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School headcount up this fall, but not by much

Original post made on Sep 20, 2013

As Palo Alto school officials grapple with where to invest millions in a new elementary school campus, the latest enrollment figures out this week offered scant guidance.


Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, September 20, 2013, 2:51 PM

Comments (27)

Posted by Erin, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 20, 2013 at 3:43 pm

Let's talk about the real facts of district enrollment. Not that Kinder class sizes are down (as everyone speculated because of the change in the Kinder start date), but the fact that the ratio for 4th grade at Hays is now 25:1. Let's talk about how our parcel tax is not being used appropriately.

Let's also start talking about how large our elementary schools are. 540 kids at a neighborhood school is not what most people signed up for when they moved to Palo Alto.

Let's talk about the fact that we are about 3000 students away from the all-time high enrollment in the district, but have half the number of schools we did back then.

Let's get some real facts in here instead of what the district wants us to hear, which is that enrollment is slowing in Kindergarten so we don't need to open another school.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 20, 2013 at 4:19 pm

> Let's talk about how our parcel tax is not being used appropriately.

As someone opposed to the Parcel Tax (twice, actually), I would be interested to hear how the Parcel Tax is being used inappropriately.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2013 at 5:05 pm

Are these numbers compared with numbers last fall, or numbers at the end of last school year?

Are these numbers at elementary schools broken down to grade level, because kindergarten birthdays are 11 months spread instead of the normal 12 months spread?

Rather than looking at trends, we should also be looking at the numbers of new housing developments around town that will produce students. If the housing developments are now all completed and all sold then they are unlikely to produce many new students over any other neighborhood. But if the developments are still being built then the likelihood is that as they sell or are leased there will be new students.

I believe the development where the Palo Alto Bowl used to be is Los Altos schools, so that doesn't count.


Posted by Erin, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 20, 2013 at 6:31 pm

Wayne - there is language in the parcel tax for class-size reduction for 4th-5th grades. The state funds (or did fund) K-3 class-size reduction to 20:1. Our parcel tax was to bring the 4th and 5th grades in line with that. They have slowly crept up over time as the union (my brother and sister-in-law are both teachers so this isn't a union bashing post) has agreed to higher class sizes for more money. I don't think they have the authority to go over the parcel tax language to do that but it happens year after year.


Posted by OPar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 20, 2013 at 6:34 pm

Hear, Hear Erin!

When the parcel taxes were passed one of the big things on the table was reopening Garland--with specific amounts spelled out to re-open the school. Instead, the district ignored its own elementary-school enrollment limits--a 400-student cap--and is busily building mega-elementaries around the district. Ohlone's got 600 kids and one point of street access. Addison's built out, Walter Hays is spilling over, Duveneck's issues with bullying coincide neatly with its massive growth.

The pathetic thing is that the only *real* reason the district's open to doing anything is that Greendell doesn't have a tenant on half the campus. PAUSD is addicted to the revenues it gets as a landlord.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 20, 2013 at 7:39 pm

> there is language in the parcel tax for class-size reduction
> for 4th-5th grades.

It's been a couple years since that election, so my memory is a bit fuzzy. But as I remember it, the main thrust for the parcel taxes was to provide restricted funds which were to be used to increase teachers' salaries.

There was another election for the massive $700M bond (expenditures and financing) that could well have promised this sort of class size reduction. There was a massive laundry list of promised improvements, which, as it turns out, the School District was not legally obligated to provide, if the bond authorization was granted by the voters.

Will poke around in my archive and see if I can find the parcel tax language.

BTW, there is supposed to be a Parcel Tax overight committee that you might want to try to contact, if you feel that there are problems with the use of the money. Historically, all they have done is rubber-stamp a financial report provided to them by the finance department, but maybe someone on the Committee might be willing to talk to you.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 20, 2013 at 7:50 pm

Ok, I think I found the ballot language that the PAUSD BoT voted on, after the defeat of the Measure I Parcel Tax:

Web Link

Here's the ballot language:

"To preserve small class sizes; maintain educational programs that
enhance student achievement; and restore some essential
educational programs—including elementary literacy, math, and
art support, and middle and high school class offerings—shall the
Palo Alto Unified School District replace its current parcel tax with
a $493 yearly assessment for six years with an optional exemption
for senior citizens and an independent oversight committee?"

