On Aug. 23, the Board of Education reached an informal consensus that approximately $3.3 million and $4.1 million in budget cuts must be made this school year and the following year, respectively.
The Board decided on these numbers based on a projection of the City of Palo Alto’s property tax growth rates over the next five years. The conservative stance that the Board plans to take makes the assumption that greater cuts would need to be made to the budget than alternative predictions of the property tax growth rates suggest. By following a conservative budget-reduction plan, the district may find itself in a preferable position to the one they would be in if they used a more liberal model.
“I like the most conservative of the budgeting options because it would be much better for me to hear good news [that the district has extra money] than to be struggling again in this position a year or two down the line,” said Board Member Melissa Baten Caswell.
All Board members, with the exception of Terry Godfrey, informally agreed that the conservative model is more realistic than the liberal models. However, while Godfrey said that she prefers the more moderate liberal proposal, she seemed willing to get behind the more conservative model as well.
At their next meeting on Sept. 13, the Board will have to finalize their decision regarding which budget-reduction plan to follow. The conservative budget model seems most probable at this time.
While the Board will need to make cuts to avoid shutting down certain programs entirely, all members of the Board stressed the need to not touch the classroom.
“My number one priority is that we keep cuts away from the classroom as much as possible. People don’t move here for the beautiful views. They move here for the schools and it is our responsibility to keep the academic program excellent and all the programs around that academic program excellent.”
Board Member Melissa Baten Caswell
One potential strategy that the Board is looking into to decrease spending is reducing the operations budget — costs such as lights, water and school supplies. Another strategy proposed by Camille Townsend is to review whether to replace positions after a staff member leaves. This solution gained a lot of traction at the meeting because it would allow the Board to reduce expenses while not making cuts to the classroom.
Ankit Ranjan, Gunn High School’s Student Board Representative, suggested looking for nickel and dime ways to reduce the operations budget. Superintendent Max McGee expressed enthusiasm for this idea, citing previous success with similar approaches.
“We can save money with paper costs if we all did our packets electronically,” McGee said. “We saved $600,000 in utilities in energy savings [last year]. We can commit to a certain level [of operational savings] with some analysis of the operational budget.”
In order to make these reductions the Board requested that a comprehensive list of expenditures be available by their next meeting on Sept. 13. A finalized plan for how to deal with the budget problem is expected at the Sept. 27 meeting.
Corrections: An earlier version of this story falsely attributed Melissa Baten Caswell’s quote about conservative budgeting to Terry Godfrey, and Terry Godfrey’s opinions about which models to use to Melissa Baten Caswell