News

School supporters dismayed by Council vote

Caswell: Loss of $1.8 million 'covenant' payment could pay for 18 teachers

The prospect of local schools losing $1.8 million in annual payments from the City of Palo Alto as part of its lease of the Cubberley Community Center did not sit well with school board members or school supporters Tuesday.

Members briefly referred to Monday's City Council vote to support eliminating a $1.8 million "covenant not to develop," one of the guidelines for negotiating a new city lease of the Cubberley Commuity Center, which expires at the end of this year.

In the 1989 covenant, the city agreed to pay the school district for promising not to sell or develop five school sites that had been shuttered due to declining enrollment – Jordan, JLS, Ohlone, Garland and Greendell. The agreement came when the district was in desperate financial straits and had been selling off shuttered schools to housing developers.

But with all five of those campuses now back in use or leased out by the school district, City Council members said the rationale for the $1.8 million annual payment no longer applies.

Several school board members said Tuesday they would like to discuss the issue in a future open session.

Noting that $1.8 million could pay for 18 teachers, board Vice-President Melissa Baten Caswell said losing that amount of money "would be really hard."

Nancy Krop, vice-president of advocacy for the Palo Alto Council of PTAs, said Palo Alto's current spending of $13,000 per pupil lags far behind per-pupil spending of other high-performing school districts and states.

"The top-performing states now spend $16,000 to $22,000 per student," Krop said. "New York spends $19,000 per student.

"I'd tell the Palo Alto City Council that we're not rolling in money – in fact, we're millions behind. I think it's a crime to take that money from children in our schools."

Chris Kenrick

Comments

Posted by Stop the gifting of city money to the school , a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 26, 2014 at 11:24 am

It's not a crime to stop this subsidy. Its tax payer dollars going to gift money to a righ school district.

Dump Cubberley altogether and save millions.


Posted by Paly mom, a resident of Ventura
on Feb 26, 2014 at 11:32 am

This is how government subsidies get started. The monies were paid to reserve the space for future use and now that they've taken the space back there is no excuse for continuing to pay the school district. I understand the argument that PA schools are relatively underfunded, but this is not the way to remedy that. If the school board didn't anticipate that these monies would go away then what the heck are they doing??? It is amazing to me that this would happen in PA...


Posted by Disappointed Classmate, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 26, 2014 at 11:33 am

Nancy--one way to save money would be to stop fighting OCR and comply with federal civil rights laws. I'm sure you know that so why don't you use your influence to argue for legal compliance and an end to discrimination against the disabled and low income Latino and African American students. What would EJW say about whining about more money for the already privileged while thousands are expended for legal fees to advance wacky tea party theories. Please turn in your "liberal" card you are now an exemplar of Palo Alto upper class entitlement.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 26, 2014 at 11:58 am

> high performance schools are spending a lot more than the PAUSD ..

Really .. and what schools would that be? Are these private schools, or public schools?

It's pretty clear that the linkage between per-student-expenditure, and student performance is not strictly linear, or uncapped. In fact, some of the schools (nationally) that test at the high-end of the performance spectrum are some of the schools with the lowest per-student-costs.

Not long ago, some of the PAUSD critics were banging on about how much better the schools in the Southern California community of Manhattan Beach were, compared to the PAUSD—at least where some students were concerned. Using data downloaded from the CA DoEd, the APIs for each school district, and the per-student-cost, were compared--

Brief Comparison Between PAUSD and Manhattan School District/API and Per-Student Expenditures:
Web Link

While the general performance of the two districts turns out to be generally comparable—the cost-per-student in the Manhattan Beach schools is about $5,300 lower than here in Palo Alto. This information was presented to the PAUSD, but to date, there has been no answer as to why Manhattan Beach can do the same job as the PAUSD at about 30% of the cost.

Another thing to remember is that the data reported to the State generally does not include capital expenditures. The Legislative Analyst's Office does keep track of these expenditures, but not at school district level—just the aggregate per-student-spending at the State level.

