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Palo Alto school board to vote on class-size reduction, other budget requests

 

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

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Comments

2 people like this
Posted by Math doesn't add up
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 10, 2016 at 11:34 am

It is widely accepted that our 2 high schools are pretty much packed today -- current population is 2000 kids each -- and the crowding will only get worse as the District expects another 700 students between now and 2020. There are no unused or under-used classrooms really.

So reducing class size -- by hiring more teachers -- is laudable, but where will get the extra classroom space? Since 2009, we have spent over $200 million on our high schools through proceeds from our bond program, but only a small fraction of that was to add extra classrooms.

So I say the math doesn't add up.


3 people like this
Posted by Toll Uso
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2016 at 5:53 pm

@Math,
What do you mean only a fraction was used to expand classrooms? I spent a lot of effort advocating for the funds to be used to upgrade Gunn and Paly but for improvements while reducing sizes, and reopening Cubberley. The district decided instead that expanding capacity at the existing high schools was a better focus of expenditure., I remember the meetings with the architect, they repeated that they understood the focus of planning was so that the high schools could expand and enroll 2300-2500 students each, and that portables could always be added again in a pinch. That was the rationale. And part of that argument was that with larger schools, they believed they would save money and be able to have smaller class sizes,

Multi-story construction is extremely expensive in school construction per square foot. So expensive, the state recommends schools just not do it, certainly not in our circumstances. The marginal additional cost of just multistory construction cost us tens of millions, based on the architect's publicly stated estimate of the additional marginal cost, which was probably a gross underestimate, looking at state information. That's money that just went to building up so that we could have LARGER campuses with more classrooms. Again, 2300-2500 students each was deemed the target of expenditures. I remember because I brought all the research about 2100 students really being a dividing line where going above makes many educational outcomes worse, or more difficult to achieve for the cost. I also reminded that it was a waste to wait until things got bad to pay attention to the research.

I am not saying this as an I told you so, although I did, I'm saying it because the die is cast, and we have much to do in our existing schools. Allowing more independent study is a way of enrolling more kids without having a more crowded campus. Having a staggered school day so that some kids can attend earlier or later is another way. We have hard work to do, and building more is expensive and a diversion.


14 people like this
Posted by Jim H
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 10, 2016 at 7:16 pm

Why does it take the work of two parents to expose the fact that PAUSD is pulling the wool over our eyes? What happened to the transparency we were promised?

The EMAC committee already concluded that at the enrollment.t levels we are headed for, the schools still do not have the classrooms available to meet the targeted class sizes.

It will be a few years, but soon everyone will realize a third high school was needed to be built. By then everyone who was making the decision to sardine the students in ton2cMoiaes will have moved on.


5 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 10, 2016 at 8:15 pm

One political issue is that Cubberly ("Community Center") has become a sacred cow for non-profits, artists, child care, etc. Acrimony will ensue...


Posted by barron park dad
a resident of Barron Park

on May 10, 2016 at 9:49 pm


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3 people like this
Posted by Toll Uso
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2016 at 10:34 pm

@Crescent Park Dad,
Very true, and yet the same was true of Terman and it is a school today. Property values soared nearby when it happened, too. The City has been warning about pulling out of Cubberly for some time now. This town needs to have that conversation about how we provide room for things other than office buildings for tech workers. Los Altis billionaires made the effort to preserve the small town charm, but Palo Alto has lost much of its retail and family friendliness. Our billionaires seem only to have little sense of civic engagement.


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