Palo Alto school board approves $773K in one-time expenditures | News | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto school board approves $773K in one-time expenditures

Board members support range of proposals, including hiring athletic trainers and launching pilot math program

At its last meeting of the year on Tuesday night, the Palo Alto school board unanimously approved several large one-time expenditures to support a range of efforts, from a solar-panel feasibility study to a pilot mathematics program for the elementary schools.

Staff brought to the board seven funding proposals, totaling $773,000, with two identified as "critical need" requests. The "critical" needs are: two full-time athletic trainers, one for each high school, to supplement seasonal part-time trainers who staff said can't fully meet the needs of students; and seven parent liaisons working at each elementary school and on a pilot basis at Gunn High School to serve as connections between families of minority students and their schools.

The funding request for the athletic trainers was double that of the parent liaisons — $160,000 compared to $80,000. These dollars will come from the district's unallocated property tax revenue.

The other one-time requests for the 2015-16 year approved by the board are:

● $78,000 to complete "phase two" of a review of the district's special-education department and services, which is currently underway; this is in addition to $32,900 allocated for "phase one" of the review, according to staff.

● $75,000 to explore the possibility of installing solar systems on district campuses; costs include hiring a consultant to conduct a feasibility study, creating a Request for Proposal (RFP) for a procurement specialist and making a recommendation for the "best course of action," a staff report reads.

● $100,000 for multiple "curriculum committees" that will "develop and revise living skills and computer science curricula and evaluate various counseling models at our high schools," the staff report reads; the bulk of this funding would go toward hiring professional facilitators for the committees, Superintendent Max McGee said.

● $150,000 for a pilot elementary math program aligned with the Common Core State Standards; a "teacher leadership group" working this year will recommend two to three curricula to pilot in the 2016-17 school year, according to Elementary Chief Academic Officer Barbara Harris. The $150,000 provides the resources to both elementary and secondary schools to purchase math materials during this school year, she said.

● $130,000 for developing and expanding elementary classrooms' leveled libraries, or classrooms that have books with graduating levels of difficulty to meet the reading needs of all students; according to staff, students in the lower grades need at least six leveled texts each week "in order to develop all of the key literacy skills that promote strong reading."

Teri Baldwin, Palo Alto Educator's Association president and a longtime elementary-school teacher, said the funding request for the leveled libraries is nowhere near the real amount teachers need. She said the $130,000 was calculated by estimating $10,000 would be needed per each elementary site, but the true cost is closer to $6,000 per classroom. To accommodate just Palo Alto's pre-kindergarten through second-grade classrooms, she said, would cost about $732,000.

Board member Melissa Baten Caswell, citing the fact that "one of the most impactful things we can do is get kids reading before third grade," said she has a "strong desire" to allocate more funding for leveled libraries at the board's next budget study session in February.

To one board member, however, something significant was missing from the list of seven budget requests: support for mental-health services at the district's secondary sites, particularly the high schools.

Trustee Ken Dauber pointed to $250,000 the board approved in March to fund the hiring of two new mental-health therapists, one for each high school, at a time when the superintendent and others "described the mental health of our students as constituting a public health crisis," Dauber said.

Those two hires became mental-health "coordinators" who do more overseeing and organizing than providing of direct services, Dauber noted. He said he continues to hear from high school students that nonprofit Adolescent Counseling Services (ACS), which provides on-campus counseling services at Paly and Gunn, cannot meet high student demand.

Philippe Rey, executive director of ACS, told the board during an October discussion on counseling that his organization has seen a steady increase in demand over the last few years and is "trying to find ways to either reduce or completely eliminate a waitlist at the sites that we serve so when a student is in need of seeing us, then they can actually access the services."

"This seems to me clearly to be an area where we should be investing more resources than we are," Dauber said, proposing that the board authorize staff to spend up to $200,000, at their discretion, to provide more "frontline" mental-health services at the secondary schools this year. He suggested the funding could go to support the district's partners in providing such services, primarily ACS and Asian Americans for Community Involvement (AACI).

Though his proposal was ultimately postponed for further discussion at the board's first meeting in January, McGee, for his part, was supportive. He said staff had also planned to bring to the board's February budget session further mental health-related proposals. The district is also looking at convening a joint Paly-Gunn counseling committee to investigate and then recommend an evidence-based counseling model for both schools.

Board members Camille Townsend and Heidi Emberling both asked for more data and feedback around the investments the district has already made toward mental health, from hiring new counselors over the last several years to, for example, a new mindfulness program recently implemented at Gunn.

Townsend stressed that students and parents "repeatedly" say that when there is a problem or they need someone to talk to, they go to a teacher first, rather than a counselor.

