Putting Students First
Ken is a member of the Palo Alto Unified School District board, elected in 2014.
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.
At the school board meeting on Tuesday, the board will consider a three-year contract with the teacher’s union. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to support the proposed contact. In my opinion a sensible contract would enable the district to do two things: provide a healthy raise AND restore smaller class sizes and make other improvements for students in our district. Thankfully, there is plenty of money to afford both of these things due to our recent high property tax revenues, driven by an 11.26% increase this year.
But the proposed contract does not follow this common-sense path. Instead, the board has tentatively approved a contract that will use the entire surplus to provide salary raises that are well beyond what are needed to attract and retain excellent teachers. That’s not fiscally responsible for the school district, it’s not good for our students, and it’s shortsighted for teachers who would also have benefitted from smaller classes and reduced workloads.
The proposed contract raises teacher salaries by 12% over the next three years, beginning with a 5% raise for the current school year (2015-16) at a cost this year of $7.3 million. It also provides for bonuses totalling 2% in 2017 and 2018, for an additional $2.8 million. With additional raises that are built into the “Step and Column” salary schedule, salaries will go up by nearly 18% over the next three years, raising the district’s annual compensation costs by $25 million a year in 2017-18.
I am a progressive liberal Democrat, a strong supporter of unions, and of fair, competitive pay for our teachers. As in the past, I support a substantial pay increase for teachers, to maintain our position at or near the top of the local and state labor market for teachers. In this case, I would support a more prudent, but still healthy increase of 3% each year (amounting to nearly 5% each year with built-in Step and Column increases). This alternative proposal -- call it the “3+3+3 Plan” -- would be sufficient to enhance the district’s ability to recruit and retain excellent teachers. And it would provide enough funds to hire 35 additional teachers for next year.
As the school board sets budget priorities for the 2016-17 school year, it's important to prioritize spending that directly benefits students. In particular, I'm skeptical of spending more money on administration rather than on education. I want district staff to look for increased efficiency and for work that is no longer necessary, as an alternative to increasing headcount in the district office. (That's also why I worked to secure an additional $50,000 for direct mental health services to students for this year, as I report on below).
Class Size Relief in the 2016-17 Budget
Important priorities for new funding next year include full day kindergarten, support for high school athletic programs, and small learning communities at Paly and Gunn. A key funding priority for me for next year is class size reduction in middle school and high school. Smaller class sizes allow teachers to give more attention to individual students and to give timely, meaningful feedback on tests, projects, and homework. Smaller class sizes help students to be known by their teacher and fellow classmates.
At the last school board meeting, several parents from Jordan Middle School made the point that many classes are substantially larger than the district class size targets. Those targets are 24 students for math and English classes (and for all 6th grade classes) and 28.5 students for other classes. Based on their analysis, several more teachers would be needed at Jordan in order to meet size targets. JLS and Terman are also likely not meeting district size targets for each class. I and other board members asked district staff to bring back a proposal for additional teacher hiring to meet our standards. Superintendent McGee's current request for $375,000 for 3 additional middle school teachers -- to be allocated across all 3 schools -- will need to be increased in order to bring class sizes to district standards.
||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.