News

Editorial: End 'me too' raises

Time to change byzantine Palo Alto school-district pay-increase practice

It is troublesome enough that the powerful California teachers' union has achieved a system where performance doesn't matter and teachers all receive exactly the same pay and pay increase within a school district based only on their longevity and number of advanced degrees.

But it is an abdication of basic management responsibility that highly paid school administrators, principals and other managers and directors also do not receive performance-based pay increases and instead get whatever amount the teachers union was able to successfully negotiate for its members.

Year after year, school boards here and elsewhere are complicit in a system that is all but invisible to the public, quietly approving identical "me too" raises for even the most highly paid administrators without regard to their performance. In Palo Alto, the top six administrators reporting to Superintendent Max McGee now each earn more than $200,000. (McGee, who is paid $316,000, is the one person who doesn't get a "me too" increase.)

Here's how the system works:

Union contract negotiations take place behind closed doors between representatives of the teachers' union, the classified employees' (aides, maintenance and clerical staff) union and Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Scott Bowers. These negotiating sessions are open to the public under the terms of the contract unless either side elects to close them. In reality, they are always closed. Whenever the Weekly has asked to attend, both sides have agreed to close the meeting. There has never been any transparency to the process.

Bowers, who ultimately receives a pay increase himself equal to what he has negotiated with the unions, takes his direction on negotiating strategy from the school board in closed meetings. The only time there is even an opportunity for public discussion on labor negotiations is prior to when they initially begin, when both sides decide which provisions of the current contract they wish to "open" for negotiation, and then again after the school board has already agreed in closed session to a new contract but is required by law to hold a public hearing. At that time, only a summary of their provisions are included in the board packet.

These contract approval agenda items pass in a flash at board meetings and with typically no discussion. (This year was a rare exception because trustee Ken Dauber opposed the contract.)

Following the formal, public board vote approving the contracts that had already been approved in closed session, two more votes are taken with no discussion. One approves identical salary and benefit increases as negotiated in the union contracts for all management employees; the other approves the same increases for the Supervisory/Confidential employees.

Then, in the ultimate example of bootstrapping, the top district administrators automatically get the same increase, regardless of performance and without even a vote of approval by the school board. Why? A provision in each of their contracts states that they will receive any increase that is approved for the larger management group.

No progressively run, modern organization would consider operating this way, and the fact that other school districts have a similar lazy and opaque practice is no excuse for this system continuing in Palo Alto. There is no justification for manager compensation not being tied to performance. Mediocrity and exceptionalism should not be rewarded equally; managers should be accountable for their performance.

When the school board approved the latest me-too management increases in May, at the urging of Dauber and colleague Terry Godfrey it committed to looking at this practice during its August retreat, scheduled for this Thursday. We urge the board to end the practice and to form a citizens committee of HR and business executives to recommend changes in how district compensation for management employees is best structured so it is tied to performance and not the union contract.

In light of the district's recent errors in budgeting property-tax revenue for this year and the multi-million dollar deficits that will result, we also urge the board to immediately roll-back the 4 percent management increases implemented on July 1 (which came a month after a 5 percent retroactive raise back to July 1, 2015).

Nothing can be done to undo the raises given to union employees in May that took effect July 1, but nothing prevents the board from modifying the raises given to managers. If the board knew in May what it found out in early July -- that property tax increases were insufficient to support the raises given -- it surely wouldn't have approved those raises.

This isn't about the need or value of supporting our school managers and administrators. It's about following responsible compensation and budgeting practices.

Related content:

Editorial: A school budget crisis some feared | July 15, 2016

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Comments

52 people like this
Posted by Parent of 2
a resident of Southgate
on Aug 5, 2016 at 9:51 am

Excellent editorial thank you. Kudos to Terry and Ken for trying to stop this in May. They made a motion to delay a decision and force staff to actually justify the raises. Heidi, Melissa and Camille voted them down. I really want to give a shout out to Terry on that one, she stood up for better decision making. I hope she will be on board for rolling back the raises (no pun intended :)


66 people like this
Posted by Work Harder
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Aug 5, 2016 at 10:18 am

Obviously, the teachers and administrators of PAUSD do not live in the REAL world, where the 40-hour work week died in the 80s, and results are REQUIRED!