With the Measure A Bond authorication, the PAUSD taxpayers are obligated for somewhere between 600M and 700M dollars of additional school spending which pro-school advocates frequently ignore. Over a thirty-year timeframe, this adds about $20M a year to the total cost of education services, and maybe $2K-$3K per child. Other spending, such as money from private sources, does not end up being reported to the State—making the actual per-student-spending a bit higher than we might believe from sources that don't include all of the money on the table.

Shouldn't we be looking at providing services that are cost-effective, rather than trying to spend more than anyone else without much to show for that money?


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 26, 2014 at 12:01 pm

> Manhattan Beach can do the same job as the PAUSD at about 30% of the cost

Should have been:

.. Manhattan Beach can do the same job as the PAUSD at about 70% of the cost


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 26, 2014 at 12:31 pm

Paly Mom has it right. We support our schools and have supported all of the bond measures.

However - PAUSD (like everyone else on this planet) should learn to live within its means. The $1.8mil was a gift at best - bribery at worst. If PAUSD has not already learned from its past mistakes of selling off school property, shame on them!

There's a reason that PAUSD and the CPA have separate income sources and have separate sets of administration and requirements.

Time to get off the bottle PAUSD!


Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 26, 2014 at 12:40 pm

Cubberley is a wasting asset. PAUSD should determine a better way to earn income from that property.


Posted by Mom and Teacher outside of PAUSD, a resident of Addison School
on Feb 26, 2014 at 12:48 pm

It would be wonderful for people to read the book "The Smartest Kids in the World and How they Got There" by Amanda Ripley.

You will see that the US is 26th out of 32 schools for math in the world. Finland is number 2. We are behind lower economic schools in the world. We don't need more money -- just the correct focus.

What you will also see is that there is NOT technology in other country's classrooms. Money is spent on educating the students not having them use technology like electronic whiteboards. They emphasize highly qualified teachers and pay them more. The top 3% of the people graduating become teachers in other countries. (I am a teacher myself so I am not trying to be negative about teachers just stating the facts.)

Let's put our focus on teaching our kids.


Posted by Ex-district teacher, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 26, 2014 at 1:01 pm

It's funny to see Caswell counting expenditures in terms of teachers-we-could-have-had. Here are a few calculations in the same vein:

District PR person = ~ 1.5 teachers
Legal bills to refuse special ed families what they need = ~ 2.5 teachers

That's 4 teachers without even trying. The school board should clean house before asking for more money from taxpayers.


Posted by Another parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 26, 2014 at 3:17 pm

@Anonymous,
"Cubberley is a wasting asset. PAUSD should determine a better way to earn income from that property.".

You hit the nail on the head. Because of this "subsidy", PAUSD made stupid and short-sighted decisions about the way they spent the bond money on infrastructure -- choosing just to expand Gunn rather than renovating both Gunn and Cubberly -- and despite that, sending away Foothill which would have spent $40 million building a new community college site on part of the property.

I know this is why they did it because every time I wrote a letter or brought it up, this income was used as the excuse not to act.


Posted by anon, a resident of Monroe Park
on Feb 26, 2014 at 5:11 pm

I've never understood why all Palo Alto residents - including those living in the LASD area - are expected to be ok with some of their tax money going to PAUSD.

And if the terms are changed, will that mean a reduction in the utility tax rate that is the source of the funds?


Posted by about the UUT, a resident of Greater Miranda
on Feb 26, 2014 at 10:08 pm

anon brings up a key point. The UUT (Utility Users Tax) was passed SPECIFICALLY to fund schools. There were ads run comparing PA school funding to demographically similar school districts showing spending markedly lower. Voters approved the UUT to fund the lease of Cubberley to support schools. While Cubberly lease costs have increased and UUT revenues have decreased, the funds from the UUT still exceed the costs of the lease of Cubberley.