-----Tax-Yes-------Tax-No

So, there is language about "small class sizes", but nothing specifially about 4th/5th grade classes. There is always enough wiggle room in the ballot language put to the voters for three herds of very large wild animals to walk through.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 20, 2013 at 8:04 pm

If you scroll down to Table.2, you'll find:

2 Additional costs of current class size reduction for Grades 4-8 and 10. $1,400,000

So, the District did make claims about spending some of the Parcel Tax money for Gr.4/5 class-size reductions. However, I suspect that the District's lawyer will say that unless that promise was in the language on the ballot--the District is not accountable for their promises.

However, it does raise an interesting question as to what the Parcel Tax Oversight Committee was doing. If this $1.2M wasn't spent as promised, then there should be some questions asked.

These are the sorts of issues I'd love to see asked School Board candidates who are incumbents. Unfortunately, that never seems to happen.


Posted by Marie, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2013 at 8:43 pm

Marie is a registered user.

Between 2000 and 2010, Palo Alto's population increased close to 10,000 people, far more than the previous 30 years combined. With all the new housing and pressure from ABAG, the population will probably grow even more between 2010 and 2020. It can't all be SRO's and senior housing. Even housing requiring at least one 62 year old, is not likely to never have children, given the number of grandparents raising grandchildren.

If you build it, they will come. You cannot base attendance trends by looking at student data alone. You must look at planned housing too.


Posted by More $ to pay attorneys fees, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2013 at 9:58 pm

This is great, so that way the school officials will not have to worry where they going to get money to pay their attorneys who they hire to help them out when they do not respect student's rights. Remember they are paying so the lawyers help them get out of the mess.


Posted by But but but..., a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Sep 21, 2013 at 9:42 am

Wasn't the ground supposed to be broken on the new elementary school back in 2007-2008? Was it a victim of shortsightedness, or the Great Recession?


Posted by tax supporter, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 21, 2013 at 1:47 pm

Wayne, The information you posted was from the 2005 Parcel Tax. That tax expired and was replaced with a new parcel tax in 2010. The curent parcel tax, I believe, supports the school budget generally, not in specific categories such as class size reduction. But without the parcel tax we would have elementary class sizes even larger than they are currently. The Parcel Tax can only supplement the baseline of funding already in place--and that declined substantially from 2005-2010 when State CSR funding was suspended and when much of the State funding that we used to receive was slashed, thus the increase in class size over time in spite of the parcel tax.


Posted by Where have they gone?, a resident of Community Center
on Sep 21, 2013 at 3:48 pm

Isn't this the second consecutive year that the actual enrollment increase has been half of what the demographers projected? Is this the beginning of a new trend line?
It took the district several years before they recognized the pattern of growth that we experienced the prior 15 years. My guess is that there are three factors going on. First, the demographic shift from older homeowners selling to young families is hitting a rough equilibrium. Second, there are fewer new multi family homes being constructed (despite perceptions otherwise) and fewer of those are designed for families. Last,at least in our neighborhood, there are more families choosing to send their kids to private schools because they have concerns about how the high academic stress environment is effecting their kids. This seems to be primarily the case at the secondary level. I am not aware of any surveying ever done by the district to understand why parents move their kids or even their families out of PAUSD. We just had two sets of neighbors move away because of our school environment and these were both families who moved here because of the strong historic reputation of our schools.
It would be very valuable to see some meaningful (and reflective) analysis of the causes for the apparent changes.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 21, 2013 at 3:58 pm

> That tax expired and was replaced with a new parcel tax in 2010.

Yes. I was aware of that. I wasn't involved in opposing that parcel tax, so I didn't collect any information about it. It's possible that the same sort of information that I posted about the 2005 tax is still available on the PAUSD web-site.

> But without the parcel tax we would have elementary
> class sizes even larger than they are currently

Maybe. Then again, maybe not.

> The Parcel Tax can only supplement the baseline
> of funding already in place

Care to cite some Ed Code sources to back up this point? My understanding is that parcel tax money can be spent on anything that is legal which the District can convince the voters to fund with additional tax collections.


Posted by Parent, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 21, 2013 at 11:59 pm

"Historically, all [the oversight committee] has done is rubber-stamp a financial report provided to them by the finance department, but maybe someone on the Committee might be willing to talk to you."

From their annual report, it appears they review reports from the finance department and the report presented by the outside auditor to review whether the spending is compliant with the tax language. I'm not sure what else they can do - it's hard to go into the field and determine where a "parcel tax dollar" is being spent.

Keep in mind, there's a difference between spending compliance and efficacy, i.e., whether the hoped-for goals of the tax are being achieved. I doubt efficacy is within the scope of oversight committee - usually these committees are charged with ensuring compliance. For instance, I doubt the bond oversight committee has any influence over or even reviews which projects are built, their design, or the construction methods - the question is whether the projects are covered by the bond language and whether Ed Code procedures have been followed.


