Schools adopt flat budget for 2012-13 | June 29, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - June 29, 2012

Schools adopt flat budget for 2012-13

Key variables, including property tax, governor's tax package, uncertain

by Chris Kenrick

Uncertainty was the theme as the Palo Alto Board of Education this week approved a $161.8 million operating budget for 2012-13 — essentially flat compared to last year.

Key variables including property tax revenue, likely enrollment growth, state funding amounts and employee health costs, remain unknown even as California law requires school districts to pass budgets by July 1.

On the upside for Palo Alto, officials appeared to expect a resumption of healthy growth in property tax.

Cathy Mak, the school district's chief business official, said Tuesday her budget conservatively assumed a growth of 2 percent in property tax revenue for 2012-13. But on Thursday, Santa Clara County Assessor Larry Stone announced that assessed valuations in Palo Alto are up 5.32 percent over last year.

With an improved property tax picture — and possible passage of Gov. Jerry Brown's tax package this November — Palo Alto schools could have a balanced budget without dipping into reserves.

On the downside, Brown's tax initiative could fail and enrollment could grow above projections.

The district has managed the uncertainty by maintaining an "undesignated fund balance" it can use to plug gaps. In the scenario approved this week — based on the assumption that Brown's tax measure will fail — about $5.5 million of the current undesignated reserve of $12.7 million would be used.

Property tax provides about 70 percent of the operating budget. Also on the revenue side is about $11.9 million from the district's $589-per-parcel tax, which runs through June of 2016; about $4.4 million raised by the parent-led independent foundation Palo Alto Partners in Education; and $141.75 per student in California lottery income.

The district's official enrollment as of last fall was 12,286, and a new headcount will be taken in September.

The bulk of district expenditures — 86 percent — go to employee salary and benefits.

Currently, a starting teacher in Palo Alto earns $51,422, with an additional benefit package worth $12,865. Under terms of the district's contract with the teachers union Palo Alto Educators Association, teachers work their way up based on seniority and units of graduate work, with salaries for senior teachers topping out at $103,836.

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at


Posted by Wow, a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Jul 2, 2012 at 10:41 am

Just a couple weeks ago, the teachers were clamoring for a bonus! Now we learn that starting salaries for effectively working 9 months (I know the school year is really 10 months but they get 2 weeks off at Christmas, a week off in the spring and LOTS of Holidays) is $51,422 plus benefits--equivalent to $61,706 (for working 12 months) for other new college grads. Let's hope they are hiring the BEST graduates out of the best schools to warrant that whopping salary.

Posted by Marie, a resident of Gunn High School
on Jul 2, 2012 at 11:28 am

Dear Wow,

Your ignorance is showing. You probably wouldn't last ONE week in today's classroom. We have to tolerant neurotic parents, spend our own money on supplies, and spend weekends doing lesson plans & correcting papers. If you did the math, we make about $2.50 per hour. Babysitters make more. Starbuck employees make more money. Your gardener probably gets better wages. Your nanny gets more money if you are paying her correctly for her time and having to deal with you & your offspring. Rent is this area takes about HALF of a typical teacher's salary. Add on gas, energy, food, and misc cost of living - agrand total of $2.50 per hour. Wow - Mr.Ms. Wow!

Posted by Mary, a resident of Gunn High School
on Jul 2, 2012 at 11:40 am

Attn: Ms/Mr. Wow of Los Altos:

The so-called "bonus" was a ONE TIME only gesture or sign of good faith. The average teacher would receive about $1000. Yes, $1000 or $100 monthly over a 10 month school year - $25 per week - $5 per school day. You cannot fill up your gas tank for less than $50. The typical sandwich will cost one about $6.00 w/o a drink or chips. PAUSD teachers have gone w/o a raise for 3 years. Neighboring school districts have given their staff annual raises. PAUSD is no longer the "lighthouse" district. The light has gone out.

Posted by in a bubble, a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 2, 2012 at 11:41 am

"Let's hope they are hiring the BEST graduates out of the best schools to warrant that whopping salary. "

It's not that easy when several neighboring districts pay even more.

Posted by Palo Verde Parent, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 2, 2012 at 12:23 pm

We are losing many great young high school teachers to Los Altos and Mountain View High, where the starting salary is almost 11K more than PAUSD - $62,102 and their top salary is $117K vs $103K in PAUSD.