Therefore, the current taxpayers are funding the City with money that previous taxpayers (many still paying taxes in PA) earmarked for schools. If the City Council no longer wants to fund schools with the UUT funds, they should put a measure on the ballot to reduce the tax level. This money was never meant to fund the City of Palo Alto. It was meant to fund PAUSD.

Also, while the City complains about the cost of Cubberley, they've been a horrible steward of the property, letting it deteriorate to the point where mnay buildings can not be repaired economically.

As far as the Manhattan Beach comparison of District funding goes... the numbers are hard to compare. The district is much smaller and less diverse. Further, MB district has taken a massive hit from the budget reductions as a revenue limit district and they're starting to get that money back. Student performance reflects a long history of better funding than they have now. Their foundation raises more than PiE for a district half the size of Palo Alto. So add that to your number. Finally, salaries are 90+ percent of the cost of running a school district. Compare cost of living in and near MB with in and near PA and see what you get. It's complicated. ALL CA districts are underfunded. Good for MB for doing well with what they have but that doesn't mean that we should immediately take away from PA.


Posted by Board blew it, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 26, 2014 at 11:09 pm

This school board and superintendent have blown it. Melissa Caswell has blown it. They've asked for bonds, parcel taxes, and donations to fund electronic white boards, to give multiple raises in the last two years, to give bonuses to the superintendent for keeping OCR a secret, and they haven't really demonstrated a need for the money. The $150,000 for Tabitha Hurley to cut and paste Barb Mitchell's drivel on the PAUSD web page demonstrates that we've got money to burn and that our schools don't need the $1.8 million from the city. I just watched the Open Forum from last night's board meeting so don't pretend to care about kids, there were kids begging for help and they were ignored. Money talks in this town.


Posted by Mom, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 27, 2014 at 6:45 am

It's time to sell the Cubberly land and use the money to improve the South Palo Alto elementary schools.


Posted by Construction Paper, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 27, 2014 at 8:26 am

Tabitha Hurley is the number one reason that I would not support any further subsidy by the city, donation to PIE, or bond or parcel tax.

For the price of Tabitha Hurley this district could instead purchase 10,695,187 sheets of construction paper each year so that our kinder teachers don't have to supply it. I think that's a great trade.

Nancy Krop, I laughed out loud at your nonsubtle wet kiss to the school board. Was that your announcement of your candidacy? "It would be a crime to give my kids less than Scarsdale. CPA, Open your wallets!" This whole thing is so surreal at this point that it's just a comedy. Whatever would possess you to say such a ridiculous thing?

Fire the PR officer (who is totally lousy at PR by the way) and get things back on track with legal fees and other unnecessary spending before you go around accusing CPA of "crimes." Chortle.


Posted by confused, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 27, 2014 at 9:45 am

"Nancy--one way to save money would be to stop fighting OCR and comply with federal civil rights laws."

All the OCR complaints are getting dismissed. Why should the district not fight OCR complaints when they have no basis? You have to wonder why they are being accepted by OCR in the first place when there is no evidence to support them.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 27, 2014 at 11:44 am

The Measure B (1988) ballot language and supporting documentation for the voters does not mention the schools. The Vote-Yes committee asked the following questions in the "Argument For" portion of the voters' guide:

Web Link

Does Palo Alto need to preserve open space provided by surplus school sites?
Does Palo Alto need to protect its neighborhoods from overdevelopment of surplus school sites?
Does Palo Alto need to provide additional revenue to our schools so that we can continue to have excellent schools?
Does Palo Alto need to make substantial repairs to its streets and sidewalks?
Does Palo Alto need to provide additional space for its arts and cultural organizations?

The Vote-Yes crew enthusiastically claimed that the answers to all of these questions was: YES!

However, the ballot language presented to the voters did not mention any of these uses for the collect tax money—it simply laid out the technical aspects of the new tax. Advertisements and promises by "community leaders" are never legal, nor are these claims and promises binding.

