Palo Alto school board to continue budget-management discussion

Staff presents some new data, conservative multi-year forecast

Palo Alto Unified School District administrators' salaries are competitive and in many cases above what surrounding districts pay, according to new data the school board will discuss Tuesday night as part of an ongoing discussion on how to manage an unexpected $3.3 million budget shortfall.

At its first regular meeting of the new school year, the board will look at how to manage this budget gap with some, but not all information trustees have requested in previous meetings on this topic, including comparing Palo Alto's administrator pay to other local school districts and several multi-year budget scenarios.

Tuesday's meeting will be the board's third meeting on the budget shortfall since discovering in July that property-tax revenue estimates came in about 3 percent lower than the district planned for, resulting in an initial $5.2 million shortfall. (The automatic elimination of a 1 percent bonus for teachers this year and a surplus of $418,000 results in the latest estimate of a $3.3 million deficit.)

Management-salary comparisons compiled by the district's Human Resources department show that today, Palo Alto Unified pays its administrators more than most districts.

For example, in 2016-17, a new elementary principal in Palo Alto would make $127,864 and one at the top of the district's salary schedule would earn $167,215. Saratoga Union School District paid its elementary principals almost the same amounts, but the only other two districts with salary information provided for 2016-17, Cupertino Union School District and Santa Clara Unified, pay less. In Cupertino this year, elementary principal pay starts at $119,923 and tops out at $150,046; in Santa Clara, it starts at $122,296 and tops out at $143,189.

Palo Alto Unified's assistant superintendent position also out-earns other comparable districts this year, except for a veteran person in that position in Cupertino, where he or she would top out this year at $213,139 (compared to Palo Alto's $205,989).

In 2015-16, too, Palo Alto administrators' pay was either in pace or ahead of the pack compared to other districts.

During a discussion of the budget at an Aug. 11 retreat, Trustee Ken Dauber made a proposal to rescind 4 percent salary hikes given this year to one of its two groups of non-represented employees, senior administrators and managers, as "me too" raises attached to those negotiated with the district's teachers and classified unions. Doing so would result in about $648,000 in cost savings, according to the district. None of Dauber's colleagues supported this proposal.

Dauber and board Vice President Terry Godfrey had requested these comparisons in May, but the other board members did not support their request and ultimately approved the compensation increases.

At the retreat, board members also requested that staff provide at this Tuesday's meeting multi-year budget forecasts that also include 1 percent raises to better assess the impact compensation will have given the district's new budget restrictions. This information was not included in Tuesday's board packet, but rather only an estimate of the cost of a 1 percent raise for the 2017-18 school year (about $1.6 million) and a history of teacher compensation since 2001.

In January, the district plans to reopen negotiations with its teacher and classified unions for the 2017-18 year to discuss a 3 percent raise promised in the third year of new multi-year contracts.

Board members will also discuss Tuesday a new five-year budget scenario with much more conservative property-tax growth projections, starting with 3.72 percent in 2017-18 and declining to 2.82 percent in 2021-22. This is compared to two alternative scenarios with five-year growth rates closer to 5 percent and 4 percent. Staff is seeking board consensus on which scenario to use moving forward.

Staff has preliminarily suggested that the district address the shortfall over two years by tapping reserves, bond funds set aside for technology updates, professional development funding and unused dollars left over from not needing to hire elementary teachers due to lower-than-anticipated enrollment growth, among other proposals.

There will be at least three more meetings on the budget: at the board's two regular meetings in September, and again in October at a special workshop that will focus on the 2017-18 budget.

In other business Tuesday, the board will hear a presentation from the Santa Clara County Public Health Department on a recent report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on youth suicide; discuss 2016-17 goals; and vote on a staff recommendation to release about $60.3 million set aside in the district's Strong Schools Bond reserve for future elementary facilities improvements to fund current projects. If approved, a sub-group of elementary principals will be convened to develop recommendations regarding use of the funds, to be presented to the board for review this fall, according to a staff report.

Tuesday's meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave. Read the full agenda here.


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28 people like this
Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 23, 2016 at 9:44 am

Hmm. A 4% raise for overpaid administrators in the middle of a budget deficit seems an obvious place to cut.

10 people like this
Posted by Crazy
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 23, 2016 at 10:06 am

They are not including any future raises? How is that a meaningful forecast?! Sure, the forecast looks great if we never have to give employees a cost-of-living raise. I can't figure out what game they are playing, the Board has been asking for this from the start and they just stonewall!

7 people like this
Posted by A Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 23, 2016 at 10:21 am

"the Board has been asking for this from the start and they just stonewall!"

The essence of the (none-well-connected) parent experience.

