Mountain View Voice

News - June 30, 2006

Flush times at high school district

Flat enrollment, higher taxes mean more dollars

by Molly Tanenbaum

Thanks to rising property taxes and flat enrollment, the Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District's budget will be comfortably in the black, at least for the next couple years.

The high school board adopted the $40 million budget on Monday night, after a presentation by Joe White, associate superintendent for business services.

"There's virtually no negatives at all, so basically everything is in improvement mode," White said.

The district will benefit from a 7.25 percent rise in property taxes, bringing tax revenue up $2 million to nearly $30 million for 2006-07.

"We're in a good position. There's not a lot to say. We expect it's going to be a couple of good years and we're looking forward to it," said board trustee David Williams.

Combined with increased property tax revenue, slowed enrollment growth at the high schools is a plus for MVLA, which as a "basic aid" district does not receive funding on a per-student basis like the Mountain View Whisman School District. Instead, revenues come from property taxes, meaning that fewer students results in more money per student.

"For a basic aid district, this is a huge, huge positive," White said. "We're flattening out."

Over the last four years, the district gained 200 students a year, but now the 2006-07 student body will be basically the same size as the previous year, at 3,690 students, according to White.

This is due in part to enrollment trends, and also to the district reregistering all students this past winter to weed out nearly 100 students who did not live within district boundaries, according to Associate Superintendent Brigitte Sarraf.

Additional revenue for the coming school year will include $650,000, raised by the Mountain View-Los Altos foundation — up $50,000 from the previous year. Those funds will go to reducing class sizes, tutorial centers, college career centers and extended library hours at the schools, according to White.

Another plus for next year's budget is that experienced teachers from Los Altos High School — Leo Florendo, Sue Kefauver and Elizabeth Pedinotti — will join the faculty at Freestyle High, the new multimedia high school. So beginning next year, their salaries will be paid out of the $400,000 the school district will receive for technology education from the city.

That means those funds will not come from the district's regular budget, but from a joint powers agreement to share property tax revenue from Mountain View's Shoreline Regional Park Community, White said.

This week's good news is in contrast to the gloom of three years ago, when the district had rising enrollment and the possibility of losing its basic aid status due to a decision by Gov. Gray Davis. Although he threatened to do so, Davis did not take away basic aid from school districts throughout the state, which was a relief to Mountain View-Los Altos.

Nevertheless, in the 2003-04 school year, the district cut thousands of dollars from its budget, including funds for substitute teachers, overtime pay, travel and conference expenses, vacation and compensatory time and the school board.

"It seems like an entirely different era, then and now," said board president Julia Rosenberg. "We're working very hard to make sure we're keeping our expenses down as much as possible."

Many of these cuts are still in place, but since then, the board has allocated $50,000 per year to improving algebra achievement, and will give $30 more per student to both high schools' discretionary funds.

At the Monday meeting, White also mentioned a few places that could use additional funding, such as hiring a testing coordinator for the district who would handle the administration of the exit exam, Advanced Placement tests, the SAT and other state tests. This added position would cost $60,000, White said, and would cover work now being done by several administrators.

The other unknown is employee contracts. Salary negotiations are currently underway.

E-mail Molly Tanenbaum at mtanenbaum@mv-voice.com

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