News

School board underwhelmed by new staffing proposal

Members search for more 'vision, context' in plan to add teachers, staff

Palo Alto school board members appeared underwhelmed this week when presented with a plan to add nearly $2 million of new school staffing — mostly new teachers.

The district's finance chief Cathy Mak said she had consulted with stakeholder groups, the district's strategic plan and a previously voted-on set of board values in arriving at her recommendation to add nine new teaching positions, a new librarian, four new tech-support jobs and an additional 2.5 full-time-equivalent workers in the district office.

But board members at Tuesday's meeting appeared to be searching for a greater sense of vision.

"For me what's missing here is the big picture," board member Melissa Baten Caswell said.

"We have 'x' amount of money that we can spend this year. It would be good to hear what are our biggest leverage points, and is that why these things were chosen? Are these our biggest leverage points?

"Once you divide it up here, it's kind of like spreading peanut butter around."

Superintendent Kevin Skelly acknowledged "there's a bit of peanut butter in this work" but said additions like allowing a high school library to stay open until 5 p.m. "add real value."

New teachers will "provide more differentiation for students, and I know that additional reading specialists will lead to more students being able to read," Skelly said. "We're giving sites some resources that are going to enable them to do this."

Consultations with principals, he said, had helped define the best "leverage points" for the added money.

The $1.9 million in additions amounts to slightly more than 1 percent of the district's $170 million operating budget for 2013-14. The proposal would add 6.05 full-time-equivalent teaching positions at the high school level; 1.55 FTEs at the middle school level and 1.8 FTEs in elementary reading specialists, amounting to 0.15 FTE for each of the 12 elementary schools, Mak said.

Additionally, Mak proposed adding $135,000 for elementary campus supervision, one FTE for high school library staffing, four FTEs in technology support and an additional 2.5 FTEs for payroll and attendance in the district office.

Several members questioned the level of investment in tech support, noting other areas of apparent need, such as reducing class sizes for elementary P.E. and allowing music teachers who travel from school to school to offer specialized sessions.

Before a final vote on the additions, board members asked Skelly to return with a list of the board values they'd voted on earlier, as well as items restored in the budget last spring and information on what school staffing levels were prior to years of cuts that ended in 2012.

"I have no reservations about the merits of these recommendations," board member Barb Mitchell said. "What would be helpful would be to have some context."

Given the widely varying enrollment sizes of elementary schools (Ohlone is the largest at 608 and Barron Park the smallest at 341), Mitchell also said new resource allocations should account for the variation.

"These are not investments that will change something dramatically," Caswell said of the proposal. "We talked earlier in the year about having some investments that would really make a difference, or at least having a vision around that, and I want to make sure there's still an intent of thinking about that."

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Oh, dear
a resident of another community
on Nov 9, 2013 at 10:16 am

This school board's level of indecisive navel-gazing and flim-flammery is astounding.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 9, 2013 at 10:29 am

Publicly funded schools have become employment engines, with the needs of the students increasingly detached from the staffing hired based on available funds. The following is a short overview of a recent study that looks at public school staffing--

Web Link

A new report by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice highlights just how bad the school staffing surge has become:

"Public schools grew staffing at a rate four times faster than the increase in students [from 1950 to 2009]. Of those personnel, teachers' numbers increased 252 percent, while administrators and other non-teaching staff experienced growth of 702 percent, more than seven times the increase in students."
---

From the article above--

> "These are not investments that will change something dramatically,"

Very true. The story here seems to be that we have some extra money, so let's spend it. Not at all clear what the value of these dollars will be in terms of increased academic performance of the student body as a whole.

Given this amount of money, every five years almost $10M will be spent. Once has to wonder if it would be possible to put these dollars in a reserve fund, and once there were some significant amount of money available in that fund, use it for something more meaningful than proposed by the Administration.

Keep in mind that every new hire in a school system in California also adds to the strain of the already underfunded CalSTRS pension program (estimated to have a current shortfall of $65B):

Web Link

Perhaps the Board will press the Superintendent to explain the choices present for new hires, and to provide some evidence of value added, as managers in the private sector are required to do before increasing their payrolls.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by New board needed
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 9, 2013 at 10:32 am

I agree with the above post. While the IT proposal was excessive, using the surplus to increase teaching resources is a fine idea and asking principals what they need is a reasonable way to do it. If you don't trust Dr. Skelly and the principals he has appointed to make a basic decision like this then what are you saying? This is rock bottom, basic management. Deciding to equalize counseling between the two high schools is not micromanaging (not that you were able to do it). Deciding to ensure that the federal law is followed? Also not micromanagement. Second guessing where an extra teacher here or there should go? That's micromanagement. This board is horrible, and it's no wonder Skelly underperforms the way he does. [Portion removed.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Bottom Line
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Nov 9, 2013 at 11:51 am

The fact of the matter is that more teachers are needed, class sizes are getting too large. More administrative staff is not needed. PAUSD already has " too many chiefs and not enough Indians".

