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 ckenrick@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by chris, a resident of University South
on Feb 24, 2010 at 11:43 am

This is an incredibly timid response. They will not balance the budget until they cut salaries and benefits. Good luck with a tax increase.


Posted by whimped out, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 24, 2010 at 12:03 pm

Looks like the school board again went for the wimpy choices instead of doing any real cuts.


Posted by Wish I Could Retire, a resident of Portola Valley
on Feb 24, 2010 at 12:09 pm

Curious that the budgets get cut and the principals retire, last month Las Lomitas, this month Palo Alto. It will be interesting to see how well the school foundations do at raising money when the teachers are still asking for raises. Don't they realize that many of us taxpayers can't find jobs? Wonder how things would pencil out if they had to be 65 to retire....


Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 24, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Go back to purely neighborhood schools, with 26 kids per room. No exceptions. Teach a very basic curriculum, with independent performance testing. We don't need Spanish Immersion or Mandarin Immersion...or any other immersions. We need a one-size-fits-all approach in this case. Keep it simple.

A typical day might be:

Home room: Say the Pledge of Allegiance. Then go about language and math skills training. After the second class, all students patrol the grounds, picking up litter for 15 minutes. Then class three starts. Then various classes throught the day, to include mandatory PE. One class period is reserved for extracurricular activites, like music/band. After school is reserved for sports and clubs as an optional activity, paid for with participation fees from the parents (with financial need coverage, as necessary).

Educational approach: Education is about individuals, not groups. Get rid of all cooperative training. It should not be up to Johnny to solve Sammy's problem set.

The PAUSD budget could probably be cut by at least 20% with the above reforms. There is unnecessary complexity in our current education model. Go back to the older model, in which I was educated, in order to gain a productive future.


Posted by no gimmicks, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 24, 2010 at 1:15 pm



John,

"Go back to the older model, in which I was educated, in order to gain a productive future."

unfortunately education is an industry, basics are out, gimmicks are in

the older model in Palo Alto had regular Spanish classes in Elementary school, now it's immersion where some students in the programs later struggle in English?









Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 24, 2010 at 1:34 pm

"gimmicks are in"

Yes, they have taken over the system. If one interest group gets its gimmick, then the barn door is open for many more interest groups to get their gimmicks. The way to stop this is to defund it. It looks like the overall economy might make the choice for the faint-at-heart.

I would think that the PAUSD Board might want to make some serious reforms, in order to gain support for the proposed parcel tax. Apparently not. They probably think it will pass with flying colors, no matter what. Maybe they are correct. Are they?


Posted by Gunslinger, a resident of another community
on Feb 24, 2010 at 1:47 pm

John, please keep posting. I've rarely heard someone so eloquently and efficiently get to the root of the matter. Every single point you mentioned was spot on. I've long tried to say similar things, yet I must admit not as well. This forum needs you. People are reading and listening. Yes, yes, yes to Johns solutions! They are the exact prescription necessary to turn the whole states education system into a proper model that is best for our children.

John for superintendent!


Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 24, 2010 at 2:15 pm

John - Where do you get a 20% savings by changing the curriculum? Even if you ideas are valid (and there is a lot of "fluff" projects in elementary school), I don't see how it saves any money.

Wimped out - what kind of "real cuts" did you want?


Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 24, 2010 at 3:12 pm

palo alto mom,

If one makes the very basic reforms that I suggested, there is a huge savings potential:

1. Eliminate 20 kids per class, and go to 26...many teachers can be eliminated by this move, alone.

2. By eliminating all the fluff, and going back to basics, we can also eliminate all the bureaucratic suppot for the fluff. This in not an insubstantial thing.

3. After-school activities (sports and clubs), can and should be financially supported by the the parents of the kids participating in them.

4. There is no need to pay teachers aides, because they are not necessary. I never remember haing one in any of my classrooms. If we get away from the notion that self esteem is the major issue, and revert back to the notion that individual achievement is the issue, one teacher can easily handle the classroom. This is a fact, not theory. Again, more money saved.

I think I probably underestimated the savings, at 20%. Don't forget the time savings of simply having your kid walk down the block to your neighborhood school. Helps to eliminate CO2 from the atmosphere, too...very green!

If the reforms I am suggesting were to be passed, the Palo Alto schools would become better, not worse, thus increase their role in supporting property values in PA.


Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 24, 2010 at 3:22 pm

Taking aside John's suggestions.

For those already enrolled in SI and MI, it may be impossible to up the numbers in those classes as students need to be tested to be at grade level in two languages to be admitted. Therefore, those classes will remain smaller. As of the next kindergarten class, they can be increased, but the present classes will probably remain small. Even at 4th and 5th grades, the classes will probably remain at 20 or less.


Posted by Gunslinger, a resident of another community
on Feb 24, 2010 at 3:36 pm

Commutes to schools, especially because we so long sit in traffic, is one of the largest purveyors of pollution in our area. Neighborhood schools!

