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Guest Opinion: Why class sizes aren't meeting Palo Alto school district's targets

 

Thirty-four students in sixth-grade language arts, 33 in seventh-grade math, 34 in first-year French, 34 in U.S. history, 32 in chemistry, 32 in geometry. Class sizes of a large, underfunded urban district? No, these examples are current classes at middle and high schools in Palo Alto.

It isn't supposed to be this way. District policy is that all secondary school classes are staffed based on a 28.5 average class size. Sixth-grade core classes, and seventh- and eighth-grade math and English classes are supposed to average 24 students, and ninth- and tenth-grade English and math classes are supposed to be even smaller, with 22 students.

These target ratios were set by the school board for carefully considered pedagogical reasons and to ensure every student in every class receives the high quality of instruction offered in this district. They have also been promoted as one of the benefits of the parcel taxes Palo Alto voters have approved.

Those of us who have students at the middle schools and high schools know how rare it is for our students to be in classes as small as these staffing ratios promise. How is it possible that the experience of our teachers and students in the classroom is so different than the published average class sizes and staffing ratios? Our analysis of enrollment data for all middle and high school classes show that the staffing ratios are being calculated in a misleading way or are simply being ignored.

According to the most recent enrollment data obtained from Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD), the two high schools together have a total of 1,953 classes listed in the database. But 776 of these classes (40 percent) have eight or fewer students, or are non-instructional classes such as advisory and tutorial. These types of classes are found in every department across both schools. Some of these sections are opportunities for special need or advanced students to receive credit for individualized instruction or independent study or for students receiving class credit for being teaching assistants. And yet, these small sections are averaged in with all the other instructional classes in the department and school to determine staffing ratios.

These very small classes bring down the overall average class sizes to below or near the range of the official target ratios, thus misrepresenting to the community and the school board how large most classes at our high schools really are. The U.S. News & World Report 2016 Academic Indicators report (see tinyurl.com/hsb4lgs) that the student-teacher ratio at both Gunn and Paly is 18:1, but this number is completely erroneous, as the very small or non-instructional classes are included in these published ratios. When the small classes are eliminated, the class size averages increase to 27 at both high schools.

An example of a high school class where staffing ratios are not being met is Gunn's "Communications A," a required core English class for ninth- and tenth-graders. Ninety percent of the students taking Communications A are in classes over the target size of 22 students. In "Geometry A" at Gunn and Paly, every class has more than the targeted size of 22 students. In "Economics 11" at Gunn, 61 percent of students are in classes of more than 28 students, and 41 percent are in classes with over 31 students.

The same problem exists at the three middle schools. In the English and math departments the average class size at each school is larger than the stated target of 24 students.

Last May, our community overwhelmingly approved Measure A, a parcel-tax increase that promised to "preserve excellence in academic programs" and "reduce class size." If our community values reasonably sized classes and these funds were specifically raised to reduce class sizes, why is there a fundamental disconnect between how the district has told our community they are staffing classes and how they are actually being staffed?

It seems that the school board directives for class sizes are being ignored by the district or viewed as merely a suggested class size but not as a requirement for staffing. It shouldn't take a parent to ferret out class-size data and deliver a report directly to the board, to call attention to something as basic and important as core academic class sizes in our middle and high schools. These staffing ratios should be calculated appropriately each spring so that a sufficient number of teachers can be hired. And after school starts, the school board should hold the district accountable by reviewing the actual staffing ratios with the August enrollment report.

The board has an opportunity to act now to improve our student experience. The board can use the available budget surplus to hire additional teachers -- an estimated six teachers across the middle schools and 15-18 teachers across the high schools. These new hires should be in addition to the staffing growth already in the budget based on enrollment growth.

It will require a significant investment to bring the largest classes into a reasonable range and meet the district-stated target ratios. But the investment needs to be in teachers, not in new buildings. Hiring more teachers now is the only way to bring down class size to the promised levels.

We want all our students in PAUSD to thrive. Meeting district-stated class size ratios is the first essential step in ensuring the best possible learning environment for all students.

Sally Kadifa is the parent of three PAUSD graduates and currently has children who attend Paly and Jordan. Rita Tetzlaff is the parent of twin girls who attend Jordan Middle School. Both are stay-at-home moms and community volunteers.

Comments

83 people like this
Posted by Exhausted teacher
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 6, 2016 at 11:40 am

The difference between a class with 22 kids and a class with 34 kids is the difference between a powerful, potentially life-changing educational experience, and herding cats. The single best class I have ever taught was one with 21 kids in it. (Most of my classes average 30-32.) In that class I had a student who was "stuck" at the start of the semester and having real trouble. I had the time and the energy to sit with him and work through some issues, give him a pep talk, and then was able to watch him blossom into one of the finest students I've had in my 15 years of teaching. As a result of his positive experience in my class he became a much more confident student and he blossomed in other classes as well. If I'd had a dozen more kids to deal with (like I usually do), that probably never would have happened, because I simply would not have had the time or bandwidth. So a lot of kids are missing out. And so am I. I would MUCH rather have that experience, because THAT is why I got into teaching. There is no other experience in the world like it.

If this community and school district *really* wants to put its money where its mouth is, it needs to hire more teachers and build more classrooms. It will be expensive, but this is Palo Alto, for God's sake. We're in the heart of the biggest concentration of wealth in history. THAT is how we can reach our true potential. The rest is just spin.


56 people like this
Posted by Nutzola
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 6, 2016 at 12:49 pm

This is just crazy! Several studies done in the 70s, 80s, 90s and early 2000s have repeatedly shown that a teacher's effectiveness drops when class sizes exceed 20 students. In some subjects, such as math and science, the teacher's effectiveness plummets sharply.

There has been a law on the books regarding class size since the 60s that school districts have chosen to ignore, without penalty! I believe that law limits class sizes in CA public schools to 25 students.

By comparison, most private schools limit class size to 12-15 students. No wonder public schools can't compete!


46 people like this
Posted by Be Positive
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 6, 2016 at 2:12 pm

Be Positive is a registered user.

Very simply, our classooms sizes need to be based on ACTUAL not average number of students. Math and English classes should have 22 or less students. Not an average of 22 or less, actually 22 or less. The same for the other classes. Our students and our teachers have repeatedly said that they don't need smaller schools, they need smaller class sizes.

Thank you Sally and Rita for your efforts on behalf of our students. Thank you @Exhausted teacher for your post!


32 people like this
Posted by Connie
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 6, 2016 at 3:50 pm

In high school this can be an even bigger problem. For example, at Gunn, the kids have 50 minutes on Tuesday for tutorial and 45 minutes on Thursday for tutorial. During this time, students can go to a class that they need extra help and wait for the teacher to help them.

However, there can be upwards of 40 to 60 kids in any specific class (Honors Physics for my child) at these times. The teacher does not have the time to meet with each child to help them. If your child is the one who needs help, and they are at the end of the line, they will either need to make an appointment at a different time or wait until the next tutorial/flex time. It depends on the teacher, how easy it will be to get an appointment and for how long.

Having so many students in classes makes it hard for the teacher to adequately reach each student, but it also makes it hard for the student to learn.

Just a few years ago when my oldest was a senior, there were so many students in French 3 that there were not enough desks. Kids were sitting on the floor.


27 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 6, 2016 at 4:59 pm

This article needed to be written. Thank you for doing so.

It is impossible for a teacher to get to know that many students, to grade each homework assignment for that many students, to communicate with parent through personal emails, and to judge what is bad for any particular student with that many in the class. We have teachers who only have students for one year, sometimes just for a semester, there is no time for any type of personal rapport when the classes are this big. Teaching this number of students in a class is only part of the size problem, the personal touch is just as important.

