News

School cuts mean bigger classes, no crisis

Palo Alto escapes budget crunch better off than other districts –- lay-offs unlikely

Classes will be larger next year but Palo Alto schools should largely escape proposed state budget cuts without the "horrific" fallout in other districts, school officials said at Tuesday's school board meeting.

"This is a much gentler scene than you'll find in many, many districts on a night like this," Superintendent Kevin Skelly said.

The state cuts -- proposed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in January -- would cost the district about $900,000, according to Chief Business Official Cathy Mak.

That brings the district's budget deficit up to $2.7 million from last fall's $1.9 million estimate, she said.

She mapped out a plan to find funds to meet the deficit, which the board will vote on March 18.

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She mapped out a plan to find funds to meet the deficit, which the board will vote on March 18.

The district would increase class size and hire fewer teachers than previously planned to save about $1.2 million, she said.

Classes would be combined to fit 20 students per room in kindergarten through third grades and 24 students per room in fourth through fifth grades — the maximum under the state class-size reduction program in which the district participates and promised by an earlier parcel tax, she said.

Instead of 21 teachers earlier budgeted for, the district would hire eight to greet the predicted 420 new students due to arrive next fall, she said.

On average, there would be one fewer teacher per grade level, or 13 fewer teachers district-wide, she said.

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She also suggested abandoning previous plans to increase hours certain employees work — including the district librarian, an assistant principal, and teachers leading the development of math and reading curricula at schools — to save $273,000.

Lay-offs would be avoided because Palo Alto is experiencing constant enrollment growth and needs to hire more teachers no matter what, she said.

Another effect of the proposed budget is that some school programs would get less money, but should manage without terrible results, she said.

Overall, the district will lose $890,000 of state funds for so-called categorical programs, she said.

To save $273,000, the district would stop cash flow from the General Fund to some categorical programs, including gifted and talented education, school-improvement programs and economic-impact aid that helps poor students, she said.

Yet those programs have money left over from last year and might use funds from local nonprofit Partners in Education to avoid slashing their offerings, she said.

Special education, transportation and class-size reduction would continue with the same amount of money from the district, she said.

Other ways to cut the budget include temporarily suspending the usual $50,000 superintendent's contingency fund for special projects and canceling plans to spend $70,000 to train administrators this summer, she said.

Even with the suggested cuts, a deficit of $466,000 remains, but district officials will find those funds for the next June budget proposal, she said.

The budget proposal is less dire than "horrific" effects in other districts, Assistant Superintendent Scott Laurence said. Schools statewide are laying off teachers and administrators and canceling athletic programs to try to make ends meet, he said.

"It's just nasty out there," he said.

Increasing class size may even bring more students back to local schools, he said.

Usually the district maintains an average class size across schools, but may call students back to neighborhood schools as it pushes the size limit at particular sites, he said.

The state budget cuts were proposed in January Schwarzenegger to meet the $14 billion California budget deficit.

His proposal to reduce education funding by 10 percent, or $4 billion, will be voted on by the legislature in May and take effect in June, at the start of the next fiscal year.

In other business, the board:

• Accepted a $2.3 million donation from Partners in Education, the local nonprofit that raises funds for schools. More people gave money this year but several big donors dropped out, board President Susan Bailey said. Next year's goal is to maintain participation but increase donation size, she said.

• Heard an update on the Strategic Plan process from Jerel Davis of McKinsey & Company, the consulting firm offering pro bono services board member Melissa Baten Caswell said would otherwise cost $2 million to $3 million.

One-on-one interviews with teachers, principals and community members showed several points of early agreement, Davis said.

People want the district to pay more attention to the achievement gap, or the fact that minority students score worse than non-minority students, he said.

Interviewees said the very vocal engagement of community members such as parents was a "double-edge sword" that could benefit from "rules of engagement," he said.

People also want to be sure the Strategic Plan addresses enrollment growth and plans to teach foreign languages in elementary schools, he said.

