Putting Students First
Ken is a member of the Palo Alto Unified School District board, elected in 2014.
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.
Unlike most school districts in Santa Clara County, PAUSD has not offered full-day kindergarten to our families beyond two pilot programs. Superintendent McGee is bringing a proposal to the school board's budget study session on Tuesday morning, February 23, to expand full-day kindergarten from the existing pilot programs at Barron Park and Palo Verde. I support that proposal.
Full-day kindergarten was one of the recommendations of the 2015 Minority Achievement and Talent Development task force. The task force identified full-day kindergarten as a critical intervention to prepare all students for success in elementary school and beyond. Full-day kindergarten has strong positive benefits for students' social-emotional and academic preparedness, and it has strong support from the elementary principals and from many elementary parents. Data from the Barron Park and Palo Verde pilots indicates that students realize benefits that persist well beyond kindergarten.
The staff proposal includes two options for full-day kindergarten, one with additional aide support (at a total additional cost of $647,000) and one without additional aide support (costing an additional $347,000). I'll focus in the board discussion on the benefits for students that can be expected from the additional expenditure for aide support.
Working for Adequate Mental Health Supports for High School Students
The CDC recently launched a study of the tragic suicides among our teens, and it is clear that our community is still reeling from the blow inflicted by the loss of so many of our young people. But beyond these tragedies, many more of our students are struggling with mental health issues. At the February 9 school board meeting, district staff reported that according to the most recent survey data, PAUSD has 600 high school students who have experienced suicidal ideation and 1,200 who have experienced a serious episode of depression in the past year.
||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.