News

Palo Alto schools face even bigger budget gap

'Structural deficit' will grow to $5.7 million next year, but federal stimulus funds and reserves will plug a $2.6 million gap this year

Palo Alto schools will be hit with a "structural deficit" of $5.7 million -- about 4 percent of its operating budget and bigger than earlier projections -- in 2010-2011, district budget officials said Tuesday night.

The extra budget hit is due to flat property-tax growth and state budget cutbacks, Co-Chief Business Officer Cathy Mak told the Board of Education.

Moreover, the county assessor has been flooded with homeowner requests for downward reassessments, an ominous sign for the property-tax revenue that comprises 68 percent of the Palo Alto schools' $154 million operating budget.

Mak delivered the projections based on the latest reports from Sacramento and dismal estimates on 2009-2011 property-tax growth from the Santa Clara County Controller-Treasurer's Office.

The school district already has taken steps to conserve funds, including imposing a "soft" hiring freeze and slightly loosening the 20-student cap on K-3 class sizes.

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Pending future budget updates in November and December, Superintendent Kevin Skelly said he will continue to watch every penny.

"We'll do whatever we can do make our budgets more scaled back. I can do things like change the food we serve at different events."

With various reserve funds and federal stimulus money that will plug a $2.6 million deficit in the current year and help in future years as well, board members said Palo Alto is far better off than many other school districts.

"Clearly we have a challenge here, but so do districts all over the state," Skelly said.

Board members vowed to approach cost-cutting decisions with openness about the challenges, collaboration with parents, teachers and other employees, and a continued priority of academic excellence.

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Also Tuesday night, the board approved "conceptual designs" for about $50 million in expansion and renovation projects at JLS, Jordan and Terman middle schools and discussed with architects details of major renovations of Palo Alto and Gunn High Schools.

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Palo Alto schools face even bigger budget gap

'Structural deficit' will grow to $5.7 million next year, but federal stimulus funds and reserves will plug a $2.6 million gap this year

by / Palo Alto Online

Uploaded: Wed, Sep 9, 2009, 1:07 am

Palo Alto schools will be hit with a "structural deficit" of $5.7 million -- about 4 percent of its operating budget and bigger than earlier projections -- in 2010-2011, district budget officials said Tuesday night.

The extra budget hit is due to flat property-tax growth and state budget cutbacks, Co-Chief Business Officer Cathy Mak told the Board of Education.

Moreover, the county assessor has been flooded with homeowner requests for downward reassessments, an ominous sign for the property-tax revenue that comprises 68 percent of the Palo Alto schools' $154 million operating budget.

Mak delivered the projections based on the latest reports from Sacramento and dismal estimates on 2009-2011 property-tax growth from the Santa Clara County Controller-Treasurer's Office.

The school district already has taken steps to conserve funds, including imposing a "soft" hiring freeze and slightly loosening the 20-student cap on K-3 class sizes.

Pending future budget updates in November and December, Superintendent Kevin Skelly said he will continue to watch every penny.

"We'll do whatever we can do make our budgets more scaled back. I can do things like change the food we serve at different events."

With various reserve funds and federal stimulus money that will plug a $2.6 million deficit in the current year and help in future years as well, board members said Palo Alto is far better off than many other school districts.

"Clearly we have a challenge here, but so do districts all over the state," Skelly said.

Board members vowed to approach cost-cutting decisions with openness about the challenges, collaboration with parents, teachers and other employees, and a continued priority of academic excellence.

Also Tuesday night, the board approved "conceptual designs" for about $50 million in expansion and renovation projects at JLS, Jordan and Terman middle schools and discussed with architects details of major renovations of Palo Alto and Gunn High Schools.

Comments

John
Stanford
on Sep 9, 2009 at 12:09 pm
John, Stanford
on Sep 9, 2009 at 12:09 pm

To save money, the district should measure the gains in learning on the CST that different teachers produce in reading and math, then assign students to teachers who are the most effective.

