School board OKs new calendar, staff raises

High school achievement data, counseling programs also discussed Tuesday

The Palo Alto Board of Education Tuesday finalized school district-wide calendars for the next three years, ending – for now – a debate over how early in August the school year should begin.

The school year 2014-15 will run Aug. 18 to June 4. Academic year 2015-16 will run Aug. 17 to June 2, and academic year 2016-17 will run Aug. 15 to June 1.

Tuesday's unanimous vote ended nearly a year of discussion following Palo Alto's major switch in 2012-13 to a calendar in which, for the first time, the semester ends before the December holidays. That change created a work-free semester break for students that was cheered by many, but pushed the school start date to earlier in August.

The calendars adopted Tuesday struck a compromise between parents, who had sought a later August start date, and teachers, who said making the first semester much shorter than the second semester would compromise their teaching.

Also Tuesday, the board unanimously approved a 4 percent pay raise, plus a 2 percent bonus, for all teachers, staff and administrators with the exception of Superintendent Kevin Skelly. In the case of Skelly, they unanimously approved a "one-time annual salary increase" for the 2013-14 school year amounting to 3 percent of his regular pay of $287,163.

Tuesday's raise comes atop a 3 percent raise, plus 1.5 percent bonus for all teachers, staff and administrators except for Skelly, which was awarded in May retroactive to fall 2012.

The raises approved Tuesday will cost the district an ongoing $5 million of its $180 million operating budget, officials said. It will bring the salary of an entry-level teacher from $52,965 to $55,083, plus a one-time bonus of $1,059. A mid-career teacher would go from $85,924 to $89,360, plus a one-time bonus of $1,718. The most senior teachers on Palo Alto's salary schedule now earn $106,951, and an additional 4 percent would bring them to $111,229, plus a one-time bonus of $2,139.

The raises enacted this year were the first for teachers and staff since 2008.

In backing them, board members said they appreciated the district's "positive working relationship" with its two unions, the Palo Alto Educators Association and the California School Employees Association, as well as teachers' willingness to take on slightly larger class sizes and other duties during the lean budget years of the recession.

In other business Tuesday, school district officials reported progress in the percentage of Palo Alto graduates who are "college ready" – meaning they have fulfilled the so-called "A-G requirements," which are prerequisites for entrance to California's public four-year universities.

Historically, the "college-ready" rate has hovered around 80 percent in Palo Alto, but officials have pushed to raise that since a recent decision that, starting with the class of 2016, will make the A-G requirements a condition of high-school graduation for all students except those who have negotiated alternative requirements with the school.

District statistician Diana Wilmot reported Tuesday that the college-readiness rate for the most recent high-school graduating class was 85 percent – 90.8 percent at Gunn High School and 79.6 percent at Palo Alto High School.

Those numbers are up more than 10 percent from a district-wide college-readiness rate of 74.8 percent in 2008.

But the college-readiness rate for "underrepresented subgroups" remains unacceptable, Wilmot said, at only 46 percent for socio-economically disadvantaged students; 52 percent for English learners; 44 percent for special education students; 50 percent for students in the Tinsley Voluntary Transfer Program and 41 percent for students whose parents did not graduate from college.

Among the 21 African-American students who graduated this year, only one-third were college-ready, she said. Of the 69 Hispanic graduates, 55.1 percent were college ready, making for a combined college-readiness rate of "underrepresented minorities" of 50 percent.

Also Tuesday, about 20 middle- and high-school counselors attended the board meeting to report on a recent collaboration program through which they have agreed upon a "framework" for counseling activities and outcomes.

The collaboration, which included a two-day meeting over the summer plus a full-day retreat in September, follows years worth of criticism from some parents over the differing counseling models used at Gunn and Palo Alto high schools.

Counselors from both schools Tuesday said they have been sharing ideas, and school district Student Services Coordinator Brenda Carrillo said she has been trying to determine "comparability" between the schools. "Sometimes it's difficult to do a comparison when you call things by different names, but when you look at it, it's actually the same action even if they call it different names."

Parents Ken Dauber and Kathy Sharp, both of whom have been longtime critics of Gunn's traditional counseling model, reiterated that criticism Tuesday.

Dauber said polling data and satisfaction surveys indicate "consistent and large gaps in counseling services" between Gunn and Paly, which augments its small counseling staff through use of about 40 "teacher advisers."

But Gunn counselor Bill Christensen said recent staff additions and changes in Gunn's program have resulted in "dramatically improved" contact between students and adult counselors at the school.

Counselors said they would return to the board in March 2014 with reports from the individual high schools. Board members requested that those reports include data from polls of students and parents taken this school year.


