News

District starts prepping for Basic Aid status

Mountain View Whisman trustees reconsider class size, school boundaries

Local elementary and middle school students could see changes in their class size and possibly re-drawn school boundaries as Mountain View Whisman School District trustees and administrators reevaluate their policies as a Basic Aid district.

While revising policies like these happens every year, rising enrollment and the district's Basic Aid status -- where funding is based largely on property taxes regardless of the number of students -- are shaking things up.

On top of this, the district faces steep cuts by the state -- over $1 million this year, with more on the way. At a district study session on Thursday, Sept. 17, chief financial officer Craig Goldman told the board they should revise policies keeping in mind that cuts will likely continue for the next three to five years.

During the session, trustees and administrators, speaking before a small group of teachers, parents and members of the public, gave their preferences for how they would like to see policies change.

As for enrollment, especially in the younger grades, Goldman suggested one option might be to increase class sizes from kindergarten to third grade. In the past, state funding has helped with class size reduction, but considering the current circumstances, that may need to change, he said.

"I begin to buckle at more than 25 kids in K-3," said trustee Steve Olson. "I think it'd be a shame if we had to cross that threshold."

"My wish and planning would be is we keep class sizes as small as we can, given what comes down the pipe," said trustee Fiona Walter. She added that a physical library and computer lab must be "mandatory" at each campus, though art programming is more flexible because it doesn't require a specific classroom space.

As for redrawing school boundaries, trustees stayed committed to keeping schools diverse. Trustee Ellen Wheeler emphasized that education research says underserved students do better when surrounded by high achieving peers -- one reason so many children from the Castro neighborhood are currently bussed to other parts of the district.

Trustees discussed their wishes to honor inter-district transfers for families that already have a student attending school in the district, especially children in the Dual Immersion or Parent Child Teacher programs. They agreed that because of Basic Aid status, however, accepting new transfers will likely be off the table.

The district's Independent Study Program, which offers curricula and instructional help to families wishing to home school their children, could face termination due to the fact that, of the 50 participants in the program, only 15 live within district boundaries. If the bulk of students are cut from the program because of budget restraints and Basic Aid status, administrators said, it may not be fiscally possible to run the program for only a handful of students.

The administration will take the ideas from Thursday's study session and draw up initial proposals to be presented at the regular board meeting on Oct. 1.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Frances
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 22, 2009 at 5:32 pm

25 kids in K-3? That would be a damn shame.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Mother of 3
a resident of Whisman Station
on Sep 22, 2009 at 5:57 pm

The district can start saving money by slashing the sacred cow salaries and perks of the superintendent and assistant superintendents, and principals at the top end of the scale. 25-40% cuts across the board.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by another mother
a resident of North Whisman
on Sep 22, 2009 at 7:47 pm

They will do that as soon as you take 25-40% of your family income and give it to the school.

They have jobs and have been doing a good job. They cannot help that the State is taking money left & right.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 22, 2009 at 8:14 pm

Mandatory library and computer labs *are* critical to teaching kids useful skills for today's world but they do no good without staff to run them, maintain them and keep them functioning. A computer lab with a bunch of non-functioning machines and/or excessively obsolete software is useless, as is a library where the materials are decades old. Teachers aren't trained to maintain facilities like that (other than routine issues), nor do we want them using valuable teaching time to do so.


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Posted by parent
a resident of another community
on Sep 23, 2009 at 2:10 pm

We could start by eliminating perks such as a transportation stipend for a superintendent whose district is all of 4 miles from one end to the other.

And health insurance benefits for school board trustees?

Taxpayers, parents, and all concerned should insist that the district office take a long hard look at expenses OUTSIDE the classroom.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by observant parent
a resident of Monta Loma
on Sep 23, 2009 at 3:29 pm

More than 20 kids in K-2 seriously impacts the classroom environment. Having 25 kids in a classroom at this age would be very negative.

If the district feels compelled to have class sizes this large, it should make a very high priority of helping teachers cope with the situation. Unfortunately, the district tends to do the opposite--it imposes requirements on teachers that don't relate directly to what happens in the classroom.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Montia
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Sep 23, 2009 at 4:56 pm

Your wrong, another mom. It is the he state the has been taking money from us, the taxpayers, and in return we get schools that can't compete that are run by over-paid administrators.

In the meantime, you have to put your kids in private schools to guarantee them a quality education.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by No Growth
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Sep 24, 2009 at 6:37 am

They want to build more houses when the school district is under-performing? Let's get things right before building more.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Elaine
a resident of another community
on Sep 24, 2009 at 10:17 pm


I agree that the district administration is over paid. I also feel parents need to really examine how the district decides to spend money and how well they oversee the spending at each school site. We only hear about the budget cuts. Is the money being spent in the best way possible to benefit the STUDENTS?

