Putting Students First
Ken is a member of the Palo Alto Unified School District board, elected in 2014.
I am strongly supporting Todd Collins in the upcoming school board election. Todd has also been endorsed by Mayor Pat Burt, the Palo Alto Weekly, the Daily Post, and the Paly Voice, as well as many current and former school board members and other elected officials. Todd brings to the board a decade-long record of effective volunteering, including an analysis of our school bond that saved district taxpayers over $800 million(!). He is the only candidate running for the board who fully grasps the importance of making sound financial decisions. Had he been on the board this past year, we might well have avoided the disastrous decisions to grant unnecessarily high pay raises and to avoid cutting non-educational expenditures that have led to the current budget deficits. Those deficits, in turn, will inevitably result in larger class sizes and less educational services to our students.
There has recently been a lot of discussion about how weighted GPAs are calculated and reported at Paly and Gunn. (Weighted GPAs give extra points to certain classes that are seen as more difficult). Weighted GPAs are covered by an existing PAUSD board policy that requires the superintendent to recommend to the board whether GPAs should be weighted, and if so how. Dr. McGee is in the process of reviewing the district's current practices to make a recommendation. Weighted GPAs do not replace unweighted GPAs, which are the primary mechanism for summarizing student performance in their classes.
Although I have not yet reached a definitive conclusion on how this should be handled, my thinking at this time is that both high schools should include a weighted GPA on student transcripts in some form. For example, the weighted GPA could appear on all transcripts alongside the unweighted GPA. Alternatively, we could do what Ashland High School in Oregon does, which is to provide a separate transcript to the University of Oregon showing only weighted GPA.
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.
||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 email@example.com or give him a call at 650-906-4340.