We need something done and hopefully this article will start the ball rolling. Thank you ladies.


10 people like this
Posted by Old Steve
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on May 6, 2016 at 5:34 pm

Having been raised in PAUSD, I understand how special we all think we are. However, California is now at the beginning of a teacher shortage of epic proportions, made worse in Silicon Valley by rents escalating faster than Parcel taxes can be approved. It is good that a thorough analysis of the facts has been presented. It is not necessarily helpful to assume the District is ignoring the problem rather than simply unable to solve it at the speed demanded by parents in our community. Research has consistently shown that Class Size Reduction efforts are generally most effective in lower grades.

In a demanding district such as ours, smaller secondary classes would certainly be helpful, but if teachers claim smaller class sizes are beneficial to retention, but then leave the area or the state for better economic opportunities, smaller classes are a myth until more teachers can be hired for the next year.


2 people like this
Posted by GraceBrown
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 6, 2016 at 6:42 pm

GraceBrown is a registered user.

Thank you for speaking up for teachers - this is a thorough analysis of the reality for "boots on the ground" faculty.

GB


20 people like this
Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 6, 2016 at 6:58 pm

Thank you Ms. Kadifa and Ms. Tetzlaff, and to the Weekly for publishing their terrific piece.

It's full of dogged detective work and eminent good sense.

When, last fall, I inquired of the District for its high-school class-size numbers, I was emailed a spreadsheet of the hundreds of classes and sections and went to work myself, with fingertip and tally-sheet.

I counted 407 high-school classes at Gunn and Paly with 30 or more teenagers in the room.

I counted 780 classes with 25 or more students.

This overcrowding isn't exactly as bad as in our County lockups, but it has similar implications for mental health, treatment as individuals, and the morale of both the "jailers" and the "jailed."

We must shrink our largest high-school classes to a much friendlier size. Such an improvement would have a bigger social-emotional payoff than all the curriculum we can devise.

Of all the ways to ease campus pressure, this is the most powerful, because it's the teacher's focused attention that makes each individual student feel recognized, welcomed, and inspired to learn.

Right-sized groups make for the "differentiated instruction" we so rightly prize, and for the stronger teacher-student ties that can sometimes be lifelines.

In smaller-sized classes, homework is returned sooner, with richer feedback; more hands get called on; more one-on-one conferences take place; and faculty whose overall teaching loads have shrunk from, say, 150 to 125 may even have the time to go to their students' concerts, plays, and sports events--with incredible pedagogical payoffs.

As an English teacher at Gunn for fifteen years, believe me, every time I went to hear one of my kids in the choir, or cheered one at basketball, they came to class the next day a lot more interested in what I might say about topic sentences and Shakespeare.

Is money an object? Backers of the Cubberly "super school' were ready to support our kids to the tune of millions. Our next-door neighbor, Mark Zuckerberg, offered $30 million to the schools in New Jersey. Our Superintendent is a world-class networker and spokesperson with surely the phone numbers of myriad well-off Palo Altans.

What a marvelous and timely editorial!

And if you'd like smaller classes to become a reality, go to savethe2008.com and consider joining our school-change campaign.

Right-sized classes are our #1 proposal.

Sincerely,

Marc Vincenti
Gunn English Dept. (1995-2010)
Campaign Coordinator, Save the 2,008
savethe2008@gmail


29 people like this
Posted by Special Ed Class Sizes
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on May 6, 2016 at 7:38 pm


Special Education classes are larger than you are lead to believe. They exceed the numbers parents are promised. When our child was referred to Jordan Middle School, we found the District staff evasive about class sizes. They would promise a class would be "no more than 10", then "no more than 12", then "never over 14". If we asked questions, they become snippy and rude. We were told 'it means many things to many people' or 'it will mean different things to different people.' If we pushed for a real answer, we were put off and promised an answer later.

What 'different things to different people" meant was only one credentialed teacher in two classrooms with a door in between the two rooms. One side of the door was taught by a credentialed resource room teacher. The other side of the door was a separate class taught by a speech therapist and mental health "worker". Whatever it was, it was difficult the District would not be straightforward about it.

We saw disabled children leave the classroom, and no adult noticed. Wandering and bolting are major risks in 50% of students with disabilities such as autism. It was surprising the "worker" didn't know this and put safety measures in place. The Resource side of the door was more like Grand Central Station, constant kids in and out, doing there own thing on a computer while a teacher taught completely different subjects to students in different grades. The teachers said they have to help the kids do their homework because they are failing in the mainstream classes that, according to the District, they were 100% successful in and 100% support because they were 100% full inclusion from day 1. We saw the Resource teacher try to smile and hold the District line that this was all wonderful, but the teacher regularly had to stay at work until 5:30 or 6:00 p.m. It was no surprise teachers quit and retired.

What was difficult was the lack of forthright information from the District about it. The District had told the Board all speech therapy services were 100% push into regular classrooms, leading families to believe students were helped by speech therapists going into regular classrooms. Some parents were told the class above was 100% mainstreaming of students into a regular Jordan classes. But a separate class taught a speech therapist and a mental health worker in a separate classroom is a separate special needs class, not a mainstream class. Other families were told this same class was the child's push in speech therapy being provided in a mainstream classroom. We finally took the paperwork to an outside speech therapist, who told us it simply was not a push in speech therapy session or a mainstream class. Even worse, this separate special needs class was part of a larger special needs Resource Room class, and even the Resource Room class was really a study hall for homework help. If all of that sounds confusing, it is because the District wanted it to be.

We later saw parents wrote the Board with concerns about this class. This was the first time we ever saw Dr. Holly Wade be polite, when she responded to a Board member who asked about the class. It was such a sharp contrast to the rudeness and dismissive behavior she showed to parents. She said she was increasing the class size and this was wonderful because now they were allowing more kids into disabled classes. That wasn't what she was doing.

Other times, we were told all disabled children were now in co-taught classes taught by two credentialed teachers. It is hard to see how that could be accurate since the District did not double it's hiring of teachers to co-teach every class. It became hard to believe or trust promises made by the District Administrators.




22 people like this
Posted by Spent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2016 at 12:45 am

Reading the above, I am both in awe and grateful to the parents for the hard work, but shaking my head in recognizing the many difficulties we've experienced, too. My first comment is - wow, you guys were able to get the district to give you data? Will you please post a link to the information you have about independent study students? Because when we asked for information, on numerous occasions, it was simply never provided and "independent study" mysteriously disappeared from the Gunn catalog.

The other reason I am shaking my head are the bad memories of trying to get the planning for the Measure A (previous measure a) Facilities Bond to be used in a more cost-effective way so that we had more reasonably sized, newer whole campuses, rather than just making these super large schools that many people now complain about. One rationale then for enlarging schools at such great cost was (a handwaving argument) that it would allow for reduced class sizes. Doesn't anyone remember that?

How can this happen? Easy. When you have that much money floating around - a $230 million annual budget, a $400 million facilities bond, a $13 million supplemental tax - what's to keep anyone using all that money as well as possible for our kids? Having been in this district many years, I would say, apparently nothing. In virtually every way I can think of, the district should be doing better for the money it is spending. The public data sites I've looked at put PAUSD near the bottom of rich districts in terms of money actually spent on students. Why does this happen? Because parents let it happen.

Parents simply don't have a culture of advocacy. They let it happen, or worse, some of them make life hell for the families who try to help (I hope that does not happen to the posters). The Measure A $400 million facilities bond promised in its specifications that the schools would get "improving indoor air quality" in renovations, but the district did nothing about that (refused to) even though they could have gotten improvements for as little cost as they wished, and even though the problems they failed to address could even impact student mental health and performance. The reason? They claimed they did not have the money to do anything, and got parents to tow their line without any firsthand knowledge, no questioning of the facts, no idea that they were potentially even hurting their own kids.

