BY ELAINE GOODMAN
Daily Post Correspondent
The Palo Alto Unified School District budget is facing a double whammy from COVID-19: At the same time the district is losing some of its state funding due to the pandemic’s economic impacts, it must spend more to protect students and staff from the respiratory disease.
As a result, PAUSD is looking at slashing 26 positions, for a savings of $4.2 million, under a plan the school board reviewed Tuesday night. Positions on the chopping block include eight classroom teachers, the district’s sustainability program manager, a custodial supervisor and a dean at Fletcher Middle School.
One example of how the district will spend more as a result of COVID-19 is a plan to increase the number of hours a day worked by bus drivers, from five to seven. The drivers may have added responsibilities in the fall, such as cleaning out the inside of buses or taking students’ temperatures as they board, district officials said during Tuesday’s board meeting.
Two shifts at elementary schools possible
Students may take longer to board buses due to social distancing requirements, officials said, and if the district goes through with plans to run elementary schools in two shifts each day, that will mean double the number of trips for bus drivers.
The cost to increase bus drivers’ hours in the new school year would be $165,000, the district said. In another COVID-19 related cost, the district expects to spend $500,000 to reconfigure schools for reopening in the fall.
On the revenue side, the governor’s office last week projected a $53.4 billion deficit for the state. As a result, PAUSD is expecting a 10% reduction, or $1 million, in what’s called Minimum State Aid.
The school district is in the process of hammering out a budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year, which begins on July 1.
Revenue for the new fiscal year is projected at $261.9 million, and expenses are estimated at $263.4 million, for a budget shortfall of $1.5 million. The shortfall already factors in the savings from the 26 eliminated positions.
Two new programs spared
So far, the school board is not planning to trim two new programs, one focused on special education and the other on students with dyslexia. The district plans an additional $688,121 in spending next fiscal year for the special ed program and $325,000 for the dyslexia program.
“Because these are new programs, the special ed expansion and the dyslexia work that we’re doing, I don’t want those to necessarily be the first ones to go. We committed to them for a reason,” said board member Jennifer DiBrienza.
City to lease less space at Cubberley
The PAUSD budget is also being hit by the city of Palo Alto’s decision to lease less space at Cubberley Community Center, which means $2.5 million in lost revenue to the school district. The school board voted Tuesday to move forward with an agreement with the city regarding Cubberley.
Superintendent Don Austin noted that the district did not ask to get the space back, but said that it might come in handy.
“There’s no doubt that there is some space there that can benefit our district, especially at a time when social distancing is an issue,” Austin said. “And we may need to do some development of online programs. It’s going to help us in that regard.”
The city is working to terminate leases it has with any tenants in Cubberley space, Austin said, and the district could have it back as soon as July 1.
Whether the district will lease the space at Cubberley to others remains to be seen, he said.