A more general survey — previously labeled public — will be open to parents, students and all district staff and begin around March 24, he said.

Public input will be collected at a final community meeting at the end of April and the plan should be finished sometime in May, he said.

• Heard an update on the district's future adoption of new science textbooks from a team of teachers and staff.

The beloved third-grade science lessons about Palo Alto's baylands have been worked into the future curriculum, according to Rachel Jordan, the district's science resource teacher. She said the textbook review committee has worked to make sure the new books and lessons aren't a jolt to teachers.

The new textbooks are state mandated, part of a four-year cycle requiring updated materials in four subject areas, Associate Superintendent Marilyn Cook said. This year the district bought new social studies books and next year's science books will be followed by math and English books in coming years, she said.

The board will vote on the textbooks March 18.

• Heard a proposal from Laurence to revise the district's 332 board policies, some of which are out-of-date or contradictory, he said.

The district should purchase training and software from the California School Boards Association for about $9,000, far less than the $100,000 it would have cost to use a law firm to help organize the mess, he said.

Revising policies and placing them in a standard template from the association could ease communication within the district and to school districts statewide, he said.

Baten Caswell said the plan would give the district more credibility in the community, many of whose members have already pointed out to her policies not being followed.

Telling them the policies are out of date is not a good enough answer, she said.

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School cuts mean bigger classes, no crisis

Palo Alto escapes budget crunch better off than other districts –- lay-offs unlikely

by / Palo Alto Online

Uploaded: Wed, Mar 12, 2008, 1:14 am
Updated: Thu, Mar 13, 2008, 10:48 am

Classes will be larger next year but Palo Alto schools should largely escape proposed state budget cuts without the "horrific" fallout in other districts, school officials said at Tuesday's school board meeting.

"This is a much gentler scene than you'll find in many, many districts on a night like this," Superintendent Kevin Skelly said.

The state cuts -- proposed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in January -- would cost the district about $900,000, according to Chief Business Official Cathy Mak.

That brings the district's budget deficit up to $2.7 million from last fall's $1.9 million estimate, she said.

She mapped out a plan to find funds to meet the deficit, which the board will vote on March 18.

She mapped out a plan to find funds to meet the deficit, which the board will vote on March 18.

The district would increase class size and hire fewer teachers than previously planned to save about $1.2 million, she said.

Classes would be combined to fit 20 students per room in kindergarten through third grades and 24 students per room in fourth through fifth grades — the maximum under the state class-size reduction program in which the district participates and promised by an earlier parcel tax, she said.

Instead of 21 teachers earlier budgeted for, the district would hire eight to greet the predicted 420 new students due to arrive next fall, she said.

On average, there would be one fewer teacher per grade level, or 13 fewer teachers district-wide, she said.

She also suggested abandoning previous plans to increase hours certain employees work — including the district librarian, an assistant principal, and teachers leading the development of math and reading curricula at schools — to save $273,000.

Lay-offs would be avoided because Palo Alto is experiencing constant enrollment growth and needs to hire more teachers no matter what, she said.

Another effect of the proposed budget is that some school programs would get less money, but should manage without terrible results, she said.

Overall, the district will lose $890,000 of state funds for so-called categorical programs, she said.

To save $273,000, the district would stop cash flow from the General Fund to some categorical programs, including gifted and talented education, school-improvement programs and economic-impact aid that helps poor students, she said.

Yet those programs have money left over from last year and might use funds from local nonprofit Partners in Education to avoid slashing their offerings, she said.

Special education, transportation and class-size reduction would continue with the same amount of money from the district, she said.

Other ways to cut the budget include temporarily suspending the usual $50,000 superintendent's contingency fund for special projects and canceling plans to spend $70,000 to train administrators this summer, she said.

Even with the suggested cuts, a deficit of $466,000 remains, but district officials will find those funds for the next June budget proposal, she said.

