Palo Alto school board urged to be 'bold' yet also exercise caution on new-school plans

Superintendent, enrollment committee present final report, recommendations

There was a mixed bag of reactions Tuesday night to Palo Alto Superintendent Max McGee's and his Enrollment Management Advisory Committee's (EMAC) final report and recommendations, with at least one board member expressing enthusiastic support but others caution.

School board members were mostly supportive of passing the baton from EMAC to a new task force that would take a closer look at whether the district truly needs to open a new elementary, middle or high school. They disagreed, however, on what the role of that new group should be.

McGee's recommendation is that this group of teachers, administrators, students and parents start work next month to "develop a comprehensive plan and proposed model" for a PK-12 campus that encompasses three neighboring district sites -- Cubberley Community Center, 525 San Antonio Road and Greendell School on Middlefield Road -- with the goal of issuing a report to the board by October.

Despite the recommendation that this task force take a comprehensive look at the district, from pre-kindergarten through high school, debate over the secondary schools in particular — not only in size and capacity but also connectedness, pedagogy and ability to innovate — took center stage in both board and community comments on Tuesday night.

For some, the EMAC's and McGee's recommendations offer a reinvigorating moonshot the district has been waiting for.

"I think that in the sense of John F. Kennedy, this is a shoot to the moon," said board member Camille Townsend of McGee's recommendations. "It's about time. I've been on the board almost 13 years — there are very few times in life we get this opportunity."

Townsend said she feels a "drumbeat" in the community to explore a different kind of educational model in Palo Alto.

McGee, for his part, characterized the committee's work over the last 10 months as a much-needed spark for "big thinking" in the district.

"I think this task force can be a catalyst for thinking bigger about current practices, and it already has been. The opportunities and access of student-driven project based learning are evident, not just through AAR (Advanced Authentic Research, a new independent research program for high school students) but in our classrooms," he said.

"Opportunities for community engagement, for expanding the school day, school year and campus beyond our borders — those conversations are occurring perhaps unlike they have in recent memory," he continued.

Several district parents and community members repeatedly urged the board to be "bold" and not shy away from decisions that might feel risky. Palo Alto resident Helen Waters, speaking at her first-ever school board meeting, told the board: If "it feels risky, you're probably on the right path because that is what innovation and disruption feels like."

Others, both on the board and in the community, were not as convinced by the enrollment committee's case for a new secondary school.

New board Vice President Terry Godfrey, Ken Dauber and Melissa Baten Caswell all questioned whether Palo Alto's high schools are, in fact, too big, and if their true capacities merit the opening of a third site.

"I've said it before: 'We can do a lot of things; we can't do everything,'" Baten Caswell said. "So we have to pick and choose what we're going to do. I would love a fresh, brand-new start and go invent a school. I think that would be really fun. But is that the best use of our resources?

"I'm not talking about the money we can get from the VC community. I'm talking about the bandwidth that we have to get things done. I would really like to take a look and say, 'What are the most impactful things we can do for our schools?' I'd like that to be our task force because I don't think we had (in the enrollment committee) the people on the ground that are closest to the problem respond to that," Baten Caswell continued.

Dauber pointed to new student survey data, collected in November by EMAC's secondary subcommittee and released Tuesday, that indicates students themselves are satisfied with the current size of their schools. Only 7 percent of high school respondents said they are dissatisfied or strongly dissatisfied with the overall size of their schools today, and only 6 percent say their schools feel very crowded or tight. Students also ranked more elective classes, choice options and alternative learning pathways as the most important elements that a new middle and/or high school could have.

About half of high school teachers who responded to the survey also said they are satisfied with their school's overall size, compared to 15 percent who are dissatisfied or strongly dissatisfied. About 18 percent of high school teachers said their schools feel very crowded.

As the enrollment committee presented its preliminary analysis, findings and recommendations to the board at three meetings throughout the fall, the question of how to best manage enrollment in the district became intertwined with questions of pedagogy, school culture, student connectedness and well-being, particularly at the high school level. To address these questions, it is not school size the district should look to, Dauber said, but rather issues like excessive homework, test and project stacking and sleep deprivation.

"We have great resources in our current secondary schools of professionals who are doing now the work of understanding what kind of progress we need to make and that the best support that we can give them and the students in those high schools is to enable them to continue to do that work," Dauber said. "I don't think we need a task force to surface for them that work. I think we need to do better at supporting those teachers and members in those school communities who are doing it."

Other board members and several members of the community voiced similar concerns that investing resources — both in terms of dollars and personnel — in an effort to evaluate the need for new schools will inevitably mean less focus and energy on needed reforms at the existing schools.

Well aware of this concern, EMAC's secondary subcommittee has over the last few months repeatedly urged the district to take a "both/and" approach moving forward: work to make changes at the existing middle and high schools while simultaneously evaluating the need for a new school or schools.

McGee, too, is recommending not only the creation of the task force but also that the district "encourage, empower and incentivize the secondary schools principals, leadership teams, faculty and staff to design, develop, implement, and evaluate innovative programs, services, and supports that will increase student connectedness and authentic engagement, provide additional student choice, and enhance and deepen student learning."

Marc Vincenti, a former Gunn High School teacher and campaign coordinator of grassroots school-reform campaign Save the 2,008, questioned the value of a "both/and" approach.

