “We feel the pain, too,” she said. “Each member of this School Board is a member of the Piedmont community — either a parent of a current student or of a past student.”

“We are at a crossroads,” she said. “Our teachers want a raise. We all want to make that happen. A three-year offer is on the table, and to make sure we pay for it, we are making these cuts.” We are looking at enhancing enrollment to increase revenue, she said. “We want to acknowledge Dr. Hawn and Ruth Alahydoian who are looking for creative solutions — to clear a path for teacher raises through 2026.”

The Board asked the school community to consider what they were willing to give up individually in service of where PUSD had to go collectively.

When each of us looks at our current context, the programs and services that our own children participate in and benefit from, the under-enrolled courses and declining school enrollment in the schools where we work, what is it that we can let go of in service of our community-wide goal to raise teacher and staff compensation? In order to achieve this shared goal, we will have to make dramatic changes. And as always, change is really hard.

Right now in Piedmont, we have an opportunity to show care for each other. We have an opportunity to ask questions and to collaborate and to assume positive intent. We have an opportunity to operate from a foundation of trust and to understand that budget realities mean doing things differently. Difficult times often force innovation. Let’s do what this community does best and come together to reimagine what is possible.

Approaching this from a deficit mindset is counter-productive. This is an opportunity for change.

The prepared remarks were followed by two hours of comments by the public, many from students and families who shared personal stories of how the Special Education and counseling staff layoffs would affect their families. Supporters of the Art, Dance, and Millennium High School programs also shared their stories.

“Unless we get creative solutions, we’re going to have to work off this list,” said Trustee Hilary Cooper. “Ruth has done an amazing job holding transparent budget workshops.”

“This isn’t the end,” said Trustee Cory Smegal. “We’re hopeful that there are things that happen between March and May that more positively affects the budget. That’s what we’re working toward.”

“This is the only lever we have to pull,” said Trustee Lindsey Thomasson. “We can’t put a parcel tax out immediately, we can’t create a new fundraising mechanism,” she said. “We can try to increase enrollment and enhance revenues in other ways… we truly do feel stuck between a rock and a hard place,” she said. “In order to fund the offer on the table, let alone anything else, this is the only lever we have. This is the best worst path forward,” she said.

“There is no secret stash of money,” said Trustee Ruchi Medhekar. “I have never seen such a thorough process [through the Budget Advisory Committee]. We want the same things — please trust us.”

This article was updated on Feb. 16 to correct the percentage of families who donated to the Giving Campaign this year; it was 66%, not 60% as originally stated.

Leave a Reply

The Exedra comments section is an essential part of the site. The goal of our comments policy is to help ensure it is a vibrant yet civil space. To participate, we ask that Exedra commenters please provide a first and last name. Please note that comments expressing congratulations or condolences may be published without full names. (View our full Comments Policy.)

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *