Ken is a member of the Palo Alto Unified School District board, elected in 2014.
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.
Like many I am deeply concerned about the light sentence -- 6 months in county jail, and 3 years probation -- recently handed down by Judge Aaron Persky in the Stanford sexual assault case. The victim in that case is a graduate of our school district. Millions of people all over the world have been moved by her clear statement of the impact of Brock Turner's crime on her and the moral clarity of her case that sexual assault deserves serious consequences.
Judge Persky had to bend over backwards in order to find a basis for a sentence for Mr. Turner that was below the statutory minimum. I believe that was a serious mistake in judgment that does not reflect the seriousness of sexual assault, and that leaves young women in our community less safe.
I support the effort to recall Judge Persky from office and to replace him with judge who will treat all sexual assault seriously, no matter who commits this crime or where it takes place. I urge you to support that effort by signing up for updates and donating at the recall campaign website. My wife Michele Dauber, a professor at Stanford Law School, is the chair of the recall campaign.
Board Retreat Monday, June 13
The school board will hold its annual June retreat tomorrow, Monday, June 13, at the Sheraton Hotel in Palo Alto, beginning at 8:30 am. We will be discussing a report on special education services, student wellness, class sizes in our middle and high schools, and district priorities for the 2016-17 school year. I hope that you can join us. I'll provide an update about the discussion in my next blog post.
New Special Education Law Firm
I'm very pleased that on June 7 the board approved a contract with Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo that effectively ends the district's relationship with the law firm Fagen, Friedman & Fulfrost (FFF). FFF played a negative role in the district's conflictual relationship with OCR before I joined the board, and in my view contributed significantly to an unnecessarily adversarial stance towards special education families, as I've written before. In addition, I'm hopeful that switching to a new firm will result in lower legal fees for the district.
The school board is set to adopt a budget for 2016-17 at the board meeting on Tuesday, June 21. At the June 7 board meeting I expressed my concern that the budget does not fix the current problem of excessively large class sizes in our high schools, and that it risks greatly increasing class sizes as high school enrollments grow over the next several years.