"Instead of working on a grand scale, let's target our efforts," he told the board. "Let's spend less money and re-stitch our schools' social fabrics, instead of spending millions to create a new school out of a whole cloth. I'm concerned that this Cubberley project will preoccupy us with design disagreements, conflicts about a lottery, construction issues, staff relocations and building delays."

"I think that we can be bold and forward-thinking within our own two existing high schools," said parent Mary Vincent. "My concern is that the most precious asset of the board and the administration of the district is their time and attention. My concern is that this proposal would be too much of a dilution of the time and attention and I know that administrators can multitask. I just think that there are a lot of things that we are on the road to improving in our two existing high schools and I would prefer to see our attention still directed there."

For the elementary-level recommendations, most board members agreed with McGee's recommendation to place at Nixon Elementary School an influx of about 150 new elementary students set to enter the district in 2017 from new Stanford University housing currently under construction, with plans to add portables to accommodate them.

Board President Heidi Emberling, however, said, "In the long run, this does feel a bit like a Band-Aid approach to growth." She also said that she's supportive of opening a new elementary school at the 525 San Antonio Road/Greendell site "within the context of a larger Cubberley plan."

Dauber, too, said there is a demonstrated need for a new elementary school and suggested pursuing an assessment of which district properties would make the most sense for a new site rather than adding portables at Nixon.

Dauber, Godfrey and Baten Caswell also asked for McGee to look into potential solutions to address what they said are overcrowded middle schools. About 63 percent of middle-school students reported in EMAC's survey, however, that they are satisfied or strongly satisfied with their school sizes. About 7 percent said they are dissatisfied or strongly dissatisfied and the same percentage reported their school feels very crowded or tight in terms of physical space.

Middle-school teachers reported lower levels of satisfaction with school size (though only 69 teachers participated in the survey compared to 729 middle-school students). About 26 percent of teachers said they are satisfied or strongly satisfied with school size compared to 32 percent who are dissatisfied or strongly dissatisfied. Thirty-three precent of teacher-respondents said their school feels very crowded or tight.

Joe Lee, chair of the EMAC secondary subcommittee, said his team has seen an "appetite" in the community and on the board for a fourth middle school, but cautioned against focusing on which schools feel crowded today — the middle schools — versus those that will become more so in several years — the high schools.

Lee said while middle school enrollment will peak this fall with about 100 to 200 additional students, high school enrollment will peak in fall 2020 with 700 more students than there are today.

"Therefore, our high schools will be in the exact same position five years from now as our middle schools are today," he said. "It seems inconsistent and illogical to ignore the high school size, capacity and enrollment problem when there appears to be consensus today to tackle middle-school size, capacity and enroll problem especially when it takes (several) years to bring a new school online."

Dauber also raised the issue of financing for a potential new school, voicing concern about references in the EMAC secondary subcommittee's final report to private funding sources -- which would be inappropriate to use to support operating expenses, he said. McGee responded that any determination on funding is "the work of that task force," though his "assumption" is any venture capital or private funding would be used for capital rather than operating expenses.

The enrollment committee's and McGee's recommendations will return for action at the board's next meeting on Jan. 26. If the recommendations are approved, McGee aims to develop a charge and budget for the new task force, which the board will be expected to act upon in February.

The district will also host a town hall on the committee's recommendations on Jan. 20, 7-8:30 p.m. The meeting will also be streamed online.

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20 people like this
Posted by Bethany
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 13, 2016 at 10:07 am

I watched the Board meeting last night with some interest. Kudos to the 3 members of the Board (Heidi, Terry and Camille) for supporting Max's recommendations and the recommendations of the EMAC, who has done a remarkable job BTW. The presentation I read here is very professionally done. Web Link I'm constantly amazed at the skill level of our parent "volunteers" in Palo Alto, which is far different from the busy parents in my hometown in Colorado.

While I don't think portables at Nixon is the best idea for the new kids in the Stanford housing rectangle, it can be a good placeholder until the District decides on a new 13th elementary school, perhaps as part of the preK-12 Cubberley complex. And, as the EMAC team properly stated, the Southeast quadrant needs some major addition of capacity due to shifting demographics. But the bigger issue is that our school boundaries need to be periodically re-evaluated every few years.

Obviously the secondary school recommendations are more complex (and potentially more expensive). Max's idea to properly incentivize teachers and administrators for innovative ideas makes lots of sense. Yes, no doubt innovation happens ad hoc today due to efforts of a few heroic teachers, but Max is talking about making innovations more systematic in our current middle and high schools. I don't think it is even a matter of debate that our town has a surprisingly traditional school curriculum. Not surprisingly, most of the parents who got up and spoke during open forum said exactly the same thing.

I fully support the idea of a follow-on Task Force to explore the 5 findings of the EMAC secondary schools team. There was some chatter about how the District has already spent money to expand our high schools and therefore that money would be "wasted". That point of view is so darn short-sighted and is a “sunk cost fallacy” (as one parent put it). Even the blue-chip 2007 High School Task Force that authorized expansion of our 2 high schools stated that the idea of a third high school should be re-visited in 7-8 years. And so here we are in 2016.

