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School board: Fight 'devastating' state $$ cuts

Original post made on Feb 13, 2008

The community should protest "devastating, unprecedented" state budget cuts that could take $1 million from Palo Alto schools and $4.4 billion from schools statewide, the school board urged Tuesday night -- then it did so.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, February 13, 2008, 12:38 AM

Comments (29)

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 13, 2008 at 10:39 am

This is a very interesting article.

The first sentence seems to imply that the School Board are asking us, the community, to help them by protesting budget cuts.

I agree that the budget cuts should be protested by both the BoE and the community, but what I find interesting is that they are asking us for help.

This seems really interesting, is this Skelly or Tom at the helm. I like the idea of the BoE and community coming together on something like this, but in Palo Alto this is unusual. The demi-gods at Churchill usually feel themselves to not need approval or help from the community at large when it comes to making decisions. But, when there is money needed, either by Bonds or making protests, they urge us to help in the cause.

I hope that this is an indication of the type of leadership we have. Otherwise, maybe I am just being too cynical.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 13, 2008 at 11:23 am

How are they getting McKinsey to work pro bono on the strategic plan? Sounds like a connection somewhere. Is there a McKinsey consultant whose a district parent who's sick of the mess?

That state budget--what a mess.

Posted by runner, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 13, 2008 at 1:58 pm

The $900,000 that would be lost by Palo Alto could be easily made up by firing 5 or 6 administrators.

Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 13, 2008 at 2:32 pm

This is typical of the "sky is falling" chicken little crowd. The state of California, foolishly, demanded 20 students per classroom in grades 1-3. That is ridiculous. It was well known at the time that such a move would cause a budget crsis down the road. Here we are.

The solution is not more taxes, not protests, not blaming the Guv. We can simply go back to 28-30 kids per class. My kids were educated in that environment, and did pretty well.

Crocodile tears will not work this time.

Posted by Smaller is better, a resident of Escondido School
on Feb 13, 2008 at 3:09 pm

Sorry, John. I've experienced the 28-30 kids per class and the 20 per class. There IS a difference. My oldest survived the 28-classmates experience; my youngest is thriving with 19.

Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 13, 2008 at 4:36 pm


Imagine how much better your youngest would do with 10? Why not?...just do it, and let the chips fall where they may.

On the other hand, perhaps parents like yourself could grow up and quit demanding the impossible.

Posted by Grandma, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 13, 2008 at 4:41 pm

John and Smaller is better: You need to split the difference. How about no more than 25 per class. My kids did just fine in classrooms of 25 or more. One is a Manager for GOOGLE and the other is a Senior Physicist with NASA.

Posted by McK?, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 13, 2008 at 4:53 pm

This will be interesting - pro-bono McKinsey-ites.

Not sure what that's going to look like. Usually a big consulting firm (I was at two) has some industry expertise that gives them a perspective leg up - otherwise you spend the whole project figuring out the conventional wisdom. Not sure what McK has in terms of local school district expertise.

Also not sure what kind of team you get. At my firms, we treated pro-bono has largely a recruiting/retention program, we'd have the juniors cut their teeth on them with momentary oversight from partners. Which was ok for really needy groups that couldn't think straight - not sure how useful for PAUSD.

My guess is that Skelly already knows what his "answer" is and is looking for resources to validate it with lots of data and slides, to get everyone on board. Which is why consulting firms often get hired in big companies, too. That would be fine - so long as we like his ideas ;-)

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 13, 2008 at 4:59 pm

Kevin Skelly is a totally different Superintendent then MFC. Hence the "in Palo Alto this is unusual. The demi-gods at Churchill usually feel themselves to not need approval or help from the community at large when it comes to making decisions. "

He's not a demi-god or a diva, just a hardworking, intelligent man, who promotes community building. He's also a parent with kids in the district. That said, he is clearly in charge of the District.

Posted by chris, a resident of University South
on Feb 13, 2008 at 6:40 pm

Protesting the state cuts is fine, but who do they propose will absorb the cuts that the schools want to avoid? The alternative proposed will have a big impact on the chances of success.

Posted by a mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 13, 2008 at 10:04 pm

All of you who trudged to school 12 miles in the snow and want to up the number of kids per classroom need to remember that in those days, there was more staffing per room, usually a teacher and a full-time aide. That's a better instructor to student ratio than today with 20.

I'm not sure with health care and benefits that the savings are really what you think they are if we went back to more students AND more staffing. If the issue is space, what's the problem? We must have a lot of space if adding special new programs for a handful of parents is "cost neutral."

Posted by Frank, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 14, 2008 at 8:18 am

re McKinsey - a quick trawl on Google finds them advising a number of school districts over the last few years - NYC, Cincinati, Seattle. they also published something comparing best practice at top school systms worldwide. who'd have thunk?

