Mountain View Voice

News - June 11, 2010

Tough decisions ahead for MV Whisman

Schools face bigger class sizes, cut programs to meet tight budget

by Nick Veronin

Local elementary and middle schools are considering cutting programs and raising class sizes in response to state budget cuts, chief financial officer Craig Goldman told Mountain View Whisman district trustees last week.

Goldman, who will take over as superintendent in July, predicted the district's budget for the 2010-11 school year would be about $38.7 million, down $3 million compared to last year.

After factoring in rising compensation and health care costs for district employees, Goldman said the total gap from last year's budget will total about $3.5 million.

The budget reductions mean that the school board will have "to distinguish between what's important and what's essential," and make decisions accordingly, Goldman said.

One key decision is whether — and where — to increase class sizes. The board is considering bumping up kindergarten, first-, second- and third-grade classes from the current target of 20 students to a 25-to-1 student-teacher ratio.

"It's reasonable to accept larger class sizes at K-3 than to add additional students at grades 4-8, which already have larger class sizes," Goldman explained.

Goldman cited the 29-month recession and a "bad year" for state tax collectors, in his budget assessment. And while he found cause for optimism in the slowly rebounding national economy and growing job market, he estimated that California, with the third largest unemployment rate in the country, could take up to five years to fully recover.

Reflecting Goldman's assessment, last month Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger revised his state budget proposal, which is attempting to close a $19.1 billion budget gap with a combination of federal funds, borrowing, sales of state assets and about $12.4 billion in cuts — which means many, if not all, of the state grants the district is eligible to receive may not come in next year.

Usually, state funds help pay for programs like community based English tutoring, school safety, violence prevention and gifted and talented education (GATE). The state has funded grants for instructional materials, helping teachers earn their credentials and other improvements in prior years, but the district is not counting on any of that money, which adds up to about $1.5 million, Goldman said.

For textbooks and other instructional materials, the school district will use the remaining half of the $1.5 million they received as part of the state Fiscal Stabilization Fund. The district will also have a carryover of about $360,000 in federal special education stimulus funding from the 2008-09 school year. In all, Goldman estimates that will make up for about a third of the $3.5 million gap.

Goldman said the district is also planning to use $1.3 million from the local parcel tax to help fill the gap.

In other cases, such as with the GATE program, the district will look to parents for donations. Ultimately, some programs will not receive any funding next year, he said.

While some contract teachers may not be rehired next year, Goldman said, no salaried teachers will be laid off. To save money, administrators and teachers have agreed to changes in their sick-leave benefits, as have classified employees such as custodial, transportation, and food service staff.

Goldman also said that state budget cuts to social services could indirectly burden the school district.

"The question that's out there is whether cuts in social services will have an impact on school services," he said.

The governor's May budget revision proposal calls for the elimination of CalWORKs, the state's welfare program for the poor; $750 million in cuts to Medi-Cal, the state's primary health care program for low-income residents; and $602 million in cuts to the state's county mental health services. The school district may end up picking up some of this slack, Goldman said, as low-income children may not receive adequate medical or mental health services and food subsidies.

Next year's change in the district's elementary school bell schedules (see Bells story on Page 10) should also provide the district with some financial relief, as two bus drivers will now be able to do the work of three, freeing up the third driver to run special education bus routes, which were formerly handled by two pricier, private contractors.

At next Thursday's meeting, the board of trustees will be presented with a finalized 2010-2011 budget to consider for approval.

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