Admittedly, the new Task Force may determine that a new high school is too expensive for Palo Alto to afford. OK, that's fine, but let's allow them to do the work before we leap to conclusions. I often really don't understand the reluctance in our town to explore new ideas. The attitude seems to be "well, if things aren't broke, let's not fix them". Really? Is that best for our kids?

Thank goodness we have the EMAC, the Superintendent and 3 Board members (no thanks to Melissa and Ken) who are willing to dig deeper into new ways, and not simply be satisfied with the "the way things are".

Good luck to the next Task Force!

7 people like this
Posted by Don't let the door hit you
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 13, 2016 at 10:21 am

[Post removed.]

14 people like this
Posted by not again
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 13, 2016 at 10:52 am

"Dauber pointed to new student survey data, collected in November by EMAC's secondary subcommittee and released Tuesday, that indicates students themselves are satisfied with the current size of their schools. Only 7 percent of high school respondents said they are dissatisfied or strongly dissatisfied with the overall size of their schools today, and only 6 percent say their schools feel very crowded or tight. "


"Dauber, Godfrey and Baten Caswell also asked for McGee to look into potential solutions to address what they said are overcrowded middle schools."

However, the new student survey data, collected in November for middle school students Web Link
had only 7.2% say their schools feel very crowded or tight.

How does Dauber even rationalize his comments to himself? His cherry picking of data has to stop.

9 people like this
Posted by Don't let the door hit you
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 13, 2016 at 11:09 am

This story incorrectly reports Ken Dauber's comments on the middle schools. Terry Godfrey is the one who said that the middle schools were "bursting." Dauber said he thinks that we might need a new middle school but that he can't actually tell because the EMAC didn't actually do a capacity analysis. Therefore he asked that the new committee do the capacity analysis that the EMAC failed to do and if it found that the school was over capacity he might well support it.

In addition, there is more evidence for the middle schools being overcrowded even in the EMAC's own shoddy work. That is that 30% of MS teachers, compared to 18% of HS teachers, think that the schools are crowded.

Blame the reporter's failure to report accurately what was said, not Dauber.

[Portion removed.]

8 people like this
Posted by Up ahead
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 13, 2016 at 11:40 am

Innovation is increasingly understood to be a user-centric phenomenon. In other words, those with real problems to solve, who are willing to lead in solving them, and likely to benefit personally from solving them, are most likely to truly innovate. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention. Caswell is right that understanding problems closest to where they are on the ground is essential for organizations that wish to innovate. Facilitating "lead users." Unfortunately, our district (and Caswell) is pretty bad at that, and prioritizes the outcome of petty personal doings of powerful staff members (otherwise known as "CYA" etc) above anything like working to solve problems or working with others trying to solve problems. I wish I could say otherwise, but that seems unchanged.

In California, rich people can very easily form private schools for themselves and their friends to completely avoid a nasty middle school experience, for example. In fact, poor people can, too. All you have to do is file a private school affadavit. If enough of them decide to do it together, they can form their own microschools. That's a short step to inviting in a charter when they realize they are paying for other people's kids to have great facilities their kids can't access. Unless you are Larry Ellison and are willing to build a campus for your charter.

The other possibility is innovating with independent study in order to stagger the school day at the existing schools. If some kids wanted to take Stanford online high school math, or udacity classes, or any of the other myriad and burgeoning opportunities out there (that perhaps our district might be willing to curate), then the two existing high schools might be able to expand capacity simply by extending the school day and managing an innovative, more individualized curriculum for some students who wish it incorporating more independent study. More freedom and autonomy could mean more successful and happy students.

Then instead of building a new high school, they could use the money they have now to bring the existing ones up to the standard promised in the facilities bond. Remember that? The longtime board members including Townsend rejected renovating Cubberly when it was possible to use Measure A facilities bond money - specifically rejecting the possibility of it becoming a place for an innovative program - to instead make the existing schools larger. They supposedly had a plan for mitigating all the ills associated with larger schools, defended the benefits of larger schools, and threw around 2500 students capacities as possible without breaking a sweat. Luckily, the world has changed, and in a sense, they may be right.

Using independent study and dual enrollments with outside programs could easily achieve better capacity control, innovation, lower stress, etc by next academic year, especially for middle and high school. It would involve the district office loosening the iron grip and letigious attitude toward parents (the guilty need to stop the CYA where no one pursueth and minimum stop the retaliation and backbiting) which in turn requires a new commitment to honesty, transparency, and collaboration. Could be in place by next year.

2 people like this
Posted by bp, no not that BP
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 13, 2016 at 11:59 am

Let's hope that teaching will include Critical Thinking!

7 people like this
Posted by not again
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 13, 2016 at 12:01 pm

Pretty minor? Ken Dauber questions whether Palo Alto's high schools are, in fact, too big based on EMAC report then states that the middle schools are too crowded ignoring the same data in the other EMAC report.
That's the core of all Dauber's statements and the whole above article, so I guess his comments from last night were "pretty minor".

Dauber can't have it both ways. Either both are fine (6% vs. 7%) or both need to be dealt with. [Portion removed.]

11 people like this
Posted by Don't let the door hit you
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 13, 2016 at 12:15 pm

Honestly you have your three votes for McGee Academy so what do you care if one board member thinks the high school is profligate at best and a distraction from addressing suicide prevention at worst. What difference does Ken's vote make? [Portion removed.] You got your votes. What do you care about the dissenters?

