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School board considers options to address declining enrollment, looking to avoid campus closures

Original post made on Mar 29, 2023

Faced with consistently declining enrollment in recent years, Palo Alto Unified is looking at potential ways to address its shrinking student population without closing schools, which district officials say is the last resort.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, March 29, 2023, 9:52 AM

Comments (48)

Posted by Resident
a resident of Meadow Park
on Mar 29, 2023 at 10:27 am

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What about surveying families who live in the district but chose private schools to see if they can be enticed back?

Posted by Evergreen Park Observer
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 29, 2023 at 10:47 am

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I wholeheartedly support the idea of increasing the number of employees who can send their kids to Palo Alto schools. It is the right things to do. As the parent of a PAUSD graduate, I hope the board also will consider enrichment plans to the current schools, particularly elementary and middle schools. With fewer students there is an opportunity to improve the attention that can be given to each student and an opportunity to provide more educational programs for everyone. Elementary schools have suffered a lot of cuts over the years -- art, science, and recreation staff have been reduced and are needed. Classroom aides can be increased, particularly at schools where the most number of students with language and special needs. At the middle schools. there have been no school team sports programs. The District has relied upon outside groups to provide some after school sports teams. At both middle and high schools, there is a great need for more and better counselors. When enrollments are increasing, we suffer from being a basic aid district that does not receive more money for more students. When enrollments are declining, we benefit from being able to do more for the students we have. We still have a long way to go before we reach the per student funding levels of the best schools in the country.

Posted by GreatPumpkin
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 29, 2023 at 11:00 am

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Children receive better educations in smaller schools and classrooms. There is no requirement that grades must be combined because there are fewer students in each grade. The district has enough tax money, so the children should be given the education in smaller schools and classrooms.
The Administrator's concern is about money and power. Administrators want to control a larger number of empoloyees. It increases their pay, prestige and control. They want to lower per unit (child) costs by having fewer professionals, such as middle school counselors, who are given a very high number of students. It is good if counselors and teachers having a lower caseloads and become more accessible to children.
If the district wants to increase enrollment, the first choise should be to expand it to PAUSD's own employees. They directly contribute to PAUSD, and 80% time vs. 75% seems arbitrary. Opening it to Palo Alto employees is more problematic. It is not fair to residents who pay high property taxes for city schools. Residents already pay city employee salaries and benefits through taxes, so it is a double taxation. Developers and commercial owners may balk at having their taxes shifted to another group. Although it may increase retention of city employees, that is not the PAUSD Board's job. If they allow city employees, the Board needs to stop raising funds with bonds and should lower property taxes.
If PAUSD has money left over, they should give it to the students for whom it was raised. Increase funding for sports, special education, teacher development.

Posted by Observer
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 29, 2023 at 11:08 am

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Learning more about reasons local families left PAUSD should be high on the list. Where is that data? Austin and the board have made some really unpopular decisions, especially regarding math and continue to dig in and ignore or distract from the fact that PAUSD lost a lawsuit about holding students back in math. They continue to anger and ostracize many families with learning differences or who have children who need more flexibility in their education. Maybe looking inward is a good place to start.

What happens when the city employees change or lose their jobs? Are their children allowed to stay? If not, that sounds disruptive and not in the best interests of these kids. Once teachers are tenured there is some longevity to their employment.

Posted by Greene and Paly Parent
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 29, 2023 at 11:15 am

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+1 on surveying the very many families that are paying taxes for the schools, but chose private schools, what would bring them back.

The board meeting yesterday reveals the district ladership's highly toxic attitude towards STEM oriented students. Instead of creating an environment of mutual respect to students with different interest and strengths, the leadership and a small group of supporters actively vilify STEM students and their families. They call for elimination of basic options (that don't even cost more) that very many STEM kids want. Watch the open forum and agenda item 6A. Leaders like Greg Tanaka and Sara Cody speak and many students (only 30 speakers were allowed, many more signed up. You can guess who was pre-informed and ushered in).

Topics were middle school placement (6A) and the abrupt removal by the Supt of the dual enrollment option for advanced post-BC calculus math courses (open forum). That seemed to be a tantrum-driver response against STEM students. Students already selected courses for next year and dual enrollment is really the only equitable option for them to learn math at their level.

Now, a very recent survey of our high school students indicated that a whopping 45% of our students are interested in taking post-BC calculus math courses in high school. At neighboring districts 40%+ can. At PAUSD, it is closer to 10%+ and with the change, now no one can. The survey also revealed that 50% want a career where math is routinely used, and 76% wish they could have complete Geometry in middle school.

Now ask why? Why? Why couldn't our students do that? Why 10% at PAUSD and 45% in Los Altos?

The answer is PAUSD toxic and bias-driven math placement practices. For high school these practices were plain illegal, but a lawsuit and a court order were needed to address. For middle school these practices "just" violate the same goals of fair and objective placement. I recommend watching the brave students speak.

