School board eyes further budget cuts | March 10, 2017 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 10, 2017

School board eyes further budget cuts

Board members look for ways to save without harming students' education

by Elena Kadvany

As the Palo Alto Board of Education tries to close the district's multi-milion dollar budget shortfall, the board is pushing school-district staff to identify further administrative cuts and find creative ways of saving money that will have the least impact on students' education.

Staff presented a list of $3.8 million potential budget cuts on Tuesday, which most board members characterized as good progress toward having more options on the table to evaluate. The list is in addition to $3.6 million in proposed budget cuts that the board discussed last month.

In many ways, the trustees urged staff to think more creatively in coming up with additional savings. Board member Todd Collins brought his own list of possible reductions, from reallocating reserve funds designated for opening a new elementary school into the operating fund to rolling back automatic raises given to senior managers and administrators. President Terry Godfrey asked staff to be more "forward-looking" when it comes to forecasting the single largest item in the district's budget — teacher compensation — in terms of what other districts are paying their teachers. Melissa Baten Caswell reiterated a request for the district to find ways to be more operationally effective.

Board member Ken Dauber said: "I think we are not yet there in terms of demonstrating to the community, really, that we have cut away from the classroom sufficiently so that the next right move is to cut into the educational mission of the district."

On the staff proposals, board members agreed that some are low-hanging fruit that they support, such as cutting back on weekend landscaping or reducing the district's contract with a local continuation high school to the actual number of seats needed, for example. Others, however, cut too close to the classroom for some board members' comfort.

Dauber said he opposed a proposal to not hire three additional teachers to help reduce class sizes at the high schools, which would save the district $375,000. Collins urged the creation of a formal class-size policy that would guide such decisions, rather than making incremental budget-driven changes.

Dauber also said he would not support a reduction in the district's contracts with Asian Americans for Community Involvement and Stanford University to provide counseling services to students and families. (The reduction would retain these services only at the district's high schools.)

Caswell asked staff to provide more information on where these services fit in with the district's other on-campus counseling and psychological-support programs.

Board member Jennifer DiBrienza, a former teacher, said she was most concerned about a proposal to reduce the number of teachers on special assignments (TOSA) as well as to cut stipends for instructional supervisors, or department leads, at schools. Staff argued on Tuesday that these teacher-leadership positions are "essential" to the mission of the district — they drive professional development, guide implementation of new textbooks and standards, serve as instructional models for teachers in classrooms and are pushing forward ambitious districtwide goals, like increasing consistency among grading practices, homework and curriculum.

"These are things that appear to be administrative and yet they are very close to the classroom," DiBrienza said of the TOSA and instructional supervisor positions.

And while Dauber and Collins pressed for more administrative cuts overall — Dauber said he expected to see about $2 or $2.5 million in reductions at the district office, about double what was proposed Tuesday — DiBrienza echoed staff concerns about the harm this could have. On Tuesday, Superintendent Max McGee recommended keeping $952,000 out of $1.1 million in proposed district-office cuts to avoid a point where "our infrastructure would start to crumble."

"We need to listen to the professionals," DiBrienza said. "I am really concerned we are near that tipping point, and I want to make sure we don't cross over the tipping point."

Caswell said it was difficult for her to make a "value judgment" about the amount of administrative cuts without more detailed explanation of their specific consequences.

Board members' other suggestions for savings included reviewing clerical positions, trimming a budget for conference travel expenses and using reserves for one-time costs, such as managing compliance with a federal Office for Civil Rights resolution agreement. Collins also floated proposals to find programs and activities that could possibly be consolidated with those of the county or other school districts; to consider consolidating elementary schools, given declining enrollment; and to roll back full-day kindergarten, which was launched this fall at all elementary schools.

"We need to dig deeper," Collins said. "We're still finding things. It's not surprising because it takes a long time to change your thinking. ... That's why we have these meetings — to challenge our thinking, to challenge staff's thinking, to hear from the community and really try to think out of the box a little bit."

Staff will bring budget recommendations to the board for further discussion in late April. The board will also have to weigh potential cuts against an estimated $1.6 million addition in costs of new programs and other efforts.

The district plans to schedule a public forum to solicit further feedback on the 2017-18 budget in the next few weeks.


Which programs and positions should the Palo Atlo school district keep, and which could it cut, for the upcoming school year? Share your ideas on Town Square, the community discussion forum, at

Staff Writer Elena Kadvany can be emailed at


Posted by disgusted, a resident of another community
on Mar 7, 2017 at 9:01 pm

Suggestion: Conduct an anonymous and fair survey of teachers. Expected result---80-90% of teachers would probably say their teaching efficacy wouldn't be impacted by a loss of TOSAS in light of this severe budget deficit. From my vantage point, they seem barely helpful except to novice/struggling teachers, or TOSAS are okay if teacher doesn't have real curriculum to teach that day, or it can work if teacher is trying to earn principal brownie points. Definitely not necessary. Don't see any advantage/difference to my kids' learning. Focus on what these hard-working teachers need and want. End the deception. Stop trying to disguise board/district office efforts to preserve the grossly inflated staff at the the district office level (in the form of enormous numbers of TOSAS, among other positions) as something teachers need or want.

Posted by Bryan, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 8, 2017 at 11:56 am

Can't believe Zuck doesn't pony up the dough for the good of the kids. Shame on him! [braced for the FB hasbara]

Posted by Private Parent, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 8, 2017 at 12:42 pm

And here we see why DiBrienza was a bad choice for school board. She is defending teachers and administrators, rather than finding things to cut and serving the district's tax payers.

We are over spending. We have to fix it.

Posted by Ponu, a resident of Ohlone School
on Mar 18, 2017 at 8:38 am

A lean environment makes people save better. But where there is excess fat and lazy thrive.

Posted by Wayoflife, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 18, 2017 at 9:21 am

Leave the teachers alone! Make staff cuts in all depts for lack of work and conduct mandatory drug testing yearly. Where idle hands are lurk bad thinking and doing. Drain the swamp at PAUSD. $$ukaberg isn't the answer. You've already tried that, and now grades and mental health are an issue. Know this, a humble lowly person, knows not the conciet that is high as his wealth. Peace

Posted by Wiser , a resident of Community Center
on Mar 18, 2017 at 9:37 am

Too many people not doing work is a sure sign that there is not enough to do.
IMHO reducing staff by half is a beginning. Only employ as many as needed. It wasn't that long ago the machine ran just as good.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 18, 2017 at 10:53 pm

Sorry, but I will not trust this Board again with an ability to make sensible financial decisions.

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