Palo Alto teachers protest class size trends | October 14, 2011 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - October 14, 2011

Palo Alto teachers protest class size trends

As labor negotiations continue, teachers say they cannot keep up quality with more students

by Chris Kenrick

As negotiators hammer out their union contract, Palo Alto teachers Tuesday night called for a stop to a four-year trend of increasing class sizes.

Raising the specter of elementary classes with as many as 30 students, teachers told the Board of Education they could not possibly offer the level of individual attention or inclusion of special-needs students with 30 that they can with a class of 20.

"By considering larger class sizes, we're quickly sliding down a slippery slope," said Britt Brown, a fourth-grade teacher at Nixon Elementary School.

Average class size in Palo Alto elementary schools has gone from 19.9 in 2007-08 to 22.2 this fall as schools have grappled with budget constraints, and state financial incentives for class-size reduction have dried up.

Superintendent Kevin Skelly said rumors that elementary class sizes are headed for 27 to 29 "are not accurate. But we understand how this misrepresentation has been created and we're working on correcting that."

Current class sizes "are at the edge of board and staff comfort levels," Skelly said.

The board quietly dropped a policy numerically limiting class size some time ago, and the issue remains an open item in the school district's current negotiations with the Palo Alto Educators Association, the union representing teachers.

"We've been struggling with policies and language in our collective bargaining agreement around class size," Skelly said.

Palo Alto Educators Association President Triona Gogarty said elementary class sizes were 27 or 28 students in the 1980s and early 1990s, but that teachers were supported by paid classroom aides at that time.

Teachers' aide hours were cut back as class sizes fell in the mid-1990s and early 2000s, Gogarty said.

This fall, some elementary classrooms across the district have 23 to 25 students and some high school calculus classes have enrollments of 32 or 33, Gogarty said.

"In these economic times, we know we don't have 20 to 1 anymore," but teachers need more support if class sizes continue to rise, she said.

Gogarty waved a stack of 120 high school essays that had been corrected with detailed comments from the teacher. At 15 minutes per essay, the corrections and comments represent about 30 hours of work for the teacher, she said.

A Gunn English teacher said typical English class sizes are 23 to 25 for freshmen and sophomores, and 28 to 32 for juniors and seniors.

Gunn math teacher Rachel Grunsky asked for more specific data on high school class sizes.

"At the secondary level, it's a vague teacher-classroom ratio that doesn't give you a picture of each department," Grunsky said.

Grunsky said she has 35 students in her AP calculus class and was asked whether she could take one more.

"I said, 'Sure, but can you tell me where to put the desk, because I don't know where to put it,'" she told the board.

The teachers spoke during the board's "open forum" agenda, under which board members are not permitted to respond.

However, earlier in the meeting Skelly spoke of budget constraints that have led to class size increases in recent years.

As a district funded under the "basic aid" formula that relies heavily on property tax, Palo Alto does not get revenue based on enrollment.

Enrollment growth has led to a revenue reduction of $919 per Palo Alto student in the past three years, he said.

"Something has to give, and modest class size increases have to be part of our response, and they have been."

In other business Tuesday, the board approved a tentative $8.5 million deal to purchase 2.6 acres at 525 San Antonio Road, the site of the Peninsula Day Care Center, which closed in June.

"This is a big deal," Board President Melissa Baten Caswell said. "It's been a long time since the Palo Alto Unified School District moved forward on acquiring any property, so this is big news."

The property backs up to Greendell School, which is currently used by the school district for preschool and adult education activities. Greendell is contiguous with Cubberley Community Center.

School officials have yet to articulate their plans for the day care or Cubberley properties, but have agreed to enter into discussions with the City Council this fall about the future of Cubberley.

Fast-rising enrollment, particularly in the younger grades in the southern part of town, has officials scrambling for space and worrying about long-term planning should the trend continue.

Also Tuesday, the board was told about a plan to correct an error on the recently mailed property tax bills that came at the expense of $230,000 to the school district.

The tax bills failed to include a $12-per-parcel charge to property owners that represents the escalator clause of a parcel tax approved by voters in 2010.

Rather than going back to property owners immediately for the additional $12, the school district and Santa Clara County tax collector's office have agreed to add the charge as a separate item on the 2012-13 property tax bill, the school district's Chief Business Officer Cathy Mak said.


Do you think there should be a cap on classroom sizes? Share your opinions on Town Square on Palo Alto Online.

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at


Posted by John, a resident of Stanford
on Oct 12, 2011 at 9:12 am

What about the discussion going on about eliminateing teachers aids as class sizes increase? The School Board and Mr. Skelly need to be honest about that ongoing discussion.