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 29, 2023 at 11:19 am

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And not so long ago we were concerned about increasing enrollment. This is a cyclacle event and with the bubble classes that caused so much consternation having graduated, the pendulum has swung the other way.

With all the housing being proposed, this is going to be a temporary situation and before too long all the housing will produce more students. Many of our local parks have been built on the sites of previous elementary schools and some of our housing developments also. It was a mistake to close and sell the elementary sites as now we have portables and buildings on what used to be playing fields. Children need plenty of place to run and play before and after school, at recess and lunch time. We must not reduce playing space and we must stop promoting various clubs such as chess clubs to entice children to stay off the fields. Children are not getting the exercise they need just be PE lessons so allowing them time to work off their energy, get rid of the wriggles and run around is vitally important to their mental health and their ability to sit still and learn in the classroom. Studies on ADD often show that it is sedentary children without enough exercise who can be helped most by getting outside to play rather than be medicated.

Don't close schools, and don't worry about a temporary slump. The children will come when the housing change hands or the new housing is built!

Posted by Down the yellow brick road
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 29, 2023 at 11:28 am

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Recently some PAUSD board members, superintendents, and non-winning board candidates have said that declining enrollment is a *good* thing because it means more money per student.

Then they say that the purpose of PAUSD is not to accommodate high-achieving kids, and that they should go to private school. This was echoed in the last board meetings, even by student board representatives. As one well-known superintendent says "when in doubt, private's the route".

Now they're scampering about to increase enrollment.

How about spending all that extra $$ on lifting up the disadvantaged students? The benefit to each proposed city employee kid is effectively worth $28K per year. With that money, they could pay for an individual tutor for each current disadvantaged kid. Why don't they do that instead of telling teachers to stop giving D's and F's? What does SWIFT do to actually raise achievement of disadvantaged kids, besides making a lot of noise about systemic racism? How much is PAUSD spending on racial social justice staff development?

Prevously, also, the board was complaining about Stanford not paying their fair share in the GUP discussions. Now, they're proposing a freebie for non-residents!?

Really? Which way do they want it?

Posted by Local Wisdom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 29, 2023 at 12:22 pm

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I am a District staff member. I might have missed it, but why hasn't anyone proposed that we increase the total percentage of students who are allowed to enroll from outside District bounds (such as VTP/Tinsley) students living in East Palo Alto or East Menlo Park ? What a great opportunity to undo some of the racist, segregationalist outcomes FHA/VA housing policy in the first half of the twentieth century engendered in our area.

It doesn't have to be a dramatic increase, but one big enough that it helps make sure there are students in classrooms. This would require that we as a community look past the line of reasoning that sounds like "I'm paying property taxes to live here, so the schools should mostly be for my kinfolk only."

Also a plug for numbers: Teaching small high school classes isn't all it's hyped up to be. Once you get below ~22 teenagers, the energy in a room starts to sag. The ideal number, IMHO, is 28.

Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 29, 2023 at 1:21 pm

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My understanding is that Palo Alto's school funding is fixed based on property tax dollars, not dependent on the number of children enrolled. Why is the district then concerned about declining enrollment?

If the public school is not being able to meet the needs of my children -- one who is below grade level; one is accelerated learner -- I've been told to go to private school. This actually means more $ for the public schools (more $ per child, if there are less children). Where is the equity for those of us who can't squeeze another $35-60K per year per child out of our net income to get them the education they need?

Given that private schools are $35-60K+ per year, this is a great perk for the city workers, but too bad for those of us who pay property tax but don't fit into the specified spectrum of our public schools and are told to go private. Do you think the City Workers will feel safe to voice their opinions if they disagree with the school policies? This becomes a pair of golden handcuffs.

Posted by Marianne Mueller
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 29, 2023 at 1:24 pm

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I was about to suggest how about embracing students from East Palo Alto? That has the dual benefit of addressing past policies, and was delighted to see someone else suggested this whatever is decided, it should be done carefully so that when enrollment starts going up too much it can be rolled back without being too disruptive.

Posted by Brian C
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 29, 2023 at 1:35 pm

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FWIW we are district residents who opted for private school. I was disappointed with how the district handled COVID, and the admin staff was rude to me and my wife when we had questions about enrolling and when things would open.

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 29, 2023 at 1:43 pm

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No additional freebies for those outside our County! The Tinsley program has been very generous for many years.
Enrollment fluctuates; it was crazy crowded when my kids attended PAUSD.
Don’t sell or lease out schools long term. I could understand a short term lease.
It’s quite a perk to enroll children of PAUSD staff. I could see midest expansion of that. This is the kind of thing that can be trialed. Is the policy once in, you’re in through graduation (quite a benefit) even if parent quits working for the district? Just curious since most people change jobs over time, maybe teachers less so -

Posted by Steve
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 29, 2023 at 2:15 pm

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1) Closing underused schools temporarily doesn't seem like the horror that was mentioned in the article. Until enrollment climbs with increase in population, use the parking lots and space for the RVs of the homeless. Use the buildings as shelters.
2) If there is surplus PAUSD money and/or facilities make it available to people who need it. e.g. to E. Palo Alto or other poorer communities.
3) I don't understand why a) house prices are high here because of the great quality of our schools and b) so many people send their kids to private school. Perhaps the great inequality of income means that for the rich, the price of private school is a minor expense. PAUSD cannot fix that, but we can vote for a more progressive income tax and a progressive wealth tax. Can Palo Alto tax private schools?