This is a far more effective strategy and reform than class size reduction. In fact, an effective teacher produces 2 times the learning gains when compared to class size reduction.


Irvin
University South
on Sep 9, 2009 at 1:07 pm
Irvin, University South
on Sep 9, 2009 at 1:07 pm

Just a thought: seems like the budget problems stem from a decline in property tax revenue. Could this not be the other side of "oppose new housing because of stresses the new children place on the school district"? I mean doesn't the new housing add to the districts tax coffers?


Erin
Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 9, 2009 at 2:10 pm
Erin, Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 9, 2009 at 2:10 pm

It would be nice if the facts were presented in a clear way for people to really understand. Property tax revenues for 2008-2009 came in 11% higher than 2007-2008. The district conservatively budgets for 3% growth in property tax revenue. Obviously last year, even with a downturn in the economy, property tax revenues still went up.

This year the county has given a projection of 2.6% growth for 2009-2010. That is lower than the budgeted 3% so people start to freak out. We have to remember that Palo Alto is a different animal than the rest of the county and while it's definitely not smart to assume a 10% increase in property taxes every year, I do think we ought to not panic quite so much that we make hasty and drastic decisicions over the summer that will have a lasting effect on the students.

There was also just an article this morning about the County Assessor's office making errors in reassessments and many property assessments will be going up in the coming weeks. They're calling it a computer glitch. Ha ha! I wish I had a computer that had glitches that could get me hundreds of thousands of dollars back!


Erin
Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 9, 2009 at 3:38 pm
Erin, Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 9, 2009 at 3:38 pm

Sorry, I have my data a bit wrong from the board packet. The county has estimated that this year's property tax growth will be 2.06%, not 2.6% as I previously stated. The district is being even more conservative than ever before and is budgeting a 0% growth.


Midtown parent
Gunn High School
on Sep 10, 2009 at 8:59 pm
Midtown parent, Gunn High School
on Sep 10, 2009 at 8:59 pm

Of course the results of having our children under so much stress is going to be the cause of houses going lower in price, because people will think about it before they buy a house here. This is one of the reasons why sometimes things happens here and in Los Altos, and districts want to ignore it, because it is a negative thing for the district. The more people know about our victims teenagers who could not handle the stress anymore, the less sells of houses in Palo alto. There fore less money for the district. Right now the district is spending money like crazy in construction, whey they know that there is a big budget deficit. They rather add more kids to classrooms and cut some services than stop the crazy construction that is going around the schools.


Erin
Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 10, 2009 at 11:01 pm
Erin, Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 10, 2009 at 11:01 pm

The Measure A bond funds that are paying for the construction you see cannot go to operating costs for the disrtrict. They are being ultra-conservative with the operating budget but are doing exactly as they should with the bond money and building when construction costs are low. They can't usd the money for anything else anyway.


Paly Parent
Palo Alto High School
on Sep 10, 2009 at 11:26 pm
Paly Parent, Palo Alto High School
on Sep 10, 2009 at 11:26 pm

Just got back from the Paly back to school night. Found out one of our classes has 37 students, didn't hear numbers from all the classes. Once again, several classes started without enough desks for the students and even now, there are not enough text books arrived at the school for each student to have one - and these are AP classes. And as for technology in the classrooms, I didn't see one smart board, very few computers, and one teacher was using an overhead projector to display information to us.

Our schools and classrooms are overcrowded - what are the fire safety numbers for these classrooms? We can't continue squashing them in like sardines. The teachers may or may not be excellent, but the infrastructure and the basic teaching materials are sadly lacking.


palo alto mom
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 11, 2009 at 11:07 am
palo alto mom, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 11, 2009 at 11:07 am

Paly Parent -

Much of the technology you see in the elementary and middle school classrooms has come from the PTA and PiE grants, not the school district.

Since the district has to take all students, it is sometimes hard to plan exactly how many kids there will be in a class. I also think they try to keep the 9th grade classes small. The alternative to 37 kids in an AP class would probably be letting 25 take the class and the rest don't get to.