Plus the kids could use a little jaunt in the morning on the way to school. Helps freshen the mind before sitting in class. Especially when they're breathing in relatively non-polluted morning air.

John for superintendent!


Posted by retrogression?, a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Feb 24, 2010 at 3:41 pm

"Back to basics" is a kind of comforting notion based on the faulty assumptions about the past and the present, usually involving partial memories of selected details without appreciation for the full context and the experiences of other people. "I turned out okay" is a rather narrow view from which to prescribe changes for everyone. I doubt many parents, teachers, or students would take such a cavalier attitude towards class sizes and teacher's aides. I'm not even sure what "cooperative training" refers to, but I do know that most of what I read and hear about the future of work suggests that networking, collaboration, flexibility, critical thinking, problem solving and creativity are at a premium, rather than what I'm reading above. That stuff sounds like the "empty vessel" theory where kids are just receptacles for information teachers pour into them. Back to basics? Back to 1950. We're not aiming to just scrape by here, are we? I hope we're aiming to be excellent, innovative, robust and thriving. And if the parcel tax fails, we'll be looking at drastic cuts, severely compromised quality of schools, which in turn will cost the community more in terms of emergency donations and stagnant or decreasing property values.


Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 24, 2010 at 4:15 pm

Really this doesn't sound like severe cuts. No need for drama at this time.


Posted by bj, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 24, 2010 at 4:35 pm

I don't actually understand the 600K savings. Are they going to eliminate 5-6 teaching positions across the elem schools? If you read the link to the budget reductions, they are already counting savings of 2 positions as they collapse two underenrolled classes as a separate line item. The 11th day enrollment data showed many classes at 21 or 22 already in K-3 with a few classes at 24 for 4-5. It seems like this is a paper exercise that may be difficult to actualize.

Also, with the new mandarin class at Ohlone, as that program builds up there is one more staff position added..does that require an additional offset? I suppose the Spanish immersion program could collapse the 2 strands of 20-22 into 1.5 strand (combined 4-5) of 30ish students (minus attrition)to help keep the burden fair across the programs. It's hard to see how to bulk up student count in the mandarin 4-5 classes when the program gets there.


Posted by Erin Mershon, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 24, 2010 at 5:33 pm

John - they're doing just as you suggest down on the east side of San Jose with only 20 kids per class and the results are not good. But if that's the level of education you want for your kids you could save a lot of money by moving. That kind of program is not going to have people wanting to move to Palo Alto.


Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 24, 2010 at 6:08 pm

"John - they're doing just as you suggest down on the east side of San Jose with only 20 kids per class and the results are not good."

They would be doing much worse on the east side, if they went with a cooperative training model. The "back to basics" model starts with controlling the classromm from disruptive behavior, then builds from the simplt to the complex.

Palo Alto could also do better, at a much lower cost, by going back to a basic educational model. It is an urban myth that employers are dying to hire cooperative trained, self-esteem enhanced Silicon Valley kids. They would much rather hire "empty vessel filled" kids from Inida and China.

Palo Alto kids have been cheated by the overpriced system, with the abundant support of their parents. Once they figure out that glass blowing degrees will not get them a job, they can practive their "would you like fries with your burger, sir", in at least two languages.


Posted by Already there, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 24, 2010 at 7:44 pm

"3. After-school activities (sports and clubs), can and should be financially supported by the the parents of the kids participating in them."

At the high school level, they pretty much already are. At Gunn, every athlete pays a $150 sports fee for each season of sport. Some sports also require athletes to pay more, mostly for equipment.


Posted by PA Parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 24, 2010 at 9:14 pm

Have any of you actually been in a Palo Alto classroom or the working world?

I've been in a number of PA classrooms and they are developing kids who can think, not just regurgitate facts. These classrooms aren't chaotic. The district doesn't have discipline problems due to this relaxed atmosphere. They have very few discipline problems -- far fewer than those schools with 'back to basics' programs. The kids LEARN and they learn to THINK.

Back to basics - back to the 1950s - will get you a bunch graduates who can't function in today's demanding world. I've worked in high tech around the world for over 20 years and "retrogression?" is right. Companies already expect collaboration, teamwork, flexibility, critical thinking and all the other skills that our kids are learning in PA schools. Try 'back to basics' and your kids will be asking 'you want fries with that?' Don't try it with my kids.


Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 24, 2010 at 10:31 pm

To the contrary, I think we are in danger of producing a large number of high achieving graduates who have learned all their stuff but are not able to think independently, to be creative with what they have learned and to apply their book knowledge to the real world. Ask employers looking for engineers from some of our leading schools and they all say that they know their stuff on paper but are unable to work with a team or think outside the box - both necessary skills for leading edge technology - so these jobs are going to those who have done their high school if not college education in foreign universities. The fact is that we are importing engineers rather than educating our own.


