Palo Alto school board to discuss next year's $256M budget

District estimates project a $4M increase in revenues from this year

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.


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11 people like this
Posted by Samuel L
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 11, 2019 at 11:26 am

Samuel L is a registered user.

A $4M increase in revenues is only a 1.6% growth rate. By comparison, revenue grew by over 10% from 2017-18 to 2018-19.

19 people like this
Posted by Cover-up Culture
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 11, 2019 at 12:10 pm

Enrollment declined by 290 students from 2017 to 2018 school year, now student enrollment declines by an additional 378 students 2018 to 2019, yet more expensive administrators are needed, who should get bonuses. And more salary and bonuses for the teachers too.

Whose pocket is the school board in?

9 people like this
Posted by Wishful thinking
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 11, 2019 at 12:12 pm

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.

Matching staffing to match enrollment? Hah! Don't stop the gravy train!

13 people like this
Posted by we're smarter than you think
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 11, 2019 at 2:57 pm

So say PAUSD budgeted $5 million for legal services this year, would it have saved an astounding $4 million?

It is silly to say you saved money because you didn't spend as much as you could have. Specifics please. How does this year's legal spending compare to the last 5? To what other school districts spend?

You also can't say that the new General Counsel has saved the district money if you don't include her $200+k pay and the $s the district pays everyone else who works in her department.

2 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 11, 2019 at 6:50 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

PAUSD - you are going to be pushed to spend your ownership in Cubberely. You need CUB in your back pocket now because SU is going to start sending more students. So you need more money?
1. Start marketing the availability of space on a more aggressive manner.
2. Sell the Grendell space more aggressively.
3. Bring in some more events for the auditorium. Heritage Theatre in Campbell has great shows. Lucie Stern is limited in space - start selling your additional space for kids theatre.
4. Make sure that your fields are in motion on a steady basis. We need the kids to be in a local area for their sports.
You cannot allow any housing on the direct property. There is apartments and housing available on San Antonio - the residential street.
Don't get talked into sacrificing any space that cannot be eventually used when the high school is reactivated.

14 people like this
Posted by Green Acres parent
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 11, 2019 at 10:12 pm

Green Acres parent is a registered user.

You sure buried the lede! Don't you think giving the already very well compensated superintendent a raise is newsworthy? Another local newspaper certainly thought so: Web Link

Didn't board member Todd Collins express a desire to reduce class sizes? So why is the board hiring more administrators and increasing salaries rather than hiring more teachers? Who stands to benefit from these decisions? Raises obviously benefit teachers and administrators. And hiring more teachers would likely mean fewer raises down the road. My bet is the unions are behind this.

15 people like this
Posted by Cover-up Culture
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 11, 2019 at 10:35 pm

The Teacher's Union is the bane of this school district and every public school district. More more more. Look at the budget proposed. Where are the results for all this money? Keep it all quiet, no one held accountable, peer pressure and bully everyone to death. And then try to get us to pay for your housing. Workers of the world, unite! Yes comrade!! And see how everyone is fooled.

9 people like this
Posted by Pa
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 12, 2019 at 3:09 am

It’s painful to listen to the new supervisor answer questions. Never would survive a week in high tech. Equally painful to listen to responses from the new legal counsel. Doesn’t even sound like she understands the question Melissa‘s asked her two meetings in a row. Equally depressing is how apologetic Melissa is with the fact that She didn’t get it. None of these characters would survive in a real job. No wonder the school system is so overspent and Ineffective. Kathy Jordan would’ve made a big difference.

The promise is going fail flat. I don’t even know what the left hand in the right hand are you doing. The plan is strategically vague. We are trying to boil the ocean and even if they had selected the right things to do and it still wouldn’t work with the wrong thing was it do for sure it’s not gonna work. You can’t tell them anything they don’t listen. Mark my words one year from now they will only have fake statistics on improvements, but the kids will be suffering just the same.

What they’re doing may help kids who are a little challenged but will do nothing for the kids who have serious learning differences. These are the kids the school abuses and focuses more on gaslighting the parents that their kids have no potential. The plan will do nothing for the kids who are suffering and struggling.

PAUSD is in capable of implementing and following through on anything - Talk it up but they don’t actually do it. It’s like the old vaporware presentations.

3 people like this
Posted by Noequity4HUR
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 13, 2019 at 9:33 am

Schools are run like a claims adjuster department; focusing on how many claims I can deny or reduce .

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

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