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Posted by Eileen 1
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 11, 2013 at 11:07 am

@Chris Kenrick

What was the conclusion of the high school counseling issue? Did Ms. Carrillo assert that the programs are now comparable? Did the school board state that they believe that comparability has been achieved? Has this issue been finished, or did they say they plan to revisit it again in a future meeting this year? Ms. Baten Caswell was the board member that requested that this issue be reported back on during the first semester of this year; was she satisfied with Ms. Carrillo's progress or did she request that something further be done?

Thank you for your reporting.

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Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 11, 2013 at 11:32 am

At least one student disagrees with Mr. Christenson's rosy assessment about how it is all better at Gunn now. Posting on paloaltoonline two weeks ago, a Gunn student named Michael posted as follows:

Posted by Michael, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 23, 2013 at 12:29 am
As a senior at Gunn, I am quite annoyed by parents who presume to know more about the school than the students. . .The counseling system is non-existent at best and generally more harmful than helpful to students (at least that's the consensus of all the students I've talked to). Titan 101 is a joke. So yes, Gunn does have its flaws.

Many years of survey data support Michael's assessment of the counseling program at Gunn, made just 2 weeks ago, as "nonexistant at best and generally more harmful than helpful to students." Students also reportedly are unimpressed with Titan 101. That's of course because rather than simply implementing Paly's excellent and decades old TA program, Gunn insisted on reinventing the wheel and coming up with its own program -- which was sure to be inferior to TA because it has not had time to develop and iterate. Sure enough, it is.

I had two children at Gunn. The counseling program then was inadequate and the returns from survey data since that time show that if anything it is worse now. The satisfaction rates are falling, as Paly's continue to rise. At this point the only conclusion one can draw is that the school board is well-aware of the issue but does not care to fix it.

Parents, worn down by being ignored (the GAC is one of the most disgraceful examples of ignoring parent input ever in Palo Alto in my opinion, in which those parents sacrificed a huge amount of their time only to see their recommendations end up on the cutting room floor), have given up. One problem is that people can only pay attention to so much. Their kids are only there for 4 years, after all, and so nothing you or I do on the first day of 9th grade when you realize that the counseling program is not that great is going to be fixed in time to help your child. At that point, people just pay for a private counselor, and that's what they can do. And it's not just rich and "tiger" parents doing that -- regular parents are paying for private college counseling and no one but no one counts on the school to do anything for their child's social-emotional health.

When I first looked at the data showing the discrepency between Paly and Gunn my middle child was a junior in high school (now a junior in college) and my youngest was in third grade. Now he's in 7th grade in a private school and I am confident that nothing will change at Gunn in time for him to attend high school there. That's a shame because I tried harder probably than anyone ever has to bring comparable services to Gunn, and had a 7 year lead time, and it did not happen.

It's a shame that the district's response to students like Michael is to call him a liar by having Mr. Christenson talk about how it's all better now and the board's response to him is to tell him that it does not care. They are taking advantage of the fact that parents have limited time and energy and can't invest in trying to fix something like this when they see that the probably won't prevail but even if they do, it won't be in time to benefit their own child.

It makes me very sad that Gunn kids, who need and deserve to get the benefits of the same quality program as Paly are never going to get it. If I was buying a house in Palo Alto today I would do so north of Oregon Expressway. Regrettably, it's less expensive down here, so that means that poorer kids are getting worse services and everyone knows that is what is happening.

Four years ago, I posted here that this was a north south issue. That the school board simply did not care about providing equity to Gunn. The publisher deleted that statement then as inflammatory. Let's see if he still thinks I am wrong after last night.

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Posted by yet more data...
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 11, 2013 at 11:53 am

"90.8 percent at Gunn High School and 79.6 percent at Palo Alto High School."

Makes you wonder what students at Paly are doing with all that TA access.

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Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Dec 11, 2013 at 1:19 pm

@Eileen, I watched the meeting. The counseling presentation last night was essentially a puff piece describing the role of a secondary school counselor. It could have been copied from the website of a counselor's professional association, and for all I know it was.
The definition of "comparable" that the presentation used was "activities that are similar," drained of any sense of whether the activity is effective or not. The evident goal is to make the actual gap in effectiveness between the two programs disappear.
Dana Tom, who a year ago called the need to improve counseling at Gunn "urgent", pronounced this state of affairs to be "awesome". It was mindboggling, and quite depressing, to watch board members heap praise on a presentation that reflects the victory of staff's resistance to change over the board's abortive attempt to improve counseling at Gunn. That attempt is now abandoned, and last night's presentation was the staff victory party.