67 people like this
Posted by Hal Plotkin
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 5, 2016 at 11:42 am

During my service as an elected trustee of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District I never understood why labor contracts had to be negotiated in closed session. It never made any sense to me. I tried repeatedly but unsuccessfully to bring the negotiating sessions into public session. I was told that if we did that we'd be hit with an "unfair practices" lawsuit from the unions that would cost the district money and that we'd likely ultimately lose. One result: parties to the negotiations often said one thing in public and another in private, which is a polite way of saying there was a lot of lying and deception going on. I think the first step is obvious: negotiations about public funds used to pay public employees should be conducted in public. Period.


46 people like this
Posted by Clarify
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Aug 5, 2016 at 12:05 pm

"Bowers, who ultimately receives a pay increase himself equal to what he has negotiated with the unions, takes his direction on negotiating strategy from the school board in closed meetings."
I don't care how much Bowers earns. I do care that Board Member Townsend attacked from the board dias those who raised concerns Bowers would receive the same salary increase he negotiated. It turns out they were correct.
Administrators responded to Board member questions about Mr. Bowers' salary stating that Mr. Bower's salary was under a separate contract. Dr. McGee and Mr. Bowers did not make it clear Mr. Bowers would receive the same raise as the teachers contract.
Ms. Townsend and every other Board member cannot pretend they did not know this, because the Board approves his contract. It is posted on Palo Alto Online, she could have easily looked it up.
I feel the public was duped.


43 people like this
Posted by Unbelievable
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 5, 2016 at 12:53 pm

Reward without merit or accountability is a proven recipe for ineptness, lack of effective involvement, and arrogant over-confidence. Our educational system and we taxpayers should hold our employees, both union and non-union, to a higher standard. Lets clean up this mess and hold these folks accountable. My thanks to Mr.Dauber and Ms. Townsend for attempting to do just that.


42 people like this
Posted by Carol Gilbert
a resident of University South
on Aug 5, 2016 at 1:07 pm

Teachers and principals deserve "fair" wages. However, merit should be the measurement. Best of both should be rewarded the most. Lesser performers should receive lesser salaries. Just ask the parents and the students who turns in the best job. They know. Longevity is certainly not the test. Me Too is not any test. So much room for correction.


35 people like this
Posted by Thank You
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 5, 2016 at 1:29 pm

@PA Online. Thank you for this editorial.

Teacher tenure after 2 years and automatic raises based on longevity instead of performance is a travesty. In addition this practice of me too raises for administrators is also travesty. What can we do as PA taxpayers, PA citizens, and pausd families to change this?


18 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto classified
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 5, 2016 at 1:55 pm

I noticed the prior discussions only discussed the Administrators and Teachers in the Me Too contact negotiations. I am wondering if anyone thought about the PAUSD Classified Staff. They also receive the same salary boast as the administration and teaching staff. Administrators and Teachers work on contracts, Classified work on an hourly schedule.As a member of the PAUSD classified staff for over thirty years, I felt this system compensated me fairly and I earned every bit of a so-called "raise".

Most PAUSD Classified, to use the common vernacular, practice working "out of contract". We often give up our lunch and breaks to help a child. It means staying beyond our working hours, to help a student finish an assignment or finish up a job. At the time of budget cutbacks and hour reductions, we feel the increase of the student load in a big way.
I was willing to do this because I cared about students and and I had pride, in the timely completion of my assigned duties. Those who are discussing the "me too" system, should be aware of the contributions of the Classified Staff and base their opinions with that in mind too.


12 people like this
Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Gunn High School
on Aug 5, 2016 at 2:17 pm

Marc Vincenti is a registered user.

Friday afternoon

Kudos to the Weekly for another timely, cogent editorial.

Let's rescind these "me too" raises--especially if we're to have any shred of hope of funding smaller classes in our high schools.

Last semester, by official count, 425 classes at Gunn and Paly had thirty or more teenagers in the room. How do you get your raised hand called on in such huge mobs? How do you get personalized, caring feedback on your efforts?