Certainly by 1998, when the first "$100M Infrastructure Report" was released by the City Manager's Office—there was a roughly $30M line item for streets and sidewalks, even though the UUT had been suggested by some as a source of revenue to help maintain the streets.

The UUT has gone into the General Fund, so it is very difficult to say it hasn't been used to fix potholes, but certainly when we see $120+M being generated by the UUT (at the current levels), we do need to ask: "what is that money actually buying us?"


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 27, 2014 at 11:58 am

> the numbers are hard to compare.

Perhaps. But the performance numbers are not.

> ALL CA districts are underfunded.

We are spending, by law, 40+% of California's yearly budget on "schools". Given that about 85% of every school district's budget is spent on staffing (salaries and benefits), and everyone thinks that education staffing should be paid "more"--there will never be a point where schools are adequately funded.

A couple of years ago some education "professionals" (mostly Ed School types) were invited to put together budgets that they felt would fund schools adequately. One of these proposals suggested that California schools needed about $1.5T (Trillion) dollars a year to be properly funded. Given that California's GDP at the time was only about $1.5T, one has to wonder what was going through this so-called "professional's" mind when he/she was coming up with this level of funding?

According to recent US Census data, about 1M Californians are employed (F/PT) in the education sector. With only about 14M to 16M workers in the state, we really do have to ask: "Why are so many people on the education payroll?" It there were a 10%-15% reduction in unnecessary headcount, how would that "new money" affect the bottom lines of most school districts?


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 27, 2014 at 12:40 pm

> when we see $120+M being generated by the UUT (at the current levels

Should have been:

when we see $120+M being generated by the UUT (at the current levels) over the next ten years ..


Posted by Clarifying, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 27, 2014 at 1:01 pm

@confused,
"All the OCR complaints are getting dismissed. Why should the district not fight OCR complaints when they have no basis? You have to wonder why they are being accepted by OCR in the first place when there is no evidence to support them."

I think you are, as your moniker states, confused. The district was so out of compliance with civil rights laws that the OCR even had to do an onsite investigation and enter into two settlement agreements with PAUSD. One of those agreements was because PAUSD wasn't even complying with the most basic requirements under the law of providing information for families of students with disabilities, having, or following procedures (that the district themselves wrote). Do you realize just how rare that is?

Secondly, just because the OCR did not pursue the other complaints does not mean there was "no evidence to support them". It's the difference between losing a court case because the wrong law was applied or the law wasn't applied, and losing because the jury made the wrong verdict. The OCR would only get involved in the former situation - in the latter situation, it doesn't mean the families can't appeal or pursue it with their own lawyer, or that there was no reason for them to complain. For OCR it's a jurisdictional issue. They do not take very many of the thousands of complaints they get annually -- it's not because the families have no cause to complain. In one of the OCR settlements PAUSD entered into, PAUSD was required to start giving parents legal notice of their rights, etc., really basic stuff. The complaint was taken because several big issues like that were evident in the specific complaint. Had those big issues not been in that complaint, OCR might not have taken the complaint, but it would have no bearing on whether the child had been discriminated against or could pursue further legal action.

The question you should be asking is why our district chooses to spend its money on such an adversarial relationship with families rather than on doing its job for the children. I've heard from parents who have moved from high-performing (and regular) districts back east who can't understand why districts in this area are so adversarial or even downright hostile when it comes to special needs, and how that costs money for no good reason to be so adversarial - and hurts the kids. And why a district like Palo Alto should have been handling the rights of students so poorly that the OCR had to do an onsite investigation and enter into two settlements, when the vast majority of districts where OCR even decides to get involved, the districts just comply with the law. OCR is not the police - their job is to just get districts to comply with the law to protect students. They can do punitive things, but they almost never do. It's usually not necessary.


