Palo Alto school board to discuss budget cutbacks for next year

Largest proposed savings come from trimming personnel positions

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.


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53 people like this
Posted by Fee Co
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 17, 2016 at 10:14 am

What a fiasco.

The members of the board who supported the grossly irresponsible budget should be fired. Dauber was the only voice of restraint and he got shouted down by the old guard, some of whom wanted to suck up to the unions to get their support during re-election.

Remember this when you vote!

67 people like this
Posted by Don't Punish the Kids
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 17, 2016 at 10:28 am

Don't Punish the Kids is a registered user.

The cutbacks should be taken out of the salaries of the Superintendent and the Administrators who got us into this mess.

The cutbacks should not affect the children, who are blameless!

Lay off the excess administrative personnel-- this district is shamelessly top heavy!

Like this comment
Posted by dtnnorth
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 17, 2016 at 11:09 am

[Post removed; wrong topic.]

36 people like this
Posted by dtnnorth
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 17, 2016 at 11:12 am

Dont take money away from the students, take away from the administration, Maybe some of the field trips can be funded by the individuals pta. Just can't see how nobody saw the this coming

40 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 17, 2016 at 11:43 am

In Palo Alto, it seems as though the superintendent is more important than the kids. Not one single thought is given about the kids, while all the thought is about increased salary wages. Greed much?

47 people like this
Posted by Shocking
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 17, 2016 at 11:45 am

It is unconscionable that the district and school board are considering fixing their idiotic budget error by cutting resources which directly benefit students while at the same time awarding themselves raises for the next [portion removed due to inaccuracy] years. It's appalling, unethical and illogical.

18 people like this
Posted by 20/20 hindsight will not help us moving forward
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 17, 2016 at 11:47 am

20/20 hindsight will not help us moving forward is a registered user.

First of all, Ken simply wanted to spend the money on something different. At the time the budget was approved, he didn't appear to understand any better than the rest of the board, as far as I can tell from what he did and said at the time, that there was a massive error in the estimate of revenues. Cathy Mak and Max McGee were responsible for doing that due diligence before they presented the budget to the Board...and they made a huge mistake. The board members are policy makers. Staff is responsible for making sure the numbers they present in the budget are correct. The error was not obvious to anyone, including their present critics, at the time the decision was made. 20/20 hindsight won't help us moving forward.

The big questions are...How are Mak and McGee being held accountable for those errors? Are Mak and McGee the right people to identify the best solutions to these new, very complex budget gap problems going forward?

43 people like this
Posted by KidsRGrown
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 17, 2016 at 1:06 pm

Cutting aides for special Ed students? Really? And learning tosas? How about cutting salaries of those residing at the Churchill office? Why should the kids be impacted for poor decisions made? Maybe a few heads should roll at the top. At a time when Silicon Valley is booming we do this? What happens when times get truly tough?

39 people like this
Posted by Unbelievable
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 17, 2016 at 1:39 pm

Unbelievable is a registered user.

So this shameless district is going to punish the very children who need services most? By taking away half, HALF of their aides???

How about taking away half, HALF of the administrators!? There are to many chiefs and not enough braves in this district anyway!

34 people like this
Posted by Reality check
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 17, 2016 at 1:49 pm


This is disingenuous: "First of all, Ken simply wanted to spend the money on something different."

The board voted to lock in millions of dollars in excessive compensation that can't be used for anything else. Dauber wanted to keep that money ($5 million a year, I think) available for other purposes. If Dauber had been successful, there would be no deficit. He didn't foresee Mak's mistake. He did foresee that spending all of the surplus property tax revenue from last year and all of the anticipated revenue from this year was dumb. And he was right.

I agree with you about accountability for staff mistakes. I also believe in accountability for board mistakes. Luckily there is an election coming so Caswell and Emberling can be voted off.

25 people like this
Posted by Who Will Pick Next Superintendant?
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Oct 17, 2016 at 2:02 pm

Who Will Pick Next Superintendant? is a registered user.

Special Education Cuts Again:

Despite the fact the Superintendent said he was not cutting Special Education, this budget proposes cutting Aides for Special Education students.

The justification given is a non existent Special Education Evaluation from Dr. Hehir, despite the fact that this very long delayed report has not been given parents.

There will always be a consultant with another magic method to cure kids cheaply. There will always be a Dr. Hehir or another consultant to say "Aides are not good. Aides make kids dependent."

By using this old insult against its own aides, the District shows:

1) District management does not think very much of its own Aides
2) The District managed and trained its Aides very poorly, since they made kids more dependent.

It does not work this way. Kids develop and become independent if they can. If they can't, they need help. They need a real program Special Education by teachers trained to handle disabilities. The District has NOT provided that in the last few years. TOSAs had some training, but were never really provided all the education they needed to teach all the different disabilities they confronted.

Aides are easy targets. They cost payroll dollars. They are also people.

When can we stop using the lazy 'blame the aide' excuse?

Guess any progress or promotions the kids made are all false. Let's pull them all back a grade and re-teach them. Must be the Aide's fault.

For the past four years, we were told aides were already cut, and that this was the new miraculous cure to learning disabilities. Now after all the time and money spent, we learn the aides were not cut, the student to aide ratio is too high, and the answer is again to cut aides? Were did all the money go?

Disabled students in PAUSD are failing. Test scores verify failure. They were slammed into full inclusion from day 1 classrooms, and their only protection were the aides a few of them received.
Despite Emberling's statements that all these students were 100% supported from Day 1 after this change, it didn't happen, as poor test scores show.

20 people like this
Posted by Fix it
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 17, 2016 at 2:07 pm

"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)."

These are student-hurting cuts!
This is outrageous.