A healthy daily environment for our adolescents is a much more pressing need than additional pay for administrators.

When it comes to evaluating the job performance of administrators, I haven't a clue; that's a tough one. But as for evaluating the performance of teachers--that's an easy one:

Web Link

We owe our employees this kind of informed, performance-enhancing feedback on their work.

For a healthier high-school environment for our kids--improvements to conditions and regimens that are inimical to their well-being every single day of the school year--I encourage readers to visit: savethe2008.com

Best,

Marc Vincenti
Campaign Director
Save the 2,008 -- creating hope for Palo Alto's high-schoolers


21 people like this
Posted by Lets Act Now
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 5, 2016 at 2:37 pm

All of the transitions from Measure A, to tax surplus, to budget deficit, to salary increase across the board, to me-too increases make me sick. It is a blatant insult collectively toward the local taxpayers.

My questions are simply what we as taxpayers can do at this juncture to make changes:
- fix the budget deficit;
- get our money back to help the kids and the schools;
- get rid of those decision makers, be it board or district employees, who squander our money: vote them out during the next election or recall right now. What are the procedures.


15 people like this
Posted by concerned citizen
a resident of another community
on Aug 5, 2016 at 3:03 pm

For a bunch of supposedly smart people, it might be helpful for this newspaper to look to the research on merit pay for teachers. The results are decidedly mixed.

Teachers have no say about which students end up in their classrooms. There are a lot of outside factors that impacts what goes on in the classroom. Tell me exactly how you would define merit. Who is deciding whether or not a teacher has merit? The principal? The students? The parents?

We already know what happens to teachers in Palo Alto who decide to stand up against a bully principal. The one grievance they file against the district in over a decade ends up in their local newspaper.

If this newspaper even tried to pretend to report anything fair and balanced about the people who choose to teach in this community, then perhaps, open negotiations might be considered. In other words, this newspaper only has itself to blame.

Also, I think it's wonderful that this district chose to make its teachers a priority in the upcoming budgets. This will help to attract and retain quality educators - although, as someone who considered teaching here, this editorial, other articles and the comments made by many in this community online, caused me to say no.

Also slamming the California Teachers Association (wrongly called the California Teachers Union at the start of this article) for how the school board chooses to compensate those working in contract administrative positions is very silly. Teachers do not negotiate for administrators. They were purposefully excluded from the Rodda Act. This is a decision that is at the sole discretion of the elected school board members. Hold them accountable and stop trying to blame your teachers for everything you view as wrong in this school district.

Here are a couple of articles for your reading pleasure:
Web Link
Web Link
Web Link
Web Link
Web Link


3 people like this
Posted by Sue Allen
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 5, 2016 at 3:56 pm

The sad thing for me is that raises are given by percentage to rich and poor alike. A 5% raise for those who make $15/hour is almost insignificant to the cost of living in this area. It comes out to a bit more than $100/month. A 5% raise for admins making $200K is a nice chunk of change -- About $10,000. But still barely makes it possible to live here. We are facing a huge teacher shortage as older teachers retire and younger people either work for Facebook or Google or live in Colorado or Kansas.


28 people like this
Posted by Bell CA
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 5, 2016 at 4:11 pm

For comparison, the pay of the Lieutenant Governor of California, Gavin Newsom, is about $133,000 for a full year's work.

Jerry Brown, the Governor, who has prior experience running a state with an economy larger than most countries in the world, makes about $177,000 for a full year's work.

If we prorate by the number of day's worked, Palo Alto's Superintendent makes about twice what the Governor of the entire state makes. The reason is that the state has a citizens' commission that periodically re-sets the Governor's pay. In Palo Alto, there doesn't seem to be any mechanism to do anything but increase the pay. We're already paying ridiculous amounts of money to people whose performance problems are either obscured by the district's notorious lack of transparency, or covered by equally problematic colleagues who are also not accountable.

The other thing missing here is a discussion of all the many other assistant this-and-that's in this district who make as much or more than the executives of the entire state, for less than a year's work. Many of those positions could be done for less than half that, far more competently (and with less personal politics), by Stanford interns. Or high school students.

