Palo Alto school board to discuss new budget requests

Wellness coordinators, class-size reduction, after-school support among funding proposals

The Palo Alto school board will convene for a special budget study session on Tuesday morning to discuss funding proposals for a wide range of programs and efforts, from full-day kindergarten to reducing class sizes at the district's secondary schools.

The proposals have been developed by staff after several months of meetings with many groups in the district —cabinet members, the district's K-12 leadership team, Palo Alto Educator's Association (PAEA), PTAs, Partners in Education (PiE) and teachers — to collect feedback and identify priorities, according to a staff report.

The budget requests total $5,298,000 with $891,000 for the current school year, $3.56 million for next year and the remaining $843,000 in 2017-18 and after.

The board discussed some of the proposals at a previous budget study session in November, which was intended to provide guidance so staff could return with final recommendations this month.

The study session will begin at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 23, at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave. View the full agenda here.

Below are summaries of the programs proposed and their estimated costs.

• Expert math tutors at the secondary schools ($476,000): While the district currently supports a part-time position for middle school mathematics-intervention support for under-served students, the district's Minority Achievement and Talent Development committee "envisioned more robust tutorial support in grades 6-8 as well as for Algebra 2 and AB Calculus in high school," the staff report reads. "Additional tutorial staff is needed at these critical junctures." The funding requested would support a full-time person for each middle school and two full-time staff members for each high school.

• Middle school after-school programs ($30,000): This funding would support after-school tutoring programs in English and math.

• Enhanced summer school ($300,000): Another Minority Achievement committee recommendation was to expand the district's summer-school offerings. Staff has budgeted $300,000 for the 2016 summer program, and "depending on use and need," hopes to increase the amount in the 2016-17 year and beyond, according to the staff report.

• Full-day kindergarten (up to $647,000): The Minority Achievement committee also recommended the district implement full day, every day kindergarten for under-served students and others who need the additional academic and social support. The district recently held two forums with pre-kindergarten through second-grade staff and teachers to discuss the proposal. Staff has not yet arrived at a recommended model but wrote that "there appears to be consensus to assure that students who need additional supports beyond the current kindergarten day have them." Staff will present the costs for three different options: a) Full (or extended) day every day for all students with additional highly trained instructional aide support ($647,000); b) Full (or extended) day every day for all students at the current level of aide support ($347,000); and c) Maintain the current model but provide additional highly trained instructional aides at school two days a week for students who need academic, social and emotional help ($193,000).

• STEAM enrichment programs ($30,000): These dollars would support STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) enrichment programs at the district's three middle schools. The programs are offered after school as well as in the master schedules to all students interested in science and art, according to staff.

• Social emotional learning and wellness coordinators ($286,000): Staff writes that one of the board's adopted goals for the year — to support the social, emotional and physical health of students and staff — "is not likely to be achieved without an individual to coordinate and manage the entire system." This funding request would pay for two new full-time wellness coordinators, one with an elementary focus and the other with a secondary focus, beginning in the 2016-17 school year.

• Breakfast for free/reduced lunch students at elementary schools ($300,000): Breakfast to close the achievement gap? The district hopes to secure this extra funding to provide breakfast to low-income elementary students who qualify for free and reduced lunches. The funding request includes the cost of food and an additional hour of staff time at each elementary school to administer the program in the morning.

• High school class-size reduction ($750,000): Shrinking class sizes by one student at the district's two high schools, from an average of 28.5 to 27.5, would cost $750,000 to hire six teachers.

• 7th and 8th grade class-size reduction ($375,000): The middle schools are staffed at 24:1 for all sixth-grade classes and English and math classes for seventh and eighth grade. All other classes are staffed at 28.5:1. To reduce these other classes by one student (from 28.5 to 27.5), the district would need three additional teachers.

• World-language coordinator ($71,500): The district is hoping to create a half-time position to oversee its world language programs K-12. This person would support the implementation and recommendations of the Spanish Immersion and Mandarin Immersion master plans, support the work to align the secondary world-language programs with national standards for proficiency-based instruction and assessment, provide professional development opportunities for both dual-language (elementary) and world-language (secondary) educators as well develop standards for bi-literacy pathways K-12 and develop a world-language pilot program for the elementary schools, according to the staff report.

• Small Learning Community at Gunn ($197,100): Gunn High School's Small Learning Community program "provides a tightly knit community, integrated curriculum, outdoor adventure, and opportunities to grow as leaders" for 24 freshmen, the staff report reads. All students will share some common classes and teachers. The district wants to expand this program over two years to accommodate more students — from the current 24 to 48 freshmen in the 2016-17 school year and to 72 freshmen and 24 sophomores in 2017-18.

