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District analyzing 'surprise' $201,418 grant

Original post made on Jun 19, 2007

A "surprise" $201,418 grant to help institute a Mandarin immersion program in Palo Alto elementary schools is being analyzed by district officials to see the district can still meet its terms. The district applied for but narrowly missed qualifying for the grant a year ago.

Related material:
  • Abstract of original language-grant application

    Read the full story here Web Link
  • Comments (26)

     +   Like this comment
    Posted by parent
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Jun 19, 2007 at 9:17 am

    The district NEVER was going to be complying with the terms of the grant, because the grant was written for a hugely overblown program that never was discussed, intended, or even imagined by the board even under the original PACE proposal or any time over the past five years.

    The grant proposal was written to present the MI program to the Federal government as if it was already in existence - in other words as if PAUSD was already committing their OWN investment dollars to this program, as if it currently included a K-12 rollout (including 4-6 middle school classrooms, which the board specifically has said all along were NOT under discussion or on the table). The MI program the board agreed to study for feasibility was specifically limited to a K-5 program ONLY when the board originally gave the approval to allow the grant application to proceed.

    None the less, Staff invented a wildly over the top program for the grant application that included massive technology expenditures (digital cameras, computers, chinese language software, ipods for all students), many incremental overhead positions (such as program directors, curriculum specialists, TOSAs, administrative assistant, 1 aid per classroom, and more), custom developed language assessments, and more. Why?

    In the Kindergarten year, that grant shows the program would run at $855K per year, when nothing more than $175K per year MAX, was available from this FLAP grant funding. This is only the Kinder year. By the 5th grade year, this would grow to a $2.7M per year program as written in the grant.

    And the terms of the grant state specifically that the grant application becomes the district's binding committment to the federal government if the money is accepted.

    If someone in the district accepts this grant will they be ignoring the vote of the board, and making a binding committment to a huge MI investment to the federal government, that has been specifically NOT approved?

    The board must tell the public now whether or not this grant money can be accepted under the terms of the grant WHILE keeping with the limited scope of the MI program they've approved.



     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Grace Mah
    a resident of Midtown
    on Jun 19, 2007 at 10:15 am

    Parent,

    You haven't read the details of the grant and budget correctly.

    1. The middle school component is not MI. The middle school program is the natural and planned expansion of Mandarin as a world language elective in the middle school, to match with the high school Mandarin offerings, culminating in AP Chinese.

    2. MI in middle school has not been decided, as you've correctly stated. And MI in middle school is not part of the FLAP grant application.

    3. Technology costs are $52K for two classrooms. I'd hardly call that massive. I would image that many of those resources will be shared with the rest of the school, although I can't speak for the staff and teachers who will be using the equipment.

    4. The supplies request is for $22K for elementary, middle school, and high school software, not just for MI. Sign your kids up to learn Mandarin at all school levels, and you'll get to use these resources.

    5. The personnel request is for a total .6 FTE split among three people. Surely you don't think .6 of a full time equivalent is wildly over the top. .1 for internal assessment, .3 for curriculum coordinator, .2 for clerical support. There is no request for aides in this grant award.

    6. I'm not sure where you got the $855K figure. Are you looking in the right column of the budget? The figure I see is $817K, and that includes all the teacher salaries which the district is paying (not paid by the grant). Did you see that Year 2 is on a separate page from Year 1? Year 2 is the "kindergarten year", although the budget includes the middle and high school Mandarin materials, too. And the grant request for Year 2 is just under $280K.

    7. The grant application only budgets out three years (it's a three year renewable grant). I don't know where you get your $2.7M per year figure. The total 3-yr grant budget is less than $2.5M, and that includes PAUSD salaries that PAUSD will pay, not funded by the grant application. The grant request is $764K while PAUSD pays $1.7M. Surely you're not mixing your numbers up and extending beyond the grant period.

    8. Since Dr. Cook hasn't seen the terms of the grant award, I don't think you're reading the federal government's mail or minds - or are you? As she stated, we'll see how much flexibility the grant award requirements allow since the grant was applied for last year, and things have changed since then. What's your rush to have the board "tell the public now", before they know the details of the award?

    Take a breath and we'll find out in due time.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by parent
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Jun 19, 2007 at 10:53 am

    Because the program doesn't stop in year three, extrapolate out what the total cost of the program will be by 5th grade year. Yes I am extending out the cost of the program beyond year three because the program will exist beyond year three even though the grant wont. Its a financial committment for PAUSD. Plain and simple and something you very well understand. Just because you didn't have to put it on the piece of paper submitted to the government doesn't mean the financial committment isn't there.

    52K per 2 classrooms, that's year one for 2 kinder classrooms (as per the grant). But you know very well that in year two the grant says you have 4 classrooms. Are you suggesting you buy only technology for kinders, and no other grades get or need technology? No, you realize very well that each two classrooms brought on board need similar technology investment. You state the 52K as if its a one time expenditure and in fact it is yearly recurring to ramp up the K-5 program. Same with supplies.

    Specifically you had .1 (or more) of each of the following:
    Mandarin Curriculum Coordinator
    Project Director
    Instructional Supervisor
    Mandarin Specialist TOSA
    Clerical Support
    Internal Assessment Director
    plus you included Consulting for assessment development

    Regardless of the percentages of people and how many FTE this adds to, or how big or little you think this technology investment is (or when it stops), how many of these were in the feasibility study???? Zero. Zero have been approved by the board. So the grant is false. And by the way, when did the board approve Mandarin in the middle schools in any way shape or form? And when did they discuss and approve Parent Education?

    "Lets just wait and see" translates into lets let this fly under the radar so we can quietly take advantage of this money. No, thank you. I prefer to have the board discuss this transparently, keep PAUSD free from a binding committment that we are NOT willing to make, and let the public know what they plan to do about this.

    By the way, you don't have to wait to see the terms of the Grant award, you can look at it online in the Goverment's FLAP grant website you can find the statement that says the grant application becomes a binding comittment condition of acceptance.

    Grace, it would be most helpful if you could post a link to the grant application so that people could read it for themselves rather than having to take your or my word for it. I only have a hard copy.




     +   Like this comment
    Posted by parent
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Jun 19, 2007 at 11:07 am

    Also, the grant requires that the district invest 50% of its own matching monies in the program.

    The way its written, and the way you describe it above, the district wrote this grant so that teachers salaries, which they'll be paying for anyway even without MI, are the PAUSD matching funds.

    Or are you suggesting that PAUSD is going to make an actual $200K investment matching the $200K grant award?

    Or are we just going to have teachers show up and call that an investment in MI?


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Grace Mah
    a resident of Palo Verde
    on Jun 19, 2007 at 11:34 am

    Here's more information about this year's FLAP awards:

    Web Link


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Grace Mah
    a resident of Palo Verde
    on Jun 19, 2007 at 11:40 am

    Sorry, Parent, your posting's attitude is too antagonistic for me. If you want to talk about the grant in person, email me from my website:

    www.geocities.com/PACEforKids

    We can have a moderator facilitate our discussion, perhaps from the PA Mediation Program, or even Jack Hamilton who moderated the school district's town hall. Did you think he did a good job?

    The current approved MI program is for a three year pilot. The grant application is for three years. The feds are only awarding us one year's money. They are not committed to fund the other two years.

    In writing the grant, of which I had some input, but not full contribution, the staff carefully asked for things which are not essentials (like committing to teacher salaries) and could be dropped after the grant award runs out (afte one year, after three years). That's why PAUSD's matching funding is largely the salaries that they would be paying anyway. The federal government is largely supplying technology, supplies, one-time curriculum development, professional assessment by an outside organization, etc. All of these are nice haves, not musts.

    The technology may not be purchased every year of the program beyond the 3-yr pilot. That's not a given, althouth you're being generous with someone else's money. There's not a sense of entitlement that you perceive. What's purchased through grant money is a windfall, and we are grateful for what it can buy for the Mandarin programs at all levels.

    The feasibility study did not count on the grant - now THAT would have been presumptuous. The feasibility study said what was feasible for an MI program. Do you not understand the different intentions of each document? The grant application was for supplementary funding to support the Mandarin programs all through the district.

    From the grant application FAQ:
    "An applicant must establish, improve or expand foreign language learning primarily during the traditional school day within kindergarten through grade 12 by exclusively teaching one or more of the following less commonly taught languages: Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Russian, and languages in the Indic, Iranian, and Turkic language families."

    Sorry that you're not patient enough to get the facts before jumping to conclusions, but you have a pattern of that. I said to wait for the details of the award to come out before jumping all over the way the money should be spent (or declining the money, as you seem to suggest).

    Like I said, I don't appreciate this blog communications and would welcome some sincere constructive discussion, preferably in person.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Fred
    a resident of Barron Park
    on Jun 19, 2007 at 1:26 pm

    Grace, thanks for keeping the tone high (though you did throw in a little dig at the end). While we clearly do not all agree on the issues, we can at least agree to try to have constructive discussions!