The recent Measure A supplemental tax was advertised to be many things, it was said to be needed to avoid laying off 80 teachers, and lo and behold, it was virtually all surplus at the end of the year. Did this result in an outcry of parents demanding accountability? Quite the contrary, the same parents glossed it over and excoriated anyone who criticized. Apparently, in this district, tough problems only get solved magically when parents are as quiet and compliant as possible (not). So you see, the hardworking parents above may at some point be blamed for why we don't have smaller class sizes because they weren't "team players" and went rogue (to the papers). Divide and conquer, works every time.

Everyone needs accountability to do their job well. Good people need accountability to stay good people. Our district is extremely well funded. Why does it have to rely on manipulating data, failing to be open with public information, and misinforming parents? If parents think small class sizes are a priority, roll up your sleeves and be ready to deal with the flak. (And maybe think about cooling it with the friendly fire.) I think the people in the district office, like any other people, want to do a good job and be able to look themselves in the mirror. But something is very wrong here, and it will continue as long as parents are unwilling to do what it takes to solve it.


46 people like this
Posted by No on A, TOLD YOU SO
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 7, 2016 at 8:19 am

Well guess what? The teachers union demanded all the money that should have gone to reduce class sizes and Scott Bowers and Max (and a board rubberstamp) handed it over. Where's the Measure A money? Gone. Where's the property tax boom? Gone. Class sizes are going to grow not shrink -- because all the money was swept into a brown paper bag and handed over to Terri Baldwin and the CTA pirates. Please don't tell me teachers want smaller classes. Teachers wanted epic raises and they got them.

Your Measure A dollars all got handed over to Terri Baldwin. Say goodbye to that dream, and hello to just turning over every last cent to the CTA. PAUSD went behind the backs of the voters, stole the Measure A funds, and decided to have higher paid teachers with larger classes instead of more teachers with fewer students each. Screw you, voters and your kids. The union won, you lost.

Watch Tuesday and you will be sad, you will cry tears of rage, but it will all be for nothing because you were kept in the dark until it was too late.

Remember this the next time they come to you for a Parcel Tax.


8 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 7, 2016 at 8:54 am

I am pleased this issue has come out in the open and is being discussed at the community level. I think some action can be taken by parents to continue the conversation as I think our voices need to be heard.

1. Speak up at board meetings. Someone should address this at every PAUSD board meeting open question time.

2. At every opportunity ask a teacher the number of students in the class. Whether it is at a private meeting, at Open House, or at Back to School Night, we can make a point by just asking the question.



46 people like this
Posted by omg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 7, 2016 at 9:22 am

I just looked at the budget in the packet.

"Told you so" is totally right. The funds from Measure A are just gone. PAUSD has given the teachers 16.5% in salary increases over 4 years (4.5% in 2015, 5% in 2016, 4% in 2017, and 3% in 2018). That is ON TOP OF their normal 1.5% per year "step and column" increases. The average teacher is getting more than 20% in raises.

Meanwhile, the budget is entirely voodoo economics, with a nearly-insane 9.4% property tax increase assumed to be happening, and a similar assumption for following years. This is 2% higher than the City, and 8% higher than the school district has ever used in the past.

Because raises are permanent, the growth is a permanent assumption.

If the property revenue assumption falls short in a future year KABLOOEY. That's it, the whole thing falls apart, and we have to spend the reserves. After 2 years, the reserves will be gone. And of course, we have to INCREASE the reserves too, since we have to have 10% of the budget in reserve and this grows the budget so it also grows the need for reserve.

This is a ticking time bomb.

But it also means GUESS WHAT! LARGER CLASSES.

The tradeoff between teachers pay and class size is zero sum. You can have either more teachers at a nice, reasonable rate of pay with regular increases, or you can have a smaller cadre of greedy demanding and increasingly harried and overworked teachers at an exorbidant rate.

The $5 million dollars in property tax growth, the Measure A funds, and all -- were all handed over to the union. Goodbye. Say bye-bye to your smaller classes.

The class size reductions in the budget? 1.5 teachers per year per high school. They of course aren't nearnly enough anyway since we need 8 teachers per high school to get classes where they are supposed to be by policy. Even those 1.5 teachers are funded entirely by the unrealistic huge property tax assumption, and will be paid for out of voodoo economics and fuzzy math.

Heidi Emberling shouldn't just lose this election. She should be run out of town. Terry Godfrey was endorsed by PAEA in the last election, which probably helped her get the edge over Foster (she only won by less than 200 votes). She knows where her bread is buttered.

Goodbye Measure A money.




12 people like this
Posted by JK
a resident of another community
on May 7, 2016 at 10:25 am

Thank you Sally and Rita for putting in the hard work and effort to enlighten us all about this issue. I remember when I was in Middle School and High School in PAUSD and how the larger class sizes significantly affected my learning. I hope that this problem can be solved and I believe awareness is a big first step, so thank you!


6 people like this
Posted by Spent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2016 at 10:37 am

@omg and @no on A,

One of the troubles we have in accountanility is all the many Measure A's. Will the reporter please check and clarify.

I seem to remember a Measure A bond fund that was billed as basically giving us new school facilities for the next century. I remember, I sat and listened to the promises and have seen the backpedaling and lost opportunities since. I remember Skelly saying in a meeting that whatever concern about being careful with the bond money was moot because this district was basically good for whatever ask the district makes.

Another Measure A goes to pay for operating costs, teachers, etc. i can't remember how big that was but I think it was distinct from...

Another Measure A in which we voted a special tax in order to shore up shortfalls from the recession, and, (am I remembering correctly? I pay attn and even I can't keep them straight - Weekly, please clarify!)

Another Measure A in which we extended the tax from the shortfall even though we are in boom times. That's the no on A the above poster referenced. IMO a No on that last A was actually important because it is indeed true that another ask would likely have yielded a yes, and a no would have been a way of not only sending a powerful message, but also giving Max McGee the mandate to rearrange the culture at the district office.

Instead, he is pulling the worst ones closer and setting the stage to sink his own tenure here. I sincerely hope he gets the blinders off soon, because I can tell the Weekly is losing patience. People are not out to get the district office, they go outside such as to the OCR as a last resort. If someone were to complain about just the enormous failure to follow the law in special ed records, the dishonesty, etc, an investigation would turn up skeletons that would sink McGee's tenure here. The district office mistake all along has been thinking that people were just out to get them, failing to understand the extreme forbearance the district is regularly giftedby parents, by the media. The way to deal with it is not by digging in on bad behavior, it's cleaning house (especially of the cool collected types who just seem to thrive on creating drama for eveyone else). Anytime any issue if dishonesty, bad faith, knee jerk ddefensiveness comes up - that may be an employee who would do better somewhere else.

The motto should be Get honest or go. It won't be, but it should.

That said, I do not think there is any teacher conspiracy. Why should they advocate for a better run district when the parents don't and even close ranks against parents who do?

@Paly parent,
The trouble is that speaking up is just a waste of time usually until there are teeth - meaning, if enough parents decide things need change, they can actually band together and force it. This will not create chaos in the district, but accountability. Just like with the enforcement consequences kids don't like in discipline, often just one enforcement means that in the future, the kids/district pays more attention to parents speaking at meetings, etc. The same goes for City referenda - they don' t happen often, but when they do, cities have to respond by being more democratic. Checks and balances with teeth are a fundamental reason for stability in democratic systems of governance.