Posted by Forever Name
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 29, 2023 at 2:47 pm

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There is ZERO question why there was a mass exodus of families who could afford it yanking their kids out of PAUSD in Aug 2020, either placing them in private schools or leaving the state. (like all four of Gov Newsom's kids were in-person in private school)

PAUSD Zoom school was a joke. (I personally watched a Paly teacher tell her class to keep their cameras on while she took her animal for a walk.) Students needed a real education and access to after school activities/sports that are so critical especially for secondary students. CA public schools like PAUSD that closed, bowing to CA Teachers Unions and the horrendous PA Teachers Union (PAEA), destroyed young lives (dropped out of school, lost college opportunities, lost sports scholarships, lost a LIFETIME of earnings as documented by a Stanford study, and Attorney General declared a national health emergency). Unlike many schools across the country that re-opened in Aug 2020 (including Marin County schools) or schools that never closed period (in Scandinavia). The evidence of PAUSDs (and PAEA) decision to shut down in-person school for students for a full year is recognized nationally/internationally as a catastrophe: the data and tragic outcome is irrefutable. PAUSD closures = TOTAL fail.

Members of the current school board have NOT owned up to their disastrous decision to close schools as of Aug 2020 when the data showed it was clearly fine to return: Jennifer DiBrienza, Shounak Dharap, Todd Collins are all culpable (and pathetically weakly point the finger at SCC even though SCC did NOT require schools to be closed as of Aug 2020). Those of us with kids will never forget!!!

The Recess of Responsibility
"Those who advocated for school closures now offer America’s children a master class in avoiding blame" by Alex Gutentag (CA Teacher)
Web Link
"Over a million students have left U.S. public schools and enrollment may continue to decline."

Posted by Starry Night
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 29, 2023 at 2:57 pm

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This logic seems backwards. Enrollment is shrinking, but funding stays the same since we're in a basic aid district. This means we now have more money per student. This doesn't seem like a bad thing. Perhaps we should just enjoy the better student-teacher ratios? That would be good for our students.

Or, perhaps we could redirect some of the money that we save in fewer students towards staffing to help kids who are behind in math or literacy. Isn't this a huge priority for the district?

*If* we accept the idea that enrollment must increase (which is questionable), then perhaps instead we could expand the Tinsley program? We already have the infrastructure in place, rather than starting a new thing (which might be difficult to roll back). And then it could flex as enrollment grows/shrinks.

As it stands, this proposal sounds problematic. Employees can get stuck in abusive situations at work, and can't leave because it would disrupt their children's lives. Since managers will know this, they can take advantage of this. We see this all the time with workers on h1b visas: they're stuck, and their managers know it. (Yes, this same situation can occur when PAUSD employees's kids attend PAUSD schools -- which I fully support. However, in that situation, PAUSD is getting a benefit from this program. And, PAUSD is also *responsible* when there's unhealthy employee situation. Here, employees can have abusive managers, and they're just stuck. PAUSD can't fix the problem either, because they're not PAUSD employees.)

Posted by Anony Mouse
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 29, 2023 at 3:45 pm

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Overall, the Board meeting was an embarrassing mess. The spectacle of Trustee Jennifer hustling every commenter out of the way every 60 seconds was a besmirching of democracy. This is patently unfair and stifles dissent. It's certain that there are board members and admin staff who like this method because it keeps out the riffraff. One of the reasons this institution is under fire is precisely because of this bunker mentality. They serve YOU, the citizens of this community. WE pay for the schools. WE elect the trustees and THEY hire the admins. THEY are all accountable to US. I'm sorry, but democracy is not efficient. It's long meetings listening to anyone who wants to speak. We know that most decisions are pre-ordained and massaged by the admins, can you at least give us, the stakeholders, the illusion of a voice? This board has gone too far. It's undemocratic. We miss important voices when we stifle citizen involvement. This board policy of 60 second commenting on our most contentious issues shows the arrogance of this board and this admin. Make no mistake: this policy means your voice is something that they politely endure - they're not actually listening.