31 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 23, 2016 at 10:35 am

If the current board does not come up with a satisfactory solution by the time I receive my ballot, I will not be voting for any of the incumbents (Batten-Caswell & Emberling).

In my opinion, a minimum requirement to be a board member is to be able to budget without a deficit, without dipping into reserves, with out any other slight of hand tricks in these good economic times; in addition the board members need to address the increasing pension liabilities due to the substandard investment returns by the pension fund.

I would urge everyone to have the same criteria on who they vote for: no budget solution (and no budget tricks), don't vote for the incumbents.

18 people like this
Posted by Incompetent Board!
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 23, 2016 at 11:32 am

Shouldn't this article be titled "Palo Alto school board to continue budget MIS-management discussion"?

In all seriousness I agree with @resident. I will not vote for any incumbent other than Dauber. The others have proven throughout this fiasco that they are not capable of responsibly managing public funds.

15 people like this
Posted by Oldtimer
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 23, 2016 at 11:42 am

"Dauber and board Vice President Terry Godfrey had requested these comparisons in May, but the other board members did not support their request and ultimately approved the compensation increases."

Melissa and Heidi were happy to go along with district staff (the same ones getting the raises) and raise their pay, with literally no evidence about salaries in other districts. Now we find out that these same staff members are at the top of the heap, we are out of money, and Melissa and Heidi are refusing to consider backing out the raises?

This is what happens when incumbents spend too much time getting flattered by the staff.

9 people like this
Posted by Economic Justice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 23, 2016 at 12:10 pm

I think Mark Zuckerberg should contribute the money. He probably has $3 million of loose change in his couch cushions. He has more money than he could spend in 100 lifetimes. He gave a million bucks to some New Jersey school?! Open your wallet Mark. "From each according to their ability..." And I know his PR people will respond about how he gives to this and that, whatever, and so forth. No, just open your wallet and shut your (publicist's) mouth!

24 people like this
Posted by No Bail Out
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 23, 2016 at 4:13 pm

No Bail Out is a registered user.

Neither Mark Zuckerberg nor any other Palo Altan should give this District another penny. They would surely spend it - ten times over.

Let this school board and district administrators stand before us and maintain why they deserve these "me too" raises. If they had any integrity the administrators would make a "buck stops here" call and refuse their raise this year.

What are the odds?

16 people like this
Posted by PAEA endorsement
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 23, 2016 at 7:31 pm

The elephant in the room is the make-or=break PAEA endorsement. BOE members up for re-election will do just about anything to appease the PAEA at this point.

1 person likes this
Posted by Get real, rich guy
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 23, 2016 at 10:10 pm

Funny how all the haters want to crucify the hard working civil servants who erred rather than recognize the real problem, which is that some shady politicians paid off by the Zuckerbergs of 1979 got Prop 13 protection for commercial property. Ever since then, property taxes have eroded and there's no money for schools. The rich blame government, but it's really the fact that business no longer pays it's fair share. So I agree with Economic Justice, let one of the filthtpy rich step up to the plate and quit blaming teachers and administrators.

9 people like this
Posted by casey
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 23, 2016 at 10:30 pm

casey is a registered user.

Here is your common core math test:

If PAUSD planned for an 8.67 percent increase in property-tax revenues, but property-tax revenues are projected to only increase by 5.34 percent, did the property-tax estimates come in 3 percent lower or 38 percent lower than the district planned for?

7 people like this
Posted by Clear call
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 23, 2016 at 10:48 pm

Drop the admin raises.
This is obvious. Certainly the Churchill admins shouldn't get them.

Like this comment
Posted by Get real, rich guy
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 23, 2016 at 10:49 pm

What's your point Casey, the rich should pay their fair share because some hard working civil servant didn't get your question right? Zuckerbergs sure got the right answer, for sure, now he can afford to help. How about that for the point.

1 person likes this
Posted by Get real, rich guy
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 23, 2016 at 10:51 pm


Like this comment
Posted by Not worth the sacrifice
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 24, 2016 at 3:40 pm

@Casey : 38%
Right on brother !

@All : School board mismanagement is not Zuckerbergs fault or problem to solve. We created the monster, so we need to fix it.

Abolish the annual Property Tax.
Abolish the Teachers Union.
Create an annual School Tax payable by every single Palo Alto Citizen, Store owner and worker.
Codify the accountability process of the school Admins. Teachers, and board to the taxpayers.

Like this comment
Posted by Bottom Line
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 24, 2016 at 8:02 pm

Zuckerbergs needs to help the schools no matter what his paid commentators say, pretending all the while to be ordinary commentators,

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

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