Board eyes ways to save high school positions

Grant from the governor's office could fund five full- and part-time positions at Gunn

There could be relief ahead for two high school volunteer coordinators and five clerical staff at Gunn High School who recently received layoff notices due to budget cuts.

On Tuesday night, school board members directed Superintendent Max McGee to find other areas in the budget for savings to restore the volunteer coordinator roles given their low cost — $11,000 for each school's position.

While the fate of the Gunn clerical staff still hangs in the balance, a one-time $1.7 million grant from the governor's office that could be approved before the end of the month may be used to restore the roles, staff said on Tuesday night. McGee committed to using those funds, if approved by the governor, to fund the five full- and part-time positions at Gunn. (Chief Budget Officer Cathy Mak told the Weekly on Wednesday that the district has applied for and received these discretionary funds for the past two years and typically used it to fund Common Core State Standards implementation and textbook adoptions.)

Gunn staff have turned out to the last two board meetings to protest the layoffs, describing the five positions — typist clerk, computer lab assistant, academic technology specialist, account clerk and attendance/secretary — as essential to the school's operations and to students' educational experiences. Cutting these five positions amounts to about $250,000 in savings, according to the district. Staff and parents have also urged the board against cutting the volunteer coordinators, who they said play a key role in managing high numbers of volunteers at the high schools.

On Tuesday, Gunn staff proposed the board use reserve fund dollars, that have been allocated but not yet spent, to class size reduction to keep the positions for the next school year, arguing the investment would have a more meaningful impact on the student experience. While McGee voiced support for this suggestion, board members did not.

Board members said they were concerned about the potential impact of cutting the positions but reiterated that any decisions should be made at the site level rather than from the dais.

"It's in the staff's court and superintendent's court to say whether this is, across the district, the most reasonable place to make a cut," Board Vice President Ken Dauber said. "If the answer to that is 'yes,' we are where we are; if the answer to that is 'no,' we will be in a better place."

Board member Jennifer DiBrienza worried that despite the worthiness of supporting the high school positions, all schools have struggled with this year's budget cuts, but not all have come out in force to board meetings to make their case for a particular investment.

"I would love us to look at whether or not we can think creatively to backfill some of these temporarily," she said. "If we're doing that, I don't want it to stop at Gunn."

Board President Terry Godfrey also cautioned that the budget shortfall is "not a short-term problem" so any approach should take a longer-term view at how to fund the positions or reassign their responsibilities in the coming years. Assuming the district gave no raises to teachers and staff next year, the district is still projecting a deficit of about $800,000, she said.

"Trying to figure out how to fit things in for one year — we can do that if we're trying to bridge to something else but it's not like things look rosier for next year," Godfrey said.

The board ultimately approved the 2017-18 budget in a 5-0 vote.

On Tuesday, the board also unanimously renewed contracts with and thus gave satisfactory performance evaluations to all of its law firms except one — Lozano Smith — and supported a staff recommendation to issue a request for proposal (RFP) for the services that firm has provided the district. They postponed evaluating Lozano Smith until the RFP process is completed.

The board also unanimously authorized staff to take the next step forward on a major remodel of Addison Elementary School — to submit a design to the Division of the State Architect for approval. The remodel is being funded by an anonymous private donor.

The Addison project also recently took on a new feature: a proposal to build an inclusive Magical Bridge playground at the campus. On Tuesday, the board supported a staff recommendation to apply for a $300,000 grant from Santa Clara County to fund the playground, with a commitment that the district will match the grant.

The board also voted to commit to providing inclusive playgrounds at all elementary schools as the district develops its next facilities master plan and a future schools bond program.


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6 people like this
Posted by Happy
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jun 21, 2017 at 5:26 pm

Thank you !!

16 people like this
Posted by I'm one of them
a resident of another community
on Jun 21, 2017 at 5:45 pm

Please save our positions! We all play vital roles at Gunn even if we aren't seen directly by parents and students! To cut these positions would hurt the students.

41 people like this
Posted by James
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 21, 2017 at 9:20 pm

Had Kim Diorio and other Paly administrators acted in the true interest of the students and reported the sexual assault cases as required, PAUSD would not be spending $1M+ in lawyer fees and could better afford these positions and even additional teachers.

24 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 22, 2017 at 8:47 am

PAUSD is really good for lawyers. Students, not so much.

