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Palo Alto school board to discuss student wellness, vote on parcel tax

Original post made on Jan 27, 2015

The school board will Tuesday night hold a public hearing on an increased parcel tax and, in light of a student's death this weekend, will expand a previously scheduled agenda item dedicated to an overview of mental health and wellness services to a broader discussion about the district's efforts surrounding suicide prevention and students' social-emotional well-being.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, January 27, 2015, 9:15 AM

Comments (29)

Posted by in the pudding
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 27, 2015 at 10:25 am

Hmm, let me see, a board member with a huge number of years of experience in raising funds for PAUSD suggests going with $96 vs. a board member with no years of experience in in raising funds for PAUSD suggests going with $120.

I wonder which one the board will choose?

Posted by Christie
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 27, 2015 at 11:04 am

Could Below the market rate owners also be excluded from this tax as well as those over 65, there is a reason they cannot afford to live here, and often its due to losing a spouse. Thanks.

Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 27, 2015 at 11:09 am

On the topic of student wellness, here's a link to an "Open Letter to All Parents" written by a Palo Alto student and posted today by Paly Journalism teacher Esther Wojcicki in the Huffington Post: Web Link

Posted by Why not Cupertino?
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 27, 2015 at 11:59 am

A colleague mentioned that there have been no suicides among students at Lynnbrook HS in Cupertino, which is also willed with high-achieving kids of tiger Moms. Any ideas on why Gunn is different? Or is this just a statistical fluke

Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 27, 2015 at 12:23 pm

@Why not Cupertino? - great question. I think the answer is that we have a case of a suicide cluster (sometimes called a suicide contagion). These tend to occur within groups, institutions, or communities. The effect is well documented and unfortunately goes on all the time, all across the world.

While school stress may be a factor in the recent and past events in Palo Alto, it seems a mistake to think it is the major driver, or that trying to change things at the school is the most important thing we can do. As you say, Lynnbrook is probably more of a grind than Gunn (from what I've heard) but there is no suicide cluster there (so far as I know).

Understanding the nature of our problem is critical to responding. Let's not jump to conclusions.

Posted by Conclusions?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2015 at 12:56 pm

In her post to the national media, Esther Wojcicki seems to have jumped to the conclusion that since "all" the efforts the schools have made to reduce stress, it must that parents are to blame.

Posted by Former Gunn parent
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jan 27, 2015 at 2:15 pm

Lynnbrook and Monta Vista are much more stressful than Gunn, yet no suicide. PAUSD should go there to learn. One thing different of Gunn is that there are many Stanford faculty kids here, many are smart but not all of them. Yet, when it comes to college admission, those Stanford kids have much more advantage than a "normal" kid to get in Stanford, a dream school for local teens. Every year, I hear seniors saying that it is not fair that who and who can get in Stanford only because his/her dad/mom. My own kids complained too in their senior year seeing some much worse students get in Stanford. My kids actually realized that the world is not fair at all. Whatever they learn since they were little ( as long as you try hard, it will be fair to you), were wiped out at their Gunn senior year. I have to admit to them, yes, the world is not fair at all, but please still try it. For Cupertino school, there is no such a problem.

Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 27, 2015 at 2:28 pm

Wait a minute.

How do we know that there is no suicide problem at any particular school in Cupertino or anywhere else?

Do we know this for a fact. We know about most of the suicides in Palo Alto because they are done publicly on the tracks. We know about a suicide when it is done in a public place because it causes the public to be a witness. Generally speaking, when a suicide is at home, it is not reported by the media and/or the school itself. Likewise when there is a suicide attempt, we generally do not hear about it.

When Robin Williams death was announced, it was reported almost immediately as a suicide. The manner of his death was also publicized by the coroner. It was also reported at the time that announcing a death this way was unusual but done to bring awareness to mental health issues.

We can't say for certain just how many teen deaths by suicide happen. The authorities will have records but the only time they come out with the information is by saying it is, for example, the leading cause of death of people between the ages of blank and blank after auto accidents.

This of course is still not reporting the attempts and even an attempt may be an inaccurate description as some "attempts" are by means that are unlikely to cause death even if that was the intention.

Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 27, 2015 at 2:30 pm

I was too quick to hit submit - sorry.

To summarize, this latest Gunn suicide which was done at home is very unusual to have been given this type of publicity. The fact that the school district sent out an email shows a different kind of concern to what is happening here in Palo Alto.

Posted by Paly Parent TOO
a resident of Duveneck School
on Jan 27, 2015 at 2:34 pm

Thank you Paly Parent for posting the Open Letter to All Parents that E. Wojcicki posted on Huffington Post.