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by technophobe
    a resident of Esther Clark Park
    on Jun 19, 2007 at 1:37 pm

    Yes, I like the "high tone" as well...

    Sorry that you're not patient enough to get the facts before jumping to conclusions, but you have a pattern of that.
    ...
    I don't appreciate this blog communications


    Yes, I can see that you don't appreciate discussion forums (haven't seen your blog, can you post a link?)


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by yet another parent
    a resident of Escondido School
    on Jun 19, 2007 at 1:51 pm

    "You haven't read the details of the grant and budget correctly."
    Grace,
    Where can we read the details? It'd be helpful if there were an online link to the application - is there one? Thanks.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by parent
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Jun 19, 2007 at 2:17 pm

    The grant as written describes an MI program of size and scope in PAUSD which has not been approve in that size and scope. The Grant MI program doesn't exist and won't exist as describe in the grant. The grant contains several elements and components that are not approved by the BOE.

    For example, The BOE specifically stated that the technology for the MI program can not exceed technology in other standard PAUSD programs. So not only can the grant described technology not be purchased after year three, it can also not be purchased DURING years 1,2 or 3 either, according to the comments made by board. This is inconsistent to the grant presentation which incorrectly claims this technology investment is an accepted integral part of our PAUSD MI program.

    The BOE also specifically said multiple times, after multiple questioning of Marilyn and Becky that they were not studying or approving middle school component, and likely wouldn't approve it even in the future -yet the grant presents the program (also reiterated in the extract summary in the link above) as if this IS an approved K-12 program to be serving over 500 secondary students. False.

    The grant also describes many layers of management, mandarin expertise and program development headcount resources (detailed above), which are simply not approved by the BOE, never even mentioned in the feasibility study which they used as the basis for approving the program.

    I understand the difference between the feasibililty study and the grant. The feasibily study is the version of the program that the BOE approved. The Grant is not.

    So pointing out what is in, and not in, the feasibility study is completely relevent. The feasibility study is more than a hypothetical document of what MI could be - it is the version of reality that the board approved. But on the other hand, you have received grant money on the basis of a large scale MI program that was never approved, a hypothetical non-reality.

    Further examples: There has never been board discussion (let alone approval), of parent education component. This is in the grant and clearly part of the promise as articulated in the governmetn's extract summary.

    And there has been no discussion whatsoever of development or ongoing costs of assessment, although assessment of the program will be required for evaluation, no costs or staff time for assessment are included in the feasibility study. No approval for such an undertaking has ever occured.

    Because the grant was written in such a fabulously rich way, might the granting agency be led to believe that PAUSD investment in this program goes well beyond a few teachers they would have paid anyway?

    For example, if the year two program cost in the grant was 817K (I'll use your number to avoid argument), and the teacher cost component was 458K, that means the non-teacher cost in year two was $359K. (817-458 = 359)

    The grant application max amount known available was $175K, that would mean that PAUSD would be investing 184K of their own non-teacher realted funding in year two (359-175 - 184K).

    *Note: I realize PAUSD said they wanted more than the max 175K, even though they knew only $175K was the max. In fact they asked for $279K. This doesn't change the amount they said would be spent in year two, so with a built in shortfall in grant dollars, PAUSD would be on the line for the remainder.

    This is no where near the amount of PAUSD Funding that has been approved for the REAL MI program as outlined in the feasibility study. Even if you take $200K of the government's money, PAUSD will be investing ZERO of its own dollars beyond teachers. We are investing zero of PAUSD money beyond teachers in the version of the MI program that is approved. Any incrementals are covered by someone or some organization other than PAUSD and are at $10K per classroom, far less than the program described to the federal government.

    If you disagree with the statements made about the grant it would be most helpful for both of us and anyone else reading this if you would post a link to the actual grant application which would quickly clear up any misunderstandings.

    I favor transparency, as I'm sure you must as well being a politician representing this district.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by 100th Parent
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Jun 19, 2007 at 3:07 pm

    The bottom line is that if PAUSD accepts this grant, PAUSD is committing to doing all it said it would do in the grant proposal. Everything from k-12 (in Mandarin )that the Grant proposes.

    Nothing beyond a simple, "cost-neutral" k-5 MI program has been discussed, let alone approved, by our Board, before or since the grant was submitted, so forcing through anything beyond the "cost-neutral" MI by accepting Grant funding that presumes we are going to do what the Grant says we are going to do with the money is ..extremely presumptuous, at the least.

    The grant proposal should have stuck to what the Board approved, and we wouldn't be in this quandary at this point. Another lesson learned by our Staff, perhaps.