Posted by Clarifying, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 27, 2014 at 1:05 pm

I just realized - so I don't get deleted - I posted on this thread already, as "another parent".


Posted by confused, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 27, 2014 at 1:52 pm

@Clarifying, you're making it even murkier.

Where the district was found out of compliance OCR not challenged so "Disappointed Classmate" statement makes no sense. He claims the district shouldn't fight OCR and, as stated, they didn't where they were out of compliance.

As to the rest of the cases, the district was not found to be out of compliance. The results show the district was right to fight the OCR investigations since they were found in favor of the district.

So, yes, it is confusing for posters to claim the district is wrong to fight frivolous litigation.


Posted by Nancy Krop, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 27, 2014 at 1:58 pm

Palo Alto voters were told the utility tax would support, at least in a significant way, the Palo Alto schools:

"A 'yes' vote on Measure B will help Palo Alto solve several pressing problems:

Additional income for schools. The agreement between the city and the school district would provide approximately $3 million per year for our schools. They need the money. Financial support of Palo Alto schools is presently 30% to 40% less than comparable school districts nationally."

That Measure B argument remains true today. Top performing education states in the U.S. --- not the top spending states -- but the top performing education states spend $3,000 to $9,000 more per student.

They have twice as many high school teachers per student. The national average student/teacher classroom ratio is 15:1.

Relative to CA public schools, PAUSD is wealthy. But that's not saying much, considering California schools rank 49th in per student spending (cost of living adjusted) and perform in the bottom five in math, science and reading.

The more appropriate comparison, is the one I made for the school board, which is comparing our school district to those districts in top performing states.

Compared to top-performing states, our school district is short millions of dollars annually to prepare our students to compete with the graduates of those top performing education states.

I will continue my work to ensure that every child in California -- regardless of their ZIP Code -- attends an adequately funded, top performing school, such as CA students enjoyed a generation ago. I invite you to join me.


Posted by More confused, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 27, 2014 at 2:02 pm

Wait -- isn't the district spending money paying lawyers to pursue Barb Mitchell and Dana Tom's theory that the US government doesn't have authority to even enforce civil rights law? Isn't that the definition of frivolous?


Posted by Duveneck parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 27, 2014 at 2:33 pm

from Nancy Krop:
'I will continue my work to ensure that every child in California -- regardless of their ZIP Code -- attends an adequately funded, top performing school, such as CA students enjoyed a generation ago.'

Thank you Nancy for your dedication and expertise. We are fortunate to have you, a strong civil rights attorney, step up for all children in California. It is easy to tap away at a keyboard and it is a much higher level of commitment to spend hours volunteering the way that you do.


Posted by Disappointed classmate, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 27, 2014 at 2:51 pm

Nancy, no walk backs. You are on the record. What you said was "I think it's a crime to take that money from children in our schools." Really? Is PAUSD a crime scene now? Highest funding, fewest kids with challenges, rich private education fund --- if your goal is to make sure all the kids of CA are well-served you sure started with an unlikely slice of the population.

CPA can take back the funding. Things change. It wasn't signed in blood. If you want some more teachers, fire Tabitha Hurley. That's 2 teachers right there. Don't expect CPA to pay for PR officers and legal fees. If the district was a good steward of its own resources your pleas wouldn't sound so transparently self-centered.


Posted by confused, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 27, 2014 at 5:40 pm

"Wait -- isn't the district spending money paying lawyers to pursue Barb Mitchell and Dana Tom's theory that the US government doesn't have authority to even enforce civil rights law?"

No, it's not. Now that's cleared that up.