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Posted by A Long-Time Observer
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 11, 2013 at 1:19 pm

There are two ways to improve average student performance. One way is to actually teach better. Another way is to find a loop hole that allows you to exclude a below average student from your data. I don't know what "negotiated alternative requirements" are, but I am sure they'll be used by teachers and administrators to make schools look better without actually being better.

(Note: "...a recent decision that, starting with the class of 2016, will make the A-G requirements a condition of high-school graduation for all students except those who have negotiated alternative requirements with the school.")

Watch for teachers and administrators to force students that struggle, who need help the most, into "negotiated alternative requirements." Consistently, our local high schools push out students they would rather not teach or, rather, push out students whose stats they don't want showing up in their average scores.

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Posted by Chris Kenrick, Palo Alto Weekly Staff Writer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 11, 2013 at 2:10 pm

Eileen -- Brenda Carrillo said she's still working on her analysis of comparability and would return with it. She said the individual high schools would return to the board in March with more on what they're doing. Caswell said it would be helpful to have current-year survey data by the time of that presentation, suggesting that it be postponed, if necessary, until survey results are available.

Long-Time Observer -- At the time it was passed in 2011, the "A-G for all" mandate was strongly supported by the Student Equity Action League and the Parent Network for Students of Color (now Parent Advocates for Student Success), who felt it would lead to higher expectations for their students. It was initially opposed by special education parents, who felt it would mean denial of a high-school diploma for many special ed students, and they were unwilling to accept any lesser form of diploma. The alternative requirements, to be negotiated by families on a case-by-case basis, essentially represented a compromise between the two positions.

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Posted by parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 11, 2013 at 2:17 pm

@ michele dauber
i agree with much of your assessment of the situation, the main exception being that paly's system is excellent. much more improvement would have come out of your efforts had the paly system not been held up as the holy grail. but thanks for trying.

the paly community really closed ranks during that controversy, keeping criticism and dirty laundry to themselves.

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Posted by PreBreak Finals at Casti
a resident of another community
on Dec 11, 2013 at 2:41 pm

I thought that moving finals to before break would help the "balanced" students and even out the playing field a bit.

Quite the opposite happened.

Pre-break finals gives a competitive edge to the type-A top GPA students who least need it. The time-tight Fall quashes students in the middle who are equally smart but who work harder to do well.

Even the winter break gives the top students a competitive edge. While half are basking in the work-free winter break glow, the other half have more free time to push further ahead per the Palo Alto public school survey results. 40% worked during break anyway.

And there is more. Senior year, while the top students glide into their good grades, submit one college application that is accepted early decision and have a happy rest of their senior year, equally bright but more deliberate seniors struggle to hold on to their GPAs in that tight Fall and don't lock in early offers and so have a harder time getting into the colleges that the top students locked early spots in.

You'd think whomever thought that pre-break finals was a good idea for kids' sanity would have figured all of this out before pushing it on schools.

Glass half full: now Paly and Casti students the same thing to complain about when they run into each other at Town and Country.

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Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 11, 2013 at 3:40 pm

I understand that it's not, as Dana says, shangri la. But the years of survey results demonstrate its a lot better. I think that getting Gunn to that point where Paly is would have been a substantial improvement even though not Shangri la or holy grail. I'm sorry that it didn't happen and sorry that I could not have been a more effective standard bearer for the effort. I did try my best as did many others and I did have real experiences with my own kids at Gunn that led me to think that TA would have been an improvement. For me this was not an academic exercise. It would have helped.

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Posted by Gunn Mom
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 11, 2013 at 4:19 pm

I am the mother of a senior at Gunn who has had three different Guidance Counselors in his four years at the school. He has a friend who is four for four. We laughed when he had to turn in his Counselor Recommendation for his college apps as he had met his counselor once. Basically Gunn asks the student and family to "write" the recommendation for them. The Counselor just puts it into the prescribed format. I think this really sums up the Gunn Guidance experience. On another note, we found that based on the communication from Gunn Guidance regarding college applications: If you did things when they suggested, you would be at least a month behind in the application process.

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Posted by you're on to something
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 11, 2013 at 7:54 pm

" I think that getting Gunn to that point where Paly is would have been a substantial improvement even though not Shangri la or holy grail."

Oh, of course! Getting Gunn to 79.6 percent college-readiness rate will be a significant improvement. One small problem, how to reduce their current 90,8 percent to 79.6? I'm sure adopting TA at Gunn can solve that.
We really do have great ideas on this forum!

Like this comment
Posted by village fool
a resident of another community
on Dec 11, 2013 at 10:32 pm

[Post removed.]