Posted by Gunslinger, a resident of another community
on Feb 25, 2010 at 6:22 am

The teachers want us to fear the 50s model. Oh what, you mean when we were the leaders of the world in every way, including high tech? You mean that era where we produced engineers and scientists instead of importing them by the millions? You mean that era that soon after produced our space program and made us capable of being the first to the Moon? They want us to forget all that the 50s achieved and be amazed at this modern era where we just assume Asians are gonna outdo us in such fields so we better import them to do everything. And why are Asian students and workers so sought after? Because their system is based on the 50s American model of discipline first and foremost, all things flowing from there. Get into class and shut up so we can teach you. Physical education to maintain focus. With such simple concepts they don't burden their system paying for infantile and minute class sizes


Posted by Erin, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 25, 2010 at 7:05 am

I don't think some of you know a thing about this school district and it's going to be futile for me to argue with you, but our high schools are not producing kids who can't think or work independently, nor are they full of classrooms where there is no discipline. Really. I don't understand where either of these thought patterns come from.

Our high schools are the best in the state, on the top 100 list in the country, but that doesn't just mean that our test scores are high. We have fantastic robotics teams, fine arts, and sports that challenge our kids beyond the classroom. And you can bet these kids are starting those activities at an early age. Most of our teachers are incredible and we give them the flexibility they need to teach kids in a way that the kids can actually learn. There is no one-size-fits-all method of learning and our teachers have the ability to adapt their teaching styles to fit the kids.

As for discipline, these kids come into Kindergarten already having very good quality preschool experiences. They know how to sit on the rug for 30 minutes at a time, and they are not running around the classroom yelling all day. If they need a little more help with discipline, our teachers are very good about handling that in a professional and sensible way. If you ever spent time in a Kinder class you would have no further comments about discipline in the schools, but with a name like Gunslinger I'm betting you might not be allowed within 100 yards of a school.


Posted by laura, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 25, 2010 at 8:25 am

The most foolish and expensive things the district did was cave into parents who wanted the MI and SI programs. Why should one small population get their wish? In this day of severe budget problems there is no room or $$$ for frills. In the long run these programs will be looked back on as big mistakes.


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 25, 2010 at 11:44 am

> "…the future of work suggests that networking, collaboration, flexibility, critical thinking, problem solving and creativity are at a premium..."

Absolutely, but without a knowledge base, all the collaboration, etc. is not going to do much good.

There are too many theories and unproven methods used on our kids.

Laura is right about MI and SI. They're only available for a few kids, cost too much, and mess up the neighborhood schools.


Posted by Debbie, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 25, 2010 at 11:46 am

If we are looking at making cuts, why don't we take a look at California's $90.7 million pupil testing program? The biggest beneficiary of this is the Educational Testing Service, not our students.


Posted by Debbie, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 25, 2010 at 1:21 pm

Oh, and add to that our state's relative ranking on per-pupil spending... "California continues to lose ground in per-pupil spending, now ranking 47th in the nation, and trailing the national average by nearly $2,400 per student."


Web Link


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 Chris, a resident of University South
on Feb 25, 2010 at 5:50 pm

But Albert, PA schools can reduce salaries and

benefits by a relatvely
small amount (along with larger class sizes) to
reduce its structural deficit.


Posted by Gunslinger, a resident of another community
on Feb 25, 2010 at 7:20 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by California Civics, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 25, 2010 at 8:01 pm

Discussions about per student expenditures would be helped by understanding "Serranno v Priest", a 1971 court decision. The follow on cases known as Serrano II and Serrano III are also relevant.

Feed "Serrano v Priest" into Google or Wikipedia.


Posted by Mary, a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 25, 2010 at 8:12 pm

Cut teacher benefits & salaries? Teachers having to work until age 65? What a bunch of uninformed people inhabit this area? The Gunn principal is 65. Most of the district staff work until age 62 and older. For example the data processor at Gunn is 74 years old. Her counterpart at Paly is over 80. The Gunn assistant to the activities director is 72. The PAUSD teachers are the lowest paid on the peninsula behind Los Altos and Sequoia districts. So before you start blowing hot air check your facts.


Posted by connecting the dots, a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 25, 2010 at 8:17 pm

The per pupil spending linked to above is based on what I believe is a bogus "adjusted for cost of living" spectrum to claim we spend so much less per student.

True, it costs us much more to live here, from extra taxes to extra housing costs, from regulations which have limited our housing and driven costs sky high..but this becomes irrelevant in comparisons when we look at the pockets of those paying and the outcome of our spending.

In fact, per taxpayer, we spend more per student than ..I would have to find the article, but I seem to remember more than 47 of the nation's States..because we have so few taxpayers relative to the number of kids to be educated.

And yet, those who spend less per taxpayer are producing much higher educated kids ( talking in general, not specific to Palo Alto).

So, what's up with that?



Posted by Connecting the Dots, a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 25, 2010 at 8:28 pm

Wait a sec..if 3.8 million is 2.5% of the operating budget alone, that means the operating budget is now 146,000,000..

3 years ago, or so, it was 120 million, wasn't it ?( somebody check me on that)..which, if I am right, is a 21% increase over 4 years,...so this 2.5 % drop is not much of a drop over 4 years ago.

Am I doing my math wrong?