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 14, 2008 at 8:55 am

My college age daughter started kindergarten with 28 in her class. Her teacher had an almost full time aide plus a couple of parent volunteers. They spent a great deal of their time playing constructively, but little time actually learning to read or write. Even in 1st grade, she spent a lot of time playing. Now the lower grades are expected to do academics, do homework, and the teachers are constantly testing their reading, math, etc. They have aides for very little of the time and it is harder for them to get one volunteer in the classroom at a time let alone two.

For those who remember their kids having 28 in the class, remember what they did for homework, what the expectations for them were and it was the experience in kindergarten mattered (like learning to share and take turns). My daughter even had 20 minutes each day "resting" on a towel from home with a stuffed animal while the lights were out and quiet music played.

Nowadays kindergarten is like 2nd grade, and 2nd grade is like 4th, with the higher elementary grades gearing up for middle school.

Making the classrooms back to 28 students would definitely put a lot more pressure on the teachers and the kids who need more one on one attention would definitely lose out.

Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 14, 2008 at 12:51 pm

All this whining about the 28 kids/room deal! My kids all had at least that number, with no aides. Yes, there were some volunteer parents on occasion, but no professional aides. Every now and then an outside person would come in to tell stories or sing songs.

My kids learned to read, do arithmetic, spell, etc. They ended up doing quite well on SATs, college, etc. They never had a private tutor, and niether my wife nor I interferred with their homework assignments...we simply insisted that they do their work, and we did not check on its accuracy. Oh, and they WALKED down the street to their neighborhood school (imagine that!?).

When I was in school, in a poor school district, there were never fewer than 30 kids per class. Yet, we all learned to read, spell, write, figure out various levels of math, including calculus (for the better students), etc.

The main issue I detect, among the whiners, is that they are afraid to allow their kids to FAIL, occasionally. Thus they buy into the pressure to excel at very early ages. This leads to absurdieties like demanding 20 kids/room.

Palo Alto was a better and more progressive place, before the 20 kids mandate arrived.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 14, 2008 at 11:55 pm

I was talking to a indie school head a few weeks ago who told me that the research showed that if you have more than 16 students, the time spent on educating starts to drop and the time spent on classroom goes up (and up and up).

I was in those large baby-boom classes. And what Parent says is right, the demands of the curriculum were much less than they were today. Meanwhile, kids with learning disabilities were simply considered slow and kind of floundered along. It was in many ways a miserable and counterproductive experience.

Your kids may have done fine, but for a lot of kids, large classes meant falling through the cracks.

Posted by Smaller is better, a resident of Escondido School
on Feb 15, 2008 at 12:25 am

"On the other hand, perhaps parents like yourself could grow up and quit demanding the impossible."
What do you mean by "parents like yourself"? You stated that your kids did pretty well with 28-30 classmates, and I stated that I saw a difference with 28 vs. 20 students. I made no demands. I didn't state my position on what a reasonable class size would be, balancing student/teacher experience and budget expense. I merely made a counter-statement to yours that in my experience, there IS a difference.

Your reading between the lines (mine and what others have written) and suggesting that I "could grow up" demonstrates a dogmatic position and a jouvenile way of communicating it. Labeling anyone who expresses a different opinion from yours a "whiner" confirms it.

Posted by Educator, a resident of another community
on Feb 16, 2008 at 8:31 pm


Anyone who has studied education and learning knows that smaller teacher to student ratios lead to better learning and healthier environments for students and teachers. The problem is not a lack of funds, it's a lack of priorities. Spending trillions on the military and in the Middle East to bomb innocent people back to the stone age to keep oil flowing to the military and the oil corporations is the primary cause of this deficit.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 16, 2008 at 8:39 pm

Private schools supposedly have the money and are able to keep the classes small. They can also pick and choose their students to a certain account. They also tend to do extremely well with where their students end up.

They know the benefit of smaller classes and those with money pay for private schools knowing that the classes are smaller and their kids will get more one on one time.

Try getting a private school to increase class size and there would be a riot from the parents. Most public schools have a lot less leverage, but increase the class size in PAUSD and there would be an equal riot.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 17, 2008 at 9:09 am

based on our growing enrollment and limit schools, increasing class size in PAUSD is inevitable even without the budget cuts

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 17, 2008 at 11:37 am

Educator -

I thought studies showed rather clearly that (statistically) class size doesn't impact learning, but school size impacts it rather dramatically.

Yes, teachers all want smaller class sizes. Parents want smaller class sizes. But as far as I know, studies don't show that they lead to better education.

What studies show that smaller class sizes help students learn better?

Posted by yet another parent, a resident of Escondido School
on Feb 18, 2008 at 5:10 am

"What studies show that smaller class sizes help students learn better?"