We have the top salaries in the story. How many administrators are there in the structure? How much do they make? What do they do? Are there examples of school districts doing the same thing for less? How much could we save? Does every position benefit from graduate education in order to do their jobs? (Not from where I'm sitting.) I read about a district in which the Superintendent called on everyone to take on two different roles in order to accomplish the same on half the money. I've noticed over the years that our administrators are out of the office so often as to put bankers to shame.

If the board is going to change to a performance raise system, the people they serve need to somehow be a part of that equation. If students need student services, for example, such as special needs, a survey should be made available to everyone, and the results collected by some kind of impartial third party in the City rather than the school district. There should be criteria for dismissal, too.



12 people like this
Posted by Bell CA
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 5, 2016 at 4:42 pm

@Lets Act Now,
"My questions are simply what we as taxpayers can do at this juncture to make changes:
- fix the budget deficit;
- get our money back to help the kids and the schools;
- get rid of those decision makers, be it board or district employees, who squander our money: vote them out during the next election or recall right now. What are the procedures."

Here's the problem. School districts are uniquely insular governmental structures that lack the mechanisms of checks and balances that made our democracy great. Just electing a handful of volunteers every so often is not it. The principle of three branches of power at the top has been very important at the state and federal level. At the state and local level we have referenda and initiatives. We can chance the City charter. There are numberous causes of action where citizens can sue various governments to ensure rules are followed. But notice that even suing the CA Dept of Ed means very little because they have so very little power over local districts.

If you look at your PTA bylaws, there are sections that acknowledge that sometimes graft happens, and it's very important for parents to hold the power to stop it. Any individual parent has a great deal of power to do something if they even suspect something is wrong. If, at the City level, you don't like something the City Council does, there are clear rules by which you can leverage change, depending on the type of action.

But school districts have no such mechanisms. There is an ASSUMPTION - an assumption not borne out in fact - that school districts are beneficial because local control is beneficial, but there are no real mechanisms for ACTUAL local control. (An insular overpaid administrator living locally or a handfull of local volunteers elected every many years is NOT the same thing as local control.)

This is a really important lesson for innovating education in this country. People keep wanting to come up with some groundbreaking school or teaching method. But research on innovation tells us that "lead USERS" innovate - the people for whom the innovations are most necessary, especially the ones willing to be first - they innovate. Top down = NOT INNOVATIVE. If we want school districts to respond to forces of constant improvement everywhere in the country, the most important, essential change has to be to change the structure of school districts so they more resemble other proven democratic governmental structures in our society, and are directly responsible and accountable at the level of every interaction. People who have great ideas or great concerns should have some leverage to effect change, as they do in every other democratic institution (but not school districts, where all we can do is ask - that's not a check or balance).

Are you, personally, really ready to act now, or do you think by your post you will motivate someone else to? Because based on considerable experience, leaders who pull together everyone and get the ball rolling are essential and hard to come by. If you want someone to do it, do it yourself. Don't count on someone else to do it. Get on the phone and start pullling together allies in the community.

You asked what you can do, and luckily because Palo Alto is a charter city, the way forward is clearer than if it weren't. Charter cities in Palo Alto can choose to set up their school districts under their city charters, which Palo Alto has done. Read the City Charter, it establishes the Superintendent position, the board, and even explicitly states that the state ed code governs. Except for areas like discrimination in which higher laws pre-empt, we can basically change everything.

When you get your group together, you have as much a right as anyone else to figure out where the problems and waste are in our system. You can look at other cities across the nation that demand greater accountability. In some cities, school districts are accountable to the Mayor's office, for example, You could establish an independent position of management and budget, outside the district's control, to take and act on citizen complaints, better manage funds, etc. You could establish a registry for voters online and let citizens vote instantly on some kinds of proposals during meetings. I'm not suggesting you do those things, I'm just pointing out that you can do anything you want - subject to convincing other Palo Altans that you have a good plan. Because I think charter amendments have to be voted on, they can't just be adopted by city councils. To get your proposal on the ballot, ask the City Clerk for instructions (and check them online yourself). You need to get so many voter signatures - which in this increasingly interconnected City shouldn't be that difficult if you have a good plan - then you get it on the ballot, and citizens get to decide if we want to improve our district. Maybe even coming up with rival plans, where the highest vote prevails, would be a good thing. It may not even be too late for the coming election.