Posted by Ugh
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 29, 2023 at 5:07 pm

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PAUSD spent years disenfranchising parents that were upset by rampant bullying, the lack of quality education, hiding molesters, and other issues, driving those parents to choose private school instead. And then, instead of trying to woo them back, we're supposed to accept kids from other areas? With our tax dollars?? Have they forgotten that they're supposed to be serving their taxpayers first and foremost? Their 'equity' long game is becoming more clear-- disenfranchise current parents of the wrong ethnicity (Whites and Asian POC), take kids from other areas, and use the tax dollars to do it. It's a big F-you to the community, OUR community that they're supposed to serve. Vote them out.

Posted by Palo Alto Res
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 29, 2023 at 5:20 pm

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+1 as well on PAUSD realizing families left PAUSD to go to private education. This is what Don Austin wants and has said so explicitly.

PAUSD needs to change their educational policies and framework to bring families who took their kids to private education back. Nicole Wang Chiu (who is running again for next election) is a repeat of the current messy board of Jennifer, Jessie and Shounak.

The current Board needs to be removed and Superintendent Don Austin needs to be replaced. They have done so much damage with their arrogance and bullying of parents and high quality teachers, pushing out anyone who speaks out (parents, kids or teachers) from the district.

Get to the real cause of declining enrollment - this is a Superintendent Don Austin and Board issue, disenfranchising parents and ruining the academic program at PAUSD.

Posted by T. PAR
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 29, 2023 at 6:14 pm

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Let's pause and consider what's going on:

- Palo Alto residents pay a property tax to fund the schools AND PAUSD parents run separate PIE fundraising efforts to enhance the programs.

- If student enrollment is declining and the funding base remains the same, then more money is available for student programs and the need for PIE would decrease.

That makes this a GOOD thing for Palo Alto families.

However, it is a BAD thing if you don't live in Palo Alto but work for PAUSD because you might lose your position with the downsize and if you have kids in the PAUSD then you might have to move them.

So the answer is to allow MORE non-resident city employees enroll their kids in PAUSD? So we continue the PIE fundraising to augment programs when we're hearing that there would be the potential to have surplus funds?

Jennifer DiBrienza is worried about closing schools. Why? If we don't have enough students to populate them, why do we still have them? Cubberly and Ventura were closed at one point and life has gone on. Is there any indication that declining enrollments isn't going to be a long-standing trend? Housing prices have made Palo Alto increasingly unaffordable for young families with school-age children. What do we think is going to reverse this trend?

I am AGAINST the idea of the district -- which is mostly staffed by non-residents -- hunting for more non-residents to keep the schools full. It's a basic principle of sound financial management to manage costs. The Board needs to consider its fiduciary responsibility to the residents of Palo Alto.

Posted by tmp
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 29, 2023 at 6:42 pm

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Many of the schools are now more crowded than they were traditionally. Make the total population at schools smaller, have smaller class sizes and spend more time educating the students. Many of the elementary schools used to only have 2 or 3 classes per grade so all students knew each other.

Stop fussing about total enrollment. Fewer people everywhere is a good thing for the world.

Teach students about overpopulation and show them that life is better with fewer people and more room and less drain on the worlds resources!

Posted by Palo Alto Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 29, 2023 at 6:47 pm

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Is there data that shows more PA students go to private school than in the past?

As long as I can remember, some PA families send their kids went to private middle school and then returned (plus some) for high school. And of course there are always families that choose private schools at all ages. That all seems pretty typical, even in "desirable" school districts.

Enrollment is going down all over the state, with birth rates falling, unaffordable housing, and an aging population; districts all over CA are closing schools. Is something different happening in PAUSD?

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 29, 2023 at 8:04 pm

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With rampant NIMBY-ism keeping the house prices high, how can families with young children afford to buy or even rent in Palo Alto? That is the root cause of declining enrollment in PAUSD. All the talks about private schools are just a distraction. There are plenty of families in the Bay Area who would very much like to send their children to schools in PAUSD if only they could afford to housing costs. With the housing prices so high in Palo Alto, it is cheaper for many families to send their children to a private school than to live in Palo Alto.

Posted by Palo Alto Res
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 29, 2023 at 9:54 pm

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If enrollment declines, close the schools. It's a financially a responsible action to the residents of Palo Alto. It was only a few years ago, PAUSD was up in arms and angry Stanford wanted to build more housing and send their kids to Palo Alto schools, without contributing money to the school system. PAUSD celebrated when Stanford threw in the towel and decided not to build more housing on campus.

But now, we want to open up enrollment to employees of the City of Palo Alto?
What is wrong with closing down schools when enrollment declines. It's the simplest solution.
Now we want to open up PAUSD Palo Alto public schools to children who don't live in the city but continue to tax Palo Alto residents and property owners?
Remember this Palo Alto online article:
Web Link
it states "Who pays for the schools?....Of the total revenues, a little over 80% come from the property and parcel taxes. The other 20% come from state and federal aid, lease revenue, donations. "

We the tax payers & residents of Palo Alto pay for the Palo Alto schools. Now PAUSD is wanting to immediately open up PAUSD to nonresidents (employees of Palo Alto City). How incredibly irresponsible of the Board members. Vote them all out or recall them as Palo Alto residents.

