Uploaded: Wed, Jan 14, 2009, 9:51 am
School district preps for Draconian budget cuts
Despite potential loss of categorical funds due to proposed state budget cuts, Palo Alto Unified School District will rely on reserve
Palo Alto schools may face Draconian budget cuts due to the state budget crisis, school board members were warned Tuesday night.
Even after Palo Alto Unified School District staff met with the School Services of California Jan. 12 to discuss the status of the state budget and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's recommendations, the district remains in the gray area for determining its budget over the next couple of years.
The state currently has a $40 billion deficit, a number that increased by $2 billion within the last two months. K-12 education is facing a proposed mid-year cut of $1.86 billion.
"The legislature proposed to make cuts from categorical funds rather than revenue limit funds," Cathy Mak, co-chief business officer, said. In other words, if the proposal passes, the main part of the district's funding from the state would be abated.
To combat potential loss, Schwarzenegger proposes that the school district enhance revenue, increase sales taxes by 1.5 percent and borrow from human services.
Without a finalized state budget cut, the school district is left with several variables. Employee compensation will not be settled until mid-year cuts are finalized. Also, the district will not know its property tax revenue until July.
"At this point we still have a lot of unknowns," Mak said. "We sound like a broken record, but these are really unprecedented times we're facing. We need to be careful of our resources."
Despite looming budget cuts, several board members expressed confidence in the school district's financial fortitude.
"This district is in a strong financial situation," board president Barbara Mitchell said. "We've weathered financial crisis before."
"We have the capacity to give that money back to the state," Superintendent Kevin Skelly said. "It is not on our agenda to cut staff. … Adding folks, adding costs is a big issue for us."
Board member Melissa Caswell warned the community: "I think a lot of people thought Palo Alto was in a bubble and we wouldn't be affected, but … we will be affected," she said.
Posted by Katie Christman,
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 15, 2009 at 10:29 pm
Well, here we go again.
Dear "common sense",
Are you sure you want to chase all the 'poor' people out of our Palo Alto Schools? Are you sure they don't actually add to our district? Is money they only measure of worth?
Palo Alto may not have the BEST schools in the country at this point, but then again those measurements do not take into account the number of students who come here not only speaking another language, but as the only student in a class who speaks that language. It is one thing to speak only Spanish or Chinese or Japanese or Hebrew; we do have a fair amount of support and ethnic community for speakers of those languages. How about if you speak only Finnish, or Russian, or Dutch, Swedish, or Bosnian? How about if you are from Kenya or Tunisia? We have Stanford brining in folks from all over the world, and if they don't raise our test scores they certainly enrich our lives.
I do identify with the older homeowners because they have fixed or declining incomes and often houses that are very hard to keep up (even the little ones). And I truly feel that adding so much new housing without waiting to feel the effects of the other recent batches is a BIG mistake. But I also grew up 'poor' in Palo Alto, we never owned property here, and I knew kids from EPA and low income housing and still know folks that Tinsley in or live in low-income housing, and they very often CONTRIBUTE GREATLY to our community.
Being friends with kids of different backgrounds and economic levels is a boon to anyone growing up, it gives you perspective. It is too easy to lose your sense of perspective if you are brought up with only people of your own ethnicity, socioeconomic background, color, race, whatever. We need the diversity in this town, and we benefit from it, at what cost? At 1,000 students at 12,000 dollars per for out of district kids, that is not much per year to mix things up a little! I don't know the numbers on low-income housing kids, and I do think that is happening a bit too fast at this point, but I know that all different abilities and talents and problems and stresses exist at all different economic levels, and finding that out is part of growing up. If we are too insular, we lose.
Besides, SOME people are wealthy and own their houses outright, and some have two incomes, but some just scrape by to afford living here; not all Palo Altans are wealthy or even solvant! Also, multi-generational families are more common than you might imagine. And what about all those duplexes and apartments along Alma? There is some real dedication there from people who know a good town when they see one and are willing to take a smaller, less impressive living situation in order to enjoy it, and it this town is not just good for the rich, unlike some. We have sidewalks and bike lanes and good public schools, parks, businesses that have been in town forever (there are still quite a few out there)! Let's not forget our Librarians (ok, some of the Libraries could use some work but the Librarians are fabulous), and the Theatres.
If your kid goes to horse camp he may be riding with someone who gets a huge subsidy from the city for the camp or someone who lives in a mansion. This is critical; we don't want to live in suburbia! I know lots people who live and work in Palo Alto without making a fortune or even owning a house. We need places for our teachers and firemen to live, if not the butcher and the baker.
I think more sources of revenue are possible. The schools for one have revamped their fund-raising to be more fair, and it has done very well. I think we don't always prioritize our spending well. But you can believe each dollar is agonized and argued over!
So I guess I am back to my same old boring line, which is, let's think of more creative solutions for taking care of our fair city and her institutions, and not start blindly hacking at her limbs and organs.
We need to think ahead a bit more to avoid panicked 'ballast-dumping' moves that end up costing a lot more than dollars. And we need to work together, even those of us who can't always agree, to preserve the things that are working.
Sincerely and in great affection for all who live in our town (and so many who don't!),