Posted by Chris Zaharias, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 12, 2011 at 9:31 am

I would love to see Palo Alto city govt & citizen groups address this head-on by taking the PiE efforts to a new level whereby sufficient PiE funds are raised to keep class sizes where we want them.

Everyone knows that city govts are & will continue to feel the pain of federal & state budget woes flowing down hill, and everyone knows that Palo Altans can almost universally afford the $1-2K per student in PiE donations that would be needed to address class sizes.

Why don't we just come together & deal with it in public/private partnership? I, for one, am ready to contribute.

Posted by from skelly, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 12, 2011 at 9:37 am

Dear Parent/Guardian:

For the past few weeks, staff and the board have been struggling with board policies and language in our collective bargaining agreement around class size. The reason for this is that our district, like virtually every district in the state, adopted language in guiding documents that set class sizes at 20:1 at the K-3 level and small classes at the high school level in response to state funding for this.

Now the world has changed. Education funding has been drastically cut. The incentive structure at the state level around reducing class size has changed in response to California's dramatic cuts to education. Our district's financial situation has deteriorated, and we now face what appears to be a prolonged period of flat or lower funding and, given our enrollment growth, less funding per student. In fact, our combined state, local and federal funding per student has fallen by $919, or seven percent, per student over the past three years.

In this environment, something has to give. Given our cost structure, modest increases in class size have to be part of the response. During the past four years, class sizes at the K-5 level have crept up. We have gone from an average class size K-5 of 19.9 to one of 22.2. While nobody wants larger class sizes, it has helped us avoid things like cuts to elementary music, art and P.E., a shortening of the school year through furlough days, cuts to salary, and less money for benefit costs and professional development.

At the last board meeting, the board and staff discussed appropriate language around class size. In the end, we suspended our board policy on class size. We are working on more enduring language that reflects board and community values in this regard.

The board clearly values staffing levels that provide the best environment for learning. At about 22 in grades K-3 and 24 in 4-5, we are reaching the edge of board and staff comfort in terms of elementary class size.

As we have worked to adjust language in various places to this higher class size reality, communication within our community has not kept up. There are worries that we are headed to class sizes of 28 or 29 at the elementary level. This is not accurate, but as we have had conversations with teachers and others, we now understand how this misinterpretation could have been created. We will do a better job of communicating on this issue.

Over the past four years, we have had a strong working relationship with the Palo Alto Educators Association. Together we have worked hard to share interests and to create the best environment for teaching and learning in our schools and classrooms through an interest-based process of negotiation. I met with the PAEA president, Triona Gogarty, today. I am confident that we can continue to address challenges because everyone shares an interest in appropriate staffing ratios and the presence on our campus of support staff such as aides and other specialists who make education in Palo Alto special.

Thanks for your continued confidence in the staff of the district as your partner in educating your child(ren).


Kevin Skelly

Posted by Erin Mershon, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Oct 12, 2011 at 10:00 am

Hi Chris,
Please don't forget the parents who showed up last night in response to rising class sizes.

This is not just a fight that teachers are having because of negotiations. This was the community finally standing up and taking notice of increasing class and school sizes and telling the district that their priorities for the emotional health and well-being of their students don't match up with these increases.

We've been asking the district for a comprehensive enrollment and facility plan since 2006 for the increasing enrollment and they have not been able to come up with one. Now they are purchasing the Peninsula Day Care site and there is still no clear communication on a plan for it's use, the Garland site, or Cubberley.

It's time to come up with a plan for the continuation of high enrollment growth!

Skelly writes that they are at the "edge of their comfort zone" with 22 in K-3 and 24 in 4-5. These are averages. And this is a very slippery slope. 23 kids in Kindergarten at Palo Verde, 25 kids in Kindergarten at Barron Park. Sure, you can have 17 at Walter Hays to bring that average way down, but where is the cap on class size???

The difference in 17 and 25 is so huge when you're talking about a range of 4.5 year olds and 6 year olds in the same classroom. Some who know how to read and others who don't speak English. A handful of kids who can't sit still for more than 10 minutes, and one who cries in the corner all day. How does even the most seasoned teacher handle 25 kids in a classroom without a full-time aide, not to mention a new teacher?

We have the facilities to lower class sizes. The district refuses to put them into play. There will always be a budget crisis in California and the sky will always be falling. Our district just needs to think out of the box and figure out how to make the dollars work to open another school and alleviate pressure on our kids.

