The Palo Alto school board will hear updates Tuesday on major issues related to the coronavirus, including financial implications for the district; the impact on grades and high school graduation ceremonies; and flexible start dates for the 2020-21 school year.
Palo Alto Unified's schools initially shuttered in mid-March for what the district expected to be a four-week closure, including spring break. By April 1, Superintendent Don Austin announced that all campuses would remain closed for the rest of the school year, with instruction continuing remotely. The district has not yet set a reopening date, and Gov. Gavin Newsom suggested last week that schools could see staggered schedules and other restrictions when they do resume in-person classes.
Staff will report to the board about the district's distance learning efforts, including synchronous and asynchronous teaching. Staff also will cover the decision to move to a credit/no credit grading system for middle and high school students for the rest of the semester and discuss testing, support for special education students, summer school and other issues.
The board will also discuss the pandemic's impact on district finances. Austin wrote in a staff report that the state budget, "funded largely by income taxes, sales taxes and corporate taxes, is set to suffer significantly and enter into a recession triggered by the pandemic and shelter-in-place orders.
"The closures, combined with local, state, and national related fiscal impacts will dramatically change the assumptions used to build the 2020-21 school budget," he wrote.
State officials have said that a budget revision in May will include a workload budget that funds cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) only, and will likely be less than the 2.29% COLA announced in the governor's proposed budget in January, he wrote. The state budget, set to be adopted in June, will fund "only essential programs."
Staff will report on issues that impact the budget — including property tax assessments, current and future bond construction projects and the implications of delaying a parcel tax election — and provide a general accounting of expenses and revenues during the closure.
Board members will also likely hear from a group of parents who have criticized the move to credit/no credit and want them to address the issue. The board did not vote to change the district's grading system during the closures; the decision was announced by Austin, who the board has given authority to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic without board approval as long as he immediately notifies each board member of any action he takes.
"The vast majority of schools boards throughout the state — those that have announced their grading system and those still in review — have undertaken a transparent process including soliciting input from other school district administrators and board members, high school department chairs, teachers and counselors to carefully weigh this important decision," reads a petition the parents started. "We want the same opportunity in Palo Alto."
The petition notes concern that a credit/no credit system "will have a significant and negative effect on the GPA of any student currently enrolled in Advanced Placement or honors classes because of lost weighted benefit."
As of Monday, 521 people had signed the petition.
"Students deserve a fair assessment for their work," Frank Zeng posted to the petition.
"You can argue that students should be motivated by a desire to learn. I'm sure many are. But many are also motivated by grades. The two aren't mutually exclusive," wrote parent Danny Epstein. "As the shelter-in-place continues, we need to transition from short-term solutions to longer term ones. Switching to P/NP was fine in the short term. We need grades in the long term."
Steve Toteda, one of the parents behind the petition, said in an interview that he wants the board "to do what boards are supposed to do: take this up and vote.
"This board must go on record and make a decision so we as the people who voted for them know how they stand," he said.
The school board's virtual meeting will start at 6:30 p.m. on Zoom. To watch the meeting, go to https://pausd.zoom.us/j/94997346242. To call in using a phone, dial 669-900-6833, enter webinar ID 949 9734 6242 and press #. If asked for a participant ID or code, press #.
To comment on any item during the meeting, members of the public can virtually "raise their hand" using the Zoom app or by pressing "*9" on a phone.
View the full agenda here.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.