"I want ... a better conversation. Maybe we should be adding teachers and classes so we can bring class sizes down," she said, so that students can better connect with their teachers. "Have we taken any steps toward class-size reduction for any of the classes?" she asked.

Staff has prepared several budget scenarios for the board to consider in February, McGee responded, for what it would cost to bring class sizes down by one or more students.

In other business Tuesday, the board elected a new president and vice president. Trustee Emberling, who was elected to the board in 2012, will serve as the new president, replacing Baten Caswell in the position. Terry Godfrey, who won a seat in the 2014 election, has assumed Emberling's previously held position of vice president.

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9 people like this
Posted by mutti
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 9, 2015 at 10:39 am

Typical PAUSD. Spend twice as much on athletics as on the needs of minority students. This attitude is why the test scores for minority and low-income kids in PAUSD are not much better than in Ravenswood across Hiway 101.

34 people like this
Posted by Ken Horowitz
a resident of University South
on Dec 9, 2015 at 11:03 am

Kudos to Trustee Dauber who offered an amendment to the budget last night to include $200K for mental health services only to see it postponed to next month's meeting. Making funds available NOW for these services would have been the right thing to do especially that holidays and final examinations are very stressful for our students. These funds would then be available to the PAUSD staff for handling acute crises during these times. At the November 3 budget study session, the K-12 leadership team requested $340K for athletic programs and athletic trainers as Tier 1 requests "critical items that are necessary" while a mental health specialist was given a Tier 2 request "not deemed as essential as Tier 1". We have an increasing amount of our students hospitalized for mental health issues See report on We have a public health crisis here. The Project Safety Net funds allocated to the City by Stanford are gone. Given that the District's financial position continues to improve, let your school board members know that the health and wellness of our kids is your number #1 priority and PAUSD needs to allocate the financial resources to make mental health its number # 1 priority too!

8 people like this
Posted by Experienced Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 9, 2015 at 11:18 am

@mutti: The majority always wins. If a PAUSD kid was in Ravenswood, you think they would spend time on their students or finding the PAUSD student accelerated material for them to learn and teaching it to them?

Hopefully, the district will get it right this time and not approve another deficient math program like Everyday Math, although there were background politics and a weak Superintendent on that fiasco.

29 people like this
Posted by Thanks to Dauber
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 9, 2015 at 12:14 pm

The school board seems to have lost its sense of urgency about student mental health. Thanks to Ken Dauber for not forgetting what is really important.

24 people like this
Posted by Jim H
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 9, 2015 at 1:04 pm

How is hiring two athletic trainers a "one-time expenditure"? Looks more like an $80K/year (+ benefits) job. Those dollars will now become "allocated" in the next budget cycle and in future budget cycles when there might not be extra property tax dollars to play with. Hey, spend it while you've got it and no one will notice. Then just ask to increase taxes because, somehow, we ran out of money.

27 people like this
Posted by Red
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 9, 2015 at 3:37 pm

Red is a registered user.


14 people like this
Posted by Nixon mom
a resident of Nixon School
on Dec 9, 2015 at 5:13 pm

@Red, it wasn't just Townsend. McGee didn't propose money in the first place. Too busy dreaming of a new school to take care of the ones we have? And what about Godfrey? I have seen her literally sob on the board about the suicides. How about some action?

13 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 9, 2015 at 5:25 pm

Forgive me if I'm wrong, but wasn't it not so very long ago that they were pleading poverty and asked for an increase and extension of the parcel tax?

From memory, that was about the time they sent a group of lucky students to some foreign place to study some physics, or was it just to have a vacation, can't quite remember.

Anyhow, I'm not commenting on the substance of the spending, just the fact that all of a sudden there seems to be lots of money to spend, once again.

Oh well. I expect they will come back and ask for more in a year or so and we will be fooled into voting for something "for the children".

13 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 9, 2015 at 5:39 pm

Doesn't it seem like no matter what Mr. Dauber proposes, it gets voted down.

17 people like this
Posted by Red
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 9, 2015 at 6:29 pm

Red is a registered user.


7 people like this
Posted by athletics
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 9, 2015 at 7:22 pm

we urgently need the middle school athletic programs to be taken over by the schools. they it is run now, it is more like a YMCA program--poor uniforms, poor equipment. facilities are not taken care of. we need "professional" coaches to work with the student athletes in the middle schools. the teams are chosen on an first come/ first serve basis. that is not the way to run an athletic program. put some of that money to good use and improve the athletic programs at the middle school level. these are our future high school athletes.