The budget proposal is less dire than "horrific" effects in other districts, Assistant Superintendent Scott Laurence said. Schools statewide are laying off teachers and administrators and canceling athletic programs to try to make ends meet, he said.

"It's just nasty out there," he said.

Increasing class size may even bring more students back to local schools, he said.

Usually the district maintains an average class size across schools, but may call students back to neighborhood schools as it pushes the size limit at particular sites, he said.

The state budget cuts were proposed in January Schwarzenegger to meet the $14 billion California budget deficit.

His proposal to reduce education funding by 10 percent, or $4 billion, will be voted on by the legislature in May and take effect in June, at the start of the next fiscal year.

In other business, the board:

• Accepted a $2.3 million donation from Partners in Education, the local nonprofit that raises funds for schools. More people gave money this year but several big donors dropped out, board President Susan Bailey said. Next year's goal is to maintain participation but increase donation size, she said.

• Heard an update on the Strategic Plan process from Jerel Davis of McKinsey & Company, the consulting firm offering pro bono services board member Melissa Baten Caswell said would otherwise cost $2 million to $3 million.

One-on-one interviews with teachers, principals and community members showed several points of early agreement, Davis said.

People want the district to pay more attention to the achievement gap, or the fact that minority students score worse than non-minority students, he said.

Interviewees said the very vocal engagement of community members such as parents was a "double-edge sword" that could benefit from "rules of engagement," he said.

People also want to be sure the Strategic Plan addresses enrollment growth and plans to teach foreign languages in elementary schools, he said.

A more general survey — previously labeled public — will be open to parents, students and all district staff and begin around March 24, he said.

Public input will be collected at a final community meeting at the end of April and the plan should be finished sometime in May, he said.

• Heard an update on the district's future adoption of new science textbooks from a team of teachers and staff.

The beloved third-grade science lessons about Palo Alto's baylands have been worked into the future curriculum, according to Rachel Jordan, the district's science resource teacher. She said the textbook review committee has worked to make sure the new books and lessons aren't a jolt to teachers.

The new textbooks are state mandated, part of a four-year cycle requiring updated materials in four subject areas, Associate Superintendent Marilyn Cook said. This year the district bought new social studies books and next year's science books will be followed by math and English books in coming years, she said.

The board will vote on the textbooks March 18.

• Heard a proposal from Laurence to revise the district's 332 board policies, some of which are out-of-date or contradictory, he said.

The district should purchase training and software from the California School Boards Association for about $9,000, far less than the $100,000 it would have cost to use a law firm to help organize the mess, he said.

Revising policies and placing them in a standard template from the association could ease communication within the district and to school districts statewide, he said.

Baten Caswell said the plan would give the district more credibility in the community, many of whose members have already pointed out to her policies not being followed.

Telling them the policies are out of date is not a good enough answer, she said.

Comments

Parent
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 12, 2008 at 9:37 am
Parent, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 12, 2008 at 9:37 am

Good luck to new residents then, as they will probably have to drive their kids across town to the one spot available in their grade level and it may even mean new residents having to put their kids into two different schools.

I hope realtors take note of this.


The fall out looms large.
Fairmeadow
on Mar 12, 2008 at 11:50 am
The fall out looms large., Fairmeadow
on Mar 12, 2008 at 11:50 am

Shame on Arnold. Slashing the education budget will worsen California's already pitiful public schools. I'm disgusted.


Intra-district transfer family
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 12, 2008 at 11:51 am
Intra-district transfer family, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 12, 2008 at 11:51 am

"Usually the district maintains an average class size across schools, but may call students back to neighborhood schools as it pushes the size limit at particular sites, he said."
Does this imply that students who are permanently transferred to a non-neighborhood school can be transferred back against their will? We like where we are. Our second-grader has established friendships and we're part of the school's community. Being called back to our neighborhood school would be very disruptive.


palo alto mom
Crescent Park
on Mar 12, 2008 at 11:53 am
palo alto mom, Crescent Park
on Mar 12, 2008 at 11:53 am

The larger class sizes will reduce the number of families with kids at multiple schools - not increase it. Currently, many new residents end up with kids at multiple schools or far away from their neighborhood. Hence the disclaimer on real estate ads about not being able to guarantee school availability.