Here is one example - look at the "GOAL" Program that is offered at Graham M.S. (it is on their website). The principal took away the concept of honor roll. Now it is a program that rewards all the students that make 4, 3 and even a 2 GPA. It also rewards those that raise their GPA .5 above their previous GPA so in essence, a student can earn an F and raise it to a D+ and receive rewards!

The rewards are in the form of a free tshirt, privileges, prizes, food events and fun field trips (non academic kinds like ice skating, bowling, playing at Shoreline, etc.) There are so many things wrong with this on so many levels!

First, they have now lowered the bar on honors - almost anyone in the school can obtain this recognition with little effort. In fact, I heard that many parents said their kids were demotivated to obtain straight As now since you can get as low as Cs with minimal effort and still qualify for "fun".

There are only a handful of students left at the school when all the students that qualify for the field trip leave - does the humiliation of not qualifying for this program really provide incentive to those kids to improve their grades or does it just cause further resentment?

Secondly, they are rewarding students by taking them out of school for these events. How many times have you heard the district tell us that there aren't enough teaching hours to improve scores?

Can the money be better spent? You bet it could. Last year I heard in a meeting that over 20K was spent on these rewards for the students. How do our tax dollars of this $20K really help our students and improve learning?

And the worst thing is that the Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent bless this program. We hear about budget cuts and needing more money and this is how they used valuable funds last year (when they knew budget cuts were on their way). This year the principal is asking the PTA to help fund this program because of budget cuts in varous funding. It is time for parents to question just how the money is being spent for our students and how it really benefits them - in the long run for their education, not just for fun.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Waverly Park
on Sep 25, 2009 at 4:52 pm

Elaine,

"The principal took away the concept of honor roll." Not as of last year, which was the first year of the GOAL program. It was separate from Honor Roll. There were still the 3 Honor Rolls, the highest for those with all A's. The other two honor rolls were always for kids who had A's and B's, and for kids who had some C's. These honor rolls have been in place for at least 6 years, so rewarding 2.0, 3.0 and 4.0 is not a new thing. What GOAL adds is that you also have to qualify based on attendance. Too many tardies or absences and even if you have a 4.0 you don't qualify. What this did last year was make Graham's attendance rate very high and steady, which was unusual, because it usually bounces around. I think it was something like a steady 96% last year, which is very high. So kids are not late, they are not missing school as much. They may take 2 or 3 days a year for a fun field trip, but if more of them are coming to school regularly, it's probably worth the tradeoff.

And, this isn't funded out of the general fund money as far as I know, but partly from PTA as you said (the field trips) and probably partly from the School Improvement Money that each Site Council gets to spend at their discretion. A lot of schools, maybe all, run special programs with that money. At Huff when the SSC was promoting reading, I remember all sorts of prizes, gift certificates, books, etc. for the kids who met certain reading goals.

As for the kids who don't care about getting a 4.0 because they can have "fun" anyway -- they probably weren't all that motivated for the 4.0 anyway. And the GOAL program recognizes the 4.0 kids with something extra each time, whether it's a Jamba Juice certificate, a book, something. My daughter was the opposite - she wanted the 4.0 so she could get the extra recognition and prize at the GOAL assembly, so I guess it can work both ways. Who knows how many kids are like mine, and how many are like the others?

Did you go to the principal's meeting where she discussed the test scores? They have gone up considerably. While the underserved groups (at Graham and just about everywhere else in the country) are still lagging behind the higher end groups, Graham made their AYP in all categories this year for the first time, because they made such significant gains in percentages of kids in each subgroup who scored proficient and above. Do you know for sure that GOAL wasn't part of that gain? Maybe yes, maybe no, they were doing other programmatic things last year as well. But I think it's worth trying it another year to see.

The schools are damned if they do try something new ("Spending too much money! Irresponsible! Idiots! Don't know what they are doing!") and damned if they don't ("Idiots! They never try anything creative! They just do the same old stuff and expect better results!").


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Kyle
a resident of Waverly Park
on Sep 25, 2009 at 4:59 pm

I agree with Elaine. The purpose of a goal should be something to strive for, for personal, inner satisfaction, not something to be rewarded, bought off, and paid for. It sets a terrible precedent. Furthermore, watering down an Honor roll is just watering down expectations of excellence. Let's not fool kids into thinking that making the C Honor roll is something to be proud of, especially given the low standards at Graham.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of Waverly Park
on Sep 26, 2009 at 8:40 pm

My husband and I made a $500 donation to help pay for the GOAL program at Graham Middle School this year and I couldn't disagree more with some comments above.

