Editorial: Misguided attempt to save money

Nonprofit pulls out of school district mental health services bid process

A decision by Palo Alto Unified School District Superintendent Max McGee to seek formal competitive proposals for mental health services at its five secondary schools erupted in controversy this week as the district's current and longest-running partner, Adolescent Counseling Services (ACS), announced it could no longer afford to provide therapists in the districts middle and high schools for what the district was paying.

In announcing that it would not respond to a long and complex Request for Proposals (RFP) by Monday's deadline, the nonprofit is also digesting the troublesome revelation that other agencies providing similar services to the district are being paid substantially more and that a district shift to a more short-term therapy model conflicts with ACS's philosophy of how to best counsel teens.

McGee defends his decision to issue the RFP as an appropriate response to the budget problems the district is facing due to its miscalculation of property-tax revenue growth. He likened the competitive bid process to what the district occasionally does for legal, auditing and other services to ensure it is getting a good price.

To ACS, however, which has provided mental health services in the secondary schools for 37 years, it was the last straw in a relationship that has not seemed fair and equally beneficial for many years.

In a program that is well-established and integrated into the schools, ACS has staffed the middle schools five days a week with a part-time licensed therapist and two or three interns, and Paly and Gunn with a full-time psychotherapist and five or six interns at each campus.

The agency serves between 650 and 800 students each year and the district currently pays ACS $100,000 for its services, substantially less than the full cost of just one district teacher or administrator. In early March the district rejected an ACS request that it increase the contract by $50,000 to cover the nonprofit's rising costs of hiring qualified licensed therapists, and shortly thereafter the district issued the RFP, a step that appeared to some to be triggered by the additional funding request.

Meanwhile, in recent years the district has without any competitive process entered into more generous piecemeal contracts with other service providers. San Jose-based Asian Americans for Community Involvement (AACI) receives $84,000 to provide three clinicians to each spend one day a week at the two high schools, as well as after-school "clinic" hours at the district office three evenings a week for three to four hours, plus some parent-education classes in Mandarin, Korean and Spanish.

Stanford Health receives $63,000 to provide four hours a week of services at each high school.

At the elementary school level, Counseling and Support Services for Youth (CASSY) is paid $400,000 for providing a total of 250 hours of therapy per week at eight Palo Alto elementary schools, or an average of 30 hours a week per campus, substantially fewer hours than currently provided by ACS.

Acknowledge Alliance currently receives $117,000 for services it provides at three elementary schools.

Like a long-term employee who discovers that a comparable, newly hired employee is being paid substantially more, ACS is understandably disappointed and humiliated to learn about the inequities that district administrators have allowed to develop in its contracts with mental health agencies. These agencies, all respected and well-supported in the community, have each worked hard to co-exist and to work collaboratively for the best interests of students.

While ACS has its critics, who generally complain that more licensed therapists and fewer interns are needed on the campuses, the staffing make-up has been driven by the small amount of money the district has been willing to pay and the large amount of fundraising needed to cover the nonprofit's costs.

Superintendent McGee is not wrong to want to conduct an assessment of the mental health services provided by its contractors, but in undertaking a competitive bidding process, creating an unreasonably burdensome RFP without consultation and feedback from the current providers and a short three-week deadline, he has created controversy and upset over a critical district priority -- mental health services for students -- in the name of budget reductions.

At this point, McGee has two options. He can proceed with the process and select a new contractor, likely at substantially greater cost. Or he can suspend the RFP and engage all the current vendors in a longer process of analyzing how mental health services are delivered. Either way a lot of hard work and rebuilding of relationships lie ahead.

What he should not do is look to this as a target for budget cuts. The school board has repeatedly made clear it considers expanding mental health services to ensure sufficient availability of counseling for students a priority, and cutting this investment should have been a non-starter.


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61 people like this
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 14, 2017 at 3:25 am

Anybody remember Measure A, the parcel tax that the school board and various parent insiders pushed to increase the parcel tax for schools? Here is the ballot question:

To preserve excellence in academic programs, including science, engineering, math, reading, writing, arts, and music with local funding that cannot be taken by the state; reduce class sizes; attract and retain qualified teachers; and advance health, well-being, and equitable opportunities for every student, shall the Palo Alto Unified School District renew its expiring parcel tax for six years, increase the rate by $120, and continue exemptions for seniors, annual two percent escalation adjustments, and independent oversight?"

The Palo Alto Weekly wrote: "While the $13 million generated each year would continue to accomplish one of the tax's original purposes — to keep class sizes down — the proposed increase would provide $2.3 million to support additional investments in student health and wellness efforts, academic supports for struggling students and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) instruction."

Many of us voted for the parcel tax increase based on the promise in the ballot measure of "reduced class sizes"; many of us voted for the parcel tax increase based on the promise in the the ballot measure of more spending on "advance health, well-being, and equitable opportunities for every student". Was it all a lie? instead the money went give everyone raises, including highly paid school administrators.

What a pity that our kids were being used.

21 people like this
Posted by Money Hole
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 14, 2017 at 7:28 am

This district has turned into the money hole.

And it wasn't an "unintentional " consequence born of ignorance and incompetence by the board and Max. It was very intentionally part of PAEA plan to grab the Measure A funding. Everything since then has been a footnote.
[Portion removed.]

