The school board will Tuesday night hold a public hearing on an increased parcel tax and, in light of a student's death this weekend, will expand a previously scheduled agenda item dedicated to an overview of mental health and wellness services to a broader discussion about the district's efforts surrounding suicide prevention and students' social-emotional well-being.
Board President Melissa Baten Caswell and Superintendent Max McGee told the Weekly Monday that they would likely recommend that a less time-sensitive agenda item on professional development be rescheduled for another meeting in order to give the community and board ample time to discuss student wellness.
"This is an opportunity to discuss how we can take positive action to improve suicide prevention and mental health resources for our students, and more generally how to improve student social and emotional well-being," board member Ken Dauber wrote on a blog dedicated to school issues and his work on the board. "From my perspective, one important area of focus for the board is ensuring that the policies and direction that the board has already adopted are fully implemented in areas such as homework and counseling."
Dauber said he expects this agenda item to come before the board around 8 p.m. Tuesday.
First on the board's agenda will be a public hearing regarding a proposed parcel tax, which voters could see this May and would raise the $638 that voters now pay to $758 per parcel.
The public hearing will begin at 7 p.m. and immediately after, the board will vote whether to place the tax on a mail-in ballot that would be sent to voters in April.
All but one board member expressed their support for the $120 increase at the Jan. 14 board meeting, stressing that if the district wants to invest in the innovative, new programming that is desired by the community in many areas, particularly student wellness and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), it needs this fresh source of funding.
"To assure our vision to 'support all PAUSD students as they prepare themselves to thrive as global citizens in a rapidly changing world' becomes a reality, we foresee investing in three areas: 1) assuring equitable opportunities and access to a comprehensive, innovative, and robust curriculum and instruction that will prepare students for college and careers, including those that do not yet exist in fields we have yet to discover; 2) increasing innovative science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programming for all students; and 3) fostering student physical, psychological, and social-emotional wellness," a staff report on the tax reads.
Specific programming within these areas includes extended family and student counseling, workshops and classes beyond what is already offered; summer school; early literacy support; keeping advanced elective classes below 30 students and nursing services for elementary school students.
"I think that it's clear both in terms of community willingness to support resources for the schools and also in terms of the demonstrable needs that we have that it makes sense to go with some level of increase," board member Ken Dauber said Monday.
At the Jan. 14 meeting, board member Terry Godfrey was wary that early polling support for the $120 increase wasn't strong enough, and suggested a $96 hike instead.
In a poll that a consultant administered for the district in December, 70 percent of the 402 registered Palo Alto voters surveyed supported the $120 increase after hearing both positives and negative arguments for it. (The poll simulated opposition arguments to the increase, and asked what amounts voters would support based on both the positive and negative arguments.) Seventy-three percent of those polled said they would support the $96 increase after hearing both positive and negative information.
Voters approved the current parcel tax in 2010, which started at $589 per parcel and with 2 percent automatic annual increases has risen to the $638 that voters now pay. The 2010 tax was set to last for six years and expires at the end of the 2015-16 fiscal year.
The proposed parcel tax renewal, also with a six-year life span and 2 percent annual adjustments, is expected to initially generate $14.7 million in revenue, according to district staff.
The board meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the board room at district headquarters, 25 Churchill Ave. View the full agenda here.