Posted by Suit PAUSD Staff not the District, a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 27, 2014 at 6:24 pm

Well, after Terman (Katherine Baker)was found guilty of violating the rights of the disabled victim of bullying,for protecting the disabled student, PAUSD has spent a lot of $$ on lawyers to fight OCR complains and to keep OCR investigators away from our schools. Now they are whining because they need more money. Good I hope they take the city takes this moneys away so the district stops wasting our children $$ on lawyers. They always lawyer up because they would not have enough $$. Next time people suits the district they should also suit the principals or staff who failed the students. I bet you they would take bullying more seriously and they would not give promotions any more promotions to staff who fails the students. Imagine suiting Katherine Baker, Kevin Skelly, Holly Wade, Young, Mr. Huertas, and so on. This will help so much and the student's $$ would not be touched.


Posted by More confused, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 27, 2014 at 6:26 pm

Cool! When did they stop?


Posted by confused, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 27, 2014 at 6:32 pm

It never happened. They've only been fighting the frivolous litigation. The results speak from themselves. Good use of lawyers, that is. You're now up to speed.


Posted by In the dark, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 27, 2014 at 7:34 pm

@Confused
Since the board has made its decisions on what legal strategies to pursue in closed sessions, the public has been in the dark about what approaches they are taking. Thanks for clarifying what's been going on behind closed doors.


Posted by Audit please , a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 27, 2014 at 8:02 pm

@Confused--The CPA and press would have a field day if they request records from the district and law firms auditing their billing and correspondence to district parents.

If what you claim is true, the district would not have initiated any aggressive correspondence or due process or truancy proceedings with any parents of special education students. Of course that isn't the case as has been reported in multiple instances. That money would be much better spent on teachers, students and their services.

The City of Palo Alto has the responsibility to require that any funded program abides by state and federal laws, including PAUSD. Otherwise, taxpayer funds cannot be used to support it.


Posted by clarifying, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 27, 2014 at 8:27 pm

@confused,
"He claims the district shouldn't fight OCR and, as stated, they didn't where they were out of compliance. "

Now you are just trying to be confusing because you clearly have an agenda.

The vast majority of times when OCR even takes a complaint, districts will take the hint without needing to go to the settlement stage. They agree to fix things, and no settlement is ever needed. Out of like 2,000 OCR cases a year, maybe 20 will require a settlement to get districts to do the right thing, and PAUSD had 2 in one year, because PAUSD didn't think the laws needed to apply to them, and wouldn't take the hint. They were out of compliance, and clearly weren't going to be in compliance without a huge push. I happen to know they were alerted to the problems for months before the complaints to OCR, so I'm mostly just confused about your undisclosed motivation for confusing everyone else.

We want our kids to learn from mistakes, to learn how to problem solve. We don't need to set an example of obfuscation and denial. Confusing indeed.


Posted by parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 27, 2014 at 8:42 pm

[Post removed.]


Posted by Sri, a resident of Community Center
on Feb 27, 2014 at 10:01 pm

A PR 'communications director' for PAUSD is a complete waste of funds better spent in the schools. So long as PAUSD keeps positions like this on the rolls, it's abundantly clear that they have more money than they need. Whining about a $1.8M shortfall when the PR person pulls in probably close to $200k with benefits falls on deaf ears.


Posted by parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 27, 2014 at 11:18 pm

@sri - I imagine that one of the PR person's jobs is to cull through the 1000's of emails that the Weekly and others have, and continue to request, under the Freedom of Information Act. I imagine it takes hours to do this to make sure that names, confidential information, etc., are redacted. I also understand why the district would want a professional to craft their statements since everything they do and say is picked apart. They are probably saving money by having this position.


Posted by high cost of supporting illegals, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 28, 2014 at 9:35 am

[Post removed.]


If you were a member and logged in you could track comments from this story.

Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

Scottís Seafood Mountain View to close, reopen as new concept
By Elena Kadvany | 7 comments | 2,911 views

Who Says Kids Donít Eat Vegetables?
By Laura Stec | 7 comments | 1,615 views

Breastfeeding Tips
By Jessica T | 10 comments | 1,485 views

How Bad Policy Happens
By Douglas Moran | 12 comments | 873 views

The life of Zarf
By Sally Torbey | 4 comments | 318 views