[Portion removed.]

4 people like this
Posted by Up ahead
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 13, 2016 at 2:52 pm

Ah, but where were you six years ago when Camille was against renovating Cubberly for a third, innovative high school? If we made a mistake in how we are, to this very day, spending $376 million dollars, that's a pretty important matter for the district to deal with before changing on a dime. Back then, there was a rationale by the district, including Camille, for why larger schools were so much BETTER, and why community members asking them to consider more carefully were to be ignored.

I wish I had signed in as "Who's in charge?"

17 people like this
Posted by AAAG Member
a resident of Palo Verde School
on Jan 13, 2016 at 3:02 pm

Many years ago I was involved in this discussion when my youngest was in elementary school. He is now a high school senior.

When we moved to Palo Alto before our eldest started kindergarten, one of the things we liked was the small, friendly schools. Unfortunately, as the years have gone by, the schools grew bigger and a lot less friendlier. We will be out this summer, and I confess, if I knew then what I know now I doubt if we would have moved here. Our kids have been at schools that were building sites for many of their experiences and they became a smaller and smaller pawn in the system.

Big schools are not the way to go, never have and never should be. I feel we were cheated when we moved into what we thought was a small, personable District.

9 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 13, 2016 at 6:36 pm

[Portion removed.]

Here are the big news items:

1. The superintendent proposed a new small third high school. He got 2 votes for that (Emberling and Townsend). Caswell and Dauber were adamantly opposed. Godfrey said she wasn't convinced we needed a high school, but seemed to be willing to approve a task force to design one which confused everyone. That made some people posting here think that there were three votes for the new high school.

2. Also proposed was a middle school, which seemed to have 5 votes, though Dauber said he would like to see a better capacity analysis on that. Godfrey said she would like to see "something" done about crowding in the middle schools right away. McGee said it would be at least 5 years before he could open any school at Cubberley.

3. Also proposed was a pre-K to 5 elementary school. That seemed to have three votes (Dauber, Emberling, and Townsend). Again, not totally clear what Godfrey wants regarding an elementary school, since she supported the committee to plan to open one, even though she said portables were fine.

4. Also proposed was making all choice schools into neighborhood preference schools. Heidi said that a majority was opposed but I didn't necessarily hear anyone opposed other than Townsend.

5. A majority (Dauber, Caswell, Godfrey) was against allowing any private fundraising specifically for any operating expenses (staff) for any new school. All the new schools would have to be subject to board policies on fundraising through PIE. Townsend was opposed and Emberling did not express a view. In an illuminating exchange, McGee refused to commit, saying that the task force would decide, even though there is a board policy directly prohibiting this so it is totally not clear what the task force has to "decide," given that it can't decide to ignore board policy.

The charge should be written to specifically take this issue off the table. Frankly, that would probably take a lot of the wind out of the sails of the high school initiative, since without the ability to raise private funds for salaries they can't have smaller class sizes. We would see a lot of the demand dry up instantly once it is stated in stone that they can't spend more per student through public or private funds -- which is why McGee would not agree to follow the policy. Who wants to go to a tiny school at Cubberley without any sports teams or electives and huge classes? [Portion removed.]

6. Camille Townsend won't run again, she announced. [Portion removed.]

2 people like this
Posted by what's a board for?
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 13, 2016 at 6:38 pm

[Post removed.]

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Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 14, 2016 at 12:12 am

January 13

Hello, Onliners,

This is a beautifully thorough article from Ms. Kadvany and the Weekly. I'm grateful for such comprehensive coverage on an issue the town cares so much about.

I hope I sufficiently appreciate all the hard work that’s been put into the Cubberly project by the board, Mr. McGee, and many others. But if we’re wise we’ll abandon this course, for the sake of the stressed-out and depressed kids that we all know we have.

We lost four of them last year, and had to hospitalize fifty more for mental distress. None of our current high-schoolers will be one whit inspired or relieved by the idea of a new super-school at Cubberly that won't even exist till after they've graduated.

The subcommittee was absolutely right, in last fall’s report, to point out our kids’ feelings of disconnection, of lack of belonging, and offered this as the chief reason for creating smaller schools.

There’s no proof, though, that our schools’ size is the problem. And large crowds of people have always been able to live contentedly in even the biggest cities when they feel a texture of close and secure human ties.

Our schools can be downsized to nutshells—but they’ll suffer from the same estrangement as long as we don’t re-stitch their social fabrics.

Last semester, according to District numbers, Gunn and Paly had 407 classes with 30 or more students—distancing kids from the teachers who could otherwise champion them.

Our District, while recommending a maximum of 2 APs per child, has failed to dissuade 680 students, this year, from taking three or four or five--leaving those kids to be unduly stressed and exhausted.

We report grades non-stop, giving discouraged students no time to bounce back from the hurts of adolescence. We have a “homework policy” but no tool to implement it—no nightly, online voice for students.

At Gunn, according to their survey last year, 87% of kids cheat. At Paly, according to their school magazine, there was a 20-student cheating conspiracy that lasted three years.

In such surroundings, how can anyone feel they “belong”? How can anyone feel “connected”?

Instead of working on a grand scale, let’s target our efforts. Let’s spend less money and re-stitch our schools’ social fabrics, instead of spending millions to create a new school out of whole cloth.