Posted by Mom of 3, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 12, 2011 at 10:03 am

When we lived out of state, elementary classes were 35, even in 3rd grade. 24 is nothing.

A bigger concern is the large class sizes for World Language, which is 35. In a difficult class where students need to participate, it's not an easy task for teachers to have so many students.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 12, 2011 at 10:17 am

The bigger schools due to increasing enrollment are the real issue. There is not enough space to keep putting up portables without encroaching on play space. It is easier to put 20 extra students divided around the district in bigger classes rather than put an extra class at one school which would mean a new portable.

We don't want bigger classes, we need another school at each level.

Bigger schools are causing traffic problems, behavior problems, self-esteem problems and class size problems.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 12, 2011 at 10:40 am

If the proposed classroom sizes were truly limits and not averages, it would be a big improvement. There should also be some thought given to the fact that the Immersion classes routinely have 4th and 5th grade classrooms that are smaller than most of the kinders. Definitely unfair.

I'd propose that the maximum size in ANY K-3 class is 22, ANY 4-5 is 24 and ANY 6-12 is 28. Non-academic electives in secondary school (art, music, pe, etc. ) could be excluded. World Language classes should have the same max as Math, English, History and Science.

Another suggestion - reopen Garland as either a choice school or 5-6th grade only school.

Posted by Mom, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 12, 2011 at 10:43 am

The biggest issue with large class sizes is that there are so many kids in each class who struggle with self-control. There needs to be stronger discipline at the elementary school level so that children who can't behave themselves do not interrupt the learning for everyone else.

Posted by Sandy, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 12, 2011 at 10:47 am

It is time again for the school district to check the residency of the children. We have gone through this before and found that there were many children who did not live in Palo Alto. Yes, this does take time, but in the long run it would reduce the class size.

Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 12, 2011 at 10:47 am

There is a legitimate argument AGAINST lowering classroom sizes. Not only is it considerably more expensive for taxpayers, but there doesn't seem to be much evidence to substantiate a claim that it helps with individual or collective student achievement.

Moreover, most other countries that are often pointed toward in regard to average academic success have much larger classroom sizes...less available technology...and less costly resources.

Web Link

However, the reason that I support smaller classrooms in the U.S. is because, as a teacher, we aren't given the level of authority that teachers hold in other countries.

American teachers can't readily remove children who misbehave (as they do in most other countries). It is a slow bureaucratic process to "discipline" a child for misbehaving...or for assigning children according to their performance. I have taught for several years in at-risk districts. If the parents of such children don't support the school, teacher or education of that child, then any discipline or motivation is often for nothing.

Also, teachers are often directed by administrators to teach at the comprehension level of mid-to-low performers, leaving half of the class behind and the other half bored. With a larger and more diverse class, you are leaving quite a few children behind (or ahead).

As a teacher, I participated in a survey where I was asked whether I would prefer a large yearly raise to a smaller raise but with a lower classroom size and the hiring of more teacher's aids in classrooms (to help monitor students in the classroom, monitor the halls, lunchroom, grade papers, etc...). Most of my fellow teachers preferred the yearly raise. I was one of only a handful of teachers who said that I would receive a smaller raise but with the benefits of smaller class size and greater paraprofessional assistance.

Now, the largest classroom that I have taught was 36 students in an ESL classroom in Texas. That classroom wasn't nearly as difficult as when I taught an Algebra classroom with 22 students, but with less parental or administrative support.

If I had my way, I would assign at least one paraprofessional teacher's assistant and/or student teacher in EVERY classroom in America. I would take such assistance to help monitor behavior or structure even if it meant that the classroom size grew to 25-30 kids.

Posted by times change, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 12, 2011 at 10:56 am

It is interesting to me how times change. When my children were in elementary school (mid-80s to mid-90s) the palo alto standard was 32 children per class. It was clear this size short-changed my children and I was happy to see the reduction to 20s.

In the mid-90s the AP B-C calculus classes at Paly routinely assigned more kids than desks initially assuming some would drop a level.

Increasing property values in our Basic Aid district and smaller enrollments solved these problems, but now the tax revenue has grown slower than the enrollment (thanks to lots of new housing construction).

Two choices, either live with the larger class sizes or find new ways to augment the revenue.

Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 12, 2011 at 10:59 am

@ Mom:


I was privileged to view how a classroom was administered in Taiwan. The most noticeable difference was the lack of disruption. The teachers had "assistants" who monitored the students and firmly reprimanded students who were "misbehaving" (simply not paying attention). Also, all of the parents seemed to pay close attention to the education of their children (and many volunteered to "participate" as classroom monitors).

