Palo Alto Weekly

News - June 15, 2012

News Digest

School official: state funding down by two-thirds

State funding of Palo Alto schools has dropped by more than two-thirds in the past three years, a school budget official told the Board of Education Tuesday, June 12.

As budget woes deepened in Sacramento, locally raised funds such as the parcel tax and parent contributions have assumed increasing importance, Chief Business Official Cathy Mak said.

State funding of Palo Alto schools now stands at a little more than $5 million out of Palo Alto's roughly $160 million operating budget — down from $17 million three years ago, Mak said.

In the same period, local parcel-tax revenue has grown from $9.3 million to nearly $12 million, and contributions from the independent parent-led foundation Palo Alto Partners in Education have nearly doubled, coming in this year at $4.4 million.

Mak proposed a 2012-13 school district operating budget of $163.2 million, using reserve funds to make up for a $5.5 million shortfall in revenue.

Mak's proposal assumes failure of Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed tax package on this November's ballot — and thus a $5.3 million so-called "fair-share" hit to Palo Alto — as well as a 2 percent growth in local property-tax revenue.

With 70 percent of its revenue coming from property taxes, Palo Alto does not receive funds based on student headcount. Recent enrollment growth has meant a 10 percent drop in revenue per student over the past four years, excluding funds donated by Palo Alto Partners in Education and the PTA, Mak said.

The proposed 2012-13 budget will return to the board in late June for approval.

Palo Alto looks to 'Friends' group for budget help

Faced with growing expenditures and persistent budget deficits, Palo Alto is increasingly looking to volunteers and community organizations for help to balance the books and preserve existing services.

The trend has become more prominent since 2010, when the City Council considered sharply raising fees in the Children's Theatre but reconsidered after the group Friends of the Children's Theatre offered to raise money to prevent the fee hikes. This year, the city once again considered a series of unpopular proposals, including outsourcing animal services and sharply raising fees for community gardens, lawn bowling and studios at Cubberley Community Center. Each of these ideas was either scrapped or scaled back after volunteers and users of these services agreed to chip in.

The proposals, which the City Council discussed Monday night, June 11, were all part of City Manager James Keene's proposed budget for fiscal year 2013, which begins July 1. The council held its first of two meetings on the proposed budget Monday and is expected to adopt a budget on June 18. But the council made clear that the most controversial cuts in the proposed budget — most notably outsourcing of animal services — will not be put into effect this year. Instead, the council is looking to animal-shelter volunteers, lawn bowlers and Cubberley artists to work with the city on keeping these services financially sustainable.

The budget still includes a host of fee increases, including ones for gardeners, lawn bowlers and Cubberley tenants, but these changes are far less dramatic than were initially proposed. The rate for renting a plot at a community gardens is now set to go up from 50 cents per square foot to 62 cents per square foot, not $1 per square foot. And the city also agreed to reduce the proposed revenue increase from Cubberley artists by $17,500 after artists pledged to work more closely with the Palo Alto Art Center.

Volunteers are also poised to play a major role in the future of the city's Animal Services Center. Dozens of animal advocates banded to protest the cuts, in the process forming a new grassroots group called "Save our Shelter." After hearing from members of the new group, the council's Finance Committee and its Policy and Services Committee each agreed to keep the shelter open. But the budget challenge remains.

Woman, 73, beaten after teen asks for cigarette

A 73-year-old woman out for a walk Monday night, June 11, in Menlo Park was beaten by a teenage boy after he asked for a cigarette and she said she didn't have one, police said.

As the woman walked along the 200 block of Lexington Drive around 9 p.m., the boy rode up on a bicycle and asked for a cigarette. After saying she didn't have any, she told him he looked too young and healthy to smoke, according to police.

The boy rode away but returned a short time later. He punched the woman in the back and face, knocking her to the ground, and fled on his bike.

A couple of residents heard the woman yell and ran to help her, police said. She did not need to be taken to a hospital.

The victim described her assailant as Hispanic, about 16 years old, with a medium build and no taller than 6 feet. He wore a dark baseball cap, two-toned dark jacket and jeans, according to the police report.

— Sandy Brundage

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