Parent
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 12, 2008 at 1:22 pm
Parent, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 12, 2008 at 1:22 pm

PA Mom

I think the fact that Skelly is getting at is that the classes will be 20, not 17,18 0r 19, as is at present. This means that until every single classroom in the district is at 20, there will be no increases. This means that if say a 2nd grader moves into a certain neighborhood, the only space in a 2nd grade class may be two miles one way or 3 miles another away from home. At present, there is usually a couple of spaces available throughout the district.

I heard him mention in a speech somewhere that this may mean that for a kindergartner who did not enroll by the guarantee period in Jan/Feb, it may mean that on the first day of school there will be an overall holding area (or some jargon) in say Churchill for all kindergartners who were late enrolling and as they find space in the classrooms from the no show-ers (there are always some in kindergarten) they can then allot the spaces to those in the holding area. He used fancier language than mine, but he is saying that he does not want the same thing that happened this year at Fairmeadow whereby they had to open a new kindergarten room because of the high number of enrollees and then a large number didn't show, presumably because they went private.

This in effect will mean it more difficult for new comers to get into their neighborhood school and for new siblings to get into the same school.


Parent
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 12, 2008 at 4:19 pm
Parent, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 12, 2008 at 4:19 pm

Parent - really??? Every single Classroom????

So, lets take a hypothetical. How will (for example) the Spanish Immersion classrooms populate their upper grade classrooms at the expanded class size of 24 at grades 4&5? Where do the biliterate at grade level kids suddenly come from? If the class strands in immersion programs haven't been at 24 all along, where do suddenly the extra immersion ready kids come from?

Or lets say for the sake of argument that we're looking at this situation 3 years from now. Where does MI get its 24 kids for 4th grade? (While preserving required mix ratios, etc)

In actuality - What we'll see is that our fancy little language speciality programs are shielded from the increases class sizes.

Now I'd like to know if the parents in these program are going to be writing checks to PAUSD to keep these programs cost neutral, because the teacher/kid ratio is NOT going to be cost neutral in these programs.

Oh yes, and what if these programs are falling below the class sizes - will they classrooms be shutdown? Or will they be allowed to continue to suck an unfair share of resources?

Skelly????


jeez
St. Claire Gardens
on Mar 12, 2008 at 8:32 pm
jeez, St. Claire Gardens
on Mar 12, 2008 at 8:32 pm

In the above posts, we find more examples of Palo Alto residents who can't do anything but complain about everything.

Our school district will be basically unscathed by the horrendous budget cuts contemplated by the state, yet some still would rather complain.

Shaking my head in disbelief.


The fall out looms large
Fairmeadow
on Mar 12, 2008 at 11:57 pm
The fall out looms large, Fairmeadow
on Mar 12, 2008 at 11:57 pm

Oh, the irony!

Dear Jeez--
Do you realize that you're complaining... about other people complaining?!

To respond to your comment: I was the second poster. I stand by my remarks. You're right: Palo Alto is lucky to be doing okay. Doesn't mean though that our schools won't feel significant cuts in the future. Look at Alameda: because of the budget deficit, it will have to cut almost its entire highschool athletic program.

Complaining *is* important. (Can you imagine if no one spoke up?)People have a legitimate reason to be concerned, and I hope people continue to voice their displeasure.


Parent
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 13, 2008 at 9:02 am
Parent, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 13, 2008 at 9:02 am

I am the first poster here and although I agree it sounds as if I am complaining for the sake of complaining, I do see a legitimate cause to complain. As a reasonably longterm resident here I have seen many people move into my neighborhood and have been told by the realtors that their kids will go to the local school or a certain high school, only to find out after they arrive that the only place is across town or at the less desirable high school, and they will be put on the waiting list. They tell me that their realtors always told them that the disclaimer on the advertising flyers was for legal reasons, but that they were sure there would be room. Sometimes, people even tell me that they checked with the local school before signing their contract only to be told later that the space had just gone a few days before.