In the United States, we sadly have some children who just don't care about learning. Discipline issues probably originate at home...but follow them to the classroom. When they are placed into a classroom with one teacher, then it affects the educational outcome of the entire class -- whether there is 15 or 30 students.

When I was in college, I took courses where there were several hundreds of students in one class. There just wasn't much interaction with the professor, but we were able to learn. By the time I was in grad school, my classroom sizes were much smaller. The information was presented in the same way (more or less), but there were less "distractions" than there were in those large freshmen classes.

A little disruption goes a long way...and I personally think that this affects the concentration of the students and teacher tremendously.

Posted by David Pepperdine, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 12, 2011 at 11:04 am

First off on the residency question:
- I personally reported an out of town student (who used a relative's address to claim PA residency) to the residency hotline, (650) 329-3700 ext. 7385. No action was taken and the student graduated from PAUSD. So the residency hotline exists in name only. Can Mr. Skelly provide stats on how many reports were received, how many were followed up, and how many expulsions resulted?

Using technology creatively:
- Skelly is opposed to adopting technology, whether it is the Khan Academy style recorded lectures -- used very successfully in the Los Altos school district -- or leveraging Infinite Campus to promote better communication between students and teachers

- PAUSD spends too much on executive compensation and too little on classrooms and materials

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 12, 2011 at 11:08 am

World languages is definitely bottom of the barrel when it comes to spending. Not only are the classes huge (not a plus for learning a language) but there is little or no technology in the classrooms (even old fashioned language labs produced better language skills, accent/pronunciation skills) than textbooks and teachers alone.

Posted by Steve C, a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 12, 2011 at 11:24 am

And in keeping with the currently popular business model, the teachers must correct a much larger load of homework assignments and tests, with no more compensation. Burn 'em out folks.

Posted by Eric, a resident of Professorville
on Oct 12, 2011 at 11:25 am

There are two issues at the root of increased class size. One is money, or the lack thereof, which is making it difficult for PAUSD to open new schools, add classrooms, and add teachers. The other issue is that Palo Alto's student population continues to grow rapidly. And one of the reasons for that (and one that is under Palo Alto's control) is because the city continues to not only allow but actually encourages new housing development. People who support increased urban density have very good reasons for doing so, but it comes at a cost, and the cost is primarily born by the schools which cannot financially support the ever growing number of students. Because we are a basic aid district school funding comes primarily from local tax revenue, and the unfortunate fact is that new developments do not contribute enough money to pay for the increase in students that they bring. It's time for the city of Palo Alto to confront this issue head on.

Posted by Steve C, a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 12, 2011 at 11:28 am

Sounds like a job for Prop 13.

Posted by Palo Alto parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 12, 2011 at 11:46 am

I have a 25 year old child who went through the Palo Alto school district from Kindergarten to 12th grade. This child always had 27-28 children in his class at school, at least, throughout, starting in Kindergarten.

Everybody was fine, teacher and children included. There was a system of parent volunteers at the elementary school level. The parents came in and helped which allowed to split the class into smaller groups.

To declare that classes can't have more than 20-22 kids per class is BS. Of course, it is nice for the teachers, less work. It makes no difference for the kids when things are set up properly in larger classes. The district can't afford such small class sizes any longer. What do you want to cut: music, art, PE ??

And please,please, we pay more than enough property taxes, so please no new parcel tax, bonds and what have you.

Posted by palo alto mum, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 12, 2011 at 11:58 am

Dr. Skelly
I support a larger class size. But I wonder why world history is a 4 years requirement to graduate high schol while UC/CSU requires only half of it to get in?

Posted by gunn parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 12, 2011 at 12:03 pm

what about the sophomore english class sizes?

Posted by seperatelane, a resident of Southgate
on Oct 12, 2011 at 12:06 pm

Our schools need to have seperate lanes for our kids right in freshman year. Kids who is interested in math do not have to take four year history lessons.So is true that kids who is interested in arts or music do not have to take calculas math

Posted by neighbor, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 12, 2011 at 12:16 pm

NO ONE pays a higher property tax than Palo Alto residents (many times over), so please don't even go there. My guess is that financial management is at least part of the problem. How can we have such a high tax burden and still not enough money?

Am amazed no one has addressed the relationship between increased high density housing (particularly in South Palo Alto) and increased enrollment. I would hope that the city council revisits their willingness to approve so many high density projects. Increased, and unmanageable, enrollment is only one of the problems it creates; change in small-town feel, increased traffic and pollution and increased crime are all consequences of multiple high-density housing projects. It would also be good to know how many of high-density units are occupied by owners vs. investors -- that also makes a difference in culture, crime, etc.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 12, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Spent some time looking into the kindergarten size issue.

