School board conflicted over upcoming budget cuts


    The Palo Alto Unified School District School Board of Education is aiming to finalize its budget plan for the 2017-18 school year shortly after passing multiple motions during a meeting Tuesday morning.

    The board will have another meeting on the subject on Feb. 28, where it will go over a list of all potential budget cuts to the central administration by Supt. Max Mcgee .

    Over the course of the last year the board incurred a budget shortfall of $4.2 million. Since the recent election, board members have been drafting ideas for a comprehensive plan to create a new budget that also takes into account last year’s shortcomings.

    Though the board has already identified $3.4 million in approved cost reductions for this year, it still faces significant challenges while determining the new budget. During the recent meeting McGee emphasized his desire to continue to fund a variety of social, emotional and academic programs. This will be made difficult by the rising financial needs of groups that provide these programs to students, such as Palo Alto Community Child Care.

    Many proposed budget adjustments involve reducing funds that directly feed into the classroom, such as defunding field trip transportation at the elementary level. The board as a whole conveyed a preference for avoiding “classroom cuts” such as these.

    Board member Ken Dauber initiated a motion at the recent meeting that was intended to discover ways to cut “administrative costs.” These expenses only encompass those originating from the central administration, such as wages of those who work in the district office. Dauber initially proposed a target of $1.8 million in cuts, and this number was later increased to $2 million with support of board member Todd Collins and McGee.

    Under Dauber’s motion McGee is required to provide a list of possible administrative cuts, including the estimated amount saved as well as the negative impacts of the decision.

    According to Dauber, it is the duty of the board to ensure that the high standard of education held by the district is not diminished by budget cuts.

    “We really need to reach a point where we can be assured that the next dollar of cuts does not come from the educational mission of the district,” Dauber said.

    Dauber said the board is handling the budget issue with urgency; however, time is still required to carefully review any proposed budget cuts.

    “I can’t assure the community that the educational cuts that we’re making are necessary until I can see the pain of these cuts of the administration is higher than cutting from the teachers and students,” Dauber said.

    Although the motion was approved by four out of the five board members — Terry Godfrey left the meeting early — board member Jennifer DiBrienza expressed uncertainty towards the idea of drastically reducing administrative costs.

    “We have 17 different school sites, and without a strong central administration we’re just 17 little islands,” DiBrienza said. “It all impacts the classroom in some way.”

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