    How about not accepting the Grant for the purposes in the Grant proposal, sticking with the "cost-neutral" option approved by the Board, and re-submitting a grant proposal for what is NOT cost neutral to our district and for which we could use the money...foreign language instruction for all? That would be the honest way to go about this, once which, I believe, most of us could support with "matching" District Funds.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by James
    a resident of Meadow Park
    on Jun 19, 2007 at 4:21 pm

    "Sign your kids up to learn Mandarin at all school levels, and you'll get to use these resources."

    Grace

    What if we sign our kids up for Mandarin but are denied access because we did not make the cut?

    Then how are we able to use those resources?


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by parent
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Jun 20, 2007 at 8:48 am

    "The current approved MI program is for a three year pilot. The grant application is for three years."

    That's a coincidence. The grant was not written for three years because the program is a year three pilot. The grant was written for three years because that was the max term of the grant available.

    The program described in the grant application is an 'existing' K-12 program, that is in implementation phase. It is not stated to be in feasibilty study stage as yet unapproved (which is WAS at the time of the grant), nor in Pilot phase, or anything else temporary.

    For all the government knows, PAUSD is committed to backing the entirety of the program that is described in the grant with their own funding - a major committment to making it work if indeed we were investing these types of resources. Which in turn makes a grant on this program a good use of government resources, low risk. But as you mention, we are not yet committed to it, we are only in pilot phase, and the program as approved is only 1/2 the size as described. Plus we have no location committment for it in 3 years. The grant is a wholly inaccurate portrayal of what is actually occuring here now with this program.

    So what should have been describe in the grant was the accurate situation, and perhaps the government would have (or would not have) still granted that money:

    A three year pilot, K-3 one strand, mix grade level classrooms. Will test the never been tried, never been studied Ohlone Way method of instructions for Mandarin. No PAUSD investment will be made except for normal per pupil spending (teachers, standard student material spending, normal district overhead). No program managmeent, curriculum specialists, will be required for this program, all services will be provided by existing non-mandarin speaking staff. Incremental start up funding, including MI materials development will amount to no more than $10K per classroom, funded by parent donations, and/or free stuff from China. No other incremental resources will be used (Grant Agency - if you give us $200K we will use it on these items we would otherwise not have...(insert list here). At the end of year three the program will be evaluated to determine if it is shown to be delivering students at grade level results for English, and also testing proficient at grade level in Mandarin, and also operating cost neutrally, and PAUSD will also figure out at that time if the district can find a suitable location that will not displace any neighborhood students.

    Why wasn't the grant written like this? Maybe that would create a hoaky picture that the grant agency wouldn't much like.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by confused again
    a resident of Midtown
    on Jun 22, 2007 at 10:44 am

    wait... I thought MI was cost neutral... why is kinder going to cost $855,000? I am so confused.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by still watching
    a resident of Greenmeadow
    on Jun 22, 2007 at 10:50 am

    PACE -- why did you do this to our schools? We are trying so hard to educate the most kids the best we can and then you forced us to deal with this special interest program that will benefit maybe 100 kids in 5 years compared to our district of how many kids... You ripped time from our overall plans and goals. You forced the entire school district to pay attention to your whine about racism and fairness. Is this what you intended?


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by parent
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Jun 22, 2007 at 11:05 am

    Why indeed. A keen sense of self-absorbed entitlement and 'because they can'.

    Its funny that they are the first to say they moved to Palo Alto for the excellent schools, yet once they get here, the schools aren't customized enough, specialized enough, so they need to force their own personal tastes on the entire community.

    Like buying the Mona Lisa and painting over the face because you don't like the smile.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by OhlonePar
    a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
    on Jun 22, 2007 at 11:28 am

    Hmmm, I really do have to wonder about the ethics of a certain public official at this point.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by yet another parent
    a resident of Escondido School
    on Jun 23, 2007 at 4:01 pm

    To Susan Hong,
    "The application was originally proposed by Palo Altans for Chinese Education (PACE) in April of 2006. The district later adopted the proposal. (The original PACE proposal starts on page 54 in the April 25, 2006 board materials which can be found at www.pausd.org"

    The link to those materials doesn't work. I believe it's because the final punctuation is included in the hyperlink. Is this something the webmaster can fix? In the meantime, here's the link: Web Link

    Your paragraph is misleading: the proposal you write about above is not the grant application to the government but rather the MI proposal to the district.

    On page 61 of the April 25, 2006 board materials there is a link to the Dept of Ed's detailed FLAP grant description and application rules. It's an old link - ed.gov has redesigned their website since then. Here's an updated link: Web Link. If it doesn't work, follow the directions and paste the link into the search box and it'll bring you to the correct page with an even better pdf link.