That may not have been the answer you were looking for. But it's reality. You've asked how to do some very common sense things, which citizens should have the power to leverage in a democratic system, but don't because school districts are completely insular. Change that, and you can leverage those kinds of checks and balances, this time, next time, and forever after. (I advise you to get allies in the community who care but no longer have children in the school district, because the ones who do will need cover every once in awhile, at least until the system stops being so utterly insular.)


9 people like this
Posted by Clarify
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Aug 5, 2016 at 4:54 pm

@ Palo Alto classified - well put. That is why it is so ridiculous the teachers and classified staff are losing the 1% off salary schedule payment they were promised. 1% of your hourly wage is not very much, and you were promised it and likely depending on it. No fair to give people making over $900 a day raises and not classified staff paid low hourly wages.


19 people like this
Posted by Parent of 3
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 5, 2016 at 5:18 pm

Good editorial. The me-too approach doesn't really make any sense, though this is not exactly the top issue on the list for PAUSD improvement.

But it is part of a larger puzzle. We should use this unexpected "crisis" to really take on our administrative cost structure, and figure out how to cut our overhead cost, and make sure it is directed at what we need. Some high salary people might be part of it; in-house counsel vs. outside legal; how we handle payroll and HR record keeping; etc. This would be a good chance to do a top-to-bottom review with an eye toward reform and cost cuts. In that context, it might well make sense to change the way we pay at least some admin staff.


8 people like this
Posted by Kelly
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 5, 2016 at 5:19 pm

Many of these issues could be eliminated through school vouchers. A large public bureaucratic system lends itself to blackmail by major public unions and administrators. A voucher system would disrupt the current system, and allow parents to have a choice, and to get involved.


112 people like this
Posted by What actually happened
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 6, 2016 at 9:14 am

Godfrey and Dauber tried to get rid of me-too raises in May, but the other 3 board members outvoted them, according to the Weekly story:

"Dauber made a failed motion to defer the vote on non-represented management employee raises to the board's next meeting and ask staff to return with a justification for the proposed increases beyond the "me, too" practice. Godfrey seconded his motion but the other three board members opposed it."

So the question for the other board members is why they opposed this motion, and didn't even want to wait for a justification for the 9% raise before voting for it?


16 people like this
Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 6, 2016 at 10:07 am

@Hal Plotkin.

Exactly right.


1 person likes this
Posted by some facts
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 6, 2016 at 1:08 pm

What actually happened,

All 5 board members said they are open to evaluating how management raises should be determined.

Here is how their May 24 school board votes went:

First, Ken Dauber wanted to defer the vote on all 3 years of proposed management raises for 2 weeks. His motion failed because other board members felt that 2 weeks would not be enough time for staff to do the work needed to evaluate its current practice plus new ones.

Second, the proposed 3 year management raise was not approved.

Third, Ken Dauber suggested and Melissa Baten Caswell motioned (with Ken Dauber seconding) to cut the raise down to 2 years.

Caswell added to the motion that the board would discuss the 3rd year raise and alternatives in August despite Scott Bowers saying that the board could further delay and discuss it throughout the school year if they wanted.

This motion passed. All 5 agreed to the 2 year raise. Ken Dauber did not vote yes on this motion though because he, again, felt that staff should return with the information in two weeks instead of in August.

Web Link


10 people like this
Posted by What actually happened
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 6, 2016 at 1:56 pm

@some facts

That's not quite right, based on the video. Godfrey and Dauber wanted staff to return in 2 weeks with some analysis of the size of managers raises beyond me-too. They wanted to consider the size of the raises based on actual information, and then discuss the larger question of process in August.

The other 3 board members were fine with setting the raises with no justification. Would the district staff be unable to gather some comparative data at least in 2 weeks, or possibly even a month? I don't see why not although I can see why they didn't leap at the opportunity. A 9% raise is a pretty big incentive.