Posted by OPar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 22, 2013 at 11:22 am

But, but, but,

The board used an unexpected drop in enrollment one year as an excuse to nix a new elementary school (this after several years of enrollment shooting past projections) and used the MI fiasco as an excuse to start building mega-elementaries--first at Ohlone with its 600 kids and then at other neighborhood schools.

They may do something at Greendell, but it's only because they don't have a tenant for the part of the school formerly occupied by the JCC.


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 23, 2013 at 7:54 am

I think labeling the over sight committee as rubber stampers is a false opinion. Though at first glance it seemed like a tax grab, their recommendation to max the parcel tax rate (which was adopted) will save PAUSD and all of us taxpayers millions of dollars.

Web Link


Posted by Resident, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 23, 2013 at 8:41 am

@Marie above has it exactly right.

These things may seem disconnected, but they're not. School crowding is one more entirely predictable outcome of the city's out-of-control zoning and development process, just like traffic and parking.


1. The city punts the Comprehensive Plan and allows rezoning on demand, in order to put up more and more giant over-code buildings.

2. The jobs from the buildings' tenants create demand for more and denser housing, including interference from ABAG.

3. The growth in housing leads to growth in school enrollment. Paid for by us, not even by the developers who got that rezoning freebie in the first place.


Did anybody on City Council or the Planning Department think about this when they approved that latest PC rezoning? Heck no, that's too far-thinking, and anyway schools are somebody else's problem. And we know whose: yet another shot in the War on Residents.

Maybe worse yet, we all spend our passion arguing with each other over the inevitable parcel taxes and bond issues, instead of demanding the City Council solve the root problem -- out of control "build, baby, build" rezoning.



Posted by Erin, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 23, 2013 at 9:15 am

Of course the city's development issue is tied to the enrollment numbers in the school district. I don't think anyone is disputing that. However, the school district has the power to have smaller schools and class sizes if they choose. They have two vacant elementary school sites and one vacant high school site (almost) that they can use. They instead, are so money hungry that they choose to keep them occupied with private schools and renters. There really is no excuse for the over-crowding at this point.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2013 at 9:32 am

Erin has it right completely.

The developers fees should be paying for upgrades to our school sites so that they can be used by the increase in residents due to their developments.

It is crazy that those of us who have lived here when our kids were preschoolers and are now in high school, who moved here because we liked the small school size, should now be paying for school facilities upgrades for new residents.

I am not against the fact that the old buildings needed renovating, but I am against us all forking out more to pay for the refurbishment of Greendell, Cubberly, and others so that we can house the children of the new developments.

We have a board who just doesn't see it and although they should be directing education issues, they also need to realize that they are wasting money at the top and not thinking forward enough about who should be paying for what.

It is wrong, wrong, wrong, that parents should be asked to support PIE and vote yes on bond measures. We are not bottomless money pits, we can't fund everything in this town.

I hope that money management is an issue when the next election comes along (both for city and PAUSD) and that there are candidates for both who will run promising financial responsibility and not expect long time residents to pay for what we can't afford to pay for.


Posted by gfs, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 23, 2013 at 10:17 am

Percentage of Asians is higher than stated. Many Asian families decline that question when asked because they know that college admissions are stacked against Asians. Plus many half Asians in the bay area and always say caucasian.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 24, 2013 at 8:10 am

> I think labeling the over sight committee as rubber
> stampers is a false opinion

There is a bond oversight committee, and a parcel tax oversight committee. My comment was only directed towards the parcel tax oversight committee.

However, it would be interesting to audit the Bond Oversight committee's work. The law does not really provide these committees much in the way of "teeth", and the amount of time it would take to review construction work exceeds the time, and expertise, of any volunteer group.

A review of these committees from around California (googling) shows that most don't do much but submit reports to their respective BoTs. Once Bond committee in San Jose tried to become activist a few years ago. This resulted in a bit of a war between that district's Administration, and the School Board. The general attitude towards the Bond Oversight Committee was that it did not have the authority to review, in detail, the construction projects under way, being funding by the voter-authorized bonds.

If a school district ends up being sued by one, or more, of its contractors--then one can only ask: "what was the bond oversight committee doing?"


Posted by Parent, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 24, 2013 at 8:38 am

@Wayne Martin - Here is the link to the bond oversight committee section of the PAUSD site, with meeting minutes, annual reports, membership, etc. Web Link

There is also a page on "Committee Guidelines" that sets out the "purpose" of the committee:

The purpose of the Committee is to inform the public concerning the expenditure and uses of bond revenues. The Committee's legal charge is to actively review and report on the expenditure of taxpayer's money for school construction.