For a sensible plan you can support, check out Palo Alto's grassroots campaign to create hope for our high-schoolers: Save the 2,008.

Best wishes,

Marc Vincenti
Campaign Coordinator

3 people like this
Posted by Task Force
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jan 14, 2016 at 2:11 pm

Does this mean there will be a committee on the committee? - Joking. It's a task force that will have a more specific charge than the committee. The EMAC Committee did a fabulous job especialy since they were all volunteering.

If the new task force is professionally facilitated, will the facilitator report to the Superintendent? If a principal or other District employee is given release time to coordinate the task force, that is already a District employee who reports to the Superintendent, or to someone who reports to him. District employees, teachers, principals should have input, but a facilitator could steer a task force to conclusions the Superintendent favors.

Anyone watching all the Board retreats (perhaps there only 6 people crazy enough to sit through all that), it is obvious that the facilitator was hired by the Superintendent. He cut off Board Members when they tried to raise issues, aggressively moving them away from their comments saying they had to discuss something else. That was probably accurate, but this was their retreat. There seems to be a vast amounts of time to discuss topics the Superintendent wants in meetings, but then be short and dismissive of the Board members on other topics. At times he is almost rude to them and orders them what to say. Maybe they have this type of relationship.

Most taxpayers cannot follow Board retreats or other meetings, because the Minutes do not record what was discussed or decided, or the instructions the Board gave the Superintendent. It is almost impossible to know. The short Minutes produced are written by the Superintendent's employees, and only say the Board met and had a discussion. If the Superintendent does something else, that is almost impossible to track. In a Board meeting he might present something related but not what the Board asked for. It is surprising.

Let's hope there is not a repeat of what happened last time. The Board passed a District reorganization at the end of last school year with barely a blip of discussion and employees were hired before the Board had even approved it. The Board told the Superintendent he could recruit before they approved the reorganization, so he had authority to do it. But that he then posted the promotion for the "new" administrator to head all the departments (Counseling, Special Ed, testing, Attendance) only to internal current employees and only for a week, makes it look as if it was planned for months before. In the end, the reorganization and hirings was presented as a done deal with only 4 days public notification after the school year ended when most of the stakeholders were away, What followed must have been pre-planned - new jobs opened or created by the reorganization that were only open to internal employees and contractors (contractors?). It must have been planned long before. At the same time, taxpayers were told there will be no review of legal but there will be an independent review of Special Education, but the contractor was chosen by the "new" promoted employees before the reorganization was approved. (The Superintendent refers to it in a Board retreat, but it can't be cited because the Minutes don't record it.). The contract has never been included in Board Meeting Packet, so it can't be tracked. Later the Palo Alto Weekly wrote an article about some parent meetings related to it, but the District hasn't provided information of the meeting results. It doesn't give taxpayers a sense of confidence. Let's hope a new task force is more transparent and takes stakeholder input.

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Posted by Task Force
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jan 15, 2016 at 11:11 pm

There is another retreat on 1/21/2016. One of the topics of discussion is:
"Board Goal from summer retreat -- "To develop greater trust and confidence in decisions made by the Board"

PAUSD did not record or broadcast it last time, and the minutes were paltry.

Palo Alton Online, will you broadcast it?

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Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 16, 2016 at 1:30 am

So Camille Townsend's finally not running again--any chance of getting a thoughtful board member in there.

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Posted by Css
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 16, 2016 at 8:41 am

I doubt it. Just more single issue candidates. It's unfortunate.

13 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 16, 2016 at 10:29 am

The upcoming election is certain to be dominated by the issue on this thread -- should money be allowed to be privately raised for the benefit of a single school. Indeed, the Superintendent has timed the committee report to be issued on this proposed high school in mid-October, right in the midst of a school board election campaign.

The issue won't be clear to the public until it is too late. By mid-October, the committee working behind the scenes and under McGee's direction will have produced a very clear description of the school that the can build -- a quasi private highly personalized experience for a few students with small classes and state of the art everything. It can only be achieved if it can have increased funds raised privately for higher teacher-student ratios, smaller classes, and better things. The board policy ensuring district wide equity will be described as an impediment. The community will be excited by the picture of what it wants and spurred on to get what it wants by paying for it, candidates who support the new school [portion removed] will be elected.

Camille Townsend already knows this -- she blurted out at the last meeting "run for school board!" to the supporters of this proposal, thought broadcasting the fact that she won't be running again and she is the strongest supporter of destroying PIE fundraising on the board. Her vote is leaving, she is saying, so replace it with one of your own. [Portion removed.]

Although no one is talking about it, the XQ proposal already of course violates board policy on district wide fundraising. It is an effort by parents to secure a 10 million dollar operating subsidy for a single school. This is banned by district policy. [Portion removed.]

Right now we are a community at a crossroads. On the one hand we have great wealth concentrated in this community in a way that is almost unparalleled in history. We also have a community with a selection bias for people with tremendous anxiety about education for their children, and also a new group of residents with a belief in free market ideology as opposed to an older group of residents with a more Democratic orientation. This has led to a confluence of factors that were perhaps inevitably going to move to sweep away the quaint PIE compromise.