19 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 22, 2017 at 9:01 am

"Cutting these positions amounts to about $250,000 in savings, according to the district." but each of the 5 positions only cost $11,000 or $55,000 total.

New math is so confusing.

31 people like this
Posted by McGee had got to go
a resident of Terman Middle School
on Jun 22, 2017 at 9:49 am

This is a fiscal issue, caused by Max McGee. It is overdue that he leave. Holly Wade is gone, Scott Bowers is gone, and this is healthy for PAUSD. McGee has to go. New superintendent is needed. One that doesn't make a deal with PAEA for three years' worth of raises that we can't afford.

5 people like this
Posted by Elena Kadvany
a resident of another community
on Jun 22, 2017 at 10:49 am

Online Name: My name is Elena Kadvany; I'm the Weekly's education reporter. To clarify: The high school volunteer coordinator positions cost $11,000 each, while the clerical positions at Gunn High School cost about $250,000 total.

Like this comment
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 22, 2017 at 11:01 am

[Post removed.]

15 people like this
Posted by Stew Pid
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 22, 2017 at 11:17 am

Thanks also to the unions for doing their part to get us into this mess. Gotta love em labor unions.

26 people like this
Posted by Grannie
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 22, 2017 at 11:26 am

If they can spend the $ to rename Jordan and they have to cut positions at Gunn it doesn't make financial sense to me. Do they offer budgeting courses in math these days???? Parents??? It seems all the answers are solved by wealthy donors. What will the children learn if the parents are just "helicopter" parents?

16 people like this
Posted by Local Resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 22, 2017 at 1:51 pm

PAUSD always has surplus money when they need to raise their own salary. After that, it will cry for short of budget, need to cut class funding, need to cut staff. Do they ever take any math class when they were little??? They SHOULD all go back to elementary school to learn simple math, no calculus is needed! LOL...

7 people like this
Posted by Yuck
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 22, 2017 at 2:16 pm

Which Einstein decided to paint those benches red? Cut that person's position.

7 people like this
Posted by Just Remodeled
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 22, 2017 at 2:39 pm

Those paint swatches are so deceiving.

24 people like this
Posted by Another Resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 22, 2017 at 3:15 pm

Let's hold off on renaming Jordan and Terman Schools and use that money to help fund these positions.
Administrators, would you consider take a small paycut? Reduce travel and food stipends? If everyone else is in the district is experiencing cutbacks, please share the burden.
Why do we need so many lawyers? I noticed an *increase* in their budget.
Rather than eliminating the clerical positions, maybe make them part-time jobs?
Lastly, how did the district find itself in such dire financial situation so fast? Who did the budgeting?

18 people like this
Posted by Rosewood
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 22, 2017 at 4:59 pm

Suspend the re-naming of 3 schools and save hundreds of thousands of dollars. Re-naming is a costly cosmetic gesture; that money should go directly to running schools and educating kids.

15 people like this
Posted by Yuck
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 22, 2017 at 7:38 pm

Yes, suspend the renaming. The only person who benefits is the boy who initiated the protest—his college applications benefit. Otherwise, no one cares, and it's a disruption to all the years of alums.

They can't seem to fill the committee on choosing names, perhaps because it requires a whole lot of time, and everyone is disgusted. Wait, aren't we in Silicon Valley where decisions occur fast? Why don't they just send a Survey Monkey to everyone in the school district?

Citizen Advisory Committee for Recommending School Names

4. Members must commit to attending biweekly meetings that will last between two to three hours during the school year. Additional work between meetings is likely and may require two to four hours per week.

1 person likes this
Posted by Touchy Subject
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 23, 2017 at 1:49 pm

I would try to stay away from bashing the raises for PAUSD employees on the whole. It is becoming increasingly difficult to attract good teachers to the district. The radius to find even reasonable housing has probably doubled in the last 10 years and the insane commutes are a huge drawback to attracting good candidates. The only way to combat that is to have attractive salaries. You want your kids happy? Put 'em in a room with a good teacher.

I am absolutely convinced that a proper analysis of the books at the district level and the site levels would expose some questionable spending on things that have nothing to do with employee compensation or the student experience. If that questionable spending was eliminated, or at least mitigated, these people would not have to be laid off. I work at a site in PAUSD and I could give 4-5 pieces of evidence just based off of casual observation.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 23, 2017 at 2:01 pm

@Touchy Subject - since you are anonymous, please share the wasteful spending you are seeing. I'm sure someone senior in the district reads this.

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

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