More housing = more Kids
Original post made
by ToldUSo, Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jan 23, 2007
For those of you who are wondering about our continual increase in enrollment and the need for re-districting our school boundaries as well as the concerns for neighborhood schools as a whole, I thought it timely to mention that within the last 10 days, two new housing developments in Palo Alto have been proposed. Firstly there is Edgewood Plaza which would add to the very tight north cluster and now there is the news that there is probably going to be more housing on the Elks site which would affect the south
/west clusters. Palo Alto is growing from the inside out and we definitely need more space in the schools.
Whether the existing schools can add more students or the question of re-opening a 13th elementary school, the truth is that we are growing and it may mean all of the above. The luxury of the present cap on choice schools and the necessity of them growing along with the other programs is something that is to be debated, but it will affect us all. Some of us will not like our school boundaries changing, whether it be for property values or changing which neighborhood school our children attend, changes will be made. The more residents that move into Palo Alto because of the reputation of good schools is a reality of life here in P.A.
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Posted by Lynn
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 24, 2007 at 12:36 pm
CB: You say "It makes no sense to invoke district priorities when considering choice programs," and "Choice schools must be cost neutral, a criterion that was met by the MI proposal, so they bring no additional load on the district."
I disagree. Once choice schools and programs are up and running, they appear to be cost neutral. But there are start-up costs, and there is considerable debate as to whether those costs were accurately represented by the MI feasibility study, which lists the following steps that would need to take place over the next few months in order to begin an MI program in August:
-Involve teachers, administrators, staff, School Site Council, and PTA at the proposed site in the planning process: February 2007
-Provide extensive professional training and observation/collaboration opportunities for the principal
-Advertise, provide informational meetings, and conduct program lottery using District procedures for choice lotteries: February/March 2007
-Form Parent Advisory Group: March 2007
-Conduct meetings and trainings to ensure integration of the choice program in the selected school:
-Staff meetings: information and awareness opportunities
-Parent meetings with parents already at the school
-Parent meetings with choice program parents and parents already at the school
-Recruit and select credentialed teachers and support staff March/April 2007
-Select and/or develop instructional materials: March 2007
-Provide staff development to teachers and staff at the site: April-August 2007
-Provide ongoing program and professional development August 2007- May 2010
Some of these line items don't sound free to me, and I don't see them listed in the feasibility study. It seems reasonable to me that the principal, current teachers and other staff would have to devote a fair amount of time incorporating the new program into an existing school, especially when it would be a "choice within a choice" program as proposed by the superintendent. Who would conduct the extensive professional training and staff development? What about the district staff time required to implement such a program? Staff time equals dollars.
If you look at the low enrollment forecasts for next school year, you see that elementary enrollment could actually drop. The demographer's figures have been high in the past, so it's not unreasonable to consider that the low number might be right. While there is a recommendation to add modular classrooms to five elementary schools, including Ohlone, between now and 2011, it's not clear to me that those classrooms, at a cost of $250+K, will be required for the next school year. If they are built at Ohlone to accommodate MI, without knowing if and where they are really needed, then those become MI start-up expenses, in my book. Similarly, if Garland has to be reopened to provide space for MI to grow after three years, and it turns out that a 13th elementary school is not needed before 2012 or later except to house MI, then that is a multi-million dollar MI expense.
This brings us back to district priorities. MI startup costs must be balanced against other district priorities. As a basic aid district, PAUSD's budget must be developed a year ahead of knowing what its actual income will be, based on predictions which rise and fall due to several factors, including:
- The fortunes of Palo Alto-based businesses, the real bread and butter of our tax base.
- Values of homes in PAUSD attendance area.
- The state budget, which is revised every May and affects funds that are earmarked for specific purposes: K-3 class size reduction, textbooks, GATE, etc.
The school board and superintendent must be very conservative about how they allocate funds to ensure that existing programs can be sustained before adding new ones. The initial premise of this thread, that there are many new housing developments that could dramatically increase our student population, is very concerning, because it is likely to mean less money to spend on each student in the district. The question asked by "Parent" in a previous comment is an important one to consider in order for our schools to continue to be excellent: "How about a business climate that attracts business and grows sales tax revenues?"
I know that some MI proponents feel that people only became interested in a foreign language program in the elementary schools (FLES) as a result of the MI proposal, and this might be partly true, but it's also true that foreign languages are core academic subjects that the district should be providing as part of a quality education regardless of parental pressure. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 states: "The term core academic subjects means English, reading or language arts, mathematics, science, FOREIGN LANGUAGES, civics and government, economics, arts, history, and geography. Web Link
The fact that a student in this district can graduate without ever having studied a foreign language is shameful. The district may be finally stepping up to the fact that elective course offerings in middle and high school are not enough to claim that our students are adequately educated in this regard.
Not all of us opposed to MI are flat out opposed to it ever, but rather to rushing into a program starting next August. Heck, I can't even get one very basic question answered, which is, where do you put a fourth new classroom (needed for year three of the trial period) at a school that only has room for three? How thoroughly was this proposal by our lame duck superintendent thought out, anyway?
The board appears to be headed towards a conservative decision, which I fully support, not to start a new program when we have pressing issues including an ongoing investigation of the senior cabinet's management practices, an achievement gap between our Asian/Caucasian students and our Hispanic/African American students, the search for a new superintendent and financial manager, and concern about burgeoning enrollment, to name a few.
In her SJ Mercury News column on Jan. 17, Patty Fisher says that this is a prescription for mediocrity. If she thinks mediocrity is not spending money on new programs before ensuring that you can at least meet the needs of all students, then so be it. But that mediocrity is forced upon us by our state's inadequate system for school finance that under funds the majority of districts and leaves basic aid districts to fend for themselves as the economy fluctuates. It just doesn't allow much room for vision and creativity in the uncertain times we live in.