Remember Measure "O" parcel tax proposition that each property owner pays as a resident of Palo Alto city? Guess what. We the residents of Palo Alto are paying the parcel tax to fund the Board's decision to keep everyone employed over at PAUSD (including the admin staff).
Opening up the schools to enroll students who don't live in our city, while we continue to pay parcel tax and property taxes for their funding.
Web Link and
Web Link

Posted by Greene and Paly Parent
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 30, 2023 at 5:58 am

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What would bring families back from private is a CHARTER SCHOOL similar to Los Altos. The charter keeps LASD focused on serving its students, since families have a choice that is local and free. They have two good choices. We have none. PAUSD is hogging our tax money, land, and resources and despite 28K per student (double the funding of Cupertino, 30% more than Los Altos), many families flee. Our families need good LOCAL schools (that students can bike to) that are AFFORDABLE (or free) and committed to meet and support all students where they are at. We need to replace the leadership (DiBrienza, Ladomirak, Dharap) that encourages families that need something other than the one-size-fits-all to go to a private school.

Posted by Morgan
a resident of Meadow Park
on Mar 30, 2023 at 8:04 am

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At least the district is open about the fact that they view PAUSD parents as their own private ATM. Instead of trying to save money or put money into a contingency fund or improving current programs, the district would rather bring in more families that do not pay taxes to fund the school. This puts a higher burden on current Palo Alto residents and PAUSD parents. How many times a year do the schools ask parents to give money for PIE, athletics, PTA, band, theater, etc...?

Lower enrollment would also mean eliminating the administrative overhead. High schools might have to get rid of one of the army of assistant principals. The district office can eliminate a few to several of their positions.

What is the level of students at each school that would mean a closure? Someone has to have that number. Todd Collins was on the enrollment committee before he was a council member. They must have studied these issues.

Students have always been shuttled to schools out of their district if it was needed. Enrollments fluctuate. Why is the district trying to find ways to justify itself by simply adding students to the numbers from wherever they can find them?

Posted by Greene Parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 30, 2023 at 10:27 am

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If there is more resource per student due to declining enrollment, how about revamp the middle school sports program? PAUSD middle school sports program is a joke. Most students who want to try a team sport in middle school cannot get a spot. Even if you get a spot you have pay a few hundred dollars to play. Seasons are often delayed because there are no coaches. When parents brought it up to the school, the administrators said the program is run by the City of Palo Alto (instead of PAUSD or the school) so there is nothing the school can do. This defective middle school sports program has been going on many years now and no change is in sight. No wonder families who can afford private schools are sending their kids away. The solution to tackle declining enrollment is to make the schools better instead of giving it away for free.

Posted by Native to the BAY
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 30, 2023 at 11:03 am

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@annonomous Right on!

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 30, 2023 at 11:11 am

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Families with school age children are moving to the further out suburbs where they can get a bigger house and a less complicated political environment. I grew up in the Los Angeles Unified School District and we all were bussed around to make sure the existing schools had enough pupils to keep them open. People were moving to the valley. Valley kids were bussed over the hill for school until schools were built in the valley. That happened here with the building of the newer cities on the peninsula. You have to bus the kids when you move them further out from their residential locations.

Posted by Barron Park Denizen
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 31, 2023 at 10:12 pm

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Enrollment drops, close schools. Enrollment rises, reopen schools.

Citizens elect the School Board, not just parents. If there's more funding than needed, bank it for future tough times. Or lower the tax rate.

Posted by GreatPumpkin
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 1, 2023 at 10:47 pm

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Unless the City of Palo Alto pays PAUSD for non-resident students attending PAUSD schools, they should not attend.

Such a decision should not be made by decree of Board Members and Administrators on behalf of the taxpayers.

Board Members are welcome to use their own funds to finance out of town students if they feel it is so important. Perhaps they cannot understand not all residents of PAUSD are wealthy. Many are struggling families working 90 hour work weeks to pay the mortgage and the additional taxes PAUSD piles onto taxpayers. These residents followed the rules, paid their taxes and remained living in the district.

A separate Palo Alto Online article reports the district is cancelling bond projects for school improvements due to rising costs. We do not know that the district will continue to have the money non-resident students, and should not be making a committment to it so quickly and with so little public input and hearings. facing-rising-costs-new-priorities-school-district-to-delay-certain-bond-projects

This is a major policy change. There should have been multiple open public hearings. It requires a Board Policy change, which should go through a formal Board Policy Review Committee process. This should not happen before the next school year because it does not allow adequate time to sunshine it in the open.

This is an aarogant power grab using other people's money to expand the school district. Administrators get more power, prestige and control by claiming larger enrollments, but it will not improve the education for students whose families' followed the rules and paid their taxes for decades.