• Expand TEAM program at Paly ($491,520): The district also hopes to expand a small-cohort program for freshmen at Palo Alto High School called Together Everyone Achieves More, or TEAM. A small group of 80 to 100 freshmen participate each year, sharing their core classes and teachers, doing extracurricular activities and trips together and building leadership skills. The proposed funding would expand the program to serve 140 freshmen in 2016-17 and 200 freshmen and 26 sophomores in 2017-18.

• Elementary reading specialists ($818,750): This funding would incrementally increase a part-time reading specialist to full-time over the next three years. Having a full-time reading specialist at every elementary school would help to "align the literacy efforts of teachers and reading specialists working collaboratively together to plan and deliver the highest quality reading instruction in the classroom environment" and "ensures an all hands on deck approach to provide targeted reading instruction, intensive intervention and striving to accelerate learning of students in their regular classroom," a staff report states. A full-time position would also enable the reading specialist to plan and lead professional development for teachers, staff wrote.

• District office staffing ($174,826): The district is requesting funding for new hires in human resources, professional development and the central attendance office "to handle the increased workload and requirements from new regulations," the staff report states.

• Smartboards ($120,000): These dollars would replace aging Smartboards, whose lifespan is five to seven years, throughout the district. Staff anticipates replacing approximately 100 Smartboards each year.

• High school athletics ($180,000): While the high schools' Sports Boosters groups currently fund a substantial part of Paly and Gunn's sports programs, their funding has decreased in recent years, according to staff . This allocation, to be funded over two years, would provide transportation, referees and leagues fees for the programs.

• Emergency Preparedness Training ($50,000): This funding request would cover annual emergency preparedness training for each school site. First year costs shall not exceed $50,000, and subsequent years for on-site training and updates is estimated at $30,000, according to staff. A consultant would be hired to provide the training.

Staff also identified several budget items that have been discussed extensively and might require dollars next year but did not make it into the above recommended allocations: changes to the high schools' counseling models; forthcoming recommendations from an external review of the district's special-education department and services; and expansion of a pilot Advanced Authentic Research program).

Staff's goal is to have the board take action on the budget requests in March.

Tuesday's meeting will take place at the school district headquarters at 25 Churchill Ave.

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Like this comment
Posted by PiE overstepping
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 24, 2016 at 9:00 am

PiE (Partners in Education) is a privately run fundraising organization. Their stated mission is to raise funds for the school district - not set district funding policy. Since when did PiE move into the business of identifying priorities or influencing the school board's funding proposals? Seems PiE is overstepping their boundary as a fundraising organization by telling the district how the money they raise should be used. PiE is comprised of volunteer fundraisers, not educators or school administrators.

Like this comment
Posted by palo alto parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 24, 2016 at 9:20 am

@PiE overstepping - The District figures out their priorities and PiE decides which of those priorities their donors will get behind. Fundraising is easier when there is a clear goal, for example supporting elementary classroom aides. T

Like this comment
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 24, 2016 at 9:36 am

As the parent of someone struggling with Algebra 2, a math specialist for kids who find this hard is a must. I am very surprised that we do not have this already since Algebra 2 is a graduation requirement.

I agree that PIE and other fund raising projects is causing differences and also problems.

PIE providing certain things that the District should be providing is wrong. The District goes between screaming poverty when a school funding issue is on the ballot (we will have to let teachers go, we will have to increase class size and other baloney) to having a surplus and wonder what boutique product we can spend the surplus on.

I have given up on PIE for this reason and know many others who have done the same.

However, having a "generous donor" provide facilities for one school that another does not have is wrong and is exactly why PIE was founded in the first place.

We are not bottomless money funders. I think that if a wealthy individual or corporation wants to do something good then that is fine, but then that school should be out of other funding by the district or something, to compensate.

North Palo Alto elementaries have access to more wealth than south Palo Alto, but that shouldn't mean they have better facilities.

Like this comment
Posted by PiE overstepping
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 24, 2016 at 1:40 pm

@ palo alto parent - I agree completely that's the way it's supposed to work (District establishes priorities and PiE decides which of those priorities to fund). But the way the article is written above, based on a staff report, clearly states that the district consulted various organizations, including PiE, to "identify priorities". PAEA, PTA, teachers, administrators - yes, that makes sense. But PiE has no business identifying our school district's priorities. See second paragraph pasted below:

"The proposals have been developed by staff after several months of meetings with many groups in the district —cabinet members, the district's K-12 leadership team, Palo Alto Educator's Association (PAEA), PTAs, Partners in Education (PiE) and teachers — to collect feedback and identify priorities, according to a staff report."

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