People do move to Palo Alto for the schools. They are under the impression that the local school will always have room for their child and often get really upset when this is not the case. I had some new neighbors during the last school year and they ended up with their kids in two different schools, something that they did not expect. The good news for them is that they now have their kids in the same school, but for the major part of a school year they did not.

Sometimes, complaining is just empty noise. Sometimes complaining actually brings out an awareness of a problem that the rest of us do not want to talk about because "it doesn't affect me". I am actually on various pta committees and so my empty noise does get heard by those in the right places as well as those in the community from airing my views here. I could write letters to the newspapers, but that now seems so old fashioned when we have a more modern and easier technology here that does a similar job.


Patrick
Ohlone School
on Mar 13, 2008 at 9:11 am
Patrick, Ohlone School
on Mar 13, 2008 at 9:11 am

If every resident of Palo Alto kicked in $50 the deficit would go away.


Parent
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 13, 2008 at 9:40 am
Parent, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 13, 2008 at 9:40 am

Correct - we dodge a bullet - this time. We pay a smaller price than most (slightly increased class sizes) so we should all go back to gleefully putting our heads in the sand on the issue. No.

FYI, I'm not complaining about larger class sizes - I think its an appropriate solution for this issue at this time.

However, Jeez - I suspect you may be the beneficiary of one of the immersion programs - which will be shielded even from that minor impact. And so perhaps you'd rather we didn't point this out?

There are a select few who will continue to enjoy not only enriched curriculum, a rich infusion of financial resources (even in these dire times of financial stress on the California education system everywhere), but also a comfortable and protected cocoon of virtually guaranteed small class sizes.

Because the prerequisite of language bilingual(ness) at grade level creates a barrier to entry at the upper grades - the district is not free to use those classrooms to help manage enrollment, student teacher ratios, etc. Those classrooms are locked in at the lower student per classroom numbers of the lower grade levels.

And heaven forbid we should point out to the emperor that he has no clothes on.

(can you say - cost neutral?)


Different Parent
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 13, 2008 at 9:45 am
Different Parent, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 13, 2008 at 9:45 am

These points are wonderful things to point out to Board members when you write to them. The idea that immersion classes are locked in from the lower elementary grades is something that has never been mentioned here before, as far as I am aware.


palo alto mom
Crescent Park
on Mar 13, 2008 at 10:34 am
palo alto mom, Crescent Park
on Mar 13, 2008 at 10:34 am

We have a different board and a different superintendent then when the SI was implemented and MI was approved. I think the majority of the BOE and definitely Dr. Skelly is not afraid to make hard choices if they are for the benefit of the whole district.


parent
Palo Alto High School
on Mar 13, 2008 at 1:10 pm
parent, Palo Alto High School
on Mar 13, 2008 at 1:10 pm

and the less desirable high school is:.......


John
College Terrace
on Mar 13, 2008 at 1:38 pm
John, College Terrace
on Mar 13, 2008 at 1:38 pm

Get rid of the 20 kids/room thing. It is a disaster for the district. Go back to 28-30 kids per classroom. Get rid of SI and MI, becasue they are also disasters. The people who love these disasters are the parents who are lucky enough to benefit from them (no surprise!).

Give us back our neighborhood schools, period. No more boutiques!

This turkey has been overcooked. Time to just throw it out the window. PAUSD will come back strong, once it has happened.


Different High School
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 13, 2008 at 1:43 pm
Different High School, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 13, 2008 at 1:43 pm

Parent of PAHS

Yes, I know, which is why I didn't say which. In my experience, unfortunately there are people moving here for one particular high school and complain when they don't get in.