8 people like this
Posted by Experienced Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 9, 2015 at 10:08 pm

@athletics: Very true. Jordan's coaches were basically stand-up cardboard figures and unprofessional, lacking knowledge of the sport. Some have played in high school or college, but are poor at coaching. Total waste of time, but necessary for students to play with other athletes who might be on the high school team with them. We had to get on good club teams for real coaching.

Another good use of dollars is cleaning the school grounds, buildings, and lunch tables, which are filthy. I offered to voluntarily clean outside tables at elementary school and Jordan outside tables but the principals declined my offer. The only way our elementary school tables were cleaned were when the janitor took the wide mop for the red top and swiped at the tables.

16 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Southgate
on Dec 9, 2015 at 10:38 pm

I was very disappointed in Terry Godfrey not supporting Dauber's effort to get more money for counseling. Her reason for delay was not a good reason -- to "honor staff's priorities." It's the board's job to set priorities and correct the staff when it gets things wrong. In this case, McGee did not prioritize correctly and the term "prioritize" is wrong anyway since there was no choice that needed to be made. There is plenty of money for both the things he proposed and the $200K for counseling proposed. In fact, there was no tradeoff being made or proposed -- Dauber proposed ADDING this money, and no one on the staff opposed it.

So the board delayed for no reason -- no one on the staff objected, McGee agreed it would be good to have it. The only reason for delay was delay for delay's sake. As Dauber said, if the money was appropriated now, the added services would be up and running when the kids came back from break and ready for them. Now it won't be.

Who does that serve?

Clearly Godfrey made some deal with Townsend for the Board VP, which is supposed to go to the high vote getter (not her). That was a smoothly executed deal, that left the board worse off since she then refused to support counseling and mental health services. [Portion removed.]

17 people like this
Posted by You voted for them
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Dec 10, 2015 at 5:41 am

Many of you have to do a better job at influencing your neighbors because these board members are the folks you voted for. Warnings went out in the Town Square that the new parcel tax was a sham and that 85 or whatever number of teachers were not going to be fired if it didn't pass. It was another of the constant scare tactics used by the board, superintendent, and PAEA president Teri Baldwin. There is only one scary thing in PAEA and that is the real threat of our children killing themselves. It has not gone away, but both Kevin Skelly and Glenn McGee have used cheerleading tactics every year as if the suicides have ended. Ken Dauber is finding it incredibly easy to propose common sense solutions, while new board president Heidi Emberling has nothing to show after a couple years on the board. There is so much money in PAUSD that McGee has to invent ways to spend it. Look for Baldwin to approach the dais next year for a bigger piece of pie for PAEA. I say give it to them--if they can advocate for once for our kids.

12 people like this
Posted by Disappointed in Terry
a resident of Southgate
on Dec 10, 2015 at 7:28 am

I am shocked that Terry voted against immediately supporting our high school students. I guess she has joined the do nothing old board. Too bad.

13 people like this
Posted by Outsider
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 10, 2015 at 8:11 am

Money being spent on nothing tangible. Books are good. It is like they are paying a vacuum cleaner salesman to come in and talk to them and then will not have money to buy the vacuum. Other districts with less money do understand that kids at the school need things urgently.

Why is this admin. so lame that they do not know their families and their students well enough to support them. Another experimental math program that might work is also stupid. Why not just teach math because that is what the teachers been trained to do and should be good at with proven results. What parent wants to have their kid used as an experiment in unproven math program without guarantee.

Trainers instead of credentialed coaches is a bargain and the athletic parents with the top kids will get full attention while all the others will have NO benefit. This seems to be the model of this district. Keep the top kids and parents happy so they can put them in their brag rags and still pretend they are somehow responsible for the amazing top kids who have all their skills and talents totally from outside the school district and only need to go to Paly or Gunn for the label.

16 people like this
Posted by Uh-Oh
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Dec 10, 2015 at 9:43 am

I'm sorry, but this seems bogus and suspicious. Too much money is spent on athletics already, not enough on hard-core academics and the teachers qualified to teach them (e.g., coding?).

The incoming populations of Asian nationals have no interest in sports because they take time away from homework and tutoring. Many native Chinese feel that athletics are counter-intellectual ( I do not agree, they create team players). However, with Asian Students currently at 40% of the student population, and growing ( no one else but billionaires and Chinese Nationals can afford to buy in, and billionaires put their kids in private schools)), the district must cater to them--or they, too, will pull their kids out of PAUSD in favor of private education.

3 people like this
Posted by Chinese American
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 10, 2015 at 12:53 pm

@Uh-Oh - No, Chinese will not pull their kids out of public schools for private education. Private schools are only big to them if it's a brand name like an Ivy League or elite university. PAUSD already is a brand name to them, thus, they will stay.

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