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Posted by Gunn Parent
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Dec 12, 2013 at 9:10 am

You're on to something has the same problem as the Board - the inability to create meaningful measurements of the counseling service delivery system at both schools. A-G attainment is an outcome of much more than counseling. As the report showed, many of the students who did not attain A-G (College Readiness) were showing signs of falling behind as early as 5th grade.

What is an effective measure of the efficacy of the counseling dept? Your tax dollars have funded numerous studies and surveys and they all say the same thing - Paly students and families are more satisfied with the services they receive. (Strategic Plan Survey)

The Gunn Advisory Council identified 40 actions for improvement at Gunn. To date, we have not had a report as to how many of these have been implemented. Nor has staff produced a definition of comparability.

So, after more than four years of Board resolutions, studies and discussions, per the last round of survey results, Gunn students are less satisfied with counseling services than Paly students. It is not a surprise. The three tier system at Paly - counselors, college counselors and Teacher Advisors allows more of an opportunity for students to connect with an individual, form a relationship and secure advise - college, career, personal. As Gunn mom points out above, the system at Gunn leaves kids rotating from person to person or standing in line.

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Posted by parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 12, 2013 at 10:32 am

Paly community is savvy enough to know that if they complain, their letters of recommendation may be effected. Enough said about the survey on satisfaction.

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Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 12, 2013 at 11:40 am

Paly's system may be better, but its is far from perfect.

@Gunn Mom - as a former Paly parent, many TA's at Paly do the same thing that the Gunn counselor's do - they also ask the student and in this case, other teachers to "write" the recommendation for them". Here is the request form:

Web Link

My son's senior year, his TA didn't remember being his TA or writing him a req letter although he had been his advisor for three years and teacher for two. The college counselors also only meet with the students individually if they bring in forms and initiate the meeting.

The one thing that seems relatively simple to change at Gunn would be for the students to have the same Guidance Counselor for all 4 years which would allow the counselors to get to know the students.

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Posted by Gunn mom
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Dec 12, 2013 at 12:46 pm

I don't know how many of us there are but yes my senior has had four different counselors. Considering a least one of them there may be advantages.

Unfortunately, it seems to me that the efficacy and student satisfaction of the counselor services is directly correlated to whom you are assigned. No matter how the matrix is structured the skills and individual personalities of the counselors are what makes it work. It may be politically incorrect but tracking satisfaction by provider will give you the best data.

I found Gunn did a fine job of providing resources to parents and students for college applications. The expectation was that the student lead the process and kept on top of it. I think this is fine. As UnAmerican as it sounds high school staff, counselors and academic should not be based on a mission statement of "to obtain high school academic bragging rights by getting our top students into the media rated top school". Should the mission not be to foster academic curiosity, challenge and mastery for each individual student in a supportive environment fir the purpose of equipping Palo Altos young adults for life. Is the mission defined anywhere?

I have a Gunn graduate, senior and sophomore. The youngest go caught in the knee jerk band aid program of Titan 101 that appeared to be implemented after the bad press of the survey. Increased stress as added to schedule at the last minute. A forum of 30 students that meet 6 times a year is not a safe place for struggling students to address issues. It may even exacerbate them as they see others talking about handling things well.

I was EXTREMELY disappointed with how they handled academic struggles. In my day this was the pivotal mandate of the counselor. Please meet with every student who get warning letters at the 1quarter marks. Supporting and providing accountability to these kids at the first indication of trouble will protect the mental health of these kids.

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Posted by yet more data...
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 12, 2013 at 8:06 pm

Gunn Parent doesn't realize that one of the main responsibilities for counseling staff is to assure that students are on track to complete the college preparatory coursework included in the district’s graduation requirements,
Gunn Parent fails to consider data that doesn't match her preconceived position. Every recent objective piece of data has shown Gunn counseling exceeding Paly.
"When the Facts Change, I Change My Mind. What Do You Do, Sir?"

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Posted by Turn this noise off
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 12, 2013 at 8:20 pm

". Every recent objective piece of data has shown Gunn counseling exceeding Paly. " What a truly false and dishonest statement that is. I call BS yet more is a Gunn teacher. No one else would say such a thing ever. Just stop. You won. No need to lie. Just go away secure in the knowledge that there will never ever be equal counseling at Gunn and Paly. Give yourself extra credit for putting the item on the agenda so late that the student board reps were gone already. Project Safety Net won't ever criticize your decision to ignore its recommendation for advisory. They are co-opted. Even Professor Dauber threw in the towel. There is no threat that Gunn kids will get what they need and deserve. And when the next crisis comes you should reflect on what you did but you won't.