I completely agree with the student who wrote the letter and asked Parents (to me I think of Parents as - All Caregivers - Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, older siblings and other adults the child/teen/young adult views as an authority figure) to STOP, LOOK & LISTEN.

Many people in the USA may think that "Parenting" without mental and physical abuse has stopped. That all adults approach child development and raising a child with open hearts and minds, positive reinforcement, open dialogue about how a child - feels, wishes and thinks, instruction without discipline, free time to day dream/explore interests/play/play/play and play whatever they want to. That a child can have a childhood, that a teen can explore and learn new things about themselves and what 'they like' to do, that a young adult can continue to explore what 'they like' to do and have support and encouragement from the adults, siblings and peers in their life.

It is critical that there become an understanding in our society that the social-emotional development in a human being is real and very important to develop a healthy and happy person. How does our society support children, teens, young adults and teachers to develop a caring, self-confident, mentally and physically healthy person, and a person who is capable to explore and learn without fear of any type of mental or physical discipline if a mistake, a failure, or an inconsistent unexpected outcome occur. How can anyone be happy with themselves if they are not true to themselves? How can anyone have a happy life, feel good about themselves, interact with people if they don't know who they are, what they like to do, what they are good at based upon their own personal awareness, not what someone else tells them who they are, what they 'should' be doing and what they 'need' to be good at?

Please encourage every adult who was ever mentally and/or physically abused, disciplined harshly with wraps on the head with a hand or knuckle, made to stand in a corner, made to stay in their room or go without a meal, punched, thrown against a wall, hair or ears pulled, neck/arm or other limn squeezed to show bruising, yelled at constantly, belittled and berated at home/in public, compared with siblings, cousins, and peers, and constantly told what to do and how to do it or have had their homework, essays and college essays completed for them, told what college they will go to, what subjects they will take in high school and college, and what masters or phd program they will attend and what company they will go work for or else to STOP, LOOK & LISTEN. CHANGE needs to start and be followed through with BY the ADULTS in Palo Alto. LEAD BY EXAMPLE.

Posted by Former Gunn parent
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jan 27, 2015 at 2:37 pm

School officials should have a real data of this matter. What I know is from many my coworkers and friends who have kids in Cupertino schools. Even today in Lunchroom, I was asked by a few Cupertino parents why Gunn has another one??? They all said that their school (Monta Vista) has none. It made me very sad after hearing from them. Something needs to be fixed at Gunn, but it may not be simply just homework.

Posted by Paly Parent TOO
a resident of Duveneck School
on Jan 27, 2015 at 2:52 pm

Former Gunn Parent:
Unfortunately, the 'world', 'life' is not 'fair'. There is NO FORMULA for anyone to get into any specific college, career, or company. It may seem like Stanford has automatic enrollment for family members, however, they don't. Stanford like any college in the world, accepts students for many reasons. It 'still' is and thankfully so a 'crap shoot' (term used from gambling when dice a rolled and no one knows what numbers will show). Colleges take considerable time to evaluate the student body to make sure it is well rounded, based upon a 'student's' interests and aptitude in their subjects of interest and/or physical prowess. Someone who may appear to not have high test scores may be off the charts creative and visual!

The recent suicide has probably struck a 'final' note that the parents/adults and students who are currently in the Palo Alto Community and at Gunn High School have had enough. EVERYONE in Palo Alto needs to make an effort to help stop the unrest, distress, the disconnection, the apathy, the anger, the blind eye, the cold shoulder, the cultural discrimination between all people and address how children/teens and young adults are raised in the home, behind closed doors, told not to tell anyone how they are abused, mistreated and ignored. And Please stop blaming the teachers and administration. The Palo Alto Community runs the whole city from the council to the school board, the real estate brokers to the bankers and financial investors, to the corporations and start ups.

Posted by Conclusions
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2015 at 2:55 pm

Paly Parent,

The difference this time is that we have had this conversation before.

Despite what Mrs. Wojcicki says about parents, parents have been asking for changes and reforms for student well being and those reforms have not really happened. The most recent election had much to say about what the community values.

If, (very big IF) this is an academic and school related issue, it takes 2 to tango.

A system which rewards the stars, and thrives on the bravado of churn and burn, and turns a blind eye to struggling students, or students in the middle is a system designed for the parenting that is being highlighted in Mrs. W's blog post. It's hypocrisy to say parents are to blame for the almighty chase of AP's and A's when that is the foundation of "academic excellence" (PAUSD mission) and fueled by a crappy college application system.