14 people like this
Posted by Bell CA
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 6, 2016 at 4:39 pm

@What actually happened,
Seriously, how is it even legal for Scott Bowers to be negotiating with the teachers' union, since he personally gets his salary raised if the district has to pay more? I heard his wife is a teacher, too, isn't that a conflict of interest, too? (I guess the same way it was legal for the district to enter into a lease leaseback over the new gym at Paly - even though it is illegal if the purpose is to avoid competitive bidding, which the district speciffically said was the purpose.) No wonder they went after the OCR. How dare anyone make them do anything. I wonder if all the agencies looking at our problems have any idea the implications of that insularity to both the education and wellbeing of our most physically, emotionally and academically vulnerable students?


2 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 6, 2016 at 5:36 pm

This is a State of California issue, too, I suppose. The huge state Education bureaucracy must be reformed and the law changed. Teachers should not be unionized - they hold us taxpayers hostage each and every time. Meantime, a reasonable system CAN be instated to reward teachers for several factors: educational level attained, years of service, merit award per a committee review (annually), and perhaps several other factors. I do not think this is impossible. We all know some teachers who have been outstanding and some who are truly punching a (brief) time clock and some who truly should not be teaching at all. The attainment of tenure after two years is way too brief. How about like the lecturer, asst prof, assoc prof, full prof style education scheme? We need to be politically active and find ways to reform this public primary/secondary public education mess. We can't afford it for one thing and throwing more money (often partially siphoned off by the ridiculous bureaucracy) doesn't result in improvement. Meantime, I WANT high calibre, bright, educated and inspired persons to become teachers and to have fulfilling careers. The current scheme is not cost efficient. A symbol to me is: the discarding of the CAHSEE (CA high school exit exam, for those who don't know), a ridiculously LOW BAR which so many students (often minority) were not able to pass and therefore the politicians (embarrassed) threw it out. Kids are getting social promotion from CA high schools now without even this absolute bare bones minimum statewide test. Constant adjusting, turmoil, additional federal requirements and schemes with associated bureaucracy are NOT the answer. I thank God I and my family are out of this State of CA public education mess. I wouldn't recommend it to others unless major substantive and intelligent reform occurs. PAUSD is one tiny (though EXTREMELY costly to us) segment. Sorry for the rant but I think it's justified.


1 person likes this
Posted by Lets Act Now
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 6, 2016 at 5:38 pm

@Bell CA,

Before anyone taking up the task of long term changes like charter school, there should be things that could be done in the immediate future, for example, voting out those board members who didn't make the right choices, or saving the schools some money, however legally possible it may be. The elementary school kids need all the attention of a teacher with smaller class size.

I do hope someone take up the job for structural changes though, so there will be enough funds when our kids rise to upper schools.


7 people like this
Posted by Bell CA
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 6, 2016 at 7:53 pm

@Let's Act Now,

Please note, my use of capitals below is for emphasis and not electronic yelling :-)

Since you are interested in acting now, I would urge you to PLEASE go back and read my previous posts. This is a CIVICS issue, about governmental structure. You asked how you could do something, and I told you. I have studied where the power is established, and what I described above is how you change it. I wasn't even thinking about "charter schools". I was talking about the CITY CHARTER, which is the document/code that establishes our City government - the City of Palo Alto.

There are different kinds of city governmental structures in California. Palo Alto and San Francisco are charter cities, meaning, we reserve a number of rights for our own governance that would otherwise come from the state. For example, Measure D would never have been necessary in a non-charter city, because spot zoning is illegal under state law. But we don't have to follow that law because Palo Alto is a charter city. If someone had tried to spot zone, the opponents would have gone to court to get it overtuned under state code, very different. Because Palo Alto is a charter city, the state code doesn't apply, but residents can overturn ordinances by filing a referendum. When citizens want to do something the council isn't addressing, it's called an initiative.

The State of California Department of Education has almost no power to do anything in Palo Alto Unified. The City of Palo Alto Charter (note: NOT CHARTER SCHOOL - same word, nothing at all to do with charter schools) is what establishes the school district. The CITY CHARTER is what establishes the position of superintendent and the board, and outlines their powers. The CITY CHARTER is what governs the existence of the school district and establishes that we are following the CA Dept of Education code. WE DO NOT HAVE TO. It is totally under our control to change that. In fact, the state DOE does not have the power! (Please everyone at least go read it so you understand what I am talking about, this is a democracy and it's important for citizens to be informed).

