This month, our new Superintendent, Dr. Max McGee, has been going around to each school hosting a "Second Cup of Coffee" event to introduce himself and meet parents and teachers at every school. I have attended coffees at Gunn, Hays, and Duveneck so far, and parents have been impressed with his experience, warmth, and excitement about the future of education here in Palo Alto. These coffees continue through October, so check your enews to see when Max is coming to your school.
FOCUS ON WRITING: More than a hundred teachers have now been professionally trained by Columbia Teachers College on teaching writing skills to elementary students across all grade levels. The Executive Director of Columbia Teachers College also came to our district to train our elementary principals, who observed classrooms at Palo Verde Elementary School, a pilot site of the Teachers College program. All K-5 teachers, principals, and TOSAs (Teachers on Special Assignment, Literacy) spent two days calibrating papers on a scoring rubric to understand progression of writing skills across the K-5 continuum. Staff collaborated across all schools with the support of Google Hangout and Skype. A second assessment is planned for April, to discuss student growth over the year.
ENROLLMENT REPORT: There was a decrease in elementary school enrollment this year of -131 students. This is also the last year of implementation for the State Kindergarten Law, which requires that all students entering school be 5-years old by Sept. 1st. Next year, we expect an increase in elementary enrollment, as we will be back to a 12-month cohort of students. Our middle school growth is 165. Our high school growth is 15. Our total enrollment growth this year is 49, bringing our district total to 12,532 students. Superintendent McGee would like to reconvene/convene an Enrollment Growth Committee this year to re-analyze district needs. Our middle schools are at or near capacity and will most likely need to accommodate students using modular classrooms for the next few years. Seven of our twelve elementary schools are now larger than 450 students. Most of our growth is in the south cluster of schools. 2.4% of our students (132) are overflowed to another school, mostly within their cluster (69). To read the comprehensive enrollment report, click here and download the Sept. 23rd packet.
BUDGET: This month, the Board approved the first revisions to the 2014-2015 PAUSD Budget. We budgeted a 3% property tax growth projection for this year's budget, and the latest estimate from the county shows a 6.36% growth (around $4.3 million) over 2013-2014 actual revenue. About $1.1 million will be absorbed by the deficit at budget adoption. Plans for the additional revenue include a balance of employee compensation and program needs. Unfortunately, there are other financial concerns to consider as we plan the budget. There is a $74 billion shortfall in pension costs in our State, so the Governor has decided school districts will need to increase contributions to CALSTRS (Teacher's Retirement Fund) from the current 8.25% to 19.1% in 2020. This is an increase of about $2.1 million per year, which means that about 1.5% of every year's property tax growth will go to pension costs. Currently, we need about 2% property tax growth each year for our "rollover" budget. With this new additional burden, we will need about 3-4% property tax growth to secure our "rollover" budget.
ONE MORE SOBERING FINANCIAL NOTE: Even though our per-pupil spending has increased about 5% over the past six years, enrollment has increased about 11% and the CPI (inflation) has increased 13%. Since we are a "community-funded" district that relies heavily on property taxes (about 72% of our revenue), we do NOT receive any additional funding from the State for enrollment growth. In fact, the $7.4 million "fair share" reduction we lost during the economic downturn in 2008 was made permanent by the new State funding formula (LCFF).
OFFICE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS (OCR) UPDATE: Superintendent McGee has committed to providing a monthly update on all OCR cases, until they are resolved. (There are currently two pending cases and nine closed cases.) One of the district's focused goals this year is to, "anticipate, respond, and promptly resolve potentially distracting and disruptive issues in order to maintain focus on the District's vision..." In the spirit of transparency, Dr. McGee submitted a packet of materials that supports the Board's June 2014 Resolution to "pursue a just review and remedy of errors made by the Office for Civil Rights" in one of the closed cases, and a more general call for "fair, prompt, and reviewable investigation practices" of the Office for Civil Rights. Included in the packet are specific recommendations for improving collaboration between school districts and the Office for Civil Rights. To see all the materials, click HERE and download the Sept. 23rd packet.
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