Posted by Paly Parent TOO
a resident of Duveneck School
on Jan 27, 2015 at 3:07 pm

Other Communities that have had suicidal teens and adults cannot be used as comparison for the situation in Palo Alto. Unfortunately the East Meadow and Charleston railroad tracks are like the Golden Gate Bridge - too many people have achieved their goal.

In 2009, a good friend told me about a city in Maine who had too many teen deaths. The information below was taken from the website: Web Link

"Suicide is the second leading killer of adolescents in the State of Maine (nationally, it is third). The Five Town Community sadly has experienced a significant number of youth suicides in recent years."

"In 2003 and early 2004 the Five Town Community was the subject of an “EpiAid” study jointly performed by the Maine Bureau of Health (largely through its Maine Youth Suicide Prevention Program) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Five Town Communities That Care served as the liason between the researchers and the community for this study."

"Summary Points of 2004 Study of Suicide in Mid-Coast Maine" - please go to the website to see the points."

It's great that Cupertino hasn't experienced any suicides but it is unfair to compare one community to another under these circumstances. Please keep talking to your friends though, it helps to figure out how to help the people in Palo Alto. Thank you.

Posted by Paly Parent TOO
a resident of Duveneck School
on Jan 27, 2015 at 3:26 pm

'Some' parents have been asking "for changes and reforms for student well being and those reforms have not really happened. The most recent election had much to say about what the community values."

I don't think it's Woj's comments that shine through the article, but the Student's 'Open Letter to All Parents' does. Or don't you think a student wrote it?

NOTHING is going to change in Palo Alto Schools until the MAJORITY of PARENTS want change. If we want fewer APs, less emphasis upon STEM, a healthy definition of 'academic excellence' based upon a healthy 14 to 18 year olds mental, physical and social development then we'll see change. BUT if the MAJORITY OF PARENTS, elect to hire a Superintendent who comes from a STEM Curriculum then who is really running the PAUSD? Our schools (from administrations to teachers and teachers aides and volunteer parents) do exactly what they are told by the PALO ALTO COMMUNITY. If they don't you can be sure that 'emails' fly, telephone calls and visits to offices, classrooms, city council and school board members are harrassed.

Unfortunately I have witnessed the community 'run', 'ware out', 'verbally abuse' and/or 'ruin careers' of several superintendents, principals and excellent teachers out of the district because of their intentions to control the way 'their' student is taught.

Staying involved, talking, and finding out who is running what to make changes is the only way to have real change. Did you see how fast the last two Paly Principals (one of them took too long in my book, she should never have been hired) were removed from their posts? Did you see how some Paly teachers were removed from their classrooms and left the district in the past 8 years?

I hope the city population wakes up soon to what it has been creating. I hope you are right that the new city council and school board will make a difference. I'm staying tuned in.

Posted by My Thoughts
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 27, 2015 at 3:46 pm

My Thoughts is a registered user.

But the teachers who treated my son terrible are still here.

I don't think this is a problem with STEM or teaching good classes and smart kids. You can teach a hard class to smart kids with a nice teacher, and there is no problem. But if you get the wrong teacher, they can make your kid feel like worthless. It is a kind of respect issue.

I think the parents do want change, but there is no changes in the school.

Posted by Conclusions?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2015 at 4:22 pm

Paly Parent Too,

Don't forget that one of the direct lines to district and school leadership is PAEA.

If, as you suggest, a minority of parents are controlling school leadership, whose fault is that?

The better letter that has come out from a student is the letter from "currentgunnstudent" which has a long list of "exceptions" being allowed by the school. But he/she is careful to say we should all work together.

Anyway, if the schools allow the nonsense from a minority of parents to achieve all the whacky stuff to get into college, that is on hem. What a waste of time on a few students.

Instead of again focusing on all the students with A's, and Ivy League futures, there are plenty worried about an F, or a C just to get into a CSU.

Posted by resident
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 27, 2015 at 6:11 pm

I pay $19K/yr in property taxes. I see communities across the country succeed with excellent schools with far lower property taxes. This needs to be explained.

Our school system also offers spectacular retirement benefits. Many can retire at 60 with >90% pay for the rest of their lives. The system also promotes their eldest members to be principals for a couple of years, so they may enjoy the benefits of higher retirement pay.

I get a 401K.

Until the school system can fix these issues, it is very hard for me to provide more money. (and I care very deeply about quality education).