    Any chance the Palo Alto Weekly can do some investigative reporting on who submitted the grant? Grace Mah wrote, "In writing the grant, of which I had some input, but not full contribution, the staff carefully asked for things..." Who were the other authors? And...where is the grant application??

    Thanks!


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by Well?
    a resident of Fairmeadow
    on Jun 25, 2007 at 8:50 am

    I have yet to see Grace Mah adress the questions above about her determination to dump her special agenda on our community. Since her position is inexcusable and indefensible, there is nothing she can say except to pull out the racisim card. Shame on you.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by parent
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Jun 25, 2007 at 9:19 am

    Marilyn Cook was in charge of the grant application writing. She had significant help from Grace Mah (hundreds of hours), and some others (not sure who all those others were but I have a fair guess that it included Irv Rollins, Becky Cohn Vargas, perhaps Norm Masuda).

    Marilyn would be the one to ask for sure; mcook@pausd.org


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by yet another parent
    a resident of Escondido School
    on Jun 26, 2007 at 12:16 am

    Thanks for the info, parent. I asked Marilyn Cook where I could access the application and she said that for 5 cents a page they'd copy it and make it available for pick up.

    She also wrote that the grant proposal that was submitted no longer reflects our current status, (hmmm, was it an accurate reflection when it was submitted?) and that they're in the process of finding out what kind of flexibility the District might have in modifying the proposal.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by parent
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Jun 26, 2007 at 1:25 pm

    Thanks Yet Another Parent for taking the time to check with Marilyn Cook on this. I hope a few parents will just go the extra effort to get a copy of the grant and give it a read.

    Its astounding what the grant writers put in that grant, especially since the terms of the grant specified that the grant award would be matched by district funds, and that the grant application became a binding committment if the district accepted the award.

    What or who gave the staff the authority to puff up the project like this and to make a committment of this magnitude? The BOE didn't - they approved a FLAP grant application for the small scale PACE MI proposal. Nothing like what ended up in the grant!

    Of all the things that is most infuriating about the whole disgusting MI process has been the blatant arrogance of the staff that are supposedly the stewards of our district.

    BOE: WHERE IS THE INVESTIGATION??? Why is this being tolerated?


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by natasha
    a resident of Meadow Park
    on Jun 26, 2007 at 1:37 pm

    Are you referring to the Trust investigation that Camille stated on the record in January was not a trust investigation at all but just an inquiry into how we could all feel a little better interacting with each other -- since there was nothing done by the superintendent or her staff that would have caused anyone to have any concerns about their trustworthiness. . .


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by yet another parent
    a resident of Escondido School
    on Jun 26, 2007 at 4:39 pm

    Parent is referring to the difference between how the grant application describes the MI program and reality. Big Gap. Read the first couple posts on this thread by parent of Another Palo Alto neighborhood for background. It does seem to merit investigating, but since there's so much money at stake I doubt anyone in the district will make waves about it.

    The cost for getting a copy of the complete grant app. is $1.85. Check with Linda Dillon, first initial last name at PAUSD.org.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by OhlonePar
    a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
    on Jun 26, 2007 at 5:13 pm

    One thing I'm seeing over and over again is the effect of the big cuts in newspaper staffing--these stories should be investigated, not just feebling reported with a phone call, but really examined--but with the big staffing cuts at the Merc and the Chron, you're just not going to see it. I don't think Susan Hong has the experience or the toughness to do an adversarial story. By which I mean a story where she's asking questions people don't want to hear. But she's green.

    The Merc has no excuse for the editorializing it's been passing off as reporting. I mean, ugh.


     +   Like this comment
    Posted by What's Up with that?
    a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
    on Jun 29, 2007 at 2:23 am

    I'm confused. If this grant is for encouraging language education for our district, shouldn't we be using it to develop a language program for ALL the students? I mean, wouldn't it be perfect as a means of getting FLES off the ground? Or better yet, an after-school elective fluency program as someone described earlier, using Yew Cheung School's methods?

    Everyone has griped about the expense of getting FLES going, doesn't this help solve that problem? If Dana Tom and Mandy Lowell are to be believed, the district is committed to making FLES happen, so that's not a problem in regards to matching funds from the district.

    It's clear this MI program was going to be railroaded through with or without the federal grant; the grant is intended to foster language education where it wouldn't happen otherwise, isn't it? It seems perfect to apply to getting language for all students in the district, not just a handful who were going to get the education with or without these funds.

    Am I missing something?


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