Now, and for as long as I can remember, the district/board just really don't care, because you can't make them do anything. The only thing they respond to is if parents get a lot of doctor signatures (because if they get sued, that's a pretty tough one to counter through the usual lies and illegitimate defensiveness).

Think long and hard about suggesting parents bring up anything repeatedly in the classroom related to issues where the district may feel they have something to hide. It may be taken out on your child. (Happened to us.) Parents who want to advocate for change shouldn't be deterred, but they need to get the blinders off, too. This us not a normal situation where the issue just needs to get before the board.


34 people like this
Posted by No on A, TOLD YOU SO
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 7, 2016 at 11:00 am

@spent

Glad you asked. Measure A was a parcel tax measure on the ballot in 2015. It replaced an earlier Measure A from 2010 that was set to expire in 2016. The just passed 2015 Measure A had the following ballot language:

"To preserve excellence in academic programs, including science, engineering, math, reading, writing, arts, and music with local funding that cannot be taken by the state; REDUCE CLASS SIZES; attract and retain qualified teachers; and advance health, well-being, and equitable opportunities for every student."

So here's the thing.

When people voted for this, two important facts. First, people thought that the district already had class size ratios as promised in policy of 24:1 or 22:1. They had NO IDEA (and how could they, given the misleading stats produced by Scott Bowers). They thought they were voting to have reductions BELOW the stated ratios. SURPRISE!

Now, double surprise! We don't even have the money from this parcel tax to reduce the class sizes to what you already thought they were. That's because the board and Max and Scott have literally HANDED OVER EVERY DIME of the historic surplus, save for a little pocket change, to PAEA. Bye bye measure A dollars. All gone! (Max saved his Advanced Authentic Hooey by getting it some outside grant money. Gotta have some priorities, people -- that invite to give a Ted Talk won't write itself you know).

They keep talking about the $6 million dollar surplus. Go look again. That money is gone, baby, gone. [Portion removed.]

Now, ask yourself. Is that consistent with Measure A? You could say "well it says attract and retain teachers." Maybe we had to hand over all the money for that one thing even though it says "REDUCE CLASS SIZES" right there on the ballot (and before the attract and retain language). Maybe we had to. So did we?

No. There is zero evidence that it was necessary to hike salaries by 20% over three years to attract or retain anybody. You will hear a lot of "oh it's so Haaaaaaarrrrddddd to work here." and "oh, I might have to look for another job." "I am sad that I have to work in a place where everyone is rich and well-fed and comes to school on time and there are no metal detectors and pretty much everyone has a tutor. It's so saaaddd for me that I have a bachelors degree and I only make $120K with 3 months of vacation and full benefits and a pension." But no one ever leaves for this reason and every year we hire new teachers and every year the board weeps huge tears of joy over how "EXCELLENT" every single snowflake teacher is. There is no evidence in short that any of these people ever leave for greener pastures. Not even the child molesters and sex harassers. Even the ones we want to leave don't leave without charges being filed. So please.

Anyway thanks for doing all this research proving we have a pack of lies for class size data. [Portion removed.]


9 people like this
Posted by Spent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2016 at 12:45 pm

@JK,
I, too, am grateful to Sally and Rita for their effort and leadership, but let's be clear that this problem has been perennial and "first steps" have been going on for at least 20 years to solveq it. (The limit of my memory.) As I pointed out above, one of the main justifications for the fact that our facilities bond got us a few very expensive big buildings instead of largely replacing most schools new and reopening a new Cubberley was because somehow reducing class sizes was in conflict with reducing school sizes by making new schools, and class size reduction was the priority. And anyone who thought otherwise must be against small class sizes. Ergo big schools. What? The class sizes didn't get reduced? (It didn't make much better sense then, it's just no one was paying attention.) i could quote out of that bond, too, that we were promised either new schools or renovations that would be indistinguishable from new. Does anyone in this district think their campus is now indistinguishable from new? If you ask the oversight people, like Todd Collins, why they didn't do that, they'll tell you none of the language is mandatory, it's all just optional (empty) promises and besides the oversight committe doesn't oversee how well the bond delivers on its promises, no one does.

One way district people have perennially thwarted the community is by getting anyone proactive to jump through hoops, invite them to meetings that never produce any changes, make endless unfulfilled promises, etc. I hope Sally and Rita will be alert to this and ensure e get the reduced class sizes.


21 people like this
Posted by CoCo Hall
a resident of Midtown
on May 7, 2016 at 2:47 pm

Thanks Sally and Rita for rolling up your sleeves and digging into the numbers. Let me just add to the picture. I have been an elementary classroom aide for the past 9 years. It used to be that classes were kept to 20 and if class sizes went above 22, then teachers could have extra paid aide time. A few years ago, the union voted to take this money for the teachers and only allocate extra money for aides when class size went up to 25 (in elementary school!). The classroom I work in does happen to have 25 students so I am paid for roughly 7.5- 8 hours a week up from 5.5 hours. I routinely work 15 hours a week (so roughy half time as a volunteer) and trust me there are still many students who do not get the time or attention they need. When you layer on "full inclusion" which means a classroom may have one or more students that require modified instruction and generally a lot of extra time spent coordinating instruction and services with resource teachers, the result is a classroom and teacher at the breaking point. But the ones who suffer the most are the kids that don't quite meet the standard for resource instruction but need extra time and one-on-one or small group instruction to grasp key concepts like fractions and division. A lot of kids have figured out that if they simply keep a low profile in the class that they can slide by, not realizing that the rubber is going to hit the road once they are in middle and high school and by then it will be too late to catch up. If the district really is interested in narrowing the achievement gap and giving all kids a quality education, it's time to be honest about what is really happening in our classrooms from K-12 and give the whole system a comprehensive overhaul. I love working with kids, but it breaks my heart that so many of them are not getting the education they have been promised or deserve.


12 people like this
Posted by Former Mom
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 7, 2016 at 2:55 pm

The truth is, and teachers here probably know it, studies after studies have shown that class size has limited impact on student achievement. It has more to do with teacher comfort than anything else. So, it looks like our teachers have opted for large pay raises over reduced class sizes. I am not surprised one second.

The sad thing is that, while most kids will be just fine in the large classes, the few that really need help will probably fall through the cracks as CoCo Hall mentioned.


20 people like this
Posted by Bowers has a conflict of interest
a resident of Midtown
on May 7, 2016 at 3:05 pm

Well CoCo, don't like those huge classes?

You can thank the board for being held captive to the union and its rapacious demands for money. First they appointed someone with a clear conflict of interest to be their "labor negotiator." Scott Bowers is married to a bargaining unit member and personally and directly benefits financially from the outcome of the negotiations. Bowers has a conflict of interest.

But that doesn't matter to the board. [Portion removed.]

If you don't care about the suicide epidemic.

If you don't care about the achievement gap.

If you don't care about the board adopting the radical anti-Obama agenda of the far right Republican party in fighting with OCR.

If you don't care about the disgraceful treatment of disabled students.

If you don't care that Phil Winston was found be a sexual harasser yet assigned back to the classroom with disabled children.

Maybe you will care that this board just raided your piggy bank and gave every cent of the money that could have been used to reduce class sizes just back to where they already claim that they are and handed every dime, every red cent, over to the union.

This board is incompetent. They have been proving it for years and years but now we have what in any self-respecting community would be the last straw.

All the money is gone. There will be no real class size reductions. McGee put up the fig leaf of 1.5 teachers spread across 2 schools over 2 years. Hahahah.



12 people like this
Posted by Bowers has a conflict of interest
a resident of Midtown
on May 7, 2016 at 3:18 pm

@former mom, you said "studies after studies have shown that class size has limited impact on student achievement."

