Update on the Budget and District Goals

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.

Unfortunately, despite some improvement the staff recommendation for addressing this year’s deficit is still heavily slanted towards one-time solutions including expending savings and borrowing (via using bond funds for IT purchases). Only $1,077,000 of the $4.2 million in budget measures are spending cuts. Moreover, $675,000 of those cuts are related to instruction, including $375,000 from eliminating elementary teaching positions that should instead be shifted to our secondary schools to reduce class sizes. I’m confident that our senior district management can do better in finding genuine cost savings for this year that do not affect the classroom.

The plan for 2017-18 is for largely unspecified cuts of between $1.6 million and $3 million, depending on the property tax assumptions used. I have been asking for a detailed, transparent list of options along with staff recommendations since mid-July. A majority of the board supported that request and ask for a list to be provided at the Tuesday meeting, but the broad categories in the staff report fall short of that goal.

I’ll continue to work for a responsible, sustainable approach to addressing the budget deficit. Of course, I am always eager to hear your thoughts and answer any questions.

Update on 2016-17 PAUSD goals

At the last school board meeting the board adopted district goals for 2016-17. I’m pleased that reducing test and project stacking and steps towards full implementation of our district homework policy are on the list of goals. I attended the Paly site council meeting today and heard from students that these issues continue to be real sources of stress. And I’m very excited that for the first time an advisory model for counseling at Gunn is a board goal. I’m confident that the entire Gunn community will benefit from evolving the counseling model, and I’m happy that Gunn teachers and administrators will be spending time this year on working towards changes in 2017-18.

Beyond the school board

I’ve written before of my support for the campaign to recall Judge Aaron Persky, who gave an extremely lenient sentence to Brock Turner following his conviction for sexually assaulting a Palo Alto resident and graduate of Gunn High School. The campaign held a rally on September 2 (the day Mr. Turner was released) involving many elected officials, including Mayor Pat Burt of Palo Alto. Pat spoke eloquently of the need for unbiased judges who understand the significance of sexual assault.

Another supporter of the recall campaign, Ro Khanna, is running for the 17th Congressional District, currently represented by Mike Honda. I’m supporting Ro in that race, as are many community leaders. If you are interested in learning more, there is a great opportunity to meet him in a smaller setting at a home in Palo Alto on September 20. For details, click here.

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Contact: [email protected] or 650-906-4340

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