Welcome back to the 2016-17 school year! I hope you all had a wonderful summer with your families. I managed to arrange a sleepaway camp for both my kids at the same time for two weeks, which was a terrific experience for them and us! The summer felt a bit short overall, however, since the district got an unpleasant surprise in July. More on that in the "Budget Shortfall" item below. Before we get to that, I wish you all a very joyful year, filled with engaging, meaningful learning experiences for each and every student in our PAUSD community.
CAMPAIGN UPDATE: It's official! There is a competitive race for the Palo Alto School Board this Fall, with six people vying for three spots. I have decided to run for re-election and I would appreciate your support. It's been an honor to serve you for the past four years as Board Member, Vice-President, and current President of the School Board. I've consistently been impressed with the district's commitment to providing the highest quality education to every student, every day. Palo Alto is passionate about education and we need experienced School Board members who understand trends in education reform, complexities of educational funding, enrollment fluctuations, and the ongoing challenge of integrating high academic achievement with social, intellectual, and ethical learning. As an Educator and parent of two children enrolled in our excellent public schools (at Terman Middle School and Gunn High School), I look forward to continuing to work hard in partnership with teachers, families, and the amazing Palo Alto community to challenge and support our students to become the next generation of great thinkers, innovators, and leaders.
HEIDI'S KICK-OFF EVENT: Are you passionate about Palo Alto public schools? Then join me on Sunday, September 11th from 2-4pm at Scott Street Mini Park (Channing Avenue at Scott Street) for good food, drinks, and lively conversation. Come hear about my experiences on the School Board and find out more about my priorities for the next four years. Share your thoughts and ideas, and ask your burning questions. Event is FREE and open to the public and there will be special surprise guests. Please RSVP on my website HERE or on the FACEBOOK EVENT page. Some folks assume that incumbents don't need to run a competitive campaign. We absolutely do! I take this responsibility very seriously and ask you to please take a brief moment right now to make a DONATION of ANY amount to my re-election campaign. Together, we can WIN on November 8th!
School Board Update
BUDGET SHORTFALL: In July, the district received a less than anticipated tax increase. Historically, we base our budget projections on the monthly trend data from the County Assessor's office. On June 1, we received Real Property Roll Growth projections of 8.62% (the district's estimate was right on target at 8.67%). On July 1, we received the updated Real Property Roll Growth projections, which came in at 5.34%, a huge drop of 3.28%. This unfortunate surprise is attributed to several factors, one being the increased exemptions provided to Stanford Hospital as they construct the new hospital buildings. This is a 4-year accelerated building program and exemptions have increased exponentially to $9.1 billion this year. Because Stanford files the exemption paperwork from February through June, we don't get the final numbers until July 1. At the same time, the Board and Superintendent worked with Teacher's Union Leadership to draft a historic and innovative multi-year contract. Rather than pay teachers retroactively for the year they just worked, we will now be settling contracts prior to beginning the school year. This innovation would never have been attempted in a soft economy year, but since we believed we were in an excellent financial position based on all economic indicators, we signed the agreement. Luckily, because of Chief Business Officer Cathy Mak's conservative budgeting and on the advice of our attorneys, we built in "trigger" language that if the property tax revenue came in at 1.5% above or below estimates, the automatic "off-schedule" bonus would be rescinded for the 2016-17 school year, and the third year of the contract (2017-18) would be re-opened for negotiations. This means that the original difference in property tax revenue of $5.2 million was instantly reduced to $3.7 million. The total budget for PAUSD is $230 million.