Two million dollars for more teachers is money well spent. Two million dollars for more administrators would not be. Besides, at the administrative pay rats, two mil would not last long.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Too much is never enough
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 9, 2013 at 4:40 pm

Do I smell PAEA? Was there a deal struck behind close door? Teri Baldwin, please let us know. Or we could ask Triona.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 9, 2013 at 5:56 pm

Whereas I think that in a district that is growing in numbers and as a consequence, new teachers are a natural follow on, it is important to start looking at ways in which the district can save money rather than just keep on hiring new staff. Classroom teachers obviously teach a classroom of kids so not much can be done here. But how about all the other admin stuff.

When our elementary schools were 300 - 400 students, each school had 1 principal and 2 office staff. From what I can gather, the elementary schools are generally over 500 students and still have 1 principal and 2 office staff. Are they able to function as well as they used to when the student body was smaller?

Are things like attendance streamlined with modern technologies, and if so, does this mean that things like attendance can be done at Churchill by two people rather than somebody at each site? Is work being duplicated as a result?

We have streamlined so much by having things online like class registration and directories, but is this causing more problems or less problems? Even finding a calendar nowadays causes more problems than should be the case, because if you look on calendar on the website all you get is a list of meetings rather than finding out the date of spring break or the last day of school. It should be much easier to find this type of information on the school or district website than it in fact is.

Some of these types of questions should be addressed in a manner so that parents know what is happening. Too much of these things are done without anyone knowing that they are happening. The website doesn't make it easy to find the questions most parents need to have at their fingertips.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 9, 2013 at 6:11 pm

@New Board Needed writes: " This board is horrible, and it's no wonder Skelly underperforms the way he does."

That may be right, but regardless, where do you suggest the new board come from? In the last two elections, there was been only one surplus candidate; the last election but one was canceled since no-one ran against the two incumbents.

The fact is that the Pausd Board is not a very attractive job - it is 100% volunteer (including no benefits, unlike city council), requires a near full-time commitment to do well, and attracts unrelenting concern, carping, and criticism. Sure, throw the bums out - hopefully we can find some new bums to complain about.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 9, 2013 at 8:07 pm

New Board Needed: How do you know that the IT proposal is "excessive." My kids say there is only one tech at Paly with hundreds of computers and tablets to support. They also say that their teachers don't do some things because they can't get tech support to help them with it. Do you have evidence to support your statement? It seems like IT might need staff.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by New board needed
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 10, 2013 at 7:34 am

@Paly Parent: there are already a large number of IT FTEs. Ann Dunkin is good but she does not need an empire. Tech support should be contracted out. There is no reason for PAUSD to maintain a full time tech support staff, with benefits etc. The IT department is very large, and not core to the mission of the district, which is teaching. PAUSD should outsource its tech needs and get better quality work for less money. That is totally obvious. Money should be spent in the classroom. Given the achievement gap in Palo Alto and the way our district underperforms relative to other similar districts for those students that's where the dollars should go. Furthermore the best expenditure that this district could make is a full-time inside counsel to manage compliance. That would save a lot on the back end in lawsuits, complaints, and policy development.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 10, 2013 at 8:09 am

New Board Needed: Interesting. How many "FTEs" does IT have? Does the District contract out other services? I've heard they union doesn't allow that.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Dunkin donut
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 10, 2013 at 11:00 am

Ann Dunkin is good? No, she is not. We've lost so many employee hours to one failure after another, whether it was last year's server debacle or the email failure. It has not been pretty, but she has apparently learned well from Skelly: it's not my fault, I need to hire someone else. There are so many better leaders out there, but you need a boar with the capability to search and vet these folks.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Thomas
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 10, 2013 at 1:10 pm

Use care when choosing benefits and programs for our children; grace preferred over righteousness.

The above stated quote from the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, fails to state that this perspective is from a foundation created to support and extend school voucher programs in the good ole U.S.A. A foundation that has be questioned for it accuracy: Web Link.

Personally, I am interested in supporting programs that are dedicated to an improve my children's future and the future of our community. There are many ways we can choose a better future for us all. Truth telling and authentic conversations and discussions support stronger foundations. Lets work together to make better choices that provide a better foundation for our children.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Donna
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 11, 2013 at 3:59 pm

As a former teacher, I can tell you that school principals and staff hide in the front offices. They don't dirty their hands by getting in the trenches with the hard working teachers and the students. They hide from the kids. It's a disgrace.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Too much is never enough
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 12, 2013 at 5:21 pm

We only have great principals in Palo Alto, just as we only have great teachers. I think that is what we are supposed to parrot back.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by toady
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 13, 2013 at 2:59 pm

" class sizes are getting too large. "

That's the current dogma, but research doesn't necessarily agree. Might want to Google "Hanushek Evidence on Class Size"


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