What was the operating budget 3 years ago?





Posted by Mary, a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 25, 2010 at 8:29 pm

Dear John,

There is a nation wide shortage of teachers and other school professionals. It will only get worse as baby boomers retire from the teaching ranks. The average new teacher leaves the profession after 5 years. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Connecting the Dots, a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 26, 2010 at 6:32 am

Yes, I just found it..it was indeed an operating budget of $120,000,000 for 2005-2006.

So, it is hard to cry about the 2.5 % decrease when there was over a 20% increase in the last 4 years..

Source: PAUSD Budget, Execellence by Design, adopted June 28th by the Board of Directors in PAUSD.




Posted by Connecting the Dots, a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 26, 2010 at 6:35 am

BTW, just an interesting coincidence..the first year of new annual Parcel tax increases which took effect in 2005-2006 was, coincidentally, precisely 3.8 million dollars, the amount just cut from our budget.

This is a drop in the bucket, of course, compared to the property taxes which were 70% of our budget at the time, but it is just a fun fact.


Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 26, 2010 at 8:31 am

This has been slightly diverted into a discussion about defending teachers. There is a shortage, etc. There is the threat of teachers getting let go...does that ever happen here? I thought this issue is always solved via "attrition" (retirements w/benefits, etc.)
Well, let's reform the teacher's union/tenure model and reward the gifted teachers who perform well. That may attract many more into the profession!
It is disillusioning to see the spectrum of tenured teachers out there (and easy to get tenure) - some teachers are outstanding and some should not keep their jobs. Instead, there is a standard pay scale. Instead, if anyone ever has to be let go, it will be the one with the least seniority.


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 26, 2010 at 9:42 am

All the teachers at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island were fired by the board of trustees this week. More such cases are likely to arise across the US in the coming year because of pressure from the Obama administration – and the incentive of billions of federal dollars.

Web Link


Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 26, 2010 at 4:26 pm

I doubt this will be widespread.
Plus the fired RI teachers are suing/appealing their dismissals.


Posted by Don't fire til you see the whites of their eyes, a resident of another community
on Feb 26, 2010 at 5:53 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by A PAUSD teacher, a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 27, 2010 at 7:58 am

Thank you for all the intelligent input, and commentary. It's great to feel so supported by the community to which we as teachers, work tirelessly to educate. The teacher's day goes far beyond the 8:00am-3:00pm "school day" that some, shall we say grossly uniformed citizens may think. You may see the cuts as "wimpy" and "timid," but for those of us that are living them it is quite a different story. A story that won't be shared with you or shared with your kids, because you wouldn't understand and apparently you wouldn't care. If the parcel tax doesn't pass, then most likely a lot of kids won't either because the very programs that support, educate, and inspire them will be cut.
It would be nice, for once to log on and read some words of encouragement, or possibly see some intelligent, reasonable brainstorming. It's your town, these are your kids. Try contributing as opposed to assessing and opining, for once.


Posted by Don't fire til you see the whites of their eyes, a resident of another community
on Feb 27, 2010 at 10:25 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 27, 2010 at 11:43 am

Dear PAUSD teacher -

Please be assured that the majority of the parents in PAUSD value our teachers and the influence you have on our children. Most of you work tirelessly for our kids (which makes me really angry at the handful of teachers who don't...). Supporting our teachers is the best use of our $$ and is more important than class size, technology, etc.

What many don't realize is that the kinds of things the teachers in RI were asked to do - like spending time before and after school with students - happens all the time here.


Posted by Don't fire til you see the whites of their eyes, a resident of another community
on Feb 28, 2010 at 4:04 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Um, a little reality, a resident of Greater Miranda
on Feb 28, 2010 at 6:42 am

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Some teachers are worth twice their pay, others half.

Unfortunately we have no way of rewarding teachers based on merit...so they all rise up to the top of lake equally once they are tenured, based on union rules.

When rough times come, they all get attacked equally from taxpayer anger, resulting in bigger classrooms, calls for decrease pay or lessened benefits etc.

Rid us of unions, and you rid yourselves of anger, as taxpayers ( the employers who supply the money to pay you) feel some ability to have a say in where their money is going.

Put in a merit system, and you will see that the taxpayers, who are all employed and paid based on merit, will stop their anger.

We get angry when we lose our jobs or take 10-20% paycuts, or lose half our benefits in vacation ( I had to take a 10% pay cut, went from 5 weeks paid time off to 3, and had to go to a very severe HMO health plan from my PPO, with much fewer paid health care benefits...for example), then hear any complaining at all about "no pay raise" or, as we have noted, complaining about a 2.5% decrease in budget after an over 20% increase over the prior few years.

I would have been delighted to have a 20% increase in my home operating budget over 3 years, and then have to only cut back 2.5%. Unfortunately, for me and many like me, we have had a 50% decrease in our operating budget with fixed overhead continuing...

