Specific budget cuts begin to emerge in school district process | News | Palo Alto Online |


Specific budget cuts begin to emerge in school district process

Board to hold additional special meeting to continue budget talks

Palo Alto school board members began to delve into the nitty-gritty of $3.9 million in budget cuts on Tuesday night, starting to identify item-by-item proposals they do or don't support slashing.

Trustees went through three lists compiled by staff, labeled "A" (proposed cuts), "B" (potential cuts) and "C" (cuts not being recommended at this time) and highlighted those they thought were in the wrong place. (A cut a board member sees as necessary might have been on the "B" or "C" list, for example.) They started by discussing three items that three or more board members said merited further review.

All five trustees opposed a staff recommendation to cut a visual arts coordinator position, which oversees the elementary schools' SPECTRA art program and staff, and give that person's responsibilities to a coordinator in charge of music and physical education.

The current arts coordinator, Sharon Ferguson, is retiring at the end of the year and the district decided to consolidate the role after her departure for a savings of about $186,000, Superintendent Max McGee told the board. He said that this would not mean a change in "quality or quantity" in art instruction, but rather a structural change necessary in hard budget times.

About a dozen parents and school art teachers spoke out against the staff recommendation, emphasizing the importance of having a leader with a strong visual arts background, particularly to handle the recruitment, training and mentoring of the artists who are hired to teach the elementary schools' art program.

"We get that you're not cutting art ... but to cut a dedicated coordinator position seriously marginalizes what happens in the elementary school," said longtime elementary art teacher Karen Lenke. "When teachers, even elementary art school teachers are impacted, the program will suffer."

Board members disagreed with McGee's explanation that the elementary arts program could function like the high schools' do, with instructional supervisors of different backgrounds (currently, music) overseeing both visual and performing arts teachers who are credentialed, while the SPECTRA artists are not.

"They need more support and development than a certificated teacher in a particular area," board member Melissa Baten Caswell said. "I think our investments reflect our values."

Vice President Ken Dauber floated an alternative: consolidating the administrative parts of the arts coordinator job into another position, and hiring part-time as necessary to fulfill the pedagogical side. McGee will return to the next budget discussion with more information about Dauber's suggestion.

Several board members also opposed a recommendation to not hire the equivalent of three high school teachers the board previously approved to help mitigate large class sizes, with a price tag of $375,000. Trustee Todd Collins said that with significant enrollment growth anticipated over the next four years at the high schools, "it's going to be easier to let those class sizes slip up."

He proposed, with support from at least two other board members, tapping a reserve fund set aside for opening a new school, which the district is no longer considering at this time, as a buffer to address ballooning class sizes.

Board members also mentioned the need for a formal class size policy to help guide decisions like this. The board's policy review committee is set to consider a class size policy this year.

On the list of potential cuts, board members voiced some concern about — but not explicit opposition to — cutting the district's new equity coordinator position, filled just last year by Martha Castellon, who was brought on to oversee the district's efforts to better support low-income and minority students and to reduce the achievement gap. She has spent much of this year working on iterations of a district-wide equity plan, which has yet to be formally approved by the board.

McGee said Tuesday that he would actually move this proposal to the "A" list of recommended cuts. The equity coordinator's responsibilities would go to either Judy Argumedo, the district's current director of academic supports and of the Voluntary Transfer Program, or to a principal on special assignment tasked with full-time equity work, McGee said. This would save the district an estimated $174,500.

Board President Terry Godfrey said it feels like the district has made progress on equity and asked McGee to return with a proposal that will ensure that forward momentum is sustained.

"I don't know what the personnel looks like ... or the organizational structure, but I don't want to take dollars out of that," she said.

The board also discussed program additions on the horizon that will cost the district money, as it is trying to find savings. They asked McGee to suggest alternative uses for about $230,000 proposed to revamp a parent liaisons program that has provided 12 part-timers to improve communication and connection between minority and low-income parents and their schools. The dollars should support minority and low-income students in some way, such as with more after-school tutoring, trustees said.

