Palo Alto school board to prioritize budget requests

Further discussion of full-day kindergarten, mental health expected Tuesday

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.

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2 people like this
Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 21, 2016 at 8:03 pm

Monday, March 21

Dear Fellow Onliners,

For the shrinking of class-sizes in our high schools, $400,000 isn't nearly equal to the overcrowding problem--but it's a darn sight better than nothing, and I'm glad the District has proposed it.

Last semester, say District records, we had 407 classes at Gunn and Paly with 30 or more students, and 780 classes at Gunn and Paly with 25 or more students.

This is a problem of such magnitude that it requires the kind of aspirational funding mentioned in connection with the rejected "super school" at Cubberly.

Large classes rob kids of chances to participate and learn; they work against differentiated learning and individualized instruction; they mean that homework is not returned in timely fashion with rich feedback.

Worst of all, they leave our already alienated students feeling uncared-for and invisible.

Save the 2,008--the community coalition supported by 428 parents, teachers, LMFTs, alums, lawyers, artists, venture capitalists, physicians, authors, etc.--is fighting for six humane adjustments to our high schools, from class size to counseling for APs to an end to rampant, anxiety-producing cheating.

You can swell our chorus of voices for change at:


Marc Vincenti
Gunn English Dept. (1995-2010)
Campaign Coordinator
Save the 2,008 -- creating hope for Palo Alto's high-schoolers

2 people like this
Posted by A Parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 21, 2016 at 8:22 pm

@Marc V - question. Our standard 4th and 5th grade classes are ~25 students. Why do you think 25+ in 9-12 creates a problem? It seems more like a matter of how classes and the schools are managed vs. just number of people in the room.

5 people like this
Posted by Law Firm
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Mar 21, 2016 at 10:39 pm

The Board of Education Agenda says it will discuss threat of litigation from media over records requests. We will likely hear the District is wonderful and fulfilled all the requests and they can't fill them all because they are hiding student information and they fully intend to defend their staff and attack parents and the Federal government and that everyone else is mean and unfair to them and they are high level policy makers with important work to do and the media interferes by making requests. Long ago the District stopped posting filled records requests on their web site, which sends a message they are not being open and transparent.

For legal action, why did the District not say it was seeking, and already using in at least one case, new legal firms? Why did it only telling the public in the last Board meeting after law firm RFP/s were due, too late for any public knowledge or input? What is the process here, and what is the public input? What is the oversight of the process? When will families be allowed to submit the information for the legal audit the Superintendent promised would be conducted 90 days after a new attorney was hired last June? He made that promise to get the reorganization, staff and law firm he wanted. Is that promise now in the dustbin? Is the information this might have revealed now to be forever hidden?

Again, what is the process and who is involved? Are the Administrators whose work the attorney should be overseeing in the public's interest going to evaluate and select the new attorney or law firm? This is the arrangement the Superintendent required last June, that the Assistant Superintendent would be promoted (with little public notice, given a few days before on a Friday) and be overseen by the attorney she personally liked, disregarding concerns of a Board member after he read every legal e-mail and met with groups of parents about attorney and employee conduct and community concerns? Why the secrecy now? I am sure we will hear how transparent and opaque this has been, but this has gone far, and the public has not been informed.

Another concern is the Assistant Superintendent and her law firm will oversee the Task Force on Social and Emotional Learning. What independence will this Task Force have? The same Administrators didn't want the task force, and changed their mind at least 3 times. The same people already control the Counseling budget and all services and legal actions against vulnerable children and families. The same Assistant Superintendent and Director of Counseling and behaviorist all hired or promoted as part of reorganization above also all testified against disabled children in court. These are the same people who said in previous Board meetings all students are 100% supported and counseling works effectively, no changes needed, so why trust them now?

Any facilitator of this task force will be hired and paid by the Assistant Superintendent whose work is being evaluated, the same as the Special Education Review. The Special Education Review listed in the budget made a lot of noise about transparency and parent input, but there were only a couple meetings and few parents were allowed to speak. Will this also happen with the counseling Task Force? How can families trust this process after what happened in the last year? How do we know parents will not be silenced in the darkness, which is what happened in the past year. What oversight will there be? What protections are there?

4 people like this
Posted by Stop
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 21, 2016 at 11:31 pm

[Post removed.]

6 people like this
Posted by It's the CHILDREN stupid
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 22, 2016 at 2:53 am

"additional staffing at the district office ($212,559);"

Seriously?? We need more staff making more than the governor of the state? More to the point, for so much in excess of the individual expenditures on the kids?

Free piece of advice: telling the truth and learning how to make sincere apologies is way cheaper than CYA.

Board: Palo Alto is really low when it comes to percent of our money actually going to student education. Spending more money in the district office is the wrong way to go. Tell them there can be more of them if they all take a commensurate pay cut. There are so many administrators already, how much could it be?

2 people like this
Posted by wow!
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 22, 2016 at 8:55 am

"middle schools are to be staffed at 24:1 for 6th grade core classes and English and Math classes at 7th and 8th grades"

Which middle school math classes has anywhere near those numbers? Jordan 7th grade math classes are nearer 35 students per class this year. That's a lot of extra teachers they need just for Jordan that don't seem to be in that budget. Web Link

1 person likes this
Posted by Be Positive
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 22, 2016 at 10:44 am

Be Positive is a registered user.

For some reason, the SARC reports on the PAUSD site (which show demographics, class size, etc.) are from the 2012-2013 school year. They should be from 2014-2015.

Here's Jordan's from this year Web Link
In 2014-2015, Jordan had an "average" math class size of 21, with one class having 33+ (see page 11)

The link to the state database that has all the SARC info

Web Link

1 person likes this
Posted by parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 22, 2016 at 5:55 pm

From someone who has a child a Jordan, it's surprising how incorrect the numbers in that SARC report are.

There isn't one class at Jordan of any subject or year with a class size of 21 let alone that being the average. Even the total number of students is wrong.

2 people like this
Posted by shame on the district
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 22, 2016 at 7:56 pm

SARC report lists 17 math classes have up to 32 students and the bracket 33 and above. That explains why all the 7th grade math classes at Jordan have 32 students apart from 1. Still way over the 24 advertised for the district.

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

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