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District tackles budget problems

After much public discourse as to the proper route to solve Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD)’s $3.9 million budget shortfall, staff have proposed some specific line items to cut.

Three potential lists of budget cuts were proposed, one list (List A) showing proposed cuts, another (List B) showing potential cuts and a third  (List C) showing cuts not currently being recommended.

However, due to a proposed cut that received blowback from members of the public and a renewed commitment to end meetings by the established 10 p.m. time, many potential cuts were not discussed.

With the Elementary Arts Coordinator Sharon Ferguson retiring, staff saw an opportunity to make cuts by consolidating her position with the Music Coordinator position. This proposal drew the criticisms of many people in attendance.

“Our kids come into middle school having been trained in the elementary program by the SPECTRA art teachers, fostered by the leadership of the person in [the Arts Coordinator] position,” said Paul Gralin, a Jordan Middle School arts teacher. “It is absolutely crucial that that person is a visual arts person with content specific knowledge about what they are doing in that area.”

All five Board members listened to the public’s complaints and opposed the proposition.

“If this were a question of scheduling or paperwork, then [we could consolidate the positions], but when we are talking about the work that this role has played in mentoring artists who don’t necessarily have the pedagogical knowledge of what is  appropriate or relevant that’s where I get concerned,” said Board member Jennifer DiBrienza.

Also in question is a proposal to cut the $375,000 set aside to hire more teachers in case of higher than expected enrollment at the high schools for the 2017-18 school year. Some question this proposal as class sizes are expected to increases at the high schools over the next four years.

Board member Todd Collins proposed dipping into the reserve fund that the Board had previously set aside for opening a new school, a proposal that the Board has since rejected.

“There is going to be so much pressure on class sizes and we’re never going to know the exact enrollment numbers before August or September,” Collins said. “There’s always going to be pressure and it’s going to be easier to let those class sizes slip up.”

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