Palo Alto Weekly
News - February 26, 2010
School board approves $3.8M in budget cuts
Biggest chunks come in class-size boost, principals' discretionary funds
by Chris Kenrick
The Palo Alto school board Tuesday approved $3.8 million in cuts — about 2.5 percent of the district's operating budget.
The largest single chunk of the cuts — $600,000 — will come from raising the maximum class size in K-3 to 22 children and, in grades 4 and 5, to 24 children.
The second-largest cut will come from reducing principals' discretionary funds from $105 per student to $70 per student, resulting in possible reductions in materials, printing, supplies and the hours of school aides.
The cuts to the principals' discretionary funds will be partly mitigated by extra contributions from Palo Alto Partners in Education, a parent-run educational foundation that recently presented a record-breaking $2.9 million to the district.
Board members expressed particular concern about the classroom consequences of the discretionary-fund cuts, with board member Barb Mitchell withholding her support for the whole package until more information about next year's finances becomes available.
"This cut is something particularly disruptive to school sites and puts us on a slippery slope," Mitchell said before the 4-1 vote approving the $3.8 million reduction package.
"I'd rather wait on this one until we have more information in May or June," she said.
But her colleagues disagreed.
"I think we're in an unprecedented economic situation in this country and actually in the world," board member Melissa Baten Caswell said.
"I don't know how long it's going to take to get out of it, but I'm not optimistic that things are going to look better in May or June. So it's important for us to give the school sites an ability to plan for next year," she said.
The cuts approved Tuesday did not include an earlier proposal to increase the size of ninth-grade English and math classes by one student. Instead, principals were given discretion to manage the budget cuts in the ways most effective for their sites.
Board members praised efforts already undertaken, such as an informal hiring freeze and winter closures of middle school pools, which have yielded significant savings.
They also stressed the critical need to secure an increase in the districts current $493-per-parcel tax to $589 per parcel. The measure will come before voters in May and requires a two-thirds majority to pass.
In addition to the cuts passed Tuesday and $2.7 million in surplus from past years, school leaders are banking on $1.8 million in the higher parcel-tax revenue to plug the district's $8.3 million "structural deficit" for 2010-11.
"These are trying times," board member Camille Townsend said. "This district has a history of budgeting conservatively. The parcel tax is critical.
"The additional $1.8 million is 18 teachers — this is really core to our program. We have to be very upfront and very clear about the reality of the challenges we are facing," she said.
Board members noted that Palo Alto is far luckier than many school districts in California, where class sizes will rise to 30 this fall.
Skelly thanked board members for approving the cuts, noting that he needs to move on to other pressing concerns such as replacing many top administrators who have announced their resignations, including the principals of both Gunn and Palo Alto high schools, Terman Middle School and Palo Verde Elementary School, as well as several top managers in the district office.
Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be e-mailed at email@example.com.
Posted by Albert Henning,
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 25, 2010 at 3:42 pm
The notions of 'back to basics', 'one size fits all', 'exclusive emphasis on the individual' are absurd.
Please note that it is the notions that are absurd, and not the persons saying them. I understand where you are coming from, but things have changed since the 1930s-1960s.
'back to basics': what makes you think basics are not taught? Please read the California state curriculum. Please look at the measured performance of Palo Alto schools against this curriculum. Then see if you can honestly tell me we must go 'back to basics'.
'one size fits all': I have been a teacher, albeit at a different level. I have been a parent of students in the PA schools, and in VT schools. I can tell you this from experience: in a small class with an insecure teacher, one 'bad apple' can lose an entire year's worth of education for *every* student in the class. On the other hand, in a large class with devoted students and a skilled teacher, miracles can happen which ripple through lifetimes. One size does not fit all. Anecdotal experience proves it to my satisfaction, but the educational research literature proves it more quantitatively.
