The school board unanimously approved on Tuesday a set of revisions for this year's budget to mitigate up to $6 million in unbudgeted pay increases for its employee unions.
The cost of the raises, the result of a missed deadline in the teachers and classified staff contracts, as well as some but not all anticipated additional expenses, will now be built into the budget.
A majority of board favored using a more conservative budget scenario going forward with property tax projections of 3 percent next year and 4 percent in the out years, giving the district flexibility to make adjustments if necessary. President Terry Godfrey and Vice President Ken Dauber reiterated a desire to develop a more systematic, prioritized approach for spending if property taxes come in higher than budgeted.
"I do like to look at the budget as we go through the year of things in larger chunks so that we don't spend $50,000, $20,000 there … but we take a pause and look at bigger things we might want to spend on if we have the opportunity to do that," Godfrey said.
Board member Jennifer DiBrienza, however, preferred a third scenario with more moderate property tax projections — 5 percent next year and 4 percent in the out years — that would allow the district to fund additional initiatives that are on the horizon, such as an effort to revise the way the district calculates class sizes and potentially its staffing model.
"I understand some of us have been burned in estimates before but I think if it's not actually what it's going to come in at, we are having conversations that we don't need to have," she said.
Trustee Melissa Baten Caswell also reminded staff to include in the budget cost for an interim superintendent in the wake of Superintendent Max McGee's sudden resignation on Tuesday night.
The board did not take a formal vote on which budget scenario to use going forward.
Godfrey noted the district has two ample reserve funds that staff don't anticipate need the entire amount for their planned uses — one $6 million fund set aside to open new schools and a $8 million fund of one-time discretrionary grants from the state. The grants were earmarked for textbook adoption, but Chief Budget Officer Cathy Mak said Tuesday the district can truly use them at its discretion. Mak said a very "rough, ballpark" estimate for how much the district will need for upcoming textbook adoptions is about $4 million.
In other business Tuesday, the board voted 5-0 to authorize the city of Palo Alto to issue a request for proposals (RFP) for a consultant to support a joint master planning process between the city and school district for developing Cubberley Community Center. The City Council approved the RFP earlier this month.
The board voted to amend the request for proposals, however, to add public presentations to the Board of Education at three steps of the process — when there's a community asset evaluation; a draft master plan report and schematics; and toward the end, when there's a California Environmental Quality Act review.
Board member Todd Collins suggested the added meetings to increase board participation in and oversight of the process. He also proposed asking the City Council to hold a joint meeting of the two bodies toward the end of the process.
"Ultimately what's required for this to be successful … is actually a meeting of the minds between these two bodies," he said. "I think without that it will be very hard for us ever to move forward on Cubberley in the way I know we all would like to."
Baten Caswell said she was part of previous joint meetings on Cubberley that were "not very effective," and said that any meetings as part of this renewed planning effort should be led by an expert facilitator.