So, please don't whine, teacher(s), don't think this isn't "appreciation" talking. It is simply the reality of a population that is strapped, worrying about how to survive, and noting that you should, instead be grateful. I note no layoffs happening ( thankfully), no cut in pay, no cut in benefits, for our teachers or staff in PAUSD. So, I would definitely not complain.

In fact, as a taxpayer, it would be nice to hear some gratitude that we have always voted in more taxes on ourselves to support our schools, and haven't voted out any taxes (yet), to lower our burden.

To paraphrase your sentence

It would be nice, for once to log on and read FROM TEACHERS some words of gratitude to the taxpayers who have always supported them, some encouragement, or possibly see some intelligent, reasonable brainstorming on how we can lower our tax burden and give some help to a struggling population. It's your employment, at the grace of our money, for our kids. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]





Posted by just wondering, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 28, 2010 at 8:40 am

Why can't elementary classroom teachers teach their own students PE and art?

Elementary teachers have the most parents willing to be in their classrooms to help them so they have the most support between aides and parents so the increase in class size will hardly be noticed.


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 28, 2010 at 10:20 am

Um has it right. Any system which is not based on merit, where everyone gets the same increases and benefits, where tenure makes it hard to get rid of problems, is hard to support.

Unions are the only "protected" class right now because of contracts written during a strong economy. The average person in the private sector has no benefits, no pension and many have no job. They work under "at will" employment and can be laid off or fired for any reason or no reason. Economists predict that 10% unemployment will be the norm for years to come.
Web Link

Teaching is not an easy job, but it's troubling to hear teachers complain that they have to work "after hours." Most people I know work longer than 8 hours/day and take their work home with them evenings and weekends.

Teachers also get 3 months off in the summer, so their salaries are based on a 9-month year. They will say that they take courses over the summer to improve their capabilities. Many workers take classes to improve their skills -- or in the hope of keeping their jobs -- while working full time.

I don't think posters are criticizing teachers as much as saying, "Stop complaining. You've got a good deal compared to a lot of people."


Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 28, 2010 at 10:20 am

Just wondering:

We have Art and PE teachers because we value those things as a district.

I think Art is only covered by the district for the 1sttwo years a teacher teaches. Ongoing Spectra Art comes out of the Principal's discretionary fund and PiE $$ (discretionary money goes to where the principal, site council, etc. thinks it will benefit the school).

Teachers are required to have a certain amount of prep time per their contract - PE, Art, Music, etc. fill that requirement.


Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 28, 2010 at 10:29 am

Many elementary teachers, although excellent classroom teachers, would not be able to teach pe or music to their class. Some most definitely could not run the mile or hit a waffle ball or even sing a note or play an instrument. I value the fact that we do have a travel team of pe and music teachers, and as already stated, the art teachers are only for the first 2 years of a teacher's employment where the teachers are learning the skills from spectra art to enable them to teach to the same level for year 3.

Getting rid of many of the secondary school and Churchill admins makes more sense than cutting teachers.


Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 28, 2010 at 10:32 am

Teachers get paid more based on their education and years of service. They start at around 50K and can make up to 100K or so. Web Link

I think Um and Pat are right in that we value our teachers and teaching is a difficult profession, but we also want them to appreciate the fact that they have a part time, well paid, stable, secure job with benefits for life once they have tenure (which is not too hard to get). Teacher are expected to be at school from about 8-3, 185 days or so a year. They get lunch, breaks, prep time, etc. in that school day. At 6 hours a day, 185 days a year, a starting teacher makes about $45 an hour. I realize the vast majority of teachers work longer hours, but if you head to most school campuses, they are deserted by 4pm.

Many people in Palo Alto work 10-12 hour days on a regular basis, they would love to be "officially" done a 3 pm. They would love to have job security, benefits and 8-10 weeks off in the summer in additional to about 4 weeks during the school year...


Posted by Erin, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 28, 2010 at 10:45 am

Palo Alto mom - do you really think those teachers go home at 4 and do
nothing? Just because they're not working at the school doesn't mean they're not working from home. The good teachers put in many hours from home.


Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 28, 2010 at 1:55 pm

Erin - I think many teachers go home and work, just like the majority of the residents in Palo Alto. But they can go home (and work or not) at 3.

Teachers work load can vary hugely - a lot depends on what subject they teach - for example - middle school math teachers often have a student to correct tests, the kids correct their own homework, the lesson plans are generally set up for the whole year, so there is not a ton of outside class time. On the other hand, teaching English at any level and grading essays/writing takes time. Elementary teachers put in much more time both at school and at home than many secondary teachers. Secondary teachers also teach just 4-5 periods a day, so they are actually in only class for a bit more than 4 hours, they have at least one "prep" period a day which they can use for work, meeting with other teachers, etc.

Being teacher is a challenging job, but it also is well paid and has great perks - lots of vacation time, lots of extra days off, job security after 2 years, paid medical, etc. They work hard for their money, they do a great job with our kids, but in this job market, they are also very lucky.


Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 28, 2010 at 2:08 pm

As a local taxpayer, what I really would value is clear description of the budget and expenditures...I understand that many times when "cuts" are publicly protested and decried by government employees, (including teacher unions in some cases), they are decrying a cut in the increase in requested spending for the next year. This pertains at all levels of government. Business doesn't operate on this basis...
The other thing that really irritates me in current tough economic times is the incredible duplication of educational bureacracies at all levels - California really can't afford that now. There WAS a proposal to combine two local small school districts (Mountain View and someone else....I forget but read about it recently) and this was quickly shouted down. This would have eliminated one small set of district staff and that sure 'aint gonna happen.


Posted by Anony Mouse, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 28, 2010 at 8:54 pm

Anony Mouse is a registered user.

Quoting Palo Alto Mom:

"I think Um and Pat are right in that we value our teachers and teaching is a difficult profession, but we also want them to appreciate the fact that they have a part time, well paid, stable, secure job with benefits for life once they have tenure (which is not too hard to get). Teacher are expected to be at school from about 8-3, 185 days or so a year. They get lunch, breaks, prep time, etc. in that school day. At 6 hours a day, 185 days a year, a starting teacher makes about $45 an hour. I realize the vast majority of teachers work longer hours, but if you head to most school campuses, they are deserted by 4pm."

Make sure you get your facts straight. The job is not contracted from 8-3 every day. Lunch is 40 minutes (usually less, since the students often have questions after the bell).

What is a fair salary for the job? Is it half your salary? What is the expected face time? Do you want to see the lights on in all the rooms until 6 pm? What if I see you walking on campus, should I scurry off and "look busy",or genuflect? Do you want me to punch a clock? Do you want to monitor my home work habits? Condescension received.



"Many people in Palo Alto work 10-12 hour days on a regular basis, they would love to be "officially" done a 3 pm. They would love to have job security, benefits and 8-10 weeks off in the summer in additional to about 4 weeks during the school year..."


Anyone who passes the CBEST, CSET, RICA, PACT, background check and completes an accredited program is welcome to apply. It's a great job. Apparently it's only a 6 hour per day job. Somehow I didn't get the memo though...


Posted by Anony Mouse, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 28, 2010 at 9:03 pm

Anony Mouse is a registered user.

Quoting Pat now:

"Um has it right. Any system which is not based on merit, where everyone gets the same increases and benefits, where tenure makes it hard to get rid of problems, is hard to support."


This always presumes that teachers have this wellspring of extra effort that they are holding back - but for a few extra dollars. Nothing could be further from the truth.


"Unions are the only "protected" class right now because of contracts written during a strong economy. The average person in the private sector has no benefits, no pension and many have no job. They work under "at will" employment and can be laid off or fired for any reason or no reason. Economists predict that 10% unemployment will be the norm for years to come."


Let's just deal with reality. Unions are here to stay. There would be no unions were it not for abysmal management. Education is no exception to this truism. Teachers are being laid off in droves throughout the state.

"Teaching is not an easy job, but it's troubling to hear teachers complain that they have to work "after hours." Most people I know work longer than 8 hours/day and take their work home with them evenings and weekends."

Some posters, such as a Palo Alto Mom have argued that it's a 6 hour per day job. Just trying to set the record straight. Most teachers I know work longer that 8 hours per day and take their work home with them on evenings and weekends - just like you Pat!


Posted by Anony Mouse, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 28, 2010 at 9:16 pm

Anony Mouse is a registered user.

I'm on a roll tonight. As I take a break from preparing to teach your children.

Let's do a fun little math problem.

Let's take what I pay a babysitter per hour. We pay $10 per hour, I know we're pretty generous. So, let's just say $8 per hour (for one child). She has not passed CBEST, CSET, RICA, PACT, background check and completed an accredited program. We do not expect her to produce any sort of educational outcome.

Now, let's pay a teacher an equivalent amount. Oh yes, let's also expect an educational outcome too.

$8 X 22 students= $176/hour.

I'll even use Palo Alto Mom's "6 hour day" - I'm a professional, so I will work off the clock when needed.

$176 X 6 hours = $1056
$1056 X 185 days = $195,360.

To those of you who will moan about benefits, and pensions, no problem, let's do, say, $25k for health and $35k for 401k.

I'm ready for my raise!

$140,360.

Thanks for the job. I'm happy and willing to do it for the starting salary of around $50k.


Posted by Wondering Parent, a resident of another community
on Feb 28, 2010 at 9:29 pm

To get back to the original story on budget cuts, as someone who's considering moving (back) to Palo Alto for the high schools, what do you all think of the education at Gunn and Paly, and why have both principals recently resigned? Compared to most other California public high schools, Gunn and Paly seem to be doing well...but maybe that's a myth (and why the principals left?)?


Posted by umm, a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 1, 2010 at 6:15 am

Just to clarify my post and its deletions, the deleted comments in mine were exactly quoted, substituting the word taxpayers for teachers, from the post by the supposed teacher. Yet the teacher's comments remained, and mine were redacted.

I did that on purpose to point out absurdity, but did not expect to get redacted.

Substituting other groups in blanket statements, whether it is about a color, religion, worker section etc, is a good way to point out inconsistent thought.