'individual emphasis': first, what makes you think the individual is *not* emphasized? When the tests are taken, they are taken alone; and testing appears to show PA students are doing just fine on their own. Second, I have taught advanced engineering classes at the college level. I assure you that graduates with the ability to function well as a team, while *also* making creative, individual contributions, have incredibly high value in the workplace. What makes you think a move away from a *balance* of individual and group work, to a focus solely on individual work, adds value for students and families? What is your real complaint about work as a team?
John, your grasp of relative costs (between say the 1950s and today), inflation, and the relative success of delivery of education over the same time period, is almost purely based on your perspective through the selective lens of long memory. We cannot turn back the clock. Life was complex then, no matter what your memory says, and it is more complex today. That is not an excuse: it is a fact.
Finally, the self-evident result of Prop 13 has been the transfer of wealth from the young to the old. John, I am guessing, and Gunslinger, too, probably are 1) retired, and 2) living in the same home for over 25 years. In which case, their contributions to property taxes, and therefore to schools, are negligible. And, if I'm right, people like John and Gunslinger are the folks who have enriched themselves (through the capital gains in their homes), and impoverished schools around the state -- all the while saying they should pay even less in taxes. You can't have something for nothing. Our elders cannot have a secure retirement, filled with satisfaction, without an ongoing, committed investment in the education of our children.
I'm all in favor of a balanced budget, at every level. I agree that the School Board's action seems like an approach of, 'let's cut as little as possible for as long as possible, until the economy comes back'. I think that it is not substantial enough, but maybe it will suffice. But I also think the emotional responses by John and Gunslinger are specious.
And I also KNOW we cannot get out of our governmental budget problems at all levels simply by cutting. Schwarzenegger has pointed out, rightly, that if we fired every state employee, we could still not balance the budget. And *that* is a dark and sobering perspective.
Posted by Health Care professional,
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 4, 2010 at 6:04 am
Erin and Anonymouse:
I guess you are right. There is no profession more important than yours. None better educated..none with harder tests to pass..none with harder hours..none with more responsibility..none with as noble ideals and goals, none with longer hours, none that work nights, weekends, holidays, none that are "underappreciated" and undercompensated, none others facing layoffs/cuts, none as "poorly" benefited......
I wish you both more happiness and pleasure in your work, and if you aren't, I hope you both find work where you don't feel so unappreciated and victimized ( warning..there is no work that isn't underappreciated by others "outside" it).
I love my work, I feel blessed to have found work I love. I knew I would have to study a lot more and longer than being a teacher (which I considered), I knew it wouldn't pay much ( I make less per hour by far, with bennies included, than the equivalent teacher in this district), I knew the hours would suck, I knew I would end up working weekends and holidays,...but I am lucky I love it after many years still.
I only hope you don't have to go through what we are going through in health care (from the great "health care reform" *destruction) attempts going on right now...can you imagine the equivalent language about teachers and schools that Pres Obama, Reid and Pelosi use about doctors ( you know, cutting off body parts willy-nilly cuz they need the money), medical care of the elderly ( take a pain pill and die, Grandma) and insurances ( all bad!!)? Health care delivery is already shutting down in anticipation of what is to come..we are getting laid off, our pay is getting cut, our bennies are low, new folks thinking of going through the rigorous education are re-thinking it, lowering our future pool of professionals( why sweat bullets for years when the government is insulting us left and right, and doing all within its power, which is immense, to destroy us?)
What you see on this thread is a fraction of what we have been putting up with in the media, from our President, from the Dems...
But, no matter, I wish you well..peace
Well, off to my shift I go. One full day off out of 14 this go round.. through last weekend, caring for the people who show up regardless of "staffing", expecting and deserving our care, who do almost nothing but complain because they are miserable, hurting, feeling hopeless when they show up, and nothing is good enough, whose families complain because we aren't devoting all of our time to just their family member out of all the others..you know. .we're very appreciated and well understood...
As my mother used to say "don't feel pregnant"..I never understood that until I was pregnant, and I realized I felt like the first and only woman in the world to have done such a thing, the most important person in the world..and how useless and silly it was to feel that way.