Money asks "why shouldn't I be able to buy what I want for my school?" after all, other schools should be free to raise whatever dollars they want, and people can choose to live in the local school district where the money has made it better or not. That's the market. Why can't we have a market for education like other things? So long as the taxpayers provide a minimum floor for the poorer schools and students, why can't the wealthier parents have their way with their own schools?" Money asks: "what's wrong with giving $26 million to one elementary school," and "what's wrong with allowing the parents of Hays and Duveneck to do the same. If Juana Briones or Fairmeadow don't have parents who can pitch in $26 million, then that's just the market." Money asks "why can't I use my dollars to enrich my child? Isn't that the American way?"

Money asks: "why can't I give $26 million to one neighborhood and raise the property values of every homeowner in that one neighborhood? Look at all the people who want my gift. Can you say no to them?"

Increasingly, the community is being dominated by this kind of attitude and the election is going to determine the answers to these questions. Are we going to be a community of every man for himself and the Devil take the hindmost or a community in which all boats rise together?

I hope that our board will tell the [portion removed] whoever the "anonymous" donor is in the Addison neighborhood no. But the weakness of the school board is about to become more than the minor annoyance it has heretofore been. It is about to decide major questions of inequality in our community.

[Portion removed.]

The future of who we are and what kind of town we will have are literally in the balance in the next election. [Portion removed.] Equity is at stake. WIll the public know it in time?

2 people like this
Posted by Task Force
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jan 16, 2016 at 3:24 pm

How will we know who files to run? The filing deadline is 8/12/2016 according to Ballotopedia. Doesn't the election race start long before that?
Web Link)

@parent 1 - I was more worried about the Special Education Review because it ends earlier (potentially Spring, the District isn't providing details), and the Board will vote on it's recommendations before the election, which could have massive long term implications not under the new Board's control or respecting the will of the voters in an upcoming election. I worry about a repeat of last June's game playing with its opaque promotions, reorganization and choice of evaluator.

@parent 2, you bring up a good point. Since the new school completion deadline is right before the election, doesn't that provide motivation to make it public and provide more transparency? I thought no new school decision would be made until after the election, but maybe the plan is just before?

@parent 3 - Addison is a different question than a new school, because it is a school that already exists, rather than a new one. It is dilapidated, over crowded and received few resources in recent years (no summer school, no bond money, no SDC/SAI classrooms). The District has said it was too crowded for resources and the funds go elsewhere.

14 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 16, 2016 at 4:09 pm


Addison is not different. This single gift of $26million to one school will make that school so different from other schools in the district that it will go far beyond any reasonable level that any other school could ever have. It is at a level that it will provide educational benefits to the students of that school not available to students of other schools. It is far beyond any reasonable notion of "parity" which is one standard in board policy, to the point where it is inequitable.

Moreover, it will set off an arms race for those schools with wealthy parent populations such as Hays, leaving the schools without those resources unable to provide.

It will also confer a benefit on every single homeowner in the Addison school district and make it difficult if not impossible to redistrict students from Addison to Duveneck or Hays.

The size and scope of this gift to a single elementary school is so out of all proportion to what can be provided for all the schools that it should be declined.

The role of private money in the schools is at this point threatening to undermine community values.

6 people like this
Posted by Up Ahead
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 16, 2016 at 4:37 pm

@Task Force,
"It is dilapidated, over crowded and received few resources in recent years (no summer school, no bond money, no SDC/SAI classrooms). The District has said it was too crowded for resources and the funds go elsewhere"

Welcome to the rest of the district. Summer school has always rotated, and more recently, mostly just got canceled. Where really did the bond money go? It was supposed to create new or equivalent to new spaces, in the context of remaking our district, but seems to have provided some nice hardscape and a few new buildings in really obvious places. Most campuses are still on the dilapidated side, though. That's nothing unusual, either. Someone who really wanted to help our kids would do better to donate half that money to set up a watchdog group for our district. Seriously.

1 person likes this
Posted by community spirit
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 17, 2016 at 12:13 pm

" inevitably going to move to sweep away the quaint PIE compromise. "

The PTA pays for STUFF, PiE pays for STAFF.

That's why Addison PTA raises north of $150K independent to the money they donate through PiE to the other schools.

This won't alter the "quaint PiE compromise". As always, Addison parents sort out their own problems without waiting for the district. Look at how much has been spent on other schools while Addison got portables. Time to sort it out and the Addison parents, again step up.

5 people like this
Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 17, 2016 at 12:58 pm

@community spirit - you might not be aware of how much and how money has been spent on other elementary schools. Only 3 schools have had meaningful projects - Ohlone, Fairmeadow, and Duveneck. All 3 projects delivered significant expansions - two story classroom buildings, adding capacity for up to 100 students. Yes, portables were replaced by permanent buildings, but only because there was also significant expansion. At Fairmeadow and Duveneck, there was also library remodeling/expansion. Each project cost $8 to $10 million. No school has had a project simply to replace portables with permanent buildings; none are contemplated as far as I know. (Here's the bond project annual report: Web Link)

At Addison, there is no proposed expansion, only remodeling and upgrading. This would be a first. Almost every school utilizes portables, some more than Addison. All that I have seen are in fine shape; if the ones at Addison are not, then they definitely should be replaced or repaired immediately.

The proposed Addison project carries a price tag of $26 million - that's 2.5x what has been spent on any other school, and with no additional capacity. That's almost certainly not "progressive parity." Trim the project down to something other schools can reasonably expect. Otherwise, the rich parts of town will simply support school-specific capital campaigns instead of bond programs.