I agree with 20/20 hindsight
"The big questions are...How are Mak and McGee being held accountable for those errors? Are Mak and McGee the right people to identify the best solutions to these new, very complex budget gap problems going forward?"

There should be actual accountability here.

32 people like this
Posted by Accountability
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 17, 2016 at 2:28 pm

The responsibility for this fiasco is with the Board. They approved the union contract that guaranteed a big raise in advance - something that has *never* been done before at PAUSD. They even issued a press release crowing about it. Web Link Then when the surprise came, they were unwilling to force McGee to make cuts - they went along with spending down reserves.

Certainly McGee & Mak made a mistake. But the mistake became a crisis because the board (egged on by McGee) agreed to an unprecedented contract that put everything at risk.

Accountability starts at the ballot box. Vote out the incumbents!

32 people like this
Posted by Closer at details
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 17, 2016 at 2:35 pm

@Fix It,
What $100,000 goes to fund elementary field trips? We aren't that long out of elementary, but parents always volunteered to drive or the trips were cancelled. $100,000 is a lot of money.

A district admin retreat has been costing us $40,000? Seriously? What, are we sending them to Paris first class? I think that's a sign of a need to get people from outside to work on finding the real fat in the budget. The fox shouldn't be telling us how to fix the henhouse.

Why isn't the Weekly giving us more details?

29 people like this
Posted by Incredulous
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 17, 2016 at 3:14 pm

I'm Incredulous because I'm incredulous. Speechless.

How the heck does paycuts for the administrators and board NOT come on the table here? They lied, and raised their own pay when they raised the pay for others, a direct conflict of interest, and then don't even propose changing it.

This smells like corruption at its finest.

25 people like this
Posted by Amazed
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 17, 2016 at 6:01 pm

It is interesting that it took a major error by the district staff and board in its projection of property tax revenue for them to conduct a thorough review of cost saving measures in our school district. In other words, as long as funds were available, it was not necessary to review our expenditures and operations in order to make our district as efficient as possible. This is irresponsible.

I would also like to commend the Palo Alto Weekly for their recent editorial concerning its endorsements for this year's school board election. I agree with the editorial board that the current incumbents have not earned our confidence in their request to be elected for another term.

15 people like this
Posted by KidsRgrown
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 17, 2016 at 6:34 pm

Yes vote out incumbents but unfortunately there are 3 open seats and only 2 viable alternatives (I am not counting Jay) so at least one will be re elected most likely. I'm also voting for Srini who dropped out of the race but is still on the ballot

10 people like this
Posted by school name change??
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 17, 2016 at 6:36 pm

Meanwhile the Board has formed a renaming committee to look at the possibility of changing one or more school names such as Jordan Middle School. I can find nothing in the charter of that committee or in meeting minutes that addresses how much changing a name of school will cost. Hopefully someone will do the adequate due diligence and publish this estimate.
In any case seems like an idea that should be shelved until we get our budget mess in order,

16 people like this
Posted by Stan
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 17, 2016 at 7:40 pm

Dear School Board, do the lot of you live in an alternative universe or something? You, well most of you, in close coordination with McGee completely screwed up, and YOU CAUSED this budget crisis. And it would seem that you have had your collective heads stuck somewhere and have been oblivious at the vitriol hurled in your direction for what was most likely a completely avoidable problem. Once 'discovered', backtracking an over generous pay raise was off limits, but eliminating programs and staff that directly benefits the kids you are supposed to be educating get the cuts??? Honestly, what part of this do you not get?? How about cutting $4.2M from the district office. Let McGee figure out how and where to make those cuts. Leave the kids alone!

PAUSD allocates $100k for elementary school field trip transportation?! This is the first I've heard of this in my nine years as a elementary school parent. I have never heard of a school field trip completely facilitated by parent drivers. Where are these field trip that get subsidized? Which school(s)?

3 people like this
Posted by FieldTrips
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 17, 2016 at 7:58 pm

@Stan - I believe the $100k field trip budget was a new line item started just in this past year. I don't remember the specifics, but believe it goes to every school so each school/grade would get 1 field trip covered per year. I remember about 5 elementary parents went to a school board meeting requesting the budget, and it was later granted.

9 people like this
Posted by Closer at details
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 18, 2016 at 12:39 am

A couple of years ago, there was several million left over that Cathy Mak put toward "staff development" and it was never heard from again. Any better accounting of that? If the public wants to see budget details, is it possible?

5 people like this
Posted by Too Many supporting staff
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 18, 2016 at 9:25 am

I am sickened by the bloated staff both in schools and at Churchill. Why do they need two people sitting in one small office doing nothing but data entries? Can they let go of those people? All what I see is that the district is hiring in every single school every single office. Curious how many of these people are actual teachers? Can we see a breakdown of teachers vs. staff, ten years ago, five years ago and now?

Why do we need mental health when there are so many professional around town? If we have good teachers and sensible management, students won't be as stressed...

14 people like this
Posted by gunn parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 18, 2016 at 9:35 am

I am absolutely shocked and disgusted that the board would include the possibility of cutting a full-time school psychologist. Outrageous considering the student mental health issues that this district has been coping with for years and that continue to plague us. Student mental health should be a top priority in this district. Or have we forgotten our past already? These problems continue to exist within our student population and are right beneath the surface. Don't you dare cut a psychologist.

8 people like this
Posted by Michelle de Blank
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 18, 2016 at 7:19 pm

If children have "instructional aides" in their IEP's, they cannot be eliminated. I am really hoping the mention of this was a mistake and will be fixed by someone who understands special education law. If PAUSD actually tries to start cutting aides to save money, they are in violation of the IDEA and ripe for another OCR complaint.

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

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