BUDGET MITIGATIONS: After seeing the July property tax revenue numbers, I called together the Board for the first of five meetings we will have on mitigating this budget shortfall. The first Board Study Session happened on July 27th to help the Board understand more about the budget planning process, the contributing factors to the shortfall, and initial thoughts on how to move forward with mitigations. Read the July 27th packet HERE. Our second meeting was during the Fall School Board Retreat, where the district presented the initial multi-year projection scenarios, discussed a two year timeline for eliminating the shortfall, and discussed initial thoughts on specific solutions for the 2016-17 school year. Read the Aug. 11th packet HERE. The third meeting we had on the budget was during our first regular Board meeting of the 2016-17 school year. Read the packet from Aug. 23rd HERE. We discussed revised multi-year projections, more conservative budgeting scenarios, and came to consensus on certain aspects of the plan moving forward--specifically, to use Bond funds for our Technology Refresh this year (this is specifically authorized in the Bond expenditures language), and NOT to dip into our Basic Aid reserves fund. The State mandates that districts protect 3% of their budget in reserves. However, our School Board has a policy that mandates that we keep our Basic Aid reserve at 10% because we are so reliant on property tax revenue (77% of our overall revenue). Our final two meetings about mitigations for the 2016-17 year will be on Sept. 13th and Sept. 27th, during regular Board meetings. The Board requested that the Superintendent provide a list of recommended adjustments and potential cuts at the Sept. 13th session, along with the most current enrollment and class size data. Over the next few months, we will reach out to the community for input on longer-term structural decisions that will be made for the 2017-18 school year. This is a unique opportunity to evaluate the programs we have added to our district over the past four years and decide how to prioritize our resources to maximize the benefit to students.
FOCUSED GOALS: During our Fall Board Retreat on August 11th and again at our first meeting on August 23rd, the Board and Superintendent created Focused Goals for the 2016-17 school year. Dr. McGee outlined three areas of focus: High Quality Teaching and Learning, Equity and Access, and Wellness and Safety. For each of these areas, there are inputs (the work of the district), intermediate outcomes (expected this year), and long-term outcomes (over the next five years). Each deliverable is tied to the PAUSD Strategic Plan. To read about the specific inputs and outcomes, click HERE for the packet from our August 23rd meeting.
EPI-AID PRELIMINARY REPORT: At our August 23rd meeting, the Board heard from Dr. Sara Cody and Dr. Pam Stoddard about the preliminary results from the CDC's Epi-Aid Study, facilitated by Santa Clara County Dept. of Public Health. Objectives include studying the epidemiology and trends in suicidal behaviors in our County, examining the effects of media coverage on youth suicides, comparing suicide prevention policies, activities, and protocols used in the community with evidence-based and national recommendations, and making recommendations for further prevention strategies to implement at the school, city, and county levels. This is an interesting report with a lot of useful data and initial guidance. One interesting statistic to note is that the suicide rate in the 10 year period studied for youth aged 10-24 in Santa Clara County (5.4 per 100,000) was very similar to the suicide rate for the State of California (5.3 per 100,000) and similar to our neighboring counties: San Mateo (5.6 per 100,000), Santa Cruz (5.3 per 100,000) and Alameda (5.0 per 100,000). Highest county suicide rates were Mendocino (16.2 per 100,000), Humboldt (12.5 per 100,000) and Lake (15.2 per 100,000). To read the preliminary report and recommendations, click HERE.
SCHOOL VISITS AND COMMITTEE/STATEWIDE MEETINGS: I was eager to visit my liaison schools on the first day of the 2016-17 school year. I brought some sweet treats to Fairmeadow, El Carmelo, Nixon, and Jordan. The campuses were humming with excitement and I enjoyed greeting parents, teachers, and Principals who were all thrilled to welcome students back to school. My colleague Terry Godfrey and I also drove up to Sacramento for the California Assoc. of Suburban Schools meeting, where we heard about key legislation affecting schools this year. The State Board of Education is also close to completing its rubrics for the new accountability system for California public education. This will replace the API scores that we've used in past years as a benchmark for excellence in student achievement. Stay tuned for more information as I receive it.
KUDOS TO PAUSD! Niche came out with their 2016 Best Public Elementary Schools ratings and all twelve Palo Alto Elementary Schools were ranked in the top 25 elementary schools in the State of California (including every spot in the top 10!). See the report HERE. Newsweek came out with its top 500 High School rankings for 2016 and Paly ranked 331st nationally and Gunn ranked 253rd nationally, both with a 97% graduation rate. See the report HERE. PAUSD is a destination district not only for families, but for excellent teachers. I was honored to welcome our newest (and largest) teacher cohort for the 2016-17 school year--more than 100 teachers gathered at JLS for breakfast and orientation just before school began. Everyone was excited to be joining the PAUSD family.
Thank you, as always, for the opportunity to serve as your elected School Board representative. It's been a tremendous, worthwhile, fulfilling learning experience over the past four years and I look forward to continuing to work hard on your behalf for another four years, if re-elected in November! (YOU make the difference--DONATE today if you can!)