That's wrong but anyway, the Centers for Disease Control has recommended class size reductions as a key strategy to increase connectedness.

Remember connectedness? Remember the Developmental Assets? Remember all those dead kids?

No, I didn't think anyone did.


19 people like this
Posted by Bowers is for Bowers
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2016 at 3:33 pm

Scott Bowers has been around forever, surviving one regime change after another. He needs to retire, or see if he has any worth to any other district. All the scandals in HR over the past 10 years should have fallen on his shoulders, but there he still is, earning a couple hundred thousand dollars per year in the midst of sexual assaults, creepiness among Paly teachers, and neverending allegations of civil rights violations. Bowers, get up and lead, earn that money, stop hiding in the shadows.


16 people like this
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on May 7, 2016 at 9:55 pm

1) Who is accountable? The school board and Max need to identify who they are holding accountable for misleading the parents. If they are unwilling to hold someone accountable, they become the ones who should be held accountable. And if that's the case, then parents should vote out Heidi, and any other incumbent running for re-election.

2) Quite frankly, I feel that I was misled about Measure A - between the budget surpluses and from the analysis by the guest opinion editors about excessive class sizes in core classes like math, English and science. And I also throw the PIE & PTA leadership, who are the front for the duplicitous nature of what has been going on.


14 people like this
Posted by Sources, please
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 8, 2016 at 11:29 am

@ Former Mom:

[Portion removed.] I would love for you to cite some sources for your claim, otherwise you are just talking out of the top of your head. A good place to start would be here: Web Link

While there is still SOME room for debate, "the preponderance of the evidence supports positive effects and academic gains when class size reduction programs in the primary grades are well-designed and properly implemented."

A lot of the studies cited in the article above posit a classroom with 26 students as a "large" classroom and 18-20 as a "small classroom". There are routinely classes here in PAUSD with over 30 students - it happens all the time. So in another sense none of this data applies to us, as our classes are routinely even bigger than those used in many of these studies.

Your criticism is thinly veiled teacher bashing, an oft-favored sport here on TS. "It has more to do with teacher comfort than anything else. So, it looks like our teachers have opted for large pay raises over reduced class sizes." TEACHERS DON'T DECIDE THIS. Stop blaming the teachers and making them out to be the villains here. It's demoralizing and not helpful.

@No on A, TOLD YOU SO:

[Portion removed.] "It's so saaaddd for me that I have a bachelors degree and I only make $120K with 3 months of vacation and full benefits and a pension." If you can show me exactly where on the PAUSD salary scale a teacher with a BA can make $120K I am all ears and eyes. But it's not gonna happen because that is JUST NOT THE TRUTH. There is ONE single slot on that scale for a teacher here to make that money, and it is for a 30-year veteran with 90+ post BA hours (which typically means a Masters). [Portion removed due to incorrect information; up to 11 years of prior experience elsewhere can be granted at time of hiring.]

Until the most recent pay raises a teacher in Los Altos with equal experience and education was routinely making $10-$12K more than in Palo Alto. The recent raises bring us closer to parity with a number of local neighboring districts. Anyone with a smidgen of business acumen can see why it's a good idea to stay competitive. I personally know several teachers who left for other districts where they make more, and at least one starting teacher who had previous experience subbing and working as an aide who could have stayed here and took a job in Los Altos instead because his starting salary will be significantly better.

" ...hike salaries by 20% over three years." THIS IS SIMPLY NOT TRUE. The most recent pay hike totals 12% over 3 years. It helps to have your facts straight, instead of slinging unfounded and untrue claims. As I mentioned above, this brings us closer to parity with surrounding districts.

[Portion removed.] I am sorry you have had such a disappointing experience but your personal experience in this district does not mean that every teacher working here is as greedy and unhelpful as you make them out to be. I get that you're mad about Measure A and about the class size issue - THIS MEANS YOU HAVE AN ISSUE WITH DISTRICT LEADERSHIP, not with the teachers.


12 people like this
Posted by Teachers are the issue, too
a resident of Juana Briones School
on May 8, 2016 at 1:09 pm

I smell PAEA in the above post. Only they attempt to distance themselves from the needs of students, in this case class size. The length of the writing, the old claim of teacher bashing, and the name-calling of anyone ne who disagree with PAEA lead me to believe this. Teachers AND administrators AND the board AND the parents who elect the board are to blame. We are all in this together.


8 people like this
Posted by Spent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2016 at 4:09 pm

@Sources,
You make many valid points, yet also so does @Told you so. Your conclusion seems to be that teachers have no hand in our problems nor any responsibility for solving them. But teachers here have long sided with administrators in an uneven way, instead of forming what should be a somewhat balanced power triangle between teachers, administrators, and families. Any huge distortion in that triangle for lengthy time periods means the district isn't running as optimally as it can for children in an imperfect world.

My experience of PTA is that it hasn't been an advocacy organization on the local level for a long time, and seems to be mainly a parent organization despite its name (parent TEACHER assn). Although there may be exceptions, teachers almost never join, go to, or participate in meetings, and when they do, it is usually for a teacher- or admin-centric agenda, mostly to keep an eye on the parents, not to help advocate for the interests of children (heaven forbid) against administrators. PTA has turned into a kind of fundraising arm for the administration, a kind of PIE for supplies, as well as to make it easier for schools to get volunteers for stuff they would otherwise have to pay for. Important roles, but often in conflict with the essential role of advocacy which has been all but abandoned. In the role of leading the second parent-led piggybank for the district (the other one being PIE), the PTA leadership enjoys the perks of being coopted so much that, rather than ever rocking the boat, they would sooner be the heavies against any actual parent advocates, often furthering district admin machinations the PTA leadership don't even understand.

When teachers don't get involved to advocate with and behalf of families, when they get in bed with admin and go along with whatever district admin says (no matter how manipulative) they become the ultimate conduits of moral disengagement: good people who do bad things yet feel good about themselves. @Told you so has some good points, and no, it's not appropriate to try to ignore and invalidate @told's experience by claiming it's unique, it really isn't unique. @Told isn't wrong to feel let down by teachers who would choose not doing the right thing (and lying to themselves about it or justifying it because admin told them) to play it safe for an ever larger paycheck. I disagree that it's some plot by the teacher's union, and I agree that we have many fine teachers. On the other hand, I think it's very sad that the district has come essentially to be an Admin-Teacher Association against parents of our most vulnerable children.


20 people like this
Posted by Bowers has a conflict of interest
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 8, 2016 at 5:07 pm

Fact: the average teacher salary in PAUSD is going to be $100K with the new raises.

Fact: PAUSD has the highest paid teachers in the State of California for K-12 unified districts of more than 5K students.

Fact: The raises are as follows: (from an above post): 16.5% in salary increases over 4 years (4.5% in 2015, 5% in 2016, 4% in 2017, and 3% in 2018). That is ON TOP OF their normal 1.5% per year "step and column" increases. The average teacher is getting more than 20% in raises.

Fact: Only a handful of teachers leave to take another job in any year (>5). The idea that there is some exodus of teachers to take better paying jobs is a myth. It is just not true.

Fact: We are probably already overpaying, we certainly aren't underpaying.

Fact: The district has decided to spend all the money that could have been used to innovate, or to lower class sizes, or even to get class sizes back to where the policy says they are and hand it to the teachers in the form of salary increase. This will make every teacher more expensive and making it that much harder to hire more of them. And it's compounding.

Fact: When property tax revenues fall in the next big correction (which is right around the corner) we will have to increase class sizes even more by attrition because salaries will be so high we will have no other way to reduce expenses.