This is the last year that kinders have a cut off date of being 5 by Dec 2. Next year it will be Nov. 2, the following year Oct 2 and then finally Sept 2. This means that for the next 4 years our kinder classes should be smaller as kids will be spread over 11 month birthdays rather than 12.

As a result, in 5 years we shall be back to the 12 month birthday range which will become the norm. This little bubble of smaller classes will gradually filter through the school system for the next 13 years and then we will be "suddenly surprised" at how our enrollments exceeded expectations.

I hope someone is watching this phenomona at the District and not ignoring it.

Posted by Erin, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Oct 12, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Resident - the kinder classes should be smaller for the next few years but did you factor in the Young Fives program in our district or the fact that the district is mandated by state law to provide transitional kindergarten for the kids who don't make the cut-off? Just because those kids aren't in kindergarten doesn't mean they aren't enrolled in our district. This year the district opened a third Young Fives class after many years of only two classes.

I also believe that the district under-estimates the number of kids who are currently enrolled in private young fives programs.

The 12 month birthday range will never become the norm. The late birthdays will just shift to the summer months instead of fall.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 12, 2011 at 1:48 pm


I did take that into account, but not sure quite how the cut off dates for young fives will work, or if there is one. I am glad that they have increased the numbers there, otherwise it wouldn't seem fair. The transitional kindergarten numbers are indeed another factor.

However, what I mean by the 12 month birthday range becoming the norm is just the return to having a cut off date the same every year the way it has been. Since the cut off date is one month earlier for the next few years, the birthday range should in an ideal situation be 11 months for the next few years as opposed to the ideal of 12 months as currently.

We have heard one of the arguments about changing the cut off date for kindergartners is to reduce the number of younger kinders which will also reduce class size. There will always be younger kinders as you rightly point out, just that they will have summer birthdays rather than fall birthdays. The reduction in class size will only happen for the years that the 11 month range, or the next few years, operates. These slightly smaller classes will filter through the system k - 12, but will never be more than a bubble. It is just a bookkeeping change in numbers, not a trend.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 12, 2011 at 2:44 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Disruptive kids should NOT be allowed to interfere with the learning process. Time to bring back separating by ability and attention span. Homogenous classrooms are productive classrooms.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 12, 2011 at 2:45 pm

One of the biggest pluses of changing the kinder start date is that hopefully there will be a smaller age range for the kids in the class. Currently there are 4 1/2 year olds and 6 year olds in the same classroom.

Regarding new housing developments - the City can not consider the School District when approving a development (although it can consider it in its overall planning process). One problem is the ABAG's ridiculous housing requirements which I believe should truly be regional and not city based (Atherton, Woodside and Portola Valley should be required to support the regions housing just as much as Palo Alto and Menlo Park).

A very valid point raised is how one or two disruptive kids can make even a small class unmanageable. An extra pair of hands, whether a parent volunteer or paid aide, makes a big difference.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 12, 2011 at 3:10 pm

pa mom

The change will not alter the age range, just mean that when school starts in August there will still possibly be a few 4 year olds (late August birthdays) and 6 1/2 year olds, in other words still nearly 18 month age range. Those with late birthdays will still be held back for reasons of size or competence except that they will have late spring or summer birthdays instead of fall birthdays. Unless the rules change about holding back a child we will still have parents holding back children to give them an edge, either for sports or size issues.

Posted by Mom, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 12, 2011 at 4:01 pm

@David Pepperdine: Don't know what year you reported, but I reported someone who was living in a neighboring city but renting out their small, PA house in 2006 and the district took action and the family moved back to their house in Palo Alto. It's stressful for children to be attending schools illegally - they always have to watch their backs and can't have as many playdates or ride their bikes to school. The children of this family were so relieved. I think there is a specified person who works on residency issues. When I phoned and spoke to someone, they told me they had 200 students on the list. They did not ask for my name.

The phone number I called was the Attendance Office, but as mentioned above, this is on the PAUSD website:

Leave a confidential message for Palo Alto Unified School District's Residency Officer regarding a possible residency violation at (650) 329-3700 ext. 7385

Posted by MJ, a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 12, 2011 at 4:14 pm

Here's the reason Palo Alto is intent on increasing housing and huge new housing developments are encouraged by the city.