15 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 17, 2016 at 1:05 pm

As you can see from "community spirit's" post, the value of "give me mine I want it" -- what we might call the "Veruca Salt Logic" is now taken hold in the Addison community. They believe that they should be able to have whatever they want that they can pay for, why not, it's mine, I want it.

Facilities are determined by a Districtwide Facilities Master Plan. Needs are determined by the Board, paid for by a bond, overseen by a bond committee. They are not determined by each school based on what those parents can pay for. There are board policies that require "progressive parity," and policies on gifts, including gifts for facilities, that do not allow one school to have gifts that are so extensive (such as $26 million for a single elementary school) that it would be so much better than every other school that others could never, no matter what, achieve parity in any timeframe.

In order to make every elementary school as fancy as Addison will be, it would cost the district a quarter BILLION dollars. In other words, the gift should be rejected -- in fact, McGee had no business allowing it to get this far. Now the Addison parents and homeowners are highly invested in the gift and will throw a full on sh(^ fit if they can't have it. This seems to be McGee's overall strategy -- show people what they can have and allow greed and self interest to drive the conversation.

That is what will happen with the third high school if the community does not band together against spending more per pupil now and reject the making of any plan to which people can become attached.

There is a real danger of the loss of significant community values. I don't know why the newspaper isn't covering it as the threat it is since it is incredibly serious and already happening to a large extent. Perhaps the Weekly should stop cheerleading the new school and wake up and be the 4th estate here.

Without the ability to alert the community to the problem it will be over before the controversy starts. McGee is counting on the fact that no one is paying attention and is ramming through his Town Hall Cubberley plan for High Touch High. Before you can say Bob's Your Uncle, it will have private funding for smaller classes.

Addison is just a symptom of the same greed and self-interest promoted by McGee.

2 people like this
Posted by reality check
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 17, 2016 at 5:14 pm

As you can see from "community spirit's" post, the value of "give me mine I want it".

Weird, I read that post and it said that the community should get of their collectives .... and do something about it. Veruca Salts just asked for stuff and did nothing for it. Addison's position is the complete opposite. It actual reflects your post where you don't want Addison to have something you can't get yourself. Really, read the book again. That "get off your collective ...."? Try it sometime!

Preventing one neighborhood from improving their school when it doesn't contradict PiE principles or anything else is just absurd.

2 people like this
Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 17, 2016 at 6:29 pm

@reality check - "It actually reflects your post where you don't want Addison to have something you can't get yourself."

That's pretty much what the Progressive Parity is about - all the schools should be comparable. As BP 7110 says, "all facility improvements will be deliberately planned and phased to honor and work towards districtwide parity." (Web Link)

So if what is planned at Addison would not be comparable to what the District plans for all the schools to have, then it isn't appropriate, regardless of whether someone is willing to pay for it. And by the way, it's not the Addison "collective"/community that is proposing a huge donation - it is a single donor.

3 people like this
Posted by pleb
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 17, 2016 at 6:42 pm

I'm not in the Addison district but while upgrades have happened to Duveneck, including new classrooms replacing portables and we already have differences between campuses, then I don't see any problem with Addison being upgraded. Nothing's even planned for Addison and given its overcrowded and dilapidated state, it needs it.

Is your concern that Addison isn't waiting in line for a district handout? Or that the parent's there are doing something over and above what other parents of other schools in the district are doing? Be it one parent or, by the look at that PTA money, all the parents?

Your "Veruca Salt" stamping of the feet and saying "I want a golden ticket as well!" is a bit of joke. As numerous posts have stated, you have the power to change your school. Simply attacking those that are willing to change theirs doesn't give you the right to sit back and do nothing.

South Palo Alto shouldn't look to North Palo Alto to fund all its woes.

2 people like this
Posted by FreeMoneyFungible
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 17, 2016 at 7:39 pm

[Portion removed.]

Just because another school gets something shiny doesn't move ANY OTHER school backward.

It's not a zero-sum-game where 'B' loses if 'A' wins.

In fact, if the district has a fixed pool of money for improvements, then when a private donor picks up the tab for Addison, district money flows to other schools.

What a private donor adds to the pie benefits other schools. The district doesn't have to spend money in Addison, thereby making those funds available everywhere else.

We have, what- 12 elementary? Every dollar donated to Addison is about 10cents donated to every other school

[Portion removed.]

8 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 17, 2016 at 8:19 pm

FreeMoney you would be right if you had any facts that supported you. Unfortunately they don't. The bond money is exhausted as to elementary schools. There isn't 250 million dollars to spread around to the other schools so that they can be equally good ("parity"). There's no money to "make those funds available everywhere else."

It's not true therefore that somehow money can be moved to other schools. That would only be true if there was money that was allocated to Addison that could be moved, and even moreso that there was any money at all to spend period.

In fact, the plan for Addison is to spend $26 million on a single school. It will be the Four Seasons of elementary schools. If there was a plan to make every school outfitted with that level of fit and finish, and if there was $250 million in the bond money, and if it was all allocated for elementary schools, then and only then would your theory work. Otherwise it is just wrong.