Well, there's Wisconsin SAGE; Burke County, NC; and, most notably, Tennessee's Project STAR and Project Challenge which are frequently cited and considered landmark research on class size.

Although most researchers who analyze the various studies agree that there's a relationship between smaller classes and increased student achievement, they disagree on how to interpret the results.

Read "Reducing Class Size, What Do We Know?" for a balanced report which cites both sides of the argument Web Link. "Not all the questions about the impact of class size reductions have been answered, nor have all the debates been settled. Overall, however, the pattern of research findings points more and more clearly toward the beneficial effects of reducing class size."

Tennessee's Project Star (Student-Teacher Achievement Ratio) study is considered one of the more comprehensive, respected studies. The above link has an overview of it along with other studies, or you can search using those terms.

Some notable conclusions from that link:
"The evidence from student testing in STAR showed that the students in the smaller classes outperformed the students in the larger classes, whether or not the larger class teachers had an aide helping them."

A follow-up "Lasting Benefits Study" found that "At least through eighth grade, a decreasing but still significant higher academic achievement level for the students from the smaller classes persists."

There's another interesting article at the same website titled, "Class-Size Reduction Myths and Realities" Web Link.

A semi-skeptical interpretation of Project Star results is at American Education Research Association's website Web Link. This one is a glossy overview of what conditions are best for class size reduction to have maximum effect (PAUSD doesn't fit the ideal profile), and it touches on the reality of best use of scarce resources.

This brings us back to Educator's point – if the state & country would place a higher value on education through their budget priorities, scarce resources in the classroom would be less of an issue.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 19, 2008 at 4:01 pm

Yet another,

Interesting reading, thanks. It's always made intuitive sense to me--nice to see the whys and wherefores. It would seem to me that the smaller classes matter most in the lower grades because that's when kids are establishing habits of learning (or not learning). Disadvantaged kids are less likely to have parents with good learning habits, so school is where they're going to pick them up if at all.

So, anonymous mentioned about school size impact. Anyone know those studies?

Posted by yet another parent, a resident of Escondido School
on Feb 19, 2008 at 10:41 pm

Sure. Check the research of Kathleen Cotton (School Size, School Climate, and Student Performance) or Mary Anne Raywid (Educational Leadership). "After analyzing 69 separate studies, Cotton found that small schools exhibit more positive student attitudes and social behavior; better attendance; lower dropout rates; greater parental involvement; and higher participation in extracurricular activities." Raywid found that "size had more influence on student achievement than any other factor controllable by educators; and youngsters—especially disadvantaged ones—learn more in math, reading, history, and science in small schools than in large ones."

Here's an informative article Web Link from titled, "Are small schools better? School Size Considerations for Safety & Learning".

"No agreement exists on optimal school size, but research reviews suggest a maximum of 300-400 students for elementary schools and 400-800 for secondary schools. In general, studies focused on social and emotional aspects of success conclude that no school should be larger than 500, while those looking primarily at test scores say that somewhat larger is still effective, especially for more affluent students."

Another abundant source of information is the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities. This Web Link page has an extensive list (hundreds!) of articles, research & studies all related to school size. There seems to be more research coverage for high schools, districts with high poverty rates and rural schools.

Happy reading!

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 19, 2008 at 11:04 pm

Thanks YAP,

Ummm, so just why is it the board seems to have let our schools expand and expand before bothering to open up an elementary?

And as for the attempt to turn the large elementary campuses into mega-schools . . .

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 20, 2008 at 4:22 pm

It is very unlikely that we will open up another elementary school at this time - much more likely that we will see class sizes grow by 1-5 kids per class.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 20, 2008 at 11:49 pm


They're opening Garland, I'd think that would offset the class expansion issue for a bit.

Posted by warning to "educator", a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 11, 2008 at 7:38 am

Educator, whatever you teach, keep your ignorance about what we are doing in the middle east, how much it is costing, and how that does or does not impact our spending on education to yourself, and stick with your subject, ok?

"bombing them back to the stone age" and "spending trillions" ..honestly. It is that kind of non-thinking which causes folks to want to cut all funding to public schools to stop the indoctrination of our kids.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 11, 2008 at 4:40 pm

They are opening Garland but not necessarily as an elementary school. It may also be used as temp space as a school is being remodeled/updated (similar to when Nixon and Terman we under construction)

Posted by Caught sleeping, a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 28, 2008 at 1:48 pm

As long as the BOE is fighting budget cuts, are they also prepared to fight the land grab resulting from proposed High Speed Rail? It will likely have a big impact on Paly High, for one. The BOE might want to rethink plans for improvements to the fields, for example. There's an informative discussion on another thread titled: Caltrain improvements may come soon because of High Speed Rail.

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