Every city in the Bay Area is required to provide housing goals proportional to the number of jobs in their city. This number is set every year, or few years, by a regional authority referred to as ABAG (Association of Bay Area ???) I believe any city that does not comply cannot receive state funding. Perhaps federal too.
Not sure of the exact details.

The city encourages commercial growth. Approximately 60,000 people commute into Palo Alto for jobs. And the commercial buildings and jobs keep increasing.

Does anyone have any thoughts about the connection between increased jobs, thus increased housing as mandated by ABAG, and school enrollment?

Here are some of mine.

Every new building or expansion that provide more jobs (including Stanford Research Park, Stanford Hospitals, possibly jobs on campus too) directly impacts the size of PAUSD classes.

Since Palo Alto is a Basic Aid school district, each additional student proportionally reduces the piece of the pie to go around. (A "Basic Aid "school district is one that opted to continue their school funding from their own property taxes rather than opt into a new state program providing state money for each child enrolled.)

Palo Alto's Comprehensive Plan sets the zoning for where and how large new commercial buildings are allowed to be. If new buildings comply, I believe approval is automatic.

If not, the developer can request a review by the Planning and Transportation Commission (PT&C), Architectural Review Board (ARB), followed by an appeal to the City Council if they don't get the answer they want from the P&TC. Architects are well represented on these groups.

And school enrollment keeps going up. I've always been amazed that school district parents aren't more vocal in their opposition to more jobs, and thus more housing, being built in Palo Alto.

Although it seems to be a given that the more businesses the better, I'm never quite sure how that adds up.

Additonal sales tax is mentioned. Local restaurants, nail salons, possibly Stanford Shopping Center, probably hotel room occupancy, come to mind. Otherwise most people, commuters and residents, do their shopping at more convenient locations like the large Safeways, Costco, Target, Home Depot, etc. outside Palo Alto.

My understanding is commercial property, unlike housing, rarely changes ownership in a way that triggers a property tax reassessment. (I have read there are legal loopholes to avoid a new assessment.) So increased property tax is not automatic. And not at all on any Stanford property since Stanford always owns the land.

If anything above is untrue, I'd be interested to learn why.

Posted by Lucky Mother, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 12, 2011 at 5:10 pm

I agree with Palo Alto Parent yes, my two sons went through the PA Schools with 27-28 in their classes, both of them did just fine.

Teachers today have been spoiled with such small class sizes, they must get used to the new economic realities, and learn to adjust to larger class sizes. Believe me, the kids do just fine.

Posted by John, a resident of Stanford
on Oct 12, 2011 at 5:22 pm

PA Parent said-

"I have a 25 year old child who went through the Palo Alto school district from Kindergarten to 12th grade. This child always had 27-28 children in his class at school, at least, throughout, starting in Kindergarten."

On thing that has changed is the maintstreaming of many special needs kids. When I went to school in PA (many years ago) we always had an "MR" room full of kids with mental issues including autism. It was easy to teach larger classes because there were very few challenged kids. Perhaps we have gone overboard trying to mainstream everybody but most of those kids will have a better life if we include them. However, the inclusion efforts causes more classroom disruption and you have to reduce the class sizes to compensate for that.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 12, 2011 at 5:25 pm


Thanks for setting out the position so clearly, it was just as I understand it to be.

However, nothing I have seen takes note of what happens when old commercial buildings turn into mixed use (like the Middlefield gas station or Alma) or even something like the new JCC which is classed as residential and community space (is there such a designation?).

Also, we have a lot of unused commercial space eg Bayshore at the end of Loma Verde to Fabian, and on San Antonio where Western Marine used to be. There is also the LomaVerde/Bayshore townhomes which used to be commercial.

In other words, when we are building more housing or more commercial, we are not using virgin land, but instead changing zoning and use. For example, I have no idea how many people the old Sun building housed as jobs, but how does it compare to the number of residences built to replace it and at the same time how many people work at the JCC complex?

I understand that if we were using virgin land to build commercial space then it makes sense to build the number of homes required for the number of employees. But all we are really doing is changing the numbers.

Posted by Erin, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Oct 12, 2011 at 6:28 pm

I was one of those students with 30 in a classroom in this district. Yes, I was fine. But my school's size was also have of what it is today.

Times have certainly changed.

More kids are mainstreamed into the regular classroom. The numbers of kids here with English as a second language have increased tremendously. I'm not just talking about Spanish as most assume when thinking of ELL. Our kindergarten class sang Happy Birthday in 5 different languages one day led by children born in different countries including Germany, France, China, and Mexico.

The technology in the classroom has also changed. It takes more teacher training and more time. Yes, it is a fabulous tool and resource for our teachers and kids, but it does take time!