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Posted by Skelly is laughing
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 12, 2013 at 8:39 pm

It is a good realization that those of us who see Kevin Skelly and the board for what they are have pretty much had our rear ends kicked. Tuesday's presentation was a Stepford, robotic cheerleading session without having anything to cheer about.mthis was the same meeting when money was being thrown about. Teachers and principals got not only raises, but bonuses, based only on the fact that we had extra money laying around. I've watched Skelly promising the board and parents that he wants to get better, that there was a miscommunication, that the staff has done a great job, but essentially he skated through the suicides, the Brown Act violations (compare his secretive Weekly Communications from pre-May 2012 to the self-promoting fluff that he puts out now), and civil rights violations. His reward was another raise. I'd like to see teachers, board members, PiE people, or anyone else (even Tabitha Hurley) post here all or some of Skelly's accomplishments. Defend him, I dare you.

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Posted by ...all the way to the bank
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Dec 13, 2013 at 3:06 pm

If Skelly is laughing,,it's because he is patting himself on the back for the great job he did of back pedaling, chicanery, subject-changing when questioned, and lying. Of course, it is easy to deceive the School Board, they never really listen to the important things or to the parental input.

Now that Skelly has a PR person it is even easier to deceive us all by having her to put a sugary spin on everything. [Portion removed.]

Let's just see what happens when PAUSD starts losing lawsuits and has to pay out on them. Start looking for new dogs, Kevin!

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Posted by FrustratedMom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 14, 2013 at 1:12 am

Who would like to join a Class Action Lawsuit against the district? I bet we could find a good ACLU lawyer or someone equally qualified to do the only thing that will get these administrators and board members to FINALLY pay attention - a LAWSUIT with real consequences! Seriously, I am sick to death of all the corruption of OUR tax dollars being wasted and not being used to HELP OUR KIDS. Special ed kids, regular ed kids, gosh the wrong-doings of this band of fools is SO pervasive, I wouldn't even know which issues to start with when discussing things with the lawyers. Every day I read on this blog how outraged we all are. If you are really feeling it, STAND up and do something. Unfortunately, in our country a class-action lawsuit is really the only thing that will force lasting change. You know it's true. Join me, parents!

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Posted by ever consider that
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 14, 2013 at 7:23 am

Frustrated Mom and others,

If the district is sooo bad, why not transfer your child to a better school district? Your family doesn't need to move. There are plenty of schools around us which get paid by the student that would love to have more children to teach. That would be something that helps your child right now, unlike lawsuits that take years to resolve, are extremely expensive, and have uncertain outcomes so won't help your child now and may not even help him later either.

Maybe you think that the threat of a lawsuit will be what will change things for your family.

A lawsuit's harassment value is not high when brought against a school district though. Public schools' income comes to it automatically so there is no need to settle especially knowing that judges and juries are reluctant to rule against them for lots of very sound reasons e.g. the "deep pocket" is the taxpayers - you and me - and our kids.

Maybe your goal instead is to bring a lawsuit to damage the "brand." That strategy might work when fighting corporations that live and die by their stock price, but does not work against public school districts either.

Just look at how blemishing the brand has played out here since 2011 when Ken Dauber and his wife Michelle Dauber took their complaints to the newspaper, calling for the superintendent to be fired.
Web Link

Since that opinion piece appeared in the paper, demand for homes in Palo Alto have far exceeded supply with home prices and property tax revenues skyrocketing. That is a vote of confidence in our community and its schools. It seems counterintuitive given the negative press lately, but it makes sense. People get trusted information from trusted sources NOT, given the constant barrage of questionable and discredited sources on the news and internet, from opinion pieces and anonymous posters on an on-line forum.

A better way to read the way the wind is blowing in town is to look at what 3k district parents and students said: 90%+ are satisfied with the academics in our schools and 80%+ with the school environment.

Web Link

Also look at the district's exit results.

Take the much-maligned-on-this-forum Gunn High School. 98% of Gunn seniors went straight to college last year. That's extraordinarily impressive when you consider that 8% of them were low-income and many first generation to go to college, that 10% faced such severe daily physical, academic or emotional challenges that they were considered "disabled" in the eyes of the state, and that the national college-going average is just a tad over 60%.

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Posted by $160K and worth every penny
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 14, 2013 at 7:32 am

Thanks Tabitha!

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Posted by $160K and worth every penny
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 14, 2013 at 7:34 am

*This message brought to you by the Palo Alto Board of Realtors. Please disregard information regarding federal findings against PAUSD from the Office for Civil Rights. There is nothing to see here. Move along.

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Posted by ever consider that
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 14, 2013 at 9:30 am

Who is Tabitha? Not me.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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