The Palo Alto school board will continue to discuss and prioritize a range of significant budget requests for the current and next school year at its regular meeting Tuesday night.
School district staff's wish list for additional budget allocations in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 year has changed slightly since it was first presented to the board in late February.
Staff is now asking the board to approve the funding to hire one instead of two district-level "social emotional learning and wellness" coordinators at a cost of $143,000 (compared to the initial price tag of $286,000 for two hires, one each for the elementary and secondary levels).
This full-time person would help the district tackle what a staff report describes as "minimal coordination across schools" in programs and services to support student mental health and wellness. Given that lack of coordination, "the quality and reach of services is arguably less than optimal for all students," the report states. Staff hopes this person would begin in the 2016-17 school year.
Also included in the budget requests is a major change on the horizon for Palo Alto Unified's youngest students and their parents: full-day kindergarten. Currently, most schools have what is called "extended" day. At Addison, Fairmeadow and Hoover elementary schools, 1/2 of all kindergarten students stay two days a week for a longer day (one group stays longer on Mondays and Tuesdays, while the others on Thursday and Fridays). At Nixon, students stay for a longer day once a week. Ohlone is similar but slightly different because of its mixed-grade classes (kindergartners are in class with first-graders).
At Escondido, El Carmelo, Juana Briones, Duveneck and Walter Hays, half the class also stay for a full day twice a week, but students who may need extra support get it from an instructional aide twice a week.
At Palo Verde, all students stay every day until 2 p.m. (except Wednesday, which is an early dismissal day at all elementary schools).
Barron Park Elementary is the only school in the district with true full-day kindergarten, where all students stay until 2:25 p.m.
When budget requests were discussed in February, staff presented two options for implementing full-day kindergarten throughout the district; they have since added two more. The five options, with a range of costs calculated by district staff, are:
Full (or extended) day every day for all students with additional highly trained instructional aide support. Estimated cost is $647,000.
Full (or extended) day every day for all students at the current level of aide support. Estimated cost is $347,000.
Maintain the current model, but provide additional highly trained instructional aide support at school two days a week for students who need additional academic, social and emotional help. Estimated cost is $193,000.
Reduce kindergarten class size at the neighborhood schools to 19. Kindergarten class size at the choice schools and programs will remain at 22. Based on the current enrollment, it is estimated an additional two teachers will be needed to do this. Estimated cost is $275,000, which includes remediation for kindergarten classes over 19.
Increase reading specialists by six hours a week. It is estimated an additional 2.4 reading specialists would be needed. Estimated cost is $300,000.
The primary driver for moving the district's elementary schools to full-day kindergarten is to better support historically underrepresented students at the earliest possible point. The shift to full-day kindergarten was a top recommendation of the district's Minority Achievement and Talent Development (MATD) committee.
Superintendent Max McGee said in a webinar on full-day kindergarten last week that full-day kindergarten offers benefits for all students, including more time for play, as well as flexibility for teachers, to improve social-emotional health, self-confidence, resilience, language development, empathy and self-regulation.
Whatever model is chosen, the district hopes to put it into place for the 2016-17 school year, McGee has said.
The district is also looking to cut down on class size and create more small-learning experiences at its secondary schools. Included in the budget proposals is $400,000 to "mitigate" large classes at the high schools; $375,000 to mitigate enrollment growth at the middle schools; $197,100 to expand Small Learning Communities (SLCs), a freshman cohort program at Gunn High School; and $200,000 to expand Together Everyone Achieves More (TEAM), a freshman cohort program at Palo Alto High School.
Other budget requests coming before the board for discussion on Tuesday include: expert instructional math intervention specialists at the high schools ($150,000); after-school programs at the middle schools ($30,000, with $10,000 for each school); STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) enrichment programs at the middle schools ($30,000); breakfast for elementary-school students in need ($300,000); additional reading specialists at the elementary schools ($818,750 over three years); a new library Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA) ($25,000); additional staffing at the district office ($212,559); and funding to support both high schools' athletics programs ($180,000, with $90,000 for each school).
The proposed high-school athletics funding would cover costs for transportation, referees and league fees for the programs costs that are currently covered by each school's Sports Boosters. Boosters also pay for items like uniforms and equipment, which they would continue to do so if the new funding was approved "despite challenges of more participation but reduction in parental donations," a staff report notes.
Funding requests that have been put on hold for the time being "deferred for a future discussion," the staff report states include expanding the district's summer school offerings, hiring a half-time coordinator for the district's world-language program and emergency preparedness training.
Staff is also asking the board to reserve $1 million into the budget as a placeholder for several items that were "discussed extensively" but didn't make the final cut. Top on that list is money for high school counseling; a staff report notes that a new district committee (which the board has discussed but not yet approved) is anticipated to "recommend a single model for student support to be implemented on both high school campuses. Earlier cost estimates for various models range from $1.4 million to $4.6 million at each high school."
Also in the proposed reserve is money to roll out forthcoming recommendations from a review of the school district's special-education department and services; expanding summer school; and "innovative" programs at the secondary schools.
In other business Tuesday, the school board will vote on a proposal to paint Gunn; discuss a resolution to issue the next series of funding from the Strong Schools Bond; consider officially joining Strong Start, a coalition that is working to expand early educational opportunities for children 0 to 8 years old in Santa Clara County; discuss extending the leases for two district-owned sites; and discuss policies the board's review policy committee will consider at its next meeting on March 31.
The regular school board meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave. Read the full agenda here.