I am disappointed at the redaction. I expected it would have been clear, since I specifically said I was paraphrasing.


Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 1, 2010 at 8:53 am

Anony Mouse -

With 22 kids, you must be an elementary teacher and since I have kids in elementary, middle and high school, I find that elementary teachers, as a group, put in the most hours by a huge margin. But to differ on your math - not too many people pay their babysitter by the child, so the $8 times 22 kids doesn't make much sense.

I don't think anyone assumes teachers have an easy job. But for a teacher who wants to just coast (and there are quite a few of those once you get to the high school level) there is very little the district can do.

Unions are probably here to stay, I'm hoping tenure is not. I would love to see both merit pay, more money for hard to find teachers (special ed, science, math) and no job guarantees. I would love to see good teachers rewarded for their hard work and "dead wood" teachers either brought up to speed or asked to find another profession/job. Yes, defining success is hard for teachers, but we manage to judge job performance in other professions, why not teaching?


Posted by Be careful what you wish for, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 3, 2010 at 8:36 am

"we manage to judge job performance in other professions, why not teaching?"

And that is the real question: how do you judge teachers? Malcolm Gladwell wrote a very interesting New Yorker article exploring that very question: Web Link

The bottom line is that in order to truly implement a merit based system, it's going to cost a lot more because you're going to have to pay the great teachers more than they make now (to justify the lack of tenure) and you're going to need a lot more teachers (since you will be firing all the bad ones).


Posted by Health Care professional, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 3, 2010 at 4:46 pm

I would happily pay more in taxes if every teacher were merit and supply-demand paid, like me, was at school and "on" 40-50 hours per week like me, starting with 16 days/year of Paid Time Off like me, ( this is holidays, sick, and vacation), working their way up to 26 days of PTO per year over 5 years like me, with the same benefits as I have, which are 1/2 of the teachers'...

As a professional in health care, with a science based degree that takes 5 years between university and professional school, at least on par with any k-12 teacher.

It is very hard to feel sorry for teachers who complain they aren't appreciated and work too much. I can only assume they thought they were going into a field that was 8-3, 9 months per year, but would get the pay and benefits of someone who works 11.5 months per year, 40-50 hours per week.

If that is what they thought, then I can understand the problem.


Posted by Erin, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 3, 2010 at 5:16 pm

I don't think many teachers go into the profession expecting to work short days and not have to supplement their income over the summer. The teachers that I know want to feel like they are making a difference and that they are appreciated. Both of those things are very hard to get as a teacher in Palo Alto. Most of the kids are bright and have lots of help at home. Parents nitpick and second-guess teachers to the extreme here, thinking they can do a better job at home, or their child should be getting a better grade in a class. Teachers seldom get the recognition they deserve.

You might want to equate this again to your for-profit example and you might say that many hard workers don't get the recognition they deserve, but my argument is that teachers deserve it more. These are our children that they are taking under their wings and helping us to prepare for adulthood. What could be anymore important than that?


Posted by Anony Mouse, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 3, 2010 at 9:24 pm

Anony Mouse is a registered user.

Quoting Health Care professional,

"I would happily pay more in taxes if every teacher were merit and supply-demand paid"

Given the number of layoffs in the pipeline across the state, it looks to me like teachers ARE supply-demand paid. Merit pay? We can negotiate that - collectively if you please.


"was at school and "on" 40-50 hours per week like me, starting with 16 days/year of Paid Time Off like me, ( this is holidays, sick, and vacation), working their way up to 26 days of PTO per year over 5 years like me, with the same benefits as I have, which are 1/2 of the teachers'..."

I love the line of argument. So, my pay is based on whatever is less than your pay? Will you REALLY happily pay for me to work year round? I'm game. I would love to teach year-round. It's going to cost you a lot more in taxes. We sort of have a problem in education with unfunded mandates. The teachers end up taking up the slack. But please agitate for this, I'll take the increase in pay.


"It is very hard to feel sorry for teachers who complain they aren't appreciated and work too much. I can only assume they thought they were going into a field that was 8-3, 9 months per year, but would get the pay and benefits of someone who works 11.5 months per year, 40-50 hours per week."

I'm not asking for your sympathy. I'm looking for honesty. It's not an 8-3 job. It can be a thankless job. I know in this environment, the help is supposed to be quiet and take what is given to us (how dare we make more than "Health Care Professional"!) We're just trying to get the best deal for ourselves. Isn't that what America is all about?

HCP - join us, we only work 35 hours a week, 9 months a year and have better benefits. The jobs are plentiful (not)! Just pass the CBEST, CSET, RICA, PACT, Constitution Exam, Background check and complete an accredited credential program.

It really is the best job.


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.







Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 4, 2010 at 10:03 am

Teachers in the district are VERY appreciate by all the parents I know. The PTA and the parents supply financial support from supplies to smart boards, luncheons, staff meeting treats, teacher gifts, etc.