Posted by Neighbor, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 2, 2012 at 12:27 pm

@Marie -- Although I believe good teachers are worth their weight in gold, you do not help your case by stating that it comes down to $2.50 an hour or that Starbucks employees make more. That just isn't accurate.

It is also important to recognize that Palo Alto has the highest parcel tax in the area and some of the highest contributions by parent groups as well. So when there is some money left over in the budget, it seems rather self-serving to want to spend it, rather than recognize the uncertainty of funding for the district or the sacrifice of some residents in paying this parcel tax. Remember, the parcel tax is exactly the same for everyone, thus those in a small condo pay the same as those, much wealthier residents, who live in multi-million dollar homes, which means it is not an insignificant sum for some tax-payers. This doesn't mean you aren't appreciated, it just means that knowing that the average 2011 salary for Palo Alto teachers was just under $78,000/year; the highest salary was $111,000/year suggests reasonable compensation. The 12-month equivalents are $93,600/year and $133,200, respectively. Yes, many in Palo Alto are wealthy, but there are many, many residents who don't come close to those earnings. There are also many who have not seen raises in years.

Bottom line? Of course teachers deserve good salaries, but these are difficult times and money is limited. To complain that others "wouldn't last a week" is irrelevant. There are many jobs in which some would not last a week, either because it's not a good match, it's too physically demanding, it requires too many hours, or whatever. We all try to choose a profession we value, and I'm assuming that's why teachers teach.

Posted by Maya, a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 2, 2012 at 7:57 pm

@ WOw, Really? Have you tried living on $61, $71, $81,000 a year? Don't forget taxes now. That will diminish any meager salary. And if you have a family, kids, well it's hard. The 2 weeks off and "9 months" thing is just BS. Get with the times. Teachers work their behinds off, year 'round whether you are aware of it or not. Planning, grading, cleaning, buying, tutoring, translating, meeting, teaching, developing, helping, learning, and on and on and on. They just don't go around b******* about it in public. One thing schools always need, is help. There are all kinds of volunteer positions available for the public. (As long as you pass an FBI screening). So before you write 1 more word slamming teachers and insinuate that they are over paid, spend an hour, a day, a week in a classroom at a school, whatever you can handle. I guarantee by the end of it you will be amazed that anybody is willing to do the "job" for so little pay!

Posted by no raise, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 2, 2012 at 9:16 pm

If the teachers get a raise or any bonus during these hard times, i will never vote for another parcel tax again. Shame on them.

If you think you'll make more at Starbucks, go work there.

Posted by sowhat, a resident of another community
on Jul 3, 2012 at 1:16 pm

the rest of us salaried silicon valley workers put in at least as much overtime as teachers but without the three months/yr off, without union protection, without tenure, and with new workers coming in from overseas to compete every day. we applaud teachers but they don't seem to realize that we are all workers in a down economy and many of us don't know whether our jobs will be there tomorrow

Posted by Silvio, a resident of Community Center
on Jul 3, 2012 at 10:38 pm

Lets not forget that our moonbeam governor considers dollars spent on education to be poorly spent. He wants to force CA residents to fund his high speed rail project, very likely to cost the state hundreds of billions of dollars (principal and interest) to build, and several billion every year to operate because it will never be the financial fountain of youth Gov Moonbeam keeps promising it will be. Since the rail project has to be funded by bonds, borrowed money, that bond debt has to be be paid first, before anything else in the state budget, including funds for education.

In the end, CA will end up with a train few will use, will burden the tax payers for decades to come, and will push CA schools to the bottom of the heap when compared nationally. I think when Jerry was Gov the first time around, CA schools were still considered among the very best in the country. Now, they are considered some of the worst. I think he wants to make sure they are the very worst when he leaves office.

Oh yes, that tax package he wants passed, conveniently it raises just about the same amount of money the CA high speed rail people insist they need to get thing going. A coincidence? I think not. We're being asked to tax ourselves into a hole to pay for Jerry's ego stroking train.

Lets not forget that Rich Gordon, and quite possibly Joe Simitian, are lock step with the Gov on this; schools bad, train good.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 5, 2012 at 10:12 am

Marie - Many of our teachers work really hard, especially the elementary teachers. However, there is no excuse for any of our teachers to be using their own money for supplies. The PTA's usually give every teacher some money up front and if you need something, ask for it (I'm not talking about SmartBoards, more like paper, notebooks, etc.)

If you have taught a subject for a while - why are you working on lesson plans? Can't you reuse/modify previous years?

I agree that the PA parents are often a pain and I wouldn't last a day in the classroom.

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