The role is not to supervise the construction, but to make sure the bond money is actually spent on legitimate bond projects vs. staff and operations. Note that the oversight committee is a feature of a Prop 39 bond, which lowers the approval level to 55% in exchange for this and other accountability features.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 24, 2013 at 9:19 am

Thanks for the links.

> Note that the oversight committee is a feature of a Prop 39 bond,
> which lowers the approval level to 55% in exchange for this
> and other accountability features.

As one of the leaders of the Vote NO on Measure A effort, I was/am fully versed on the details of these committees. They are not restrained by law from being "activist", by the way.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 24, 2013 at 10:02 am


By the way, the one thing the PAUSD Measure A Bond Oversight Committee did do, which was alluded to in a posting above, was to review the costs of retiring the Measure A bonds. One of the claims of the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), which was pitching the District to buy more bonds was that the property tax rate would not have to be raised in the future. They claimed it could stay the same as was in place to repay the mid-90's Measure B bonds, which won't be retied until the 2020s.

The RBC's premise was that the value of the aggregate property tax assessment of the PAUSD would double every ten years for the next 30-40 years. As the aggregate property assessment increased, then the revenue generated by the Measure A tax would increase, and the new bonds would be retired over the next forty years at the old taxation rate. It was my belief at the time that this growth rate of PAUSD property was not likely to happen, but trying to explain the details of the spreadsheet, and the methodology, to a couple local reporters ended up with blank stares. It was impossible to get that point-of-view out through the local press.

Moving forward a couple of years, the Santa Clara County Grand Jury looked at school district bonds, particularly in the light of the Poway School District Capital Appreciation Bond fiasco.

Web Link

The PAUSD seems to have made the list of schools issuing CAP bonds:

2008 Palo Alto Unified 109,414,248.80 277,865,000.00 2.54 8/1/2033
----

As I understand it, someone on the Bond Oversight Committee starting looking at the bond retirement costs, and came to the same conclusion that I did. By the time this review started, the bonds had actually been sold, so real data could be used to calculate the payback costs. This review resulted in the belief that the bonds could not be retired using the Measure B tax rate, so the School Board voted to increase the tax rate to the maximum permitted—even though they had boasted to the public only a couple years prior that they would not have to raise the tax rates.

Paying the bonds off as quickly as possible is obviously the right thing to do. I haven't taken the time to request the worksheets, and documents, used to come to the conclusion that the tax rate needed to be raised. So, I don't know exactly how much money this rate increase will save future taxpayers. It's fair to say that given the long timeframe involved in the Measure A bonds (upwards of 40 years), few of us will be around to see any savings ourselves.

At the moment, I don't know if the PAUSD has converted the 2008 bonds identified by the Civil Grand Jury to something less expensive, or if it is still holding these bonds. This is obviously a area most people don't want to be involved with, leaving the taxpayers are the mercy of elected school board officials—that generally don't talk about these issues when they do speak in public.

I also don't know if there has been any "swearing off" of CAP bonds by the PAUSD. By and large, there doesn't seem to have been that much public discussion of the topic.


Posted by Parent, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 24, 2013 at 10:44 am

PAUSD issued some CABs in 2008, though they were not especially long maturity (25 years) or expensive - hence the 2.54x payback ratio that you cited vs. 4.0x as the new legal limit and 8 to 10x or more in egregious cases such as Poway.

CABs are not intrinsically bad, and there are arguments to be made either way about whether current or future property owners should bear more of the burden (see Erin's post above for an argument for future owners). But 40 year CABs at high interest rates are very bad, and were banned this year by the state legislature.

PAUSD considered issuing long-maturity CABS in 2012, in the face of much slower assessed value growth than forecast. This would have kept the tax rate lower, but at a very high ultimate cost. The board rejected that path, instead choosing to increase the bond tax rate in order to issue cheaper current interest bonds with shorter maturities. The savings vs. keeping the tax rate constant was estimated at around $1B (per the letter linked to above by Crescent Park Dad). I think it is a credit to the board that they studied the complex issues and took a more difficult, but more fiscally sound, approach.

I'm not sure swearing off CABs is appropriate - there is sometimes are role for them as part of a larger financing strategy - but the board should be very careful when considering them. It is an area that most citizens, even in Palo Alto, have little interest in.


Posted by hi, a resident of Community Center
on Sep 29, 2013 at 5:11 pm

[Post removed.]


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