Mountain View Voice

News - July 2, 2010

Merge school districts, grand jury says

Unification could save $9.4 million, but local officials skeptical

By Nick Veronin

Three local school districts should merge to save money on "administrative staff reductions and operational efficiencies," according to a recent report by the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury.

The June 24 report estimates that about $9.4 million could be saved by turning the Los Altos School District, the Mountain View Whisman School District and the Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District into one single unified school district.

The recommendation is part of a number of similar calls for consolidation countywide. In all, the grand jury identified 17 unique districts, and proposed merging them into four larger districts — all at a projected savings of about $51.2 million.

Local school officials, however, expressed skepticism regarding the report.

"I think that we are very successful with our current configuration and I'm not sure how the proposed consolidation would make things better," said Barry Groves, superintendent of the Mountain View Los Altos School District.

The report estimates savings of somewhere between 5 percent and 10 percent for each consolidation from scaling back the "many redundant administrative functions" in the 31 county school districts, as well as additional efficiencies "to be realized by operating transportation, maintenance, IT, food, and other functions for a single larger entity."

The jury settled upon an estimated savings of 7 percent across all the affected districts after reviewing a similar consolidation of the Twin Rivers Unified School District in Sacramento and hearing testimony from unnamed education officials.

Angie Cardoza, foreperson for the grand jury, said one of two things must happen in order for the recommended mergers to take effect: either 25 percent of the registered voters in the affected districts must sign a petition indicating they would like to see the merger go to a vote, or a majority of the members from each district's governing body must approve of the proposal.

Whether a concerned citizen will collect the needed signatures remains to be seen.

Groves said he feels that his district's relationship with Mountain View Whisman and Los Altos school districts is fine as it stands.

Furthermore, he said, " there would be some fiscal disadvantages for the high school district."

Craig Goldman is superintendent of the Mountain View Whisman School District, which was created in 2001 out of the then-separate Mountain View and Whisman districts. He said consolidation is always a worthy topic of discussion, but noted that the grand jury's proposed merger is much more complicated than what occurred in his district nine years ago.

If the other school districts were interested, he said, Mountain View Whisman would also be interested. Goldman just doesn't see that happening.

"Ultimately," he said, "because of the higher level funding received by Los Altos and the high school district, we don't think it's a viable alternative."

Cardoza said she feels the grand jury's recommendations will be beneficial to all the school districts named in the consolidation proposal, including Los Altos, Mountain View Whisman and Mountain View Los Altos.

"Any time you're asking for change, people will be hesitant," Cardoza said. "It's easier to stay the way it's always been — the status quo — instead of saying, 'Let's try something new.'"

The full report is available on the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury's website at sccsuperiorcourt.org/jury/GJ.html.

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