Fact: The board is trying to pass this appalling giveaway of the Measure A money on a waiver of the 2 meeting rule to prevent the public from having the chance to even understand what is being done to them.

Fact: The board negotiated this sweetheart deal with the union behind closed doors all the while telling the public about all the cool things they would get with the surplus. You will get innovative programs, and foreign language, and hot breakfast, and internships, and smaller classes, better counseling at Gunn, and better mental health services.

YOU WILL GET NONE OF THESE THINGS. PLEASE UNDERSTAND ME: The surplus is gone. Every dollar of it. The Measure A money is gone. Every dollar of it. And the district plans to start spending the "new school fund" out of the surplus too (yup over a million dollars will be spent from the surplus to cover the "operating deficit" caused by these giant raises.

The public has been [portion removed] kept in the dark, and flim flammed by the board, Max, Scott, and the union.

Scott and Max should go and Heidi and Melissa should lose the election over this. If you are considering private middle and high school, now is a good time to exit this district.


14 people like this
Posted by Bowers has a conflict of interest
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 8, 2016 at 5:33 pm

Sorry when I said we were spending the surplus I meant spending the RESERVES. The surplus is being spent in its entirety. That left over a $1 million "operating deficit" which is being paid by draining the RESERVES.

Also, the number of teachers exiting in any year is Less Than 5. I tried to be tricky by using the "<" and hit the wrong one. LOLZ.

Fewer than five teachers per year (often many fewer) leave to take another position anywhere. So that's just not true that we have to pay these huge raises for competitiveness. We are the highest large paid k-12 district in the state.

And we are eating into the RESERVES to pay for this.

Plus, don't forget that Scott Bowers negotiated himself a big raise too since for some reason (are we also having to be competitive for admins?) we are giving Scott and his admin cronies the same high raises. Are they all leaving too? Even the Ohlone Principal who failed to tell us that the police came around to ask about whether a teacher would harm children? She might get a better offer? She might need 16% raise also? [Portion removed.] And Scott's refusal to get Kevin Sharp out of the classroom surely is worth 16% too. Plus don't forget about Katherine Baker and her fantastic feats at Terman, and Katya Villalobos -- she also gets a 16% raise for her excellent handling of the Gunn dating violence case. GIANT RAISES ALL AROUND!!

Don't blink or you will miss it on the waiver of the 2 meeting rule. Your tax dollars, being taken and spent. Goodbye every dime of Measure A. Bye bye money.


5 people like this
Posted by Sources, please.
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 8, 2016 at 9:30 pm

@Bowers has a conflict of interest:

I don’t know where you are getting your salary numbers, but they are wrong. The agreement that is up for ratification now covers 3 years: 2015/16, 2016/17, and 2017/18, as follows: 5% in 2015/16, 4% in 2016/17, and 3% in 2017/18. There are other ancillary clauses that are also part of this agreement that provide for other off-schedule salary increases (or not) depending on property tax revenue, but 12% is the basic number over 3 years. NOT 20%.

The “step” increases are raises in pay, yes, but they are part of the basic salary scale and have been in place for as long as we've had that salary scale. Step increases for length of service and level of education are standard practice in school districts (and other public service jobs) across the country, not some special perk that gets delivered to PAUSD teachers after ripping of an unsuspecting taxpayer. It’s part of a general idea that increasing pay covers increasing costs of living (of which housing in these parts is a radically disproportionate amount of any salary).

I'd also like to see the math that leads to your claim that "the average teacher salary in PAUSD is going to be $100K with the new raises." You claim that is a FACT. I challenge you to prove it.


2 people like this
Posted by Wow
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 8, 2016 at 10:11 pm

Wow is a registered user.

@Sources - The teachers got 4.5% last year. So 12.0 from the new 3 year contract + 4.5 = 16.5%. The other poster says step & column increases average 1.5% per year; I don't know if that's right, but assume for a moment it is. They are automatic, already negotiated raises. Over 4 years, 1.5% comes to 6.0% (assumes no compounding). 16.5% + 6.0% = 22.5% over 4 years. That seems consistent with what the other poster said (over 20% over 4 years). I don't see why the step & column raises wouldn't count - a raise is a raise.

Maybe there are other factors in play, but 22.5% over 4 years seems like a lot. My spouse works at Stanford - her level got 2.5% last year. Hmmm.


15 people like this
Posted by Spent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2016 at 11:06 pm

The average low level administrator here, like assistant principal of a middle school, or principal of an elementary, or virtually any administrator in the district office overrun by administrators with important sounding titles, makes more than a federal judge at the highest pay grade in San Francisco, and more than the Governor of the state of California (for only nine months work). Let me repeat that: an elementary school principal here makes more than the person who runs the entire state. Most teachers make more than federal judges in San Francisco who have a comparable level of experience at their jobs.

Research shows that OVERpaying salaries actually hurts performance in jobs like teaching because it becomes all about the money. That would be very consistent with our district administration. I think we should fire all of them, reorganize the school district (which allows us to fire all of them) and take the teacher raises from that savings. Then the district can keep its promises to the voters to use that money for our kids' mental health. Hire a leaner new administration with only people who are honest, energetic, really excited to be here and want to work with the community.


15 people like this
Posted by Bowers has a conflict of interest
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 9, 2016 at 8:22 am

@sources wrote:

"I'd also like to see the math that leads to your claim that "the average teacher salary in PAUSD is going to be $100K with the new raises."

I am so glad you asked. I cannot wait to tell you.

1. According to CDE, Palo Alto's teacher salary for 2014-15 was $95,811. The 5% increase for 2015-16 makes it $100,601. See: Web Link

2. Also according to CDE, PAUSD is the highest paid K-12 school district in the state with more than 4800 students, out of 341 such districts. The next nearest geographic competitor is Pleasanton Unified, but it is more than $6K behind. Web Link

3. Scott Bowers personally benefitted from this irresponsible sweetheart deal to the tune of $43,000. Scott has a conflict of interest. It is shocking that the Board allowed him to negotiate this contract given his obvious financial conflict. This is as follows:

Scott Bowers is currently the highest paid district employee other than the Superintendent. His compensation was $200K for 2014-15. His wife Kathy Bowers earned $100K. She might make more now that she is also the Athletic Director, but this is based on tax year 2014 (before the 2014-15 raises): Web Link

Under the new contract that Scott just negotiated, he will receive a 5% increase for 2015-16 of $10,000 and his wife will receive $5,000, making the Bowers family annual income $315K. This means that the Bowers's will receive literally checks in the June paychecks (if the 2 meeting rule is waived as Emberling proposes) for $15,000.

In 2016-17, the Bowers family will receive a 4% increase on the new, increased base pay of $315K, which will raise their annual income to $327,600. They will also receive a one time "bonus" of $3150.

In 2017-18, the Bowers family will receive a 3% increase on the new increased base bay of $327,600, raising their annual income to $337,428. They will also get another one time "bonus" of $3374.

Total Bowers family haul from the contract that Scott negotiated: $43,952.

The fact that McGee and this board allowed someone with a large, personal financial stake in the outcome of the negotiation is grounds to negotiate on the district's behalf is grounds to terminate Max immediately and might be a basis for impeachment of the board members. This contract actually drains every dime of the surplus, deviates from the ballot language of Measure A promising to use the funds to reduce class sizes, and leaves the district with a more than one million dollar operating deficit. It slashes many of the programs that the board spent the year discussion to pay for this excessive increase. Some of the many things that parents and students will NOT have as a direct result of this increase are:

- class size reductions just down to where they are already supposed to be by board policy;
- elementary foreign language
- innovative program investments in our high schools
- increased mental health
- improvements in Gunn counseling and TA implementation
- increases in small learning communities
- breakfast at the elementary schools

Scott Bowers's contact enriched the teachers and administrators, including himself. The parents and students are left to fight over scraps taken from the reserves. And of course if the enormous property tax growth assumptions baked into this budget do not materialize (i.e., when the market correction that is coming occurs) the entire thing will fall apart and we will face cutbacks and further class size increases as we did during the last correction.

