Pali High Budgets and Tradeoffs

I am responding to the Post article from Oct. 11, regarding the Palisades Charter High School budget and possible changes to the transportation allocation.

As a parent of three Pali High students and a past board trustee and parent representative to the Pali Board, I am fortunate to have a fairly unique and in-depth view of Pali’s budget and can perhaps offer some insights.

Pali High is by no means perfect, but it continues to grow as an institution. It is lauded yearly as among the best charter schools in California and ranks among the top schools in the entire U.S. This is fact, not anecdote.

And, as a result, student acceptance rates to the better universities and colleges are at levels unsurpassed by most other area schools—public and private. What is most remarkable is that Pali does this while serving among the broadest of constituents and needs of any school in the state.

Pali excels at academics, athletics, the arts, other extracurricular programs, and services for special needs, unity and mental health, and does all of this while embracing students from over 100 zip codes; and it does so on an incredibly constrained State of California Education budget.

The most recent debate centers on Pali’s budget and decreasing support for the transportation needs of commuting students. The argument is that to decrease support is patently unfair, that the funds are readily available and that to lessen support will negatively impact the diversity that is such a key part of Pali’s success.

There is no doubt that providing support to students in need is a very high priority for the school and that the school’s diversity is one of its core strengths. But, there is some confusion as to the facts.

Here are some facts:

Pali serves the needs of its student body on a budget cobbled together from local and state sources. However, of the $35 million in this year’s budget, nearly 90 percent is already dedicated, based upon contractual to statutory and other predetermined requirements (such as salaries, insurance and utilities). This leaves just over 10 percent that is even somewhat discretionary.

From those funds, Pali supports initiatives that will put more teachers and aides in the classroom, keep pace with new technology and increase campus security, a critical need given our changing world. And, this does not include a previously unknown $330,000 billing foisted upon Pali by LAUSD for “school maintenance.”

Amazingly, Pali will still spend $712,000 this year—nearly 20 percent of its entire discretionary budget—to help commuters defray or eliminate the costs of transportation. And, this will be a 3.3 percent increase from last year.

Unfortunately, as more students need transportation support and the cost of commuting rises, this will mean that some will receive less support or none at all.

It is important to note that the complaints to the administration have centered on the assertion that Pali has more funds available. This is simply not true.

Increase transportation spending any further and the funds will come dollar for dollar from one of the following: the teacher/aide fund (which will hurt class size), technology or security. There are simply no other discretionary funds available. This is a fact of life in a public charter school and is particularly true given the expansive requirements of an institution striving for broad-based excellence with such a diverse community.

Pali High still has its challenges and it should be held accountable to continue to drive excellence across all areas. However, the school houses among the most talented and in-demand faculty and administration in the city—public or private—and these folks continue to work together to provide a remarkable offering to over 3,000 students that is recognized year in and year out as among the best in the nation.

The current budget debate is not about fairness. Instead, it is about budgetary constraints and tradeoffs. But in this case, the school’s priorities of emphasizing more faculty, technology and security are absolutely not misplaced.

Robert Rene