Teachers work hard, but they get paid pretty well. 186 days a year (per their contract). At the starting salary for a teacher, that $280 a day. At the top end of the salary range, its $560 a day. Even if they worked a 10 hour day, thats a range of $28-56 dollars per hour. Pretty good pay. The average worker gets 2 weeks of vacation and 10 paid holidays. That's 260 days a year.


Posted by EcoMama, a resident of Community Center
on Mar 4, 2010 at 10:45 am

It is a damned shame that our children are made to suffer these cuts with their class sizes increasing without the teachers' unions making a single concession. Plenty of people will disagree about class size increases not mattering, but note this: our small classrooms are one of our biggest competitive advantages. As Palo Alto's classrooms approach the same size as Los Altos ones, which are comparably excellent, and one can buy a bigger house on bigger land for less money in Los Altos, whose families will choose to move to Palo Alto? Palo Alto is already known as unfriendly to businesses, and now it's unfriendly to families, too. All because the teachers' unions are really in control.

Silicon Valley may be the home of entrepreneurship, so how about doing some creative thinking, PAUSD? Kick out the unions, forget about tenure, and make sure that our schools remain great by compensating and rewarding teachers for performance and results alone. While you're at it, get rid of costly programs like the immersion ones -- especially as the presence of the Spanish Immersion program alone guaranteed that the district couldn't adopt much-cheaper and proven-effective Singapore Math (there are no Spanish materials, and PAUSD was unwilling to translate). Drop Young 5's as well; let that be privatized, as there are already a number of private programs. And drop Everyday Math, with its costly materials and total disarray. Drop the classroom aides, and use parent volunteers, then the PiE money can go toward offsetting cuts.

I'm a teacher, and I find the state of the PAUSD horrifying. We need someone with balls, here, to make meaningful change. Barb Mitchell exemplifies everything wrong with the situation -- "let's take care of it later, in May or June." Let's oust HER while we're at it.


Posted by Erin, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 4, 2010 at 2:12 pm

I'm not a teacher. My parents were teachers and my brother is a teacher in the district, so I'm very pro-teacher but I can't do that job. No matter how much vacation or dollars per day people break it down to, there is still a reason most people choose not to go into the profession.

As for Barb Mitchell and her suggestion to put the vote off until May or June, I think the board made a very bad call not to back her on that. There is no reason financially that they needed to make that decision on the budget right now. Instead, they made severe cuts to the programs that impact the kids in the most direct way, and they now expect parents to pass the parcel tax. I'm not too keen on approving the parcel tax based on the decisions that were just made. If they had waited on the budget until June, they might still have had to increase class size but at least they might not have made people angry before the vote. I think Barb is the only one on the board still willing to fight for our children and I'm thankful she's not a yes-woman to the superintendent.
For Barb, it's all about the kids.


Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 4, 2010 at 2:59 pm

Not sure if I have my numbers right, but if the parcel tax does not pass, the current one expires. If that happens, we will need to make another 10 million dollars of cuts.


Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 4, 2010 at 2:59 pm

Not sure if I have my numbers right, but if the parcel tax does not pass, the current one expires. If that happens, we will need to make another 10 million dollars of cuts.


Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 4, 2010 at 2:59 pm

Not sure if I have my numbers right, but if the parcel tax does not pass, the current one expires. If that happens, we will need to make another 10 million dollars of cuts.


Posted by Health Care Professional, a resident of Meadow Park
on Mar 4, 2010 at 4:51 pm

To the person who says most people choose not to become teachers..there are more teachers than jobs except in the higher level High School or math and sciences, but even there we have always had plenty of job applicants.. .

At least, it has always been that way in my half century of cognizance.

That tells me there are plenty of people who choose to become teachers.


Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 4, 2010 at 9:07 pm

"severe cuts???"


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 22, 2010 at 5:34 pm

CA teachers salaries for 2009 are at
Web Link

PAUSD Budget Book 2009-2010:
Web Link

For 2009 PAUSD had 738.92 FTEs. Lowest pay=$51,422, average pay=$83,994, highest pay=$103,836. (Remember, teachers work about 186 days/year.)

About 86% of the school budget goes to salaries & benefits.

Teaching staff has grown disproportionately to enrollment, with an average salary increase of about 6% a year:

1994-95: teachers=478, enrollment=8274, avg teacher salary=$47.9K, prop tax=$8.5B.

2009-10: teachers=811, enrollment=11431, avg teacher salary=$86.6K, prop tax=$23.9B.

% increase: teachers 69.7%, enrollment 38.2%, salary 81%, prop tax 177%


Posted by Erin, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jul 28, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Pat -
Your disproportionate increase in teacher to student ratio between 94/95 and 09/10 can easily be explained by the class-size reduction program put into place in California in 1996 for Kindergarten through third grade, which capped class-size at 20 students per class. Palo Alto went beyond that with a parcel tax that included money to pay for class size reduction in fourth and fifth grades as well. This meant that class sizes of over 30 went to 20 or below. Class sizes have just started to creep back up above 20 as enrollment has started to rise again at certain schools.


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