And finally, the curriculum standards have changed drastically from 20 years ago. Standards for Kindergarten include reading and writing, addition and subtraction, spelling, mathematical reasoning, number sense, measurement and geometry, science, social studies, visual arts, music and performing arts, P.E, and library time for literature appreciation.

That is certainly a lot to expect of a teacher these days.

Posted by Palo Alto parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 12, 2011 at 8:16 pm

John and Erin,

When my child went through Palo Alto schools, starting 20 years ago (he graduated from Paly in 2005), many special needs kids were already mainstreamed. I remember that full well. There were already disruptive kids in the classrooms and there were already children with many different nationalities. It was not THAT long ago! As a matter of fact, my child was a bilingual child himself. And the curriculum was not that much different. I know because I've had other, younger children, make it through the system since.

None of those problems are new. Yet, everybody managed just fine.

Posted by Palo Alto parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 12, 2011 at 8:18 pm

John and Erin,

... and, as I said, there were more parent volunteers involved to help the teachers. Again, even with the usual classroom challenges, things were just fine.

Posted by Work Longer Hours, a resident of University South
on Oct 12, 2011 at 10:44 pm

How about teachers working longer hours (yes, for "free") like those of us in the private sector? Hard times require sacrifices.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 13, 2011 at 6:22 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

John and Erin had it right. Mainstreaming everyone just doesn't work. It is an admirable social policy, but lousy educationally.

Posted by Julian, a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 13, 2011 at 8:56 am

To Resident:
"...we will be "suddenly surprised" at how our enrollments exceeded expectations.
I hope someone is watching this phenomona at the District and not ignoring it."

No, they are not. Back in the late '80's someone actually did the math and calculated most of the school closings were shortsighted because the schools would be needed again, and especially the high school. Now we've got class sizes going back up, far too little play space at the elementary schools, and 85% of our high school students have to cross the tracks twice a day.

Posted by Anne, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 13, 2011 at 11:50 am

'Work Longer Hours" knows nothing about about he or she is saying. The amount of teaching time is more than doubled by the amount of prep/correction/meeting time spent outside the student time. Yes, mainsteaming has made it more difficult to manage to broad range of abilities with less help than before, but that needs to be taken on a case-by-case basis, and is not politically correct to say. Discipline is a big issue because teachers have no sway over their students- not that anyone wants to hurt or punish a child, but consequences for actions and personal responbility are a joke, and if not taught/supported at home, will not be present in the classroom. Yes, parents DO matter, and so do their attitudes. Larger class sizes means less time per pupil, period. More needs, more time.

Indeed, there is also an increase in the range of topics bring covered at a younger age. What was 1st grade is now Kindergarten. More students and less space at schools creates a 'rats in a crowded cage' syndrome. Each property can only support so many students. The district HAS to open more schools.

As for teaching, you take the child who walks in the door that morning, and go from there.

Posted by p.a. parent, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 13, 2011 at 12:14 pm

The school district has to open more schools. Our school went from about 440 3 years ago to 515 this year, and many of those are students that are overflowed from other schools because, I assume, Fairmeadow had more space. This is at a school where the assembly has to be held outside on the playground because there is no common space big enough to hold all the students! Yes, our school is scheduled to be expanded, but those facilities won't be ready for another 3 years.

As the school districts in the surrounding communities deteriorate (think RWC), more parents and children will enter the district.

Posted by Mom of 3, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 13, 2011 at 12:36 pm

Fortunately, PA does not have many disruptive students. However, they do exist in each classroom. There is a child in our elementary school who throws items at other students and adults too, plus shows physical aggression towards other students. What is the process for getting a child kicked out of the school? Is there a protocol?

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 13, 2011 at 1:05 pm

Mom of 3 - unless/until the child is really physically aggressive, there probably isn't a process for kicking a child out of school. The District occasionally refers kids to the Esther B. Clark school (and pays for it) which is great for dealing with real behavior issues.

While most of the kids in PA are pretty well behaved, there are enough to cause issues in many classrooms. Elementary school was not much of an issue, my kids are old enough that the autistic, etc. kids who had disruptive influences also had at least a part-time aide devoted to them in the classroom. They are also old enough (college and high school) that there were LOTS of parent volunteers in the classroom, which helped a great deal with behavior issues. There are now a great deal more working parents with less free time and many more parents who do not feel the need or inclination to volunteer at school (although I believe our parent volunteers are one of the reasons we have such a strong school district.)

In middle and high school, behavior problems were a greater issue for all of my kids, name calling, throwing items, talking back to teachers, etc. was pretty common place.