Posted by More talk
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2015 at 7:04 pm

Board report I:

First, Max McGee wrings his hands a la Kevin Skelly, and tells us the suicides are a mystery and this is not the time to blame. Then he reels off a long list of things PAUSD are doing to combat the suicides, none of them new and all of them things they were doing last week.

Then, after a few coy jokes, he and the board gush over the first-place finish of the Paly math student team. Melissa Baten Caswell even goes so far as to say it takes a village for this kind of achievement, you know, she wants some of the credit.

McGee and the board should have credit and blame for all outcomes of all our kids. That's leadership.

Posted by More talk
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2015 at 7:39 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 27, 2015 at 7:59 pm

[Portion removed.]

"McGee and the board should have credit and blame for all outcomes of all our kids." Umm, I'd say they shouldn't have credit or blame for any of the outcomes. Parents have far more influence, and of course the kids themselves. The Board doesn't take credit - they hand out praise to students and cheerlead. Again, part of their job.

[Portion removed.]

Posted by More talk
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2015 at 8:36 pm

Board report III:

Weird to see Gunn students not overtly support the Save the 2008. Also weird to see teacher Tom Culberson kind of throw his colleagues under the bus regarding homework,mjust as he distanceD himself from the board. I thought we were all in this together. Those were the exact words of Max McGee. Nice of Barron Park Fred [portion removed] to defend irrational interpretation of Roberts Rules of Order. He may be forgetting Ken Dauber's lecture to Barb Mitchell and the board last year during the Cut the Mike affair. Not only did he remind the board of that old pesky free speech notion, but he is mostly not clapping tonight. Melissa Baten-Caswell and Max McGee, on the other hand, are applauding some speakers, yet not others. Someone better tell Fred that they are making it not safe! Fred's also educated me that the board doesn't do anything and must take credit for nothing. Good to know! Can this get weirder?

Posted by Sunshine
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 27, 2015 at 10:09 pm

If the City wants to increase our property tax by increasing the parcel tax they ahould try a different approach. Parcel taxes are unfair and should not be used. The owner of a small lot with a small older house pays the same amount of tax as someone who owns a much larger lot with a huge house. Taxes should be based on the value of the item taxed.
Be honest about the tax. Vote on it in a regular election and as a regular tax on value. Do not hold a special election fr it and do not make it a lat tax per parcel.

Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Jan 27, 2015 at 11:32 pm


Have you heard of Proposition 13? You need to work around that.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 28, 2015 at 11:31 am

I think there is one fact that gets lost with everyone when debating the fairness of a parcel tax vs. an additional property tax type (a percentage of appraised value) of assessment:

California state law authorizes local governments to impose parcel taxes, as long as the tax is not based on the value of a property. Additionally, parcel taxes must be approved by a two-thirds vote of the electorate.

In other words, it is illegal to set up a local government property tax assessment based upon the county assessor's appraisal of a Palo Alto property.

So it comes down to approving the parcel tax because you believe PAUSD will do good things with the money (and it's worth your financial sacrifice) or you'll vote no because you don't believe in PAUSD's ability to correctly manage the funds and/or you can't afford it.

Don't shoot the messenger...but complaining about a parcel tax and it's potential to be a regressive tax is a moot point. It's the only way PAUSD can go after additional local tax funding.

Posted by Former Gunn parent
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jan 28, 2015 at 12:55 pm

Parcel tax is totally an unfair tax and outdated. It helps the rich and "poor", and overtax the middle class in PA. Rich who owns mansion pays the same parcel tax as a middle class who only owns a tiny home. Many "Poor", see this double quote, only rent in PA for school but they are not necessary poor, pays nothing. Middle class pay for the most, the same as the current income tax the middle class! The law was created by people at certain time under certain situation at that time, however, it is not fair anymore and should be modified.

Posted by Enough!
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 28, 2015 at 3:01 pm

@ Crescent Park Dad

I promise I won't shoot you.

However, it seems to me that local governments, including school districts, can get bonds passed that are based on property values. For most of us, this is another tax and it is based on property value. Now, I understand that bonds are for constructions projects only, infrastructure investments.

But,see,for me as a taxpayer, and for many others probably, at the end of the day, there is no difference. It comes out of one wallet. And if it is so important to raise money for teachers, maybe they should not have asked for so much money to build lavish media centers and theaters for example.

Posted by Palo Alto Parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 28, 2015 at 5:17 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 28, 2015 at 5:37 pm

Bond taxes and/or "Ad Valorem" taxes (based on property tax valuation), under state law, can only be used for infrastructure projects. The proposed parcel tax is not for infrastructure - so it must be a "flat fee" tax.

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