Again, the way to introduce checks and balances, to do the things you suggest you want to do, is to introduce the right of the local community by changing the CITY CHARTER. Again, the City Charter is the founding governmental document of the City, it has nothing to do with charter schools. There is a clear process for changing the City Charter, which I have outlined above. It will involve getting a certain number of signatures, some percentage of the number who voted in the last election (it's usually only a few thousands, not that hard). Then you file it and the council sets an election. If you have done a good job researching your charter amendments, then you can file your statement for the voter ballot (which has to be done soon after qualifying your signatures) and with the LWV, and it really doesn't require a major campaign.

You said you wanted to do something. If you want to actually achieve something rather than spinning your wheels, making the uniquelyl insular governmental structure of school district responsive to the local community by changing the City Charter is the way to do it. Finding other cities with better controls of their school districts (such as comparing City-Mayor acountable districts) is helpful because then people know what they are getting.

(Now go back and read what I wrote before if you want to know how to make a charter amendment TO THE CITY OF PALO ALTO CHARTER. .... Not charter school.)


7 people like this
Posted by Bell CA
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 6, 2016 at 8:05 pm

@Let's Act Now,
"I do hope someone..."

Tha'ts just it. No one will. If you want to fix it, YOU have to do it and not expect someone else to. It will not happen just because you bring it up You can't rely on anyone else to do things like this for you. And yes, I have myself been involved in changing laws at every level of government including federal. I am not personally going to do this one, you're on your own. But I promise you, if you are determined, and if you work at developing a coalition and a good plan, you can succeed. In fact, if you play your cards right (and it's not rocket science), other people will try to take the effort from you once the ball is rolling. It's just a lot of work to get it going to start - but if you form coalitions, sharing the work makes it pretty doable.


7 people like this
Posted by Bell CA
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 6, 2016 at 9:17 pm

Here is the link to the CITY MUNICIPAL CODE:
Web Link

Click on the link to the CHARTER OF THE CITY OF PALO ALTO
Article VIII-A is "Board of Education"

Section 4 is "Superintendent of Schools", for example.

Note that Section 3 assigns the powers and duties of the school board by broadly referring to other codes such as the state ed code. YOU CAN CHANGE THAT. You do that through a process almost the same as the civic initiative process. You make an amendment to the CITY charter.

Note also that this portion of the charter has been amended at times since it was first enacted in 1951.

So, for example, there are state laws requiring the school district to provide educational and public records within a certain period of time, and to put in place processes to do that so they can't use the excuse that it's too hard if they want to hassle someone or discriminate against their child. But what happens if the school district doesn't follow the law? Guess what, as in many other instances, there is really no reasonable process to make them. If you want to set up some kind of ombudsman position, or office of management and budget, outside of the district, that answers to the City or the Mayor, rather than the Superintendent, it could serve as a watchdog - and there are examples at least of districts that have to answer to City Mayors around the country to see if that might provide the needed independent checks and balances here. If so, for one, we could look at a sample City's municipal code, adapt it to what we want, and then propose a charter amendment. Then, voila! Suddenly you have recourse as a community to fix problems like the above. If that doesn't fix it, then you could make a charter amendment outlining specific actions or penalties if the Superintendent or district officials continue to flaunt the law.

That's where the power to change lies. If you take the time to thoughtfully create a check/balance in the municipal code, it will hereafter give the local community a lot more ability to ensure the district serves the interests of their children.



6 people like this
Posted by Bell CA
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 6, 2016 at 10:05 pm

Here's an interesting article on Mayoral School Leadership - what is happening in some of the large cities around the country. It's not entirely applicable to us, but it does demonstrate that changing the leadership structure can lead to better accountability.
Web Link

I we wanted to make a change like this, or any other change, the way to do it here in Palo Alto is by putting together a city "charter amendment". There is a process to do that which you can access online or ask the City Clerk. Again, this has nothing to do with charter schools, it is a change in the governing municipal code which establishes the school district board and superintendent positions, etc.