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 2, 2023 at 8:01 am

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Does PAUSD still have a residency officer? At some stage there was a particularly official whose job was to go to various suspect addresses and check (spy) on students to see if they actually lived there 24/7. At the same time, we were all asked to report anyone who we believed was in PAUSD fraudulantly.

I seem to remember a PAUSD teacher who lived out of town finding a couple of students were neighbors and not actually living in Palo Alto. They were made to leave PAUSD immediately.

Posted by scott
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 2, 2023 at 11:39 am

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It's kind of amazing how many problems the city is facing at once that could be solved with more housing.
* Declining school enrollment? Bring in more families.
* Retail vacancies? Losing sales tax revenue? Bring in more customers.
* Not enough parks? Let land redevelop and bring in more fees and taxes to buy more park space.
* Can't enforce zoning because we're out of compliance on our housing element? Put forth an aggressive plan and we'll get it back.
* Rent too damn high? Study after study shows housing production drives down rents.

What if there really is One Weird Trick that can address all our problems?

Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 2, 2023 at 3:51 pm

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"What if there really is One Weird Trick that can address all our problems?"

I think this question pretty much answers itself. :-)

But seriously...

The first hard problem is that housing is very expensive to build. Labor, materials, and financing (none of which are optional) account for the vast majority of building costs. Since developers won't build if they can't make a profit, they won't build if they can't charge rents that are high enough to cover those costs. That's why rents are high and don't go down significantly just by changing zoning.

The second hard problem is that we're living with the results of decades of increasing income inequality. Buying power has been stagnant or worse for far too many Americans.

The combination of high building costs and low real income are why it's difficult to just "bring in more families" (or anyone who's not in a fairly high-income group).

We had fewer retail vacancies when the population was lower, so there's no compelling reason to believe that just adding more people will make the situation better. Retail here is facing sustained high lease rates and killer competition from online sources. If those things aren't addressed somehow, I think it's unlikely retail will thrive.

The new housing element already is an aggressive plan, so that process is under way. If I understand what I heard at last week's PTC meeting correctly, the next iteration responding to the State's feedback is expected in just over a month.

I'm sympathetic to the idea that fees could be used for park space (among other things), but if those fees are tied to development, they make new housing more expensive. There's a tradeoff.

All of this doesn't imply that there's nothing we can do; there are options, and people are working on them. It's just important to be realistic about what's possible and what we'd have to do to make it happen.

Posted by Local
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 2, 2023 at 11:05 pm

Local is a registered user.

Having sent three kids to private schools the big issue is math (and stem) tracking. The private schools do this so your kid is in the correct math grade. In the public school tracking has been suppressed so the pace is slow, and they have to catch-up in college.

Posted by Palo Alto Res
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 3, 2023 at 10:39 am

Palo Alto Res is a registered user.

So let me get this straight. PAUSD Board members lobbied for Measure O so Palo Alto residents could pay more parcel tax to fund PAUSD.

Then during the pandemic Superintendent Don Austin didn't [care] (nor did the Board members) when parents left PAUSD in droves to private schools because PAUSD did such a shoddy job getting online learning going in 2020, because regardless of how many families and kids left, the funding didn't disappear.

Now to justify keeping every single person employed at PAUSD (including people over at Churchill), Don and the Board are wanting to open up PAUSD Schools to nonresidents starting this year August 2023?

Just to justify not closing down schools and reducing staff (including people over at Churchill) Don Austin and Board want to tax Palo Alto residents large amounts of taxes and parcel tax, and then open it up to non Residents.

It's not enough the Board keeps talking about how they need to cut various good programs and and courses, making everything soft and nonacademic because the bottom half of PAUSD students are struggling and they only care about the bottom half of students. [Portion removed.]

Why should Palo Alto residents foot the bill for Don Austin not being financially responsible and serving his community? Why should Palo Alto taxpayers pay for a school system (MEASURE O) when PAUSD schools will be open to anyone and everyone?

[Portion removed.]

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 3, 2023 at 10:58 am

Annette is a registered user.

It's good that those entrusted to manage enrollment are looking at various options. Based strictly on news stories about potential school closures elsewhere, whenever such an action is under consideration, the anger and discord about the potential upheaval is tremendous. We ought to be able to avoid that here; good local schools are intrinsic to Palo Alto.

I wonder, though, about the impact of offering enrollment to the children of City employees. Since many City employees do not work every other Friday, it will be interesting to see how many City employees who do not live near here will avail themselves of the option to enroll their children in the PAUSD. Maybe there could be a win-win here and more City employees will work five days/week which would, I think, improve some services such as those provided by Planning and Permitting which of course impacts housing development. One way or another, the arrow seems to always end up pointing in that direction (meaning housing).

Posted by Consider Your Options.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 3, 2023 at 11:27 am

Consider Your Options. is a registered user.

