Cutbacks at the Palo Alto school district office and "restructuring" of responsibilities for many support positions at school sites could be ahead in the 2017-18 school year, according to staff proposals for budget cuts the district could make next year to address a multi-million-dollar deficit.
The school board will discuss a list of 16 specific cuts from staff at a special study session focused on the 2017-18 budget Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. It is the sixth meeting the district has held to discuss the budget deficit since late July, though the first that will explicitly delve into the financial implications of a tax shortfall for next year rather than this year.
Staff grouped the 16 potential cuts into five categories: district office budget reductions, alternative funding sources, rollback funding increases, program adjustments and certificated and classified personnel, the last group accounting for the largest amount of savings. Together they total $3.7 million in cuts.
The district is eyeing $1.75 million in cuts by restructuring various positions at both schools and the district office, including: secondary-school teachers on special assignment (TOSAs), elementary-school literacy TOSAs, secondary-school instructional coaches, instructional supervisors, instructional aides for special-education students and student services positions. Another proposal in this category is to cut one full-time school psychologist -- a reversing of a trend to add more mental-health support, particularly at the high schools, over the last few years -- though a “careful review of site, student, and community need would need to address the feasibility of this proposed reduction,” a staff report states.
The second largest savings, $862,500, could come from the district office, where staff will be reviewing positions added over the last few years and “likely reassign and consolidate” an equivalent of four and a half positions, the staff report states. The district also anticipates one clerical assistant will soon retire, and as other positions are vacated, the district will consider possibly consolidating them, according to the report.
The district is also considering rolling back $100,000 provided to fund transportation costs for far-away field trips for the elementary schools and reducing schools’ per-student allocation from $105 to $75 (an estimated savings of approximately $367,500).
Possible program adjustments include not sending administrators to a summer professional development institute ($40,000), using grants instead of general fund dollars to support the district’s new Advanced Authentic Research program ($150,000) and consolidating the middle schools’ English learners program to one site ($100,000).
The district could also tap alternative funding sources to save $350,000, including increasing the district’s share of site rental revenue and capping schools’ discretionary fund carryovers, the latter a one-time savings.
District staff have discussed this list of proposed cuts with the superintendent’s cabinet and K-12 leadership team. Over the next month, district leadership plans to meet with various school groups -- the teachers and classified staff unions, the Palo Alto Council of PTAs and Partners in Education (PiE) -- to get their feedback on the proposals. There will also be a community forum to solicit more public feedback.
At the recommendation of the district’s management council and an independent pro-bono consultant, the school district’s administrative leadership team has also looked to Smarter School Spending for Student Success for ways to streamline and save. The organization provides free tools to help school districts more strategically align their resources -- financial, personnel and otherwise -- with their priorities, according to its website.
Out of the organization’s 31 cost-saving categories, there are 23 in Palo Alto Unified that were identified as “worth exploring,” the district staff report states.
The district is facing a deficit now estimated at $4.2 million given the latest property-tax estimate from the Santa Clara County Controller-Treasurer in August. Last month, a board majority approved a series of measures to address the budget gap this year, include trimming $612,000 from the district office, using voter-approved bond funds instead of general fund dollars to pay for $1.2 million in technology upgrades and redirecting an estimated $773,000 from reserves.
Tuesday’s meeting will be held 8:30-10 a.m. at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave. View the agenda here.