Other budget proposals that the board highlighted for further review included: a reduction of the teachers on special assignment program, a requirement that all classes have at least 10 students, rolling back $100,000 for elementary school field trip transportation, consolidating the middle school English as a Second Language program at one campus, cutting the Palo Alto Adult School principal position and rolling back all or part of "me too" raises given to senior administrators this year and reviewing school psychologists' time allotment across schools, among others.

With ample public comment on the budget and other topics, the board had a truncated discussion on the budget and decided to schedule a special study session before their next regular meeting on May 9.


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45 people like this
Posted by Barron Park dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 19, 2017 at 11:10 am

How much is the school re-naming project going to cost us? $100,000? $200,000?

I heard previously it would be taken from the District's "reserve fund". But to me, money is money.

Just saying if we should be spending money on that when we are so tight already.

Should the re-naming project be funded via private donations? It doesn't seem that difficult to do.

4 people like this
Posted by Anke
a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 19, 2017 at 11:24 am

Anyone know if Zuckerberg is still doing his education projects? $3.9 million is chump change for him.

23 people like this
Posted by Gordon Gecko
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 19, 2017 at 11:36 am

Why pick on Zuckerberg for not contributing to Palo Alto when they used their double-standard to deny his housing requests while approving other similar or more intrusive housing requests like the one in Foothill Park and the monster 14-bedroom "house" at Newell/Embarcadero.

Guess he didn't "support" our biased City Council members like Uber did.

He's contributing in Menlo Park instead and good for him.

49 people like this
Posted by Lydia Kou
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 19, 2017 at 11:48 am

As one of the Co-Chairs of the Measure A parcel tax passed in 2015, I want to see that the funds from the parcel tax applied as it was intended and sold to the voters. Please see this as a gentle reminder.

As stated on PAUSD website Web Link

Quality Public Education Preservation Act of 2015 --

“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?” Said qualified special parcel tax would renew, extend, and replace the qualified special parcel tax approved by the voters of the District on May 4, 2010, as Measure A.

Purpose --

To provide local revenue that cannot be taken by the State and to maintain exceptional public education in our schools, the Palo Alto Unified School District proposes to renew, extend, and replace its expiring qualified special parcel tax for a period of 6 years, beginning July 1, 2015, at the rate of $758 per year on each assessor’s parcel located within the School District, with an optional exemption annually available, upon application, for senior citizens, and an annual two percent increase (rounded to the nearest dollar) beginning with the 2016-17 fiscal year to account for increasing student enrollment and the rising cost of providing programs, and to implement accountability measures in connection with the special parcel tax to provide oversight and accountability to ensure that funds are used to:

Preserve excellence in core academic programs including advanced science, math, and reading and writing;

- Protect class sizes by recruiting teachers to meet the demands of growing student enrollment;
- Provide equitable opportunities and access for all students to excel at the highest levels;
- Continue teacher professional development by providing training programs and activities that support high quality teaching and keep teachers up-to-date on the latest advancements in their fields;
- Help protect critical high school electives, including arts, music, computer science,and social sciences that provide a well-rounded education, challenge students, and allow students to be highly competitive for colleges and university admissions, and that provide career vocational education to prepare students for the workforce;
- Accommodate growing student enrollment throughout the District;
- Provide staff and programming to advance the physical, social, emotional and mental health and well-being of all students;
- Provide innovative programming and pathways in science, engineering, technology and math (STEM) to prepare students for college and 21st Century careers;
- Protect teaching and learning programs from budget cuts caused by 10 million dollars per year in reduced funding and new cost mandates;
- Expand independent research programs allowing local students to workwith mentors from universities, laboratories, medical facilities, cutting edge businesses, and others that are available in Silicon Valley;
- Keep elementary school libraries open and fully staffed;
- Provide a stable local funding source that cannot be taken away by the State for other school districts; and
- Protect the taxpayers’ investment in education and ensure District accountability by providing for oversight and independent financial audits of revenues and expenditures.