I note however that the increased district staff request for Scott's HR department somehow escaped the scalpel.

Thank you for asking. I hope that the Weekly will follow up on these facts and sources. This is the most fiscally irresponsible thing that this board has ever done. Worse than the legal fees by an order of magnitude.


1 person likes this
Posted by Connie
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 9, 2016 at 8:39 am

This article is not really about teacher salaries, it is about class sizes. If you are interested in the salaries of Palo Alto Unified district employees, this is the link for 2014:

Web Link

I couldn't easily find it for 2015, but this gives you a general idea of the regular pay and the total pay plus benefits.


13 people like this
Posted by Bowers has a conflict of interest
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 9, 2016 at 9:11 am

Just so no one makes the mistake of thinking that my use of the term "conflict of interest" is merely rhetorical, when I say "conflict of interest" I mean a legal conflict of interest pursuant to Board Bylaw 9820, the Political Reform Act and California Government Code 1090, all of which prohibit designated employees (of which Bowers is certainly one as a category 1 designated Associate Superintendent).

The prohibition is that such an employee "shall not be financially interested in any contract made by the Board on behalf of the district, including in the development, preliminary discussions, negotiations, compromises, planning, reasoning, and specifications and solicitations for bids. If a Board member has such a financial interest, the district is barred from entering into the contract."

See: Web Link

The fact of Scott's participation is a legal basis for getting out of this contract and restarting negotiations. It is also a basis for a citizen lawsuit to enjoin the contract from taking effect.

Perhaps the board attempted to waive Scott's conflict of interest -- a fact that the public should know, and a further piece of evidence justifying impeachment, recall, or whatever. I don't know if it this kind of confliict is even legally waivable. The interests being protected are the public's, not the board's.

Now the question is whether the Weekly and the public will be willing to pursue this issue or whether they will shrink from appearing to criticize our wonderful teachers. The Teflon coating around the teachers' increasing demands is a combination of guilt (we have so much and they have so little), desire to be liked, and a total lack of business acumen or understanding that you can only spend each dollar one time. Will anyone have the courage to say that this contract is excessive and inconsistent with the public interest? Honestly it is not even consistent with the teachers' interests. They should want smaller class sizes too.

I don't fault the teachers. They have bargaining reps who ask for more money and that's the nature of collective bargaining. The blame does not go on the teachers for this fiasco. It goes on Scott Bowers, who is conflicted, Max McGee, [portion removed] and the board which does not understand what they are doing and just handed over the checkbook with zero regard for their duty to the public.




11 people like this
Posted by Thank You for This Op Ed Piece
a resident of Midtown
on May 9, 2016 at 11:31 am

Thank You for This Op Ed Piece is a registered user.

Thank you Sally and Rita for this enlightening and data driven op ed piece.

I'm so tired of PiE and the Parcel Tax campaigners (often the same people) reacting to anyone with substantive and valid questions as though they are "anti-children" when people ask for real analysis about why this money is needed and where this money is actually going. The party line (and it's on their web sites) is always "to maintain excellence in education". Clearly, based on your research, this is not a real answer nor is it the actual truth. Empty fluff. I'm thrilled with this opinion piece and this concrete data. I'm asking my Paly student today to count the number of students in each of her classes.


Like this comment
Posted by Matt
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 9, 2016 at 2:07 pm

30 students isn't big. That's 5 aisles of 6 students. That feels like a normal class to me. Just look at how successful the kids coming out of Gunn are, they did fine with 30 students in their classes.

Do we really want to improve students' probability of success? Make programming courses part of the required curriculum. Everybody should be able to use a general purpose language like Python to write a simple program and to manipulate/visualize data. Anyone who disagrees is a self-infatuated luddite.

Our future engineers can take poetry as an elective, but it is ridiculous that we had to read at least 6 Shakespeare plays as part of a required curriculum.

Let's help our students become the automators, not the automated!


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Posted by Leaves of Grass
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 9, 2016 at 2:12 pm

[Post removed.]


13 people like this
Posted by Chris Dewees
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 9, 2016 at 2:27 pm

As a long-time Palo Alto resident and father of two who are/were educated in the Palo Alto education system, I have been constantly amazed and disappointed by the conduct of our School Board, which time and time again fails to demonstrate the most basic principles of good governance: the avoidance of apparent conflicts of interest, transparency, a commitment to principles and guidelines, and accountability. Say what you will about the merits, this most recent teachers' contract imbroglio is a yet another example of poor process.

Avoidance of Conflicts of Interest -- I won't repeat what has been said in earlier comments, other than to comment that this issue is so easy to avoid and the inability of the Board to understand the necessity of conflicts avoidance is disturbing.

Transparency -- The public was informed about the contract proposal last Friday, four days before the Board-scheduled vote to approve the same. The magnitude of the action, it's fiscal impact, the trade-offs against other priorities, etc., all merit a more thorough process, including appropriate public engagement. How could the Board possibly expect to generate public support on a matter of this magnitude with such a rushed process, particularly given the source of funds and no evidence of a salary crisis? Process transparency is essential, but clearly lacking in our Board.

A Commitment to Principles and Guidelines -- Every agency (public or private) publishes goals, guidelines and operating principles, as has our School Board. Nevertheless, as Sally and Rita clearly demonstrated regarding District class size objectives, PAUSD's commitment to its own goals is unclear, to put it kindly. Changing goals and objectives is fine, but must be done openly, with public input and support, not though obfuscation, denial and number fudging. Our Board needs to clearly state its priorities, goals and objectives, stick to the same unless and until change is warranted and then be public about the need for and results of such change.

Accountability -- The flip side of Transparency: who is accountable for what and where is the assessments of the efficacy of prior decisions? As an example, and diverging from the current teachers' contract issue for a moment, who is accountable for the bizarre way the schools infrastructure improvement funds we Palo Altans approved were allocated? Why does Paly have arguably overly ornate Media and Theater facilities, while Addison is resorting to private funds for clearly-needed upgrades to its classrooms? I understand elementary schools were not emphasized, but still?

As a dedicated Palo Alto parent, I share the other commenters' concerns over the merits of the Board's recent actions, but my biggest concern is over what appears to me, after 20 years of observation, to be a consistent, fundamental lack of process governance, which just should not be. Let's commit to fixing the process and then we can have clear, transparent debates on the merits.


5 people like this
Posted by Dean
a resident of another community
on May 9, 2016 at 2:34 pm

I don't disagree with the class size argument, in fact I believe it is a valid one.

The problem I have is the fact that when I was in school, our class sizes were about 28 - 36 students, and that has not changed much if at all. I always voted for tax increases for the benefit of the school district, not the least for the purpose of reducing class sizes. I well remember in the 1940s the class sizes of 28 - 36 students. Well, now in 2016, the class sizes are still 28 - 36 students. What happened to all the monies? The major change that I have observed, is the number of administrators and administrator staff is much larger (in some cases 200% or more), and the top administrators salaries are out of sight, while the teachers salaries are less than 50% of the administrators, the class sizes are unchanged, the classrooms need painting, and who knows what else needs to be done.

Who is paying for these tax increases? You and I! While you may have had a salary increase in the past year or two and are looking forward to next years' salary increase, I had a 1% Social Security increase last year, 0% this year and I note, those with CalPers retirements received a 0% this year, as well as many others on a fixed income 0%. We can only look on with envy, as our already low fixed incomes are reduced by the increase in taxes to provide salary increases for others who have salaries of 5 to 10 times greater, maybe even 100 times greater.