Posted by Anne, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 13, 2011 at 1:24 pm

Disruptive and physically aggressive students are a real problem with no effective solution. It comes down to the rights of the one- the student, vs. the rights of the many, the class and teacher. There are multiple tiers of interventions that have to be gone through and tried, which can take many months. Esther B. Clark School is a great option, but expensive and can only take a few. We need more Special Day classes with trained teachers. Not all kids can be in a mainstream class. That should be the first choice, but not the only one. Often the problem lies not just with the student but with the family dynamic, which is outside the school's sphere of influence. I have seen excellent teachers beaten down trying to manage aggressive,mentally ill children, because there is no real option for the student, and no support for the teacher administratively- all is done with an eye to avoiding lawsuits.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 13, 2011 at 1:45 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Not everyone is college material. Treat everyone as college prep and the colleges will have lots of dumbbell classes to squeeze 4 years tuition out of dunderheads. 90% of our students need little beyond a 6th grade education. Reduce mandatory attendance to age 14 and open up more jobs to younger kids. By the time kids get out of college now they are ruined for real work.

Posted by Alphonso, a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Oct 13, 2011 at 5:12 pm

ww said "Not everyone is college material. Treat everyone as college prep and the colleges will have lots of dumbbell classes to squeeze 4 years tuition out of dunderheads. 90% of our students need little beyond a 6th grade education. Reduce mandatory attendance to age 14 and open up more jobs to younger kids. By the time kids get out of college now they are ruined for real work."

Sounds like a comment from a person (probably very old) who has lost touch with the real world!

Posted by bp jack, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 14, 2011 at 1:57 am

It's hard to get an exact value for the total education money spent per child, because is comes from many sources, and is spent in many ways, and all are the revenue streams are tracked separately. But in palo Alto, the net cost is almost certainly over twenty thousand dollars per child, per year.

Given how much money is already spent, it's a shame to hear teachers saying they will be unable to give the kids the individualized instruction they need.

I am not saying the teachers are wrong to complain, I just can't understand where all the money is going.

Posted by charlie, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 14, 2011 at 7:42 am

It's time to cut down the number of high paid/benefit school administrators. Let's see the long list..

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 14, 2011 at 2:54 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Alphonso, I don't deny my age, but out of touch? No way! If you believe everyone should go to college you are delusional. Think of how much better the school experience would be if they didn't have to be there.

Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 14, 2011 at 6:17 pm

In Germany they have trade schools as an alternate to the academic track

Car mechanics, plumbers , carpenters--etc- earn far more in their mid twenties and 30s than liberal arts graduates do.

The trade school model has now been adopted in the UK.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 14, 2011 at 8:13 pm

I suspect some of the "achievement gap" in Palo Alto is due to the fact that there are many kids who should be studying for a career that does not require a college degree, but are forced to take only the classes that fulfill the UC A-G requirements (who came up with that silly A-G thing anyway).

Our "vocational" classes are a joke, only used to fill the UC credits and elective credits. None of them, except the engineering classes at Gunn, "prepare" you or even inspire a student to a career.

Palo Alto schools are good at one thing - preparing you for more school if it is college. Not everyone should be going to college. If that describes you or your child, don't admit that in public in Palo Alto.

Posted by Soon-to-be Senior, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 20, 2011 at 8:41 am

Amen, palo alto mom! Palo Alto schools are designed for the elite, of whom there are many. But for those who are not so fortunate, innately and/or by life circumstances, there are no suitable programs.

The vocational schools in Europe do not abandon math, science, and other academics needed by future citizens, but instead the theoretical math and science is taught with practical vocational applications. The older I get, the more experience I've had with non-college professional craftsmen and service professionals who take justifiable pride in their work, and I am very grateful to have to have the skills and services of these talented people. Where would society be without them?

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 20, 2011 at 11:27 am

Soon-to-be-senior - I wish we were able to teach our kids more practical skills in high school. I especially wish that our math and science emphasized real world applications (how often does the average adult use Algebra or Calculus?). I understand that these subject help people to think, expand minds, etc., but I sure would like more kids to graduate being able to balance a check book, read a spreadsheet, know profit and loss, buy and sell stocks, etc.

Many of the happiest people I know did not graduate from college. They have well-paying jobs that the love. I wish our kids had more options.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2011 at 11:46 am

I agree with the previous post.

Why does living skills class (goes by different names) teach about sex and drugs and nothing about how to do taxes, open a bank account,
balance a budget, buy a car, etc. in other words, all the skills one needs to know in life?

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