Offering a free education to City of Palo Alto employees, whether or not they pay parcel taxes that contribute to education funding in our community, is inappropriate. This is, essentially, having PAUSD compensate city employees. The city is a separate governmental agency from PAUSD and their employees should be compensated by THAT agency. Once this policy decision is made and new families become established in the PAUSD system, it will be very difficult to undo.

With the state mandating 6,000+ new housing units to be built in the next TEN years, we are likely to see an increase in enrollment. I have been watching enrollment for decades. One constant is that it is cyclical.

Re:closing schools,go slowly. PAUSD loves to rent closed sites to increase revenues. Once they do that, they become dependent on the revenues and are disinclined to reopen the site as a public school. Note how they have been using bond measure dollars to expand school sites, creating bigger schools, instead of reopening older sites that were closed and rented. This is a bad trend that should not be allowed to progress further, especially at the elementary/middle school levels where smaller school site community is an advantage.

We should be working on what we can do to improve our schools with the funding we have. A lot of parents are in private schools for the convenience of after-school child care. Can PAUSD offer more seamless availability of after-school care for a fee?

Improving math (for every child on the abilities spectrum, including those who struggle and those who have strong aptitude and everyone in between), music, language arts, HISTORY and CIVICS. We have a generation of citizens and staff who have received little education in civics. Boy. Does that show in this thread.

One last thing...Many private school kids struggle with math and science when they re-enter PAUSD schools in high school because they don't have the fundamentals. Private is not necessarily better.

Posted by GreatPumpkin
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 3, 2023 at 10:25 pm

GreatPumpkin is a registered user.

@Palo Alto Res - You are correct:

- Inequitable Benefit - PAUSD wants Palo Alto taxpayers to pay $20,000-$28,000 a year per student of some Palo Alto City employees to attend Palo Alto schools. The benefit is not equitably distributed to all Palo Alto city employees, since only those with school age children can receive the benefit.

- Cost - The cost per student attending from Grade K-12 could reach $260,000.00 - $364,000.00, more if the employee sends multiple children. Mulitply that by the number of students of city employees who attend. This amount could increase due to factors including if a student also attends pre-K or does not graduate at age 18 and stays until age 21.

- Scwitcheroo - What is the best use of public tax resources? Paying $260,000-$360,000 per student of city employee to attend, or for the population and purpose the taxes were are raised?

- Lower Incomes Paying for The Higher Incomed - Many City of Palo Alto families earn more than Palo Alto residents. Should Palo Alto families pay taxes city employees who earn more than they do?

- Value Judgement on Palo Alto Family Sacrifices - Many Palo Altans live in smaller homes with no land, and walk to school. Many are students with one or no car. Some are disabled. Has the Board and Superintendant made the value judgement that Palo Alto families are inferior and must be required to pay for the school attendance of families with potentially higher incomes and larger homes?

Posted by staying home
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 4, 2023 at 11:36 am

staying home is a registered user.

all for having city employees have access to PAUSD. It would be seen as a massive benefit to the families and could make being a city employee a highly sought after position. I know a few people who sought employment with Stanford and the UC systems to get a similar tuition break. Outside of the benefit to the family, the city gets an employee further invested in the success of the community.

Posted by Silver Linings
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 4, 2023 at 9:48 pm

Silver Linings is a registered user.

Reasons for declining enrollment must be understood before making decisions. Ignoring these is just a slap in the face of those who have been harmed and ignored. I personally know students and staff who have left for every one of the following reasons:

-A “fail-first-to-get-help” model for special ed services. This is unlawful.

-A culture of pushing out families whose children are harmed rather than learning and doing better by trying to make things right in every case

-Reactionary response to suicides resulting in unhealthy practices

-Truly uninformed attitude towards indoor air quality and persistent failure to adopt an effective framework for good indoor air quality (that might have changed everything during the pandemic). This is easy and cost-effective to fix but those with allergies and asthma are handled no better than other special needs

-Knee-jerk distrust of “win-wins” to solve problems

-district does the opposite of whatever individualization is while also engaging in a de facto favoritism of students whose parents can afford lawyers or advocates

-Problematic math education

-Failure to support different tracks and life choices

-Failure to truly allow differentiation or educational autonomy

-A culture of blaming parents for everything for power in the educational sphere, that is toxic for families (this district seems unable to differentiate between supporting healthy separation and pushing toxic estrangement on families).

-Inadequate support for work-life balance

-Adherence to an antiquated system (Prussian model) that Inculcates dependence rather than supporting student autonomy

-Too much unnecessary homework, lack of boundaries between school hours and personal time without appreciating the opportunity cost

When people are treated badly, word gets around eventually; there is a lag. Adding students without hearing/understanding/solving the reasons people left will only cause festering.

Posted by cid
a resident of another community
on Apr 5, 2023 at 11:43 am

cid is a registered user.