I know nobody will listen to me until they or their loved ones are stuck in this situation, and it is too late to do anything about it. I would gladly work a part time or full time job to help keep my head above water, but age discrimination is alive and well!


2 people like this
Posted by Stan
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 9, 2016 at 8:53 pm

Any one have any idea what the overhead cost of PAUSD is? I specifically mean the total cost of the salaries at Churchill compared to the cost of teachers and related staff actually at schools. I assume it is unusually, and probably unnecessarily high.

Related to the classroom size issue, PAUSD has more money that it really knows what to do with. The teachers union has made sure it was disposed of 'properly'. This kind of squandered revenue has over the years caused me to vote no on additional taxes, especially as property tax revenues continue to soar.


2 people like this
Posted by Alternative Schooling
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2016 at 9:35 pm

Well, really, homeschooling.

Someone mentioned pulling kids out of PAUSD and setting them (gently) down in private school. But another option is homeschooling on one's own or through a public charter school. It can allow parents and students to be more innovative about how and what they learn.

Web Link

Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by Spent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2016 at 10:37 pm

Learning options available now.

This coming Saturday, a one-day conference at Microsoft.

Innovationeducation2016.com
Web Link

You do not have to be Elon Musk. Thanks fir the article, though, @Aternative Schooling.

The overhead of schooling today is working counter to educating whole children. Life and education should not be separate.


Like this comment
Posted by What can parents do now?
a resident of College Terrace
on May 10, 2016 at 10:39 am


Newcomer to the school district here.... lots of info to digest.

What can we do now to reduce class size?
Does it really have to be one (teachers' raises) or the other (class size reduction)?
Please inform what can be done going forward.
Broadcast to the community so we can act.


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Posted by outside the box
a resident of Downtown North
on May 10, 2016 at 11:56 am

@What can,

Part of the problem is the structure within the middle schools. At Jordan they split out the year into something like blue, red, green "teams" where the students share the same teachers. This artificial split restricts the options available to balance out the classes.

For example, if a team has two classes of math 7 and two classes of math 7A but more students doing 7A than 7 you end up with 2 classes of math 7 with 17 students and 2 classes of math 7A with 31 students. They can't balance this out by reducing the number of classes for 7 or increasing the number of 7A classes since there aren't enough students.

If they looked across the entire year, they could balance out the classes and get to the target sizes with minimal increase in the number of teachers.


6 people like this
Posted by Common sense
a resident of Downtown North
on May 10, 2016 at 12:12 pm

@What can parents do now?

It's not a choice between teacher's raises and class size reduction. It's a choice between spending all of the available money on teacher's raises, leaving none for class size reduction, or most of it on teacher's raises, and also doing class size reduction.

Why the board is getting ready to do the first rather than the second is beyond me. I'll be watching. There's a school board election in the fall and this is a voting issue for me.


7 people like this
Posted by Karen
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 10, 2016 at 4:29 pm

Thank you Rita and Sally for your tireless work on this. I sat in on a 7th grade math class on "visitation day." The teacher had a very engaging talk based on the material - she was showing shapes, and nets (surface area) and continually walking through the rows. There were 30 kids. It was amazing to watch how fast the last row got distracted even with the teacher doing more show and tell and asking questions. 30 was too many in the classroom. Those kids in the back did not get the same connectedness with the teacher not for the teacher's lack of trying.


2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 11, 2016 at 8:12 am

CoCo above makes an important more general point. Like most public school systems, PAUSD puts the largest share of its resources into the kids who are struggling. But that means the other kids get less, and if you look at the biggest classes, 35-40 kids and more in high school, they're mostly the Honors and AP classes. Somebody has done a calculation that the academically stronger kids can get by on their own.

That's not terribly nice, but to some extent it's actually true. CoCo's generalized observation is the kids who tend to suffer most are actually the ones in the middle - those who don't qualify for the extra resources, but who aren't self-sufficient enough to really not need them.


7 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 11, 2016 at 8:35 am

Re class size, do you think the constant push to keep building and adding density just might be a factor in the over-crowding of classes as well as the traffic gridlock?


5 people like this
Posted by Spent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 11, 2016 at 10:16 am

@What can parents do?

I am telling you this from the perspective of many years, seeing the very good and very bad here. I'm going to say this fully expecting that as a newby, you probably think those in power are acting in good faith, and will thus probably ignore this and look back on what I am saying with regret for not listening. I did the same thing, so this is not a criticism, it's just a comment on how most people could never imagine in a million years how deeply problematic the administration is.

What parents need to do is get together with other parents who want the district to operate better. Investigate other governmental structures around the nation and especially california, and especially california charter cities, where there are more checks and balances, so that parents have real recourse to enforce changes when things go wrong. School districts exist for local community control, but a weak elected school board is not enough. Look into whether there are other charter cities in california that have systems that create a more even power balance between the district and the community, including the parent community. Then call the city clerk and ask how to get a charter amendment. Continue to gather parent and community allies. Rally under the class size cause, but it goes much deeper than that because if the community has the power to derail an illegitimate action, the district admin will be more careful and responsive to begin with, making such actions less necessary. (Look back at the long history of broken promises with class sizes, it's one reason not to just try and fail in the usual way.)

Get a governmental law firm to review the proposal. Then proceed with proposing the city charter amendment. Only do so when you have gathered a strong interconnected group of allies in the community. Then spread your message and gather signatures. It may be that you can ask the city for the amendment, or it may be that a charter amendment requires a vote. Since this is a Presidential election season, it's a good time to do asap, because more of the community will be engaged.

The california DOE has no authority to do this. The only way you can fundamentally fix this power imbalance which creates an insular governmental agency (bordering on undemocratic) is to go through the city charter. The city charter in Palo Alto is what governs our district in the big picture governmental sense. It can be changed and improved. It won't be easy, but will be well worth it. (If I could do this myself I would have, but benefit please from all the research and experience this bit of advice represents.)

If you win the amendment, you may find the administration has more open ears and whatever mechanisms of forcing their hand are unnecessary. I know this sounds like a lot if work, but it is the only way to really solve this problem long term. It will also solve many more problems. The real source of problems in this district come down to serious power imbalance, and no mechanism to really right wrongs, especially before they fester. That's what leads to endless conflict, too, big power imbalances. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and powerlessness leads to anger and inevitable clashes..

If you lose the amendment, have a plan already, along with the coalition you have gathered, to learn from the experience, adjust the proposal, right any weaknesses that may have contributed to the loss, and try again. You will do more for fixing education than anyone since the school district was established.


8 people like this
Posted by Spent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 11, 2016 at 10:21 am

PS once you do the above, it's possible to get a citizen review board to adjust salaries. It's probably possible to get teacher raises and classroom needs fulfilled by culling topheavy administration finally. PAUSD is at the very bottom of rich districts in terms of the percentage of our expenditure that goes to educating the kids.


14 people like this
Posted by outisder
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 11, 2016 at 10:25 am

This would not happen in Cupertino or Los Gatos because parents are not afraid of speaking up in groups. In Palo Alto, parents will not generally back other parents because they all know there is usually retalliation and a type of black mark if you say what you want and why. Just wanting CA state standards followed can cause years of grief for your own kid or their siblings. This district does not want to know its families. It is clinging on to its past image. The new image for this district is only suicide and failure and still, they continue to break state standards and spelled out best practices.

They will spend lots of money on surveys from fancy people. hoping that these people will give the accolades but totally ignore their own families, the kids and the elephant in the room


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