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Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 17, 2016 at 8:49 pm

@FreeMoneyFungible states the argument very clearly - how can giving money to one school possibly harm others? At worst they are the same as before, and maybe they are even a little better off, since money may be freed up.

It can work that way, but only if the money truly goes for things that would have been bought otherwise. On the staffing side, that's why PIE was created - so that individual schools couldn't fund lower student:staff ratios. It was decided that unequal staffing ratios are intrinsically bad and unfair. In part it is because we are a single district, and should have equal educational opportunities across all schools. In part it is because if an individual schools can fund its own needs, why would the people who live in that area support taxes and bonds for the district overall - each neighborhood would fund its own, and the rich areas would just have better stuff, and ultimately the poorer neighborhoods would be worse off.

On the facilities side, the district will take donations, but only if the donation goes for things that ultimately all schools will have (or at least something comparable). Paly gets a pool, Gunn gets a pool; Paly gets artificial turf, Gunn gets turf; Gunn gets a new gym, Paly gets a gym (the Taj Mahal of gyms, but that's a story for another day). The problem with the Addison project as it stands now isn't the idea, it's the size - the project would do things that no other school has or would ever likely get. This isn't widely known because the plans haven't been disclosed (hmm, why?). But at $26M estimated cost, that is 2.5-3.0x what was spent at Duveneck, Fairmeadow, or Ohlone, but with no added capacity, so use your imagination.

This will become a huge issue if the McGee Academy continues down the path. The supporters will use the same argument - if we donate for higher staffing levels, how does that hurt anybody? This directly attacks the PIE consensus that has existed in Palo Alto for the last decade. We'll see if it survives.

3 people like this
Posted by truth
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 17, 2016 at 8:54 pm

"It's not true therefore that somehow money can be moved to other schools."

Of course it is. No future money will go to Addison, it will go to the schools most in need and not the one that's recently been renovated.

You want to take future money away from other schools and give it to Addison instead and we'll all somehow be better off is some really twisted logic.

"I want a golden ticket as well!"


4 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 17, 2016 at 8:57 pm

So far -- and this only barely scratches the surface -- we have the following comments for your consideration:

People who want to enforce the parity board policy are the "self defeating tantrum crowd."

"you have the power to change your school. Simply attacking those that are willing to change theirs doesn't give you the right to sit back and do nothing.

South Palo Alto shouldn't look to North Palo Alto to fund all its woes."

" you don't want Addison to have something you can't get yourself. Really, read the book again. That "get off your collective ...."? Try it sometime!"

People. Max McGee is a destructive force in this community. He knows nothing of our past of struggles over this issue, and with zero appreciation for the Pandora's Box of resentment and entitlement he is holding, he has thrown off the lid and now we are all basically screwed. We are about to confront the age of "I got mine and the hell with you" in PAUSD school funding. Every tub will rest on its own bottom, everyone needs to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and the idea of shared fate and the social democratic values of public education are outmoded. The market decides, and if you don't have bootstraps, you can just join the Buena Vista caravan out of town.

Max McGee is terrible for PAUSD. He doesn't understand and doesn't care enough to learn about what he is doing. [Portion removed.]

The very idea of an anonymous donor for a public school is offensive. It is an abomination. This is a public agency. The public has the right to know who is calling the shots. This is messed up.

I think McGee needs to go. Fortunately, the Weekly endorsed Heidi Emberling so she was elected and I am sure she will stand up for equity against this onslaught of private money. [Portion removed.]

4 people like this
Posted by truth
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 17, 2016 at 9:27 pm

Parent, Seriously? There absolutely nothing wrong with private money in public schools. With attitudes like yours we might as well get rid of PTA and all forms of fundraising. It's so much easier to say "let the district pay for it".

3 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 17, 2016 at 9:34 pm

PTA fundraising is very limited in what it can pay for. It cannot pay for staffing. There is a limit. And there are board policies that limit facilities. Facilities improvements must be made pursuant to a board-approved master plan and must be in sync with what is being done for all schools.

There is NO PLAN -- not now, not ever -- to do for any other school what is proposed to allow this anonymous donor to do at Addison school. There never will be "parity" progressive or otherwise because we don't have a quarter BILLION DOLLARS to achieve it and even if we did we wouldn't spend it on that.

Next up, Walter Hays will find a billionaire to give $50 million since surely it can't be outdone by Addison.

Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 17, 2016 at 9:36 pm

[Post removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by crit
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 17, 2016 at 9:44 pm

"Walter Hays will find a billionaire to give $50 million "

God forbid another school would seed to raise funds. How horrible is that for this district! We cannot have "anonymous people donating millions of dollars. We need to live with what we have and not look for outside funds. "[That] is an abomination."

That's what this thread has come down to? Millions of dollars in donation shouldn't be sort and we should live with only what we can get from our property taxes?

Now, if only this was all happening at Escondido...

2 people like this
Posted by FreeMoneyFungible
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 17, 2016 at 9:46 pm

"Next up, Walter Hays will find a billionaire to give $50 million since surely it can't be outdone by Addison."

Cool! That's two schools funded. We are 20% done!

I could fund the rest by putting naming rights up for Auction... Brin Elementary? Arillaga Midfle school.

This is almost too easy - shooting fish in a barrel.

Come on! Take the free money!

Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 17, 2016 at 10:30 pm

[Post removed.]

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

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