Mountain View Voice

Opinion - March 12, 2010

Dark days ahead for local schools

Parents interested in helping their local elementary school weather the latest round of state budget cuts have plenty of opportunity to make their views known during a series of budget forums currently being held by the Mountain View Whisman School District.

The district's forums are designed to help parents and others understand how the schools will operate on significantly less money than last year, even while enrollment will top out at a record high 4,712 students.

During this process, which ends on March 30, school officials will show the difficulty of relying on state funds in a terrible budget year. Administrators at Mountain View Whisman, as well as other local districts, have said that state cuts are constantly changing, and that pinning down a final budget is like hitting a moving target.

At last week's kick-off session, held at Huff Elementary School, Craig Goldman, the district's chief financial officer and heir-apparent to Superintendent Maurice Ghysels, said the district estimates state funding will decrease by $1,309 per student, a tremendous hit — more than $6 million — to the district's finances.

The only way most districts can recover from such steep state cutbacks is to back off from longstanding class-size-reduction levels, Goldman said, adding that Mountain View Whisman will now be forced to pack 25 students into each and every classroom from kindergarten to third grade. That move enables Mountain View Whisman to go easy in other places: Goldman estimates the district will eliminate only 11 teaching positions and close 20 classrooms in the elementary schools, for a savings of nearly $1 million.

That may be what counts for good news in a budget-busting year like this one. But having made, in the past, substantial gains in lowering class sizes and in providing many "extras" in other areas, the district is now sliding backwards, and will continue to do so unless the state economy recovers and more money flows to education.

If this trend continues, local parents will need to step up and raise more money on their own for elementary school education. Some districts, meanwhile, are seeking approval of modest parcel taxes to help make up the difference and keep class sizes closer to 20 students per class.

One thing is certain: If it takes several years for the state's economy to recover — and the current indicators say it will — this game of endless budget cuts to our schools isn't even close to being over. Look for the 2011-12 school year to be even worse than this one. As ever, parents wanting a decent education for their children will be forced to help with their own time and money.

But the trials ahead will surely be made easier the better informed parents are, which is why we encourage all Mountain View Whisman parents to attend at least one of the remaining budget forums:

• March 15, 6:30-8 p.m. at the District Office

• March 16, 6:30-8 p.m. at Monta Loma

• March 23, 4-5:30 p.m. at Landels

• March 23, 6:30-8 p.m. at Crittenden

• March 30, 4:15-5:45 p.m. at Stevenson

• March 30, 6:30-8 p.m. at Theuerkauf

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