The school board will discuss on Tuesday night the ins and outs of the district's $256 million budget for next year, including the impact of property tax projections, salary increases and enrollment trends.
The district is projecting a $4 million increase in revenues from this year. Staff are not proposing any reductions in the 2019-20 budget but some "efficiencies" have been realized, including savings on legal expenses, said outgoing Chief Business Officer Jim Novak.
The district expects to come under its legal budget this year by $400,000 and for that to carry over next year, plus an additional $25,000 in savings, according to Novak, which are in part due to the hiring of an in-house general counsel in December.
As of May, Santa Clara County projected the district's secured property taxes to increase 5% next year. The district has shifted to more conservative property tax assumptions since 2016, when a misestimate of property tax revenue created a multimillion-dollar shortfall. The district relies on a projection of 4.66% growth in next year's budget and 3% in the out years.
The board recently approved 2% raises for teachers and senior managers, which means spending an additional $1.8 million next year. The district expects to spend next year $114.9 million on salaries for certificated staff, $42.8 million in salaries for classified staff and $62.6 million in benefits.
Palo Alto Unified is also planning to add several district-level positions next year, each with salary and benefit costs: a director of secondary special education, a special-education budget analyst, a director of certificated personnel and a student and family engagement coordinator.
Rising special-education costs have been a topic of discussion in districts across California. Gov. Gavin Newsom's latest budget estimates in May promised an increase of 21% in state funding for services for students with disabilities from this year, but Palo Alto Unified does not qualify for any these funds, according to a staff report.
The district is budgeting an additional $385,000 in estimated special-education spending next year, including for the possibility of additional teachers and instructional aides. No cuts are being proposed as of now but staff "will continue to analyze all special education expenditures to ensure that we are meeting the needs of all of our students," the staff report states.
Despite the fact that Novak suggested in March that the district look more critically at its staffing ratios, including combining classes with low enrollment and adjusting staffing to match enrollment levels, to cut down on overstaffing, it does not appear the district is pursuing his proposals at this time.
The number of classroom teachers next year will go down to align with a projected districtwide decline of 378 students, but class-size ratios will not change. The district expects to continue losing students — an estimated 200 each year — for the next five years.
Palo Alto Unified's business department is also in the midst of a leadership transition. Novak, who the district hired with much excitement less than a year ago, is leaving due to personal health issues. Carolyn Chow, currently the chief business official for the San Mateo-Foster City School District, is replacing him.
The school board will vote to adopt the budget at its final meeting of the school year, which is next Tuesday, June 18. Staff will adjust the adopted budget in September when the county releases updated property tax revenue numbers.
In other business Tuesday, the board will vote on revised contracts and a new pay structure for the district's top administrators. The new salary schedule would tie raises for senior district leadership to performance rather than those negotiated with the district's bargaining units.
The board will also discuss a recommendation to give Superintendent Don Austin a $9,000 raise and extend his contract by one year, through 2022. The raise, which would bring his annual salary to $309,000, represents step two on the new salary schedule.
Also on the school board's agenda for Tuesday is a resolution drafted in response to community concerns about the city installing cell towers near schools without notifying district staff or families, including a 4G/5G wireless tower within 300 feet of Barron Park Elementary School. The resolution advocates for city rules that would require a setback of 1,500 feet or more from a school site and "timely notification" to any affected schools.
The board meeting will start at 6:30 p.m. at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave. View the agenda here.