35 people like this
Posted by Can't remember
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 19, 2017 at 11:54 am

Why is the BoE and staff having to do all this work poring over every line item looking for costs to cut again? Wouldn't it be great if they were spending their time helping to find areas to expand our children's educational experience instead of slashing it?

Oh yeah, it's cause the last BoE and staff greenlighted a multi-year pay increase for (wait for it) - staff. Based on completely fabricated, pie-in-the-sky numbers, that were apparently subjected to no review related to historical data.

So please folks don't sleep through the next spending request that doesn't actually enhance the student experience. And above all, don't forget to finish clearing house from the last BoE next election (if Caswell doesn't do the right thing [again!!] and step aside).

28 people like this
Posted by IveBeenUsedToo
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 19, 2017 at 12:09 pm


I'm sorry this happens, but that money you raised is gone. It feels to me that the board used you to spend your time, energy and credibility to raise money, which they just handed directly, immediately, and willfully to staff for raises.

I feel frustrated that good citizens work hard for such an organization which mistreats their efforts. This is not right.

47 people like this
Posted by PTA Member
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 19, 2017 at 12:22 pm

Dauber predicted exactly this result from the huge raise last year. Cuts for students and large class sizes in the high schools. Caswell and Godfrey surrendered the property tax and parcel tax dollars to teachers.

27 people like this
Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 19, 2017 at 12:28 pm

Three cheers--no, make that four or five!--for the board members who "opposed a recommendation to not hire the equivalent of three high school teachers the board previously approved to help mitigate large class sizes."

Slightly smaller classes mean homework returned sooner, with better feedback, more hands called on during class discussions, and more individual student anxieties discussed (in quick huddles with the teacher), more "lifelines" set up between kids and their instructors, and much, much more that flows from closer connections.

No, make that six!

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

44 people like this
Posted by Melville neighbor
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 19, 2017 at 1:05 pm

I agree that spending money to rename schools is a waste. It's better to use it as a teachable moment to go over those people's lives and explain their "mistakes" in context rather than renaming the schools.

2 people like this
Posted by Anke
a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 19, 2017 at 1:48 pm

I didn't mean to pick on anyone. He's said many times that he's very interested in education and his previous attempts to help schools faltered, leaving him reportedly frustrated. Here's a low-cost (for him) opportunity to be effective. That said, I do get why he'd feel more inclined to support Menlo Park at this point.

25 people like this
Posted by stanhutchings
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 19, 2017 at 6:09 pm

stanhutchings is a registered user.

Will any of you concerned parents and citizens join me in writing to the School Board (board@pausd.org) with comments about the folly of spending non-existent funds to rename schools? Here's what I wrote:
​Spending money to rename schools is a waste.
It's ​more cost-effective to use ​belief in eugenics as a teachable moment to​ explain the "mistakes"​ of an incomplete or inaccurate scientific hypothesis or theory​.​ The lesson should include other wrong hypotheses and theories, and how the rigorous process of science, and dedicated scientists,​ found the errors and corrected them.
​Some other topics that should be included are the flat earth theory, the geocentric theory, the heliocentric theory, the young (6,000 to 10,000 years) earth theory, the phlogiston theory, the spontaneous generation theory, and others. The reasons for a theory being promulgated, and the proof against it that led to its demise, should be covered.
Some current hypotheses and theories should also be discussed by positing the arguments and proof for and against, specifically: that smoking does not cause cancer and other diseases, that global climate disruption is principally caused by humans, that "trickle down" economics is good for the lower and middle classes, and that paying teachers and staff higher salaries guarantees a better education and nurturing school environment.

11 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 19, 2017 at 8:29 pm

Can't we just replace the teachers with Google robots?? I mean it sure seems like PA parents resent the teachers, so maybe just get rid of them! Wonder what PA paretns would complain about if they had IBM Watsons as teachers in every class.

