Locally, the Mountain View Whisman School District is no different, grappling with a budget that district administrators say is $6 million less than it should be and, even worse, is continually vulnerable to more cuts from the state because of the way it's funded.
It's a message being delivered over and over this month — 10 times in all — at budget forums presented by the district's chief financial officer, Craig Goldman.
Mountain View Whisman officially became a "basic aid" district last summer, which means it is funded largely by local property taxes along with some supplemental funding by the state. Regardless of student enrollment, basic aid districts must operate with the same amount of funding.
Goldman says such districts typically are thought of as affluent, because the revenues generated by property taxes exceed a "guaranteed" amount designated by the state. But with California $20 billion in debt, he said, the state has lowered that guaranteed amount.
And some basic aid districts — like Mountain View Whisman, which serves high numbers of low-income students and therefore receives greater amounts of supplemental state funding — are the most vulnerable to state take-backs, he said.
While local revenues generated from property taxes, parcel taxes or similar income sources are safe from state cuts, Goldman said, it is the state revenues, which include so-called categorical funds, that are vulnerable. These funds help pay for things like class size reduction, textbooks and programming for low-income students and English language learners.
The result is a particular squeeze which comes from just barely qualifying for basic aid. (Last year, the Mountain View Whisman's property taxes exceeded the state's nearly $5,400-per-student threshold by just $63.) Basic aid districts aren't funded on a per-student basis, but some still rely on state revenues — which the state now threatens to take away.
Looked at as slices of a pie, the differences can be significant. In Mountain View Whisman, 13 percent of total revenues come from the state, whereas in the neighboring Los Altos School District (LASD), state funding sources make up just 3.5 percent of all revenues.
Randy Kenyon, LASD's assistant superintendent of business services, said it is "potentially true" that Mountain View Whisman's funding is more vulnerable to take-backs from the state. However, he said, under current state proposals his district expects to have the "same level" of take-backs this year.
The greatest impact on Mountain View Whisman students thus far is a proposed increase in class sizes from kindergarten to third grade. Administrators say that allowing K-3 classes fill to an average of 25 students, with no more than 27 students in any classroom, will save the district about $1 million a year.
That change would eliminate 11 teaching positions and 20 classrooms, even after taking into account a higher projected enrollment for next year. The proposal has been negotiated with union representatives, but so far it has not been approved by the district's board of trustees.
While the elimination of 11 positions may seem harsh, Goldman said in a typical year the district hires around 30 new teachers anyway. He said attrition, leaves of absence and not renewing some temporary contracts will take care of the 11 positions without any layoffs.
"The truth is, in terms of temps being affected, we don't see this as being different than any other year," Goldman said, adding that like every year, "We're going to be selective about the temporary teachers we expect to hire back."
Goldman said that internally the district has negotiated the elimination of three sick days previously given to classified employees beyond the required number. He said they were seeking to do the same for certificated staff and administrators.
When asked whether administrators have considered a pay cut, he said the district has no planned cuts in compensation for staff, teachers or administrators. He added that district administrators make 80 to 83 percent of what administrators make in Palo Alto, and that for Silicon Valley, "We don't think we're competitive in terms of our administrative salaries."
Nearby, other districts are taking more drastic action to make up for budget shortfalls.
According to Kenyon, 18 teachers in LASD received layoff notices last week. That district is looking at upping class sizes in K-3 classrooms as well as in its junior high schools. Kenyon said some classes could have as many as 30 students, depending on the school, grade and enrollment.
In Cupertino, K-3 class sizes are expected to jump to 30 students per class. Administrators there have said the move will help the district save money by eliminating over 100 teaching positions.
In the Redwood City School District there is a proposal that could inflate class size up to 34 students according to Raul Parungao, that district's business manager.
"The state budgeting process has been erratic for the last few years, and this year it is even more unpredictable than usual," said Redwood City Superintendent Jan Christensen in a March 11 letter to parents. "Right now we expect to cut $4.7 million to $13.7 million from the 2010-11 budget."
Educators have little hope that extra funding will come down the pipeline. Worse still, they expect the cuts to continue for the next several years — a California schools consulting firm estimated the districts will not return to full funding levels before 2015.
Locally, some parents have taken on the fundraising burden. A group in Cupertino is reportedly campaigning to come up with $3 million to stave off large class sizes and layoffs for teachers.
A parent at Goldman's budget forum at Bubb Elementary asked how district families could help. Goldman said supporting the Mountain View Educational Foundation, or MVEF, is one way. He added that currently the foundation can't find a parent from every school to sit on its board, which is missing representatives from Bubb, Monta Loma and Crittenden schools.
"We're aspiring to get to $500,000 within the next couple years," said Rose Filicetti, executive director of MVEF. She said the foundation currently raises around $320,000 annually to support music, arts and after-school sports programming, as well as science materials. (A major MVEF fundraiser is the "Monte Carlo Night" event happening March 27.)
By comparison, nearby foundations raise millions annually — Los Altos raised $1.91 million last year alone. Palo Alto Partners in Education, which supports all Palo Alto schools, announced in February a $2.9 million donation from its 2009-10 fundraising efforts.
"A million is too far off with the diversity in population in Mountain View," Filicetti said. Nearly half of the students in Mountain View Whisman qualify for free or reduced lunch, she said.
The remaining Mountain View Whisman School District forums are:
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