This is less desirable from their point of view, not mine. In actual fact I am in total agreement with you. I am a Paly parent myself.


jeez
St. Claire Gardens
on Mar 13, 2008 at 4:44 pm
jeez, St. Claire Gardens
on Mar 13, 2008 at 4:44 pm

Parent of another Palo Alto neighborhood:

Wrong! My kids never were in "choice" programs or whatever they may be called.

My oldest kid had 27-28 kids per class from elementary school through most classes in middle and high school.

My youngest child was in classes with only 20 kids per class in elementary school.

I did not see any difference in the quality of education they got. Both the same.


Parent
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 13, 2008 at 4:50 pm
Parent, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 13, 2008 at 4:50 pm

My daughter was also in kindergarten and the lower grades with 27 or 28 others. She was always ahead in reading and math and the teacher paid her very little attention. In fact, because she could read well I never paid her reading very much attention as she preferred to read to herself from preschool ages. Anyway, when I did hear her read aloud in about third grade, I was shocked. She read all the important words out loud and ignored the important little words that makes a sentence make sense, the prepositions, etc. Consequently, her writing was always very bad because she left those words out too, not knowing that it didn't make sense. When I spoke to her about reading to her teacher she told me only those who couldn't read well read aloud to teachers on a regular basis and she rarely did. Then I understood the benefits of small classes.


OhlonePar
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 13, 2008 at 5:54 pm
OhlonePar, Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 13, 2008 at 5:54 pm

There are people who move here for Gunn. I date it back to that Newsweek survey where Gunn came in around 50 and Paly at 300 nationwide. I think the ranking thing is fairly ridiculous--percentage of kids taking AP test, but not taking into consideration the pass rate or size of the school.

Paly students take slightly fewer AP classes and have a slightly higher pass rate. Which says nothing, really, about which school is better suited for a particular child.

I like smaller classes--and I think it is kids performing average and above who benefit the most from them. The teacher has time to pay attention to them instead of having to focus solely on the kids who are underperforming. Even when your kid performs above grade level, there are some areas that are more challenging than others. It's nice to know where the potential issues are as well as potential strengths instead of sort of a blanket smiling dismissal because your kid doesn't have problems.

The shrinking immersion classroom problem has been discussed here, actually. It's just more pertinent than it was before. Immersion programs have big attrition issues--in Canada, which has had immersion programs for 40 years, they have attrition rates of 40 to 50 percent. Poor performers drop out. It's kind of immersion's dirty little secret. Basically, you see a grade 2/3 score drop and then the kids catch up. Or so we're told. Actually, the bottom performers drop out, so you end up with a self-selected group of higher performers, the numbers backfilled by fluent speakers.

My latest fun fact on all of this is that if you do take your kid out of an immersion class, don't expect him or her to retain the language. Young kids learn languages faster than do adults, but they also lose them faster.

We'd get better results if we started the languages later--around third grade after native language literacy has been established.

In other words, the Yew Cheung approach where the kids get an hour of Mandarin a day, but do their other work in English is actually a pretty good idea. Quite possibly better than immersion if there's less of a drop-out issue, just not trendy and glamorous in the same way.


Ohlone Alumni Parent
Mountain View
on Mar 14, 2008 at 5:32 pm
Ohlone Alumni Parent, Mountain View
on Mar 14, 2008 at 5:32 pm

I have recently moved from Palo Alto; I do not miss the nastiness of exchanges around Ohlone and the MI program. There is a very ugly side to this community. Ohlone was the best thing that ever happened to my child and it pains me to see the school get trashed.


Reporter
Palo Alto High School
on Oct 19, 2008 at 10:27 am
Reporter, Palo Alto High School
on Oct 19, 2008 at 10:27 am

The cuts have affected the number of people per class. Voice wrote an article about how it affected Paly: Web Link


Paly Parent
Palo Alto High School
on Oct 19, 2008 at 4:00 pm
Paly Parent, Palo Alto High School
on Oct 19, 2008 at 4:00 pm

Spanish classes in Paly and JLS are now 35sh.


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