45 people like this
Posted by TrimMoreFromTheTop
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 19, 2017 at 11:25 pm

Add to List A--

Reduce stipend for top administrators for travel, food, meetings, and other perks.
Eliminate the "Me Too" raises for administrators from last year.
Delay/Don't rename Terman and Jordan Middle Schools.
Eliminate weekend landscaping.

Our students should come first. While the district has a good reputation, it cannot rest on its laurels and continue to make bad decisions. If the Board doesn't make better choices with the budget, parents are not going to give to PiE and PAUSD will have a second year in reduced contributions.

17 people like this
Posted by Measure A money
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 20, 2017 at 12:10 pm

Surprise- I read the Measure A fine print and didn't see any mention of proceeds being used for school renaming follies. Money is fungible so money is being redirected at the expense of more valuable items such as adding teachers. The board can't sugercoat this fact and their financial shell game.

11 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 20, 2017 at 3:06 pm

Money for renaming is to come from facilities bond funds. These funds may not be used to pay for personnel costs. Whether or not money is spent for the one-time costs of renaming has nothing to do with resources available for hiring or retaining teachers.

14 people like this
Posted by Best
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2017 at 9:02 am

You sound like soneone who doesn't know Palo Alto parents or the tremendous supports they are to teachers and the classrooms. I have never seen anyplace where parents are so generous. Criticism of the district bureaucracy is not the same as of teachers. Bureaucrats gave themselves Me Too raises (after already getting generous raises) which are on the table. Measure A was a tax which was approved for specific purposes, including to avoid laying off dozens of teachers and paying for class size reductions and student mental health. It was instead used for teacher and administrator raises above already hefty raises they had already been promised/given. Asking that the tax be used for its promised purpose is not anti-anything except anti-lies and mistrust, and pro student mental health and education.

I am sympathetic to the desire to rename the schools. But the same impetus for the change should become an impetus to raise funds for it - kids can hold bake sales, raffles, etc. if they do this themselves, it's a better lesson than telling them anything.
Bond funds are not growing on trees. The district actively resisted fulfilling the promise in the bond to improve indoor air quality, despite the strong evidence-based recommendations to do by all major scientific and educational organizations, the easy access to evidence-based materials specifically developed for schools to accomplish it, and the strong connection between indoor air quality and student and staff attendance, performance, and physical and mental health, as well as reduced district liability. They actively resisted despite all the things that can be done free and for very low cost, ostensibly because the bond money was too tight for them to follow the bond soecifications even for something that provides such huge evidence-based benefits for so many students and teachers for such small amounts of money.

11 people like this
Posted by Best
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2017 at 9:22 am

The reduced Pie contributions during boom times no less are the cost of having administrators who have such antagonistic views of families and don't know how to welcome and work with them. Lots of people giving reliably small amounts of money are far more sustaining than a few rich people giving sporadic large funds - most nonprofits know this - and every family influences others, but you wouldn't know it from the extreme favoritism (in a public school no less). I know we gave sacrificially of our funds and time to raise them, and rallied others to volunteer and contribute, but no longer. The tax was always a problem because it turned what was a social contract to help our schools into a mandatory monetary relationship, and then it wasn't spent on anything as promised. It seems to me the incentives and accountability need attention by the board. Even paying more for advanced degrees in education frankly has seemed counterproductive in terms of performance. We would be better off with some really energetic, honest, open BA's for all the good the pedigree bonuses have done us, or using the money to pay for an ombuds position. The incentives should be much more about performance for students and accountability. If the administration can't make cuts to unnecessary and expensive bureaucracy without hurting morale, the board shoukd be looking into how to restructure the admin and incentives to make far more substantial changes to get better performance and a better administrative culture.

15 people like this
Posted by No Me Too Raises
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 21, 2017 at 11:55 am

Sorry but there should be no me-to raises for the administration not doing their job and ensuring Measure A funds go to their intended purpose including hiring enough teachers to reduce class sizes and preserve electives.

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