What is THE MOST IMPORTANT thing to every teenager who ever lived? You don't have to think very hard on this one....hanging out with their friends, of course. What is the best way to recognize students who work hard in class, get to school on time, and go to school every day? Reward them with some fun time with their friends, like bowling, ice skating, or paddling around in the boats at Shoreline Lake.

By the way, do you also realize how many of our middle school students at Graham had NEVER before been ice skating, bowling, or to Shoreline Lake? Plenty. If 40% of our kids are on free/reduced lunch, that's a lot of kids whose parents don't have the resources for the kind of fun outings that many of us take for granted.

Last year absences and tardies were greatly reduced because students saw that they would be rewarded (with something of value to THEM) for getting to school every day and on time. Students who may never get a 4.0 were rewarded for bringing up their grade point averages. Work harder at school, get better grades, do better on the mandatory tests, increase the school test scores, earn fun field trips with friends....sounds like a winning formula to me!

Hmmm, if you worked your bu** off at the office, which would you prefer? That the boss give you a nice certificate to hang above your desk, or that the boss treat the whole office to a nice dinner, a fun family picnic at the park, or a trip to Hawaii? LOL my husband has received all of the above from his employer, and I can assure you the trip to Hawaii and the nice dinners were a lot more fun than the framed certificate of appreciation.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Sue
a resident of Monta Loma
on Sep 27, 2009 at 8:27 am

Wow, I would disagree that "THE MOST IMPORTANT thing to every teenager who ever lived is....hanging out with their friends" IT IS DEFINITELY NOT IN MY HOUSEHOLD. It's hanging out with family and dong educational and growth related activities.

Schools should not be wasting valuable funds and resources responsible for rewarding standard expectations of behavior with time-consuming social trips. They are supposed to be educating students, but lately the MV schools seem to have lost sight of that fact.

You let it slip when you say that part of the reward process is that students are challenged to "increase school test scores." Really? Since when? Is this what is behind your comments. This carrot and stick approach led by the district is all designed to raise school-wide test scores? All to make it look as if these people are doing a great job? Now you are starting to sound like a district administrator troll working the message boards.

"Recognize students who work hard in class, get to school on time, and go to school every day?" Are you kidding me? This is square one and basic. If have have to reward kids to act responsibly or recognize the importance of just plain good habits, then you've got some problems on your hands.

And the comment "[when I] worked [my] bu** off at the office" I don't do it to be rewarded with a prize from my boss, I do it to advance professionally and achieve my goals all on my own, potentially to move on to start my own company." I don't put a lot of value in perks and at'a'boys. Kids shouldn't either, they are not hamsters after all.

Nothing with the GOALS programs promotes a realistic or healthy approach to school for kids. It essentially blackmail and incentive-based. When these kids get out of school with a poor education, and the incentives aren't there, then I suppose the welfare programs can pick up the slack.

In all a terrible program for the schools to be pursuing. Terrible


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Sep 27, 2009 at 2:47 pm

I could not agree more with Elanie, Kyle and Sue. Our district should not allow schools to spend money irresponsibly. The GOAL program sounds inappropriate. Parent of Waverly Park, are you seriously trying to connect the non educational incentives from the Graham GOAL program to the API scores?? How did it better educate our kids??

This district is in bad need of presenting actual curriculum programs that address learning - not fun or bribery. By the way, rewards are not inappropriate. You referenced rewards at Huff for reading programs. Small rewards are fine (especially books) - field trips to non-educational places and missing school all day is not.

By the way, it does not matter WHICH pot of money the GOAL program is funded by. ALL of the budgets are ultimately funded by us - tax payers. One that isn't is a small pot that each principal has at their disposal from direct dontations from community members. The only other one that is not tax funded is PTA. But I wonder if you ask each member who donates to these causes if they wanted their $$$ to go toward purchasing kids rewards like this or something that really enriches their education, I doubt the majority would vote for this sort of use. I know the PTA did not fund the GOAL program last year because I would not have contributed to it. This year they are asking for it and I will not donate. I will direct my dollars toward MVEF that really examines what programs the money is used for and how it truly benefits all students in the district.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Sarah
a resident of North Whisman
on Sep 28, 2009 at 8:05 pm

Yes, reward with a good book or a visit to a museum on a Saturday since there are some kids who would never get that opportunity.

Rewarding fun (what school has basically become) with more fun, does nothing for the brains.


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