Putting Students First
Ken is a member of the Palo Alto Unified School District board, elected in 2014.
The school board is meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 13 beginning at 6:30 p.m., and addressing the deficit is again on the agenda. In addition to the board meeting, a town hall/webinar will be held on Thursday, Sept. 15, beginning at 7:00 p.m.
Since the last meeting, the estimated deficit for this year as increased from $3.7 million to $4.2 million, a result of a new estimate from the County Controller.
As you know, I have advocated that the district respond to this ongoing deficit by cutting spending that is not related to teaching. That would protect our ability to hire the teachers that we need to prevent class size increases in the high schools over the next several years, and would preserve the reserves to maintain our teacher corps in the event of an economic downturn. For example, I have proposed that the district rescind the 4% raise to administrators for this year, in order to save approximately half a million dollars a year. There are obvious opportunities to streamline staffing in the district office, by modernizing business and HR operations and eliminating positions that are not mission critical.
The school board had our first substantive discussion of PAUSD’s budget deficit on Thursday, August 11. We didn’t get much closer to a solution, unfortunately.
As I wrote in a blog post a few weeks ago, the district is facing a revenue shortfall of $5.2 million this year and $9 million next year, compared to the original projections. This year, we need to plug a hole of around $3.3 million, after adjustments and cancellation of a planned 1% bonus to employees. Unless we see extraordinary increases in property tax revenues in the future, this deficit will continue in coming years even with no raises. Even modest raises in the future would produce large multi-million-dollar deficits under any but the most optimistic property tax revenue projections.
The first rule of holes is that when you’re in one, stop digging. The combination of an unnecessarily costly multi-year raise, granted by the board in May, and the mistake in estimating property tax revenues for 2016-17 has left the district with expenses that are higher than revenues. Cutting non-educational expenses should be the first response, because it protects the district’s ability to retain and hire teachers. This is even more important now, as PAUSD high school enrollment will swell by 600 students over the next several years.
Several weeks ago PAUSD announced that property tax revenues for the 2016-17 school year will be $5.2 million less than estimated in the budget the school adopted in June. The incorrect estimate is largely the result of an oversight by district staff in failing to take into account a large exemption for the new Stanford Hospital construction when projecting property tax revenues.
The biggest risk is to our high school students, who will see sharply increased class sizes unless we act to cut non-educational spending in order to protect our ability to hire needed new teachers at Paly and Gunn. That’s because high school enrollment will increase by around 600 students (around 15%) over the next several years, which means that the district needs to hire 20-25 teachers simply to keep class sizes from rising.
A 15% increase in students with no increase in teachers would mean classes with 30 students might become classes of 35, while teachers with 125 students might now have 145. Those course sizes and teaching loads would make it harder for students to receive individual attention from their teachers and for teachers to provide individual and timely feedback to our students.
||Supporting each student's intellectual, social and emotional development. Read more...
||Reducing school overcrowding and creating positive learning environments by reopening closed schools. Read more...
||Preparing students with 21st century skills including foreign language instruction for all elementary school students. Read more...
||Making decisions based on data and best practices, in an inclusive, collaborative and responsive process. Read more...
Ken would love to hear from you! You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or give him a call at 650-906-4340.