The Palo Alto school board will vote Tuesday night on a series of significant budget requests, some of which have increased and others of which have been pared down since they were first proposed.
Funding to reduce average class sizes at the middle and high schools is likely to be a focal point in the board's discussion, especially in light of major salary increases included in a new contract with the teachers union, which the board will also consider Tuesday.
Superintendent Max McGee is recommending the district allocate the funding necessary to hire 12 teachers over two years six for the middle schools and six for the high schools. This would cost $750,000 over two years for the middle-school hires and $1,075,000 over two years at the high-school level. The additional staffing would be on top of seven new middle school teachers and three high school teachers already included in the 2016-17 budget.
McGee told the Weekly that he increased the allocation after meetings with the secondary principals and in the hopes the additional staffing will bring class sizes down to the district's targeted staffing ratios.
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 10th-grade English and math classes are supposed to have 22 students.
"We want to get as close as we can this year to the desired ranges for middle school and actually drop average class size in the high school to 28 (students) this year and 27.5 next year," he said.
Yet parents Sally Kadifa and Rita Tetzlaff, whose close look at class sizes at Palo Alto's three middle schools and two high schools indicated the district is not meeting its official ratios in a large percentage of courses, have estimated that six additional teachers across the middle schools and 15 to 18 teachers at the high schools are necessary to bring the district within its own stated averages.
Surprised at the stated averages given the consistently larger sizes of their middle-school children's classes, Kadifa and Tetzlaff reviewed district enrollment data and found that at the middle schools, 78 percent of English classes, 53 percent of math classes, 33 percent of science classes, 22 percent of social studies and 22 percent of world-languages courses have more than the set averages. There are similarly high percentages at the high schools: 43 percent of English classes, 47 percent of math classes, 33 percent of science classes, 46 percent of social studies and 24 percent of world languages are over the official averages.
In a guest opinion piece published in the Palo Alto Weekly on May 6, the two parents urged the board to invest in sufficient staffing levels and to create a more clear policy around class size.
Each spring, the district's business office provides each secondary school with a staffing allocation based on its enrollment. The site administration then builds its master schedule based on this allocation, according to Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Scott Bowers. Schools also use funds from Partners in Education (PiE) to enhance staffing for electives or specialized classes, Bowers said.
If Paly or Gunn's 10th grade has 500 students, for example, the business office would provide the school staffing based on the official ratios, he said.
"The school then uses those sections to build their master schedule," he wrote in an email to the Weekly. "Using the negotiated average ratio to make the allocation is the standard for business services in nearly all districts."
A majority of the school board recently expressed support for investing in class-size reduction over building new school sites.
The funding for class-size reductions comes alongside budget requests to support various initiatives at the elementary, middle and high schools, including full-day kindergarten, two new high-school positions to support student wellness, high school athletic programs and additional staffing at the district office, among others.
The total proposed resource allocations add up to $3,088,059 over the next two years $2,256,059 for the 2016-17 year and $832,000 for 2017-18. McGee said these funds are expected to come from property tax revenues.
Below is a list of all the 20161-7 budget requests the board will take action on Tuesday night, as well as previous requests that have been deferred for future discussion. The school board will meet at 6:30 p.m. in the district office, at 25 Churchill Ave.
Proposed program additions:
$150,000 for expert instructional math intervention specialists at the high schools
$338,000 for full-day kindergarten
$164,000 over two years for two "wellness outreach workers," one for each high school (up from previous $143,000 request to hire one, full-time district-level wellness coordinator)
$100,000 for breakfast for low-income elementary-school students (down from previous budget request for $300,000)
$1,075,000 over two years to reduce class sizes at the high schools (six teachers over two years, with three hired each year plus 2.6 full-time teachers to reduce special-education caseloads and increase the number of co-taught classes; up from previous request for $400,000)
$750,000 over two years to mitigate enrollment growth at the middle schools (up to six new teachers, with three hired each year; increase from initial budget request of $375,000)
$300,000 to provide a full-time reading specialist at every elementary school (down from initial request of $818,750)
$111,059 in additional staffing at the district office (down from previous request of $212,559)
$100,000 for high school athletic programs (down from previous request of $180,000)
Previous requests that have been deferred, with their original cost in parentheses, if available:
summer school (between $300,000 and $500,000)
after-school programs at the middle schools ($30,000)
STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics) enrichment programs at the middle schools ($30,000)
half-time coordinator for the district's world-language program
expansion of Gunn High School's Small Learning Community ($197,100 over two years)
expansion of Palo Alto High School's Together Everyone Achieves More (TEAM) ($200,000)
part-time Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA) focused on libraries ($25,000)
- emergency-preparedness training