News DigestPalo Alto district faces $3.7 million in proposed budget cuts
Palo Alto school board members voiced concern Tuesday over a slate of 25 proposed cuts for 2010-11 totaling $3.7 million that would boost the size of ninth-grade English classes, among numerous other impacts.
Cuts recommended by Superintendent Kevin Skelly included "incremental" class-size increases in elementary and middle schools as well as high schools. But board members expressed particular concern about the high school freshman English classes.
"Our first value is academic excellence, and writing is very important," board member Dana Tom said. "If anything, I would hope to maintain and enhance that critical skill."
Other budget-reduction proposals included saving $600,000 by boosting kindergarten- through third-grade class size to 22, and fourth- and fifth-grade class size to 24.
"Incremental" increases to sixth-grade classes, bringing them to 26, would yield another $240,000.
Board members asked for more information on the impact of proposed cuts to principals' discretionary budgets, from $105 per student to $70 per student. Part of that reduction would be made up by donations from the education foundation Palo Alto Partners in Education (PiE).
Skelly indicated he would be able to answer some questions at the next board meeting, Feb. 23, when members may also be asked to vote on the cuts.
The district is trying to plug a projected $7.6 million deficit in its roughly $154 million operating budget for 2010-11. Besides the $3.7 million in cuts, Skelly hopes to make up the gap by using $2.1 million in general fund surplus and $1.8 million in revenue from a proposed increase in the parcel tax.
'Evil killer' sentenced to death
Convicted cop-killer Alberto Alvarez showed little emotion in a packed Redwood City courtroom Monday morning as a judge handed him a death sentence for the Jan. 7, 2006, murder of East Palo Alto police Officer Richard May.
Surrounded by four sheriff's deputies, Alvarez, 26, looked squarely at San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Craig L. Parsons as the sentence was read, biting his lower lip and raising his eyes toward the ceiling only once as the weight of the sentence appeared to sink in.
It took Parsons an hour to spell out his reasons for imposing the sentence. He called the officer's murder "particularly savage and brutal."
"There was no moral justification ... for the defendant's conduct," Parsons said, rejecting defense arguments that Alvarez shot the officer under duress.
Jurors had voted to recommend the death penalty for Alvarez on Dec. 22, having convicted the drug dealer and former gang member of first-degree murder with special circumstances on Nov. 25, just before Thanksgiving.
Alvarez shot and killed May during a gun battle in a residential Weeks Street driveway. May had pursued Alvarez after being dispatched to the nearby Villa Taqueria to investigate a fight in which Alvarez was involved.
Alvarez faces 25 to 30 years on California's death row before all of his appeals are exhausted prior to execution. An appeal is automatic under state law.
Hotel guests to pay for Palo Alto tourism efforts
Seeking to save some cash and "get out of the hotel business," Palo Alto officials agreed Monday night to end the city's funding of the tourism program "Destination Palo Alto." Instead, local hotels will pay for efforts to attract visitors to the city through a regional "Tourism Business Improvement District."
The move, which the City Council touted as a perfect transition for the city's 2-year-old visitorship effort, would save the city between $60,000 and $120,000 in the current fiscal year, ending June 30.
Hotels will now add anywhere from 15 cents to $1 to a guest's hotel bill to pay for "Destination Palo Alto" activities.
Council members lauded the $240,000-a-year "Destination Palo Alto" program as a huge success and an important boost to the city's ongoing effort to attract more visitors.
Both Destination Palo Alto and the San Mateo County Tourism Business Improvement District are operated by the San Mateo/Silicon Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau. In December, the bureau sent the city a letter recommending a switch from Destination Palo Alto to participation in the regional effort.
Some of the city's largest hotels — including the Westin, Sheraton and Dinah's Court — have already expressed support, according to a city staff report.
The council is scheduled to formally approve a resolution to join the San Mateo County Tourism Business Improvement District at its March 8 meeting.
— Gennady Sheyner