23 people like this
Posted by same old, same old
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 14, 2017 at 8:43 am

The hypocrisy in this editorial is incredible. Get an RFP for legal, auditing and other services that aren't providing the best options and it's all OK. Do it for a non-profit that mostly sends interns into the schools and OMG, what are they doing?!

Get real. ACS isn't providing the district with the best service available and it's only right that the district should send out an RFP after all these years. You always periodically look at the services provided and what is out there and improve otherwise you're not going your job! You don't just keep doing the "same old, same old" as this editorial would have the district do.

25 people like this
Posted by Parent of Former PAUSD Students
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 14, 2017 at 11:10 am

One reason ACS has interns at PAUSD is funding. Licensed therapists would require a much larger budget. PAUSD, even WITH the "subsidy" from the City of Palo Alto, has not been paying ACS enough to fully fund the interns and (licensed) supervisors ACS has been providing. How much more in debt should ACS go to provide that additional level of service, a level of service that PAUSD has said clearly, year after year through their funding to ACS, they don't actually want? How much more should ACS jeopardize their other programs?

9 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 14, 2017 at 11:22 am

If it is just a matter of price, why did ACS decide not to respond to the RFP? I don't blame PAUSD for exploring its options - they probably realize they will pay more, the question is what they will get for it.

8 people like this
Posted by Stew Pid
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 14, 2017 at 2:29 pm

Sometimes, the district just seems to operate like an idiot. Or like it thinks the tax-paying citizens are idiots. Or both.

5 people like this
Posted by some numbers for your information
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 14, 2017 at 3:53 pm

Just to give you and idea of the $$ involved, if 650 students saw a licensed therapist JUST ONCE during the year, at the current rates for therapists in Palo Alto that would cost $185,000.

4 people like this
Posted by all that glitters
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 14, 2017 at 5:04 pm


Unfortunately ACS isn't providing licensed therapists, they're providing interns. If 650 students saw an intern JUST once during the year, that would cost $0.00.

An RFP to get better service for our kids than ACS is providing seems like a very good idea.

2 people like this
Posted by Wellness
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 14, 2017 at 6:03 pm


Here is the typical breakdown of ACS staff at each secondary school sites for the past many years:

Jordan: 1 Part Time licensed clinician and 2 clinical interns at 16 hours each
JLS:1 Part Time licensed clinician and 3 clinical interns at 16 hours each
Terman: 1 Part Time licensed clinician and 3 clinical interns. One at 16 hours and two at 8 hours per week
Paly: 1 Full Time licensed clinician, 1 Part Time licensed supervisor at 6 hours per week, 6 clinical interns at 16 hours each
Gunn:1 Full Time licensed clinician, 5 clinical interns at 16 hours each

7 people like this
Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 14, 2017 at 11:28 pm

Samuel L. is a registered user.

If it's a money issue, and PAUSD seems to have a tough time keeping their own salaries down, maybe PAUSD should put out an RFP for administrators.

2 people like this
Posted by oh come on.
a resident of Southgate
on Apr 15, 2017 at 1:31 pm

This editorial doesn't say anything. The point of editorial writing is to make an argument and then support it with evidence.

If your point is that a governmental agency should not issue an RFP that's not a good point. If it's ok for a governmental agency to issue an RFP but it should award some form of presumption of continuation to existing providers, that's fine except that ACS chose not to bid on the contract.

The fact is that, as you state, "a district shift to a more short-term therapy model conflicts with ACS's philosophy of how to best counsel teens" -- this meant that they chose not to bid on the contract.

If your point is that ACS was underpaid for the past 37 years, then we have to look at whether that is true. Since you don't really make that argument it is hard to rebut it [portion removed due to factual inaccuracies.]

In any event it's not at all clear that the district didn't get what it paid for. If your view is that they did not, then please write something coherent that isn't all over the place so that we can figure out what the heck you are saying.

Like this comment
Posted by Transparency needed
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 17, 2017 at 7:27 am

I wish I could say this was the only example of shameful and unequal treatment relying on secrets to hide the injustice and disrespect. Welcome to PAUSD administration. I also wish I could see some sign of McGee acting to restore trust.

It makes me wonder what palace intrigue is really behind it all. It all makes me wish McGee would wise up and get rid of the main palace schemer(s).

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 18, 2017 at 3:10 pm

@ Money Hole and oh come on,  

Your censored comments can be found (before being censored) on the page I dedicated on my blog to the ongoing censoring. I copy and then post comments before and after they are censored here (only a tiny sampling).

If you want to check the comments I post before and after they are censored, please check: 

Web Link search for: village fool palo alto before and after) .

At this point I cannot post from home as I am blocked. My IP address is recognized and blocked along other public WiFi which I have used. 

"All censorships exist to prevent anyone from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently, the first condition of progress is the removal of censorship.” -- George Bernard Shaw

“… The sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary.
Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban. Anyone who has lived long in a foreign country will know of instances of sensational items of news — things which on their own merits would get the big headlines-being kept right out of the British press, not because the Government intervened but because of a general tacit agreement that ‘it wouldn’t do’ to mention that particular fact. So far as the daily newspapers go, this is easy to understand. The British press is extremely centralised, and most of it is owned by wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics. But the same kind of veiled censorship also operates in books and periodicals, as well as in plays, films and radio. At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is ‘not done’ to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was ‘not done’ to mention trousers in the presence of a lady.

Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness..." -- George Orwell

Both Georges (above) were removed by the moderators quite a few times before.


\/ill/\ge foool

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