Paly Parent
Palo Alto High School
on Sep 11, 2009 at 5:38 pm
Paly Parent, Palo Alto High School
on Sep 11, 2009 at 5:38 pm

palo alto mom

Thanks for your comments. I have a freshman who says that many of his classes are over 30 and at least one classroom didn't have enough desks on the first day of school. I agree with you though on the AP classes, but they still seemed pretty full of desks and I found it pretty difficult trying to walk to an empty desk away from the door with my small backpack without hitting someone already seated so I don't know what it must be like for kids with large backpacks. I am sure the classrooms are not designed for this many kids.

As for PTA and PIE paying for technology, how come they are not paying for it in the high schools? I give my money expecting it to benefit my kids' education directly. If it is not being spent on something that affects the education of all, then what is the money being spent on? I sure hope it is not on glass blowing rooms or something that only affects a small percentage of the student body.


Concerned Citizen
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 12, 2009 at 6:10 pm
Concerned Citizen, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 12, 2009 at 6:10 pm

First of all, unless we're going to guarantee a down economy 2-5 years down the line, there is no way to plan construction for when the economy is down to get savings there.

Secondly, if the district was concerned about money, they would not be planning those buildings at Gunn like money is no object, as they have been. They are spending WAY more on just poor decisions and on certain people's agendas than they are ever going to save even if they could take advantage of the economy.

The down economy argument is being used as an excuse to railroad through unwise, big spending on construction. Someone should be examining Skelley's relationship with the architect, since he worked with them before and they stand to make more money from the way things are proceeding. (I'm not making an accusation, but those incentives are there and the developments have been problematic in light of those incentives, it should be more carefully monitored.)


elementary parent
Crescent Park
on Sep 12, 2009 at 10:33 pm
elementary parent, Crescent Park
on Sep 12, 2009 at 10:33 pm

Paly Parent,
A quick look at the PTSA site gives the following link: Web Linkptsa_meet_min.html">Web Link
They have some links to what they are spending money on. There is also other fundraisers such as "Project Your Spirit" raising money for LCD projectors in each classroom: Web Link
Follow up with the PTAs if you want to donate.


Paly Parent
Palo Alto High School
on Sep 13, 2009 at 8:46 am
Paly Parent, Palo Alto High School
on Sep 13, 2009 at 8:46 am

elem parent

OK we may be getting a bit off topic here, but to me it is still down to how money has been spent in the past.

When my kids were in elementary school, money from somewhere was spent on technology. I participated in fundraisers for digital cameras, laptops, smartboards, etc. during the course of their time there. I saw technology appear in all my kids' classrooms and a huge difference from when the first started to the last left. The same to some extent could be said at middle school although there was more there when we started. Now we are in high school and it is as if we are going back in history. I saw so little technology in classrooms that I wonder what has been happening in the past. I am particularly concerned about the language classrooms as my kids tell me that the only technology there are videos (not even dvds).

My kids have left elementary school and I know for a fact that the present students are benefitting from the technology that my peers obtained. The middle schools are the same and my kids in part benefitted from the previous efforts. In high school, the money that I am sure could have been spent on technology, has been used elsewhere and my kids feel that they are in a technological wilderness and it is almost amusing to them. Yes, they do have some ebooks and they are downloading homework and doing homework on line, but all the bells and whistles of technology that they have been used to seeing and using on a daily basis, is lacking.

Getting LCD projectors for the classrooms are great aims and well worthwhile. I am just sad that it is down to the present PTSA to start this effort.


palo alto mom
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 13, 2009 at 9:08 am
palo alto mom, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 13, 2009 at 9:08 am

It is economics - if you look at the PTA budgets of Jordan and Paly as example, Jordan has about 228,000 for 900 or so students and Paly has 203,000 for about 1800. There are also many more things to "donate" to in high school, sports boosters and the teams if you want to play, band, drama, etc.

BTW - the PiE money that goes to technology is in the form of grants requested by teachers. Otherwise, the PiE money goes to pay for staff.


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