I'm in a different School District, and declining enrollment still places a burden on senior property owners. In San Mateo County, the School portion of our Property tax money is approximately 46%. I can qualify for the Senior Exemption on my Parcel Tax which is $150 per year, but it's those infuriating BONDS which rack up so much interest (The last one was $99 Million with a $95 Million dollar interest added to it for the payback) that make me sick to my stomach. They can usually squeak through just above the voting threshold to make them pass. I might not care, were it not for the 1950's infrastructure in several of the elementary schools that seem so depressing, making me wonder what is the district getting for their money besides some jock-related sports fields improvements billed on the backs of the local property owners? At least the Palo Alto property owners won't notice a hike in their tax bills.

Posted by Palo Alto Res
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 5, 2023 at 12:07 pm

Palo Alto Res is a registered user.

PAUSD should not be in the business of making Palo Alto employee jobs a more enticing job. Nor should they be using Palo Alto residents taxes and Parcel tax from Palo Alto residents to justify keeping all their jobs when enrollment declines by opening up admission to non Palo Alto residents.

PAUSD is in the business of teaching well to the kids who attend their schools.

The Trustee Board members and Superintendent should not be in the employment and HR business. Their obligation is not to the teachers unions and all the auxiliary staff they employed. Their first priority is to the students currently attending PAUSD schools.

If they focused on making education better at PAUSD, instead of lining their own employment pockets or professional CV accolades before jumping off to another position, their focus would shift and priorities would shift and parents and students who left PAUSD would return. All the parents and kids they pushed off to private schools would return.

Instead of fixing what they have, their focus is on keeping everyone employed, their jobs, their positions, and they will do whatever they want.

Recall all the Board members who want to open up Fall enrollment of schools to Palo Alto employees.

Posted by Palo Alto Res
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 5, 2023 at 12:17 pm

Palo Alto Res is a registered user.

One last thought.
When I bought property in Palo Alto, it was to send my kids to Palo Alto schools. I had no idea my taxes would be used to fund the children's education of Palo Alto employees.

Money dedicated to the school district in Palo Alto city was meant for the current children who attend Palo Alto schools, not random children whom the Board and Superintendent desperately want attending because they know they can justify keeping empty schools open at Palo Alto District.

They have pushed the top end of the students out to Private schools (Dr. Austin's own desires, which are echoed by the Board) and then say their focus is on the foundation.

Let's add more than Tinsley students to the foundation, lets actually add more students from disparate socio economic backgrounds to PAUSD. This will become San Francisco public education (without Lynbrook High School), where we accept all the students from low end socioeconomic areas to Palo Alto for Board and Dr. Austin to focus on the foundation, while we push out the top end to private.

PAUSD will be known for bad schools, high needs students, teaching to the foundation.
Expect real estate prices to drop.

Retirees should expect home prices to drop, because it follows the public school district's ratings and whether parents want to send their kids to the schools in that specific city.

Real estate agents should expect Palo Alto prices to drop as well. Ruin the public school system in Palo Alto, and watch the prices drop as well.

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 5, 2023 at 5:54 pm

Anonymous is a registered user.

1. I’m a past district parent so this is my question: I thought millions of taxpayer dollars were given to/spent by this district to make the schools safe “so they could re-open”….but they stayed closed much longer than some other areas?

2. Please forward this fascinating thread to a neighbor.

Posted by Carl Jones
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 11, 2023 at 7:25 pm

Carl Jones is a registered user.

We did that years ago - 11 elementary campuses. Gone. Never to be gotten back. Houses built.
As a community, we need to keep the land. There is not any more to be had. If not as schools, or other community resources, then as open space. If money is needed, it can be gotten. But once the land is gone, it can never be taken back. DO NOT SELL. Do not build houses or apartments, regardless of the good intentions.

Posted by Verified
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 19, 2023 at 4:39 pm

Verified is a registered user.

None of the options presented address the underlying issue. We originally moved to Palo Alto because of the schools, but now we send our kids private. With the school's decline, we no longer see the need to pay the premium to live in Palo Alto. What happens next when the "strong property tax base" erodes?

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 19, 2023 at 4:51 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

"With rampant NIMBY-ism keeping the house prices high, how can families with young children afford to buy or even rent in Palo Alto?"

Have you checked the average ages and salaries and compensation packages which includes stock options at Google, Meta etc lately? They can certainly avoid PA homes.

Did you miss when the Town & Country retail mix was totally aimed at young parents -- Heroes and Honeys, stores offering lessons on nursing and a place for mothers to nurse while out and about? Googlers used to joke about how it was overrun with triple-wide strollers.

Have you checked the maximum age for which Silicon Valley labor statistics are kept? It's in the mid-40s.

[Portion removed.] There's no evidence that increasing density lowers housing prices. Just look at Manhattan and Shanghai -- not exactly cheap.

Posted by Palo Alto Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on May 20, 2023 at 8:32 pm

Palo Alto Resident is a registered user.

@Verified, how do you think the schools have "declined?" Is it in test scores, or curriculum, or something you experienced? Or is it just an impression?

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