Would we want the Mayor's office in charge of our schools? IMO, probably not. But having another authority as a check and balance would be a good thing, I think. We are a democracy ater all.


11 people like this
Posted by Election
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Aug 7, 2016 at 9:20 pm

When the Board approved the promotions and salary increases of Administrators in May/June, did the salary cost presented to the Board include the salary increases, or was it the lower amount?

Does the compensation data include the costs for educating children of Administrators who do not live in the District? (I do not oppose this, but think it is a part of the payroll costs that should be more transparent.) I have seen this policy become a 'golden handcuff', with some staff unwilling to seek jobs outside the District because of the free education. Again I am not against it, but we should look at the real payroll cost.

When full day Kindergarten was approved, did the budgeted amount include the cost of the salary increases? The true cost will have to include teacher pay, aide pay, special education clinicians and Resource Room teachers, ESL teacher, ESL tutors and tutors for struggling students. Although I do think full day Kindergarten is overall a good thing, I was concerned the cost presented seemed low, and worried the rush to implement it in the coming school year provided little time for planning. It was especially concerning the Kindergarten teachers expressed concern they were not ready. Compare this to the switch to 'full inclusion from Day 1', which we were told was 100% achieved in one school year and was 100% successful, but in reality the teachers and children were not adequately supported. We were told the students are all team taught (we were told this years ago), but there were never adequate funds at the elementary school level for this to be happening. The study presented at the retreat shows both the evaluator and Superintendent is dubious about it's effectiveness. I am sure a couple months into the school year we will have a Board presentation saying full day Kindergarten is all wonderful and successful, just as we did with Special Education inclusion. (Ironically, at this presentation the now promoted Special Education Administrator told the Board the only problem with its service was that some parents did not understand her policies. Even more ironic since the evaluation of Special Education reports this function in PAUSD is opaque and needs the policy and procedure manual, which parents have requested from that Administrator for years. I guess failing to provide that for years is all the parent's fault, too.)

In the election, my concern with voting for any currently serving Board members is both incumbents were Board Presidents who controlled the Closed Sessions Agenda's. They also both opposed requests for openness providing parents of disabled a liaison to communicate their concerns to the Board. Instead, the incumbent Board members attacked disabled families, ignored their concerns about the attorney, renewed the problem attorney who caused more problems, and promoted the Administrator to a now $212K job with power over all information requests, counseling, special education, and the power to sue disabled children. Jobs are not open to true competitive applicants, only current employees the Superintendent already wants. The incumbent Board members created a structure with too much power in too few hands. Like the salary increases, most of this was done in Closed Sessions. When it was finely publicly reported, just Palo Alto Online Editorial states, it was at the last minute with few details and brushed over quickly.


1 person likes this
Posted by Election
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Aug 9, 2016 at 12:19 pm

Staff can present budgets based on scenario plans for income - Best Case Revenue Scenario, Worst Case Scenario, and Most Likely Case Scenario, along with a degree of confidence or risk for each scenario. then the Board can decide.

It is just 3 columns of scenarios instead of 1 as we have now. In a spreadsheet, once one number is revised, all the numbers can be revised.

A budget can also include a (small) contingency fund for unforeseeable or unaccounted costs.

It is not clear if PAUSD really goes after all the revenue sources entitled it. For all the comments Ms. Emberling makes that Districts lost State funding for mental health and Special Education (and her blaming of disabled children for it), PAUSD does not seek Medi-Cal reimbursement at all. If that was a policy decision, it is unclear who made this decision on behalf of the taxpayers and the actual numbers it is based on. In the last two years, there have been dramatic changes in the care and payment structure for care of children, and it is moving toward Medi-Cal funding. Is it really impossible to obtain reimbursements, or do staff just not want to do it?

In terms of spending, often more funds become available to the PAUSD budget later in the year that were unspent on other things.

Our budget does not have to plan to spend all of the funds from the beginning so that it creates such a huge problem if actual revenue estimates are lower than estimates.


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

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