Mountain View Voice

News - December 31, 2010

Tough year for public education

Faltering economy, huge state deficit hit schools hard

by Nick Veronin

A nationwide recession, combined with a $19.1 billion state budget deficit, forced local school officials to make some difficult decisions in 2010. Programs were cut, class sizes increased and positions were eliminated.

But despite the cuts, the show went on at Mountain View schools and Foothill-DeAnza community colleges.

Community members, along with local and national charities and educational foundations, chipped in, while two area school districts asked voters to approve two tax bonds — one was approved, one was not.

Elementary and middle schools

With about $3 million less to spend this school year, Mountain View Whisman School District made cuts to teacher benefits, raised class sizes, crafted a new district-wide bell schedule that allowed for a reduction in bus drivers and eliminated some programs entirely.

Target class sizes for kindergarten through third grade were bumped up from 20 to 25; GATE, the district's "gifted and talented education" program, will now rely entirely on parent support for funding; and, for the first time, next year it is likely that teachers who choose the lowest tier health care plan offered by the district will have to contribute to the premiums.

This year proved to be a delicate balancing act for Craig Goldman, the newly appointed district superintendent, who took over from Maurice Ghysels on July 1. Goldman started in the district as a principal and then served as chief financial officer, using his experience to make do during dire financial times. As 2010 drew to a close, he worked out a deal with the teachers union, getting them to accept certain cuts to their benefit packages in exchange for a one-time bonus of 1.5 percent and a base salary raise of 3 percent.

And even as programs were slashed, fourth- and fifth-graders in Mountain View schools were given the opportunity to go on one science and nature field trip sponsored entirely by the Palo Alto-based Environmental Volunteers.

High schools

Local high schools also had to confront budget cuts at the start of the 2010-11 year. The Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District's budget was down $2.8 million from last school year.

To make up for the gap, the district scaled back programs, including high school exit exam prep courses and some sports and after-school activities. In addition, office positions were eliminated, empty positions were left unfilled, a class aimed at helping teachers set up their websites was cut and the superintendent's annual budget was reduced.

On the bright side, voters approved Measure A, a $41.3 million bond, which extends the Measure D bond voters approved in 1995. Measure A funds will go to build new school classrooms and infrastructure.

The first of the Measure A projects broke ground at the end of November — a $7 million solar panel project at Mountain View High School that ultimately will help generate about 25 percent of the district's energy needs and earn millions of dollars in rebates from PG&E.

Next on the Measure A to-do list: a new pool at Mountain View High School.

District merger?

Over the summer, the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury issued a report recommending that three local school districts merge, estimating that consolidation of the Los Altos, Mountain View Whisman, and Mountain View-Los Altos school districts could save $9.4 million annually.

The recommendation was one of many similar proposals made by the grand jury for districts throughout the county, which would save money through "administrative staff reductions and operational efficiencies," according to the report.

However, administrators from both Mountain View districts doubted that they would ever come together to form a larger district.

While Craig Goldman of the Mountain View Whisman district, said his schools might benefit from a merger, he noted that the financially better off Mountain View-Los Altos high school district would not like the idea.

"There would be some fiscal disadvantages for the high school district," said Barry Groves, superintendent of the Mountain View Los Altos.

Foothill-De Anza

Courses were discontinued, positions eliminated, pay packages downsized and faculty complained of being overworked at Foothill and De Anza colleges at the start of the 2010-11 school year.

"The state is broke and 90 percent of our money comes from the state," said Linda Thor, chancellor of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District.

This year, Foothill and De Anza colleges will offer 500 fewer programs than they did in the 2008-09 term.

To save money, the district eliminated 117 full- and part-time positions from the budget between 2009 and 2010. That includes five administrators, 11 faculty members and 101 other support staff. However, 39 of the support positions eliminated from the budget will be funded through June of next year using $7.7 million in reserve funds the district has set aside to help preserve critical positions.

But voters were not sympathetic when the college district placed a parcel tax on the November ballot.

The tax would have cost district property owners up to $69 per parcel annually for six years and, according to proponents, would have raised about $42 million.

Even though a majority of voters favored the tax, the measure did not reach the two-thirds vote needed to pass. Opponents said that administrators, faculty and staff ought to cut back salary and benefits packages before seeking more money from taxpayers.

Despite tough times, however, Foothill-De Anza was able to continue serving the community in meaningful ways.

Organizers had to scramble, but did come up with the money for the third year of the Math Acceleration Program — a free summer program that buses struggling math students to Foothill, feeds them breakfast and lunch, and gives them a three-week crash course in numbers. The idea is to keep kids on track in math, which the program's organizer called the "gateway to higher education."

The program scraped together $36,000 at the last minute, thanks to donations from various college departments.

Comments

Posted by localmom, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jan 2, 2011 at 8:27 am

Can someone please explain to me how a 4.5% raise/bonus during a recession, with massive state budget deficit/cuts, was a GOOD MOVE by Craig Goldman in the MVW elementary school district?? Seems like it is draining money from programs and class size reduction; GATE would be completely gone if parents didn't step up, etc. How is this helping?? And did the staff, admin, and teachers NEED a raise when the inflation rate is 1.2% per year? I didn't get one! Haven't in 5 years! Anyone else??


Posted by concerned parent, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jan 2, 2011 at 9:36 am

It makes me a bit sad that California is not making education more of a priority. California now ranks number 48 in the US in terms of how many dollars are given to schools. I believe Mississippi is even above California. I do not usually comment on these posts, but think it is important to note that although the teachers are getting a "raise" in Mountain View their benefits are also being adjusted. Not sure that is in actuality going to help teachers or ultimately our kids. Schools are not businesses and should not be equated as such. During better times educational employees did not get the bonuses etc.. that those of us who work in the tech. industry did. For the first time in years the number of teacher applicants to state schools is down, which should be a huge red flag. The future of our children is in education and as a community it should be the utmost of a priority. Not sure how much more the school budgets can be cut?


Posted by Teacher, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jan 2, 2011 at 5:40 pm

The school board squandered the last five years on that clown Ghysels. Moral is at an all time low and the budget is only going to get worse in the next few years. A raise for teachers was long overdue, otherwise we wouldn't be able to keep the high-quality teachers we have. What I don't understand is the arbitrary bonuses given out to the administrators. Shame on the district office.


Posted by greycat, a resident of another community
on Jan 3, 2011 at 3:57 pm

localmom: perhaps during a recession, when budget cuts are incurred, while education is undervalued is *precisely* when those working in the schools need a raise because the expectations upon them are so much greater. Is this so difficult to comprehend??


Posted by greycat, a resident of another community
on Jan 3, 2011 at 3:59 pm

Teacher:

morale. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved January 03, 2011, from Dictionary.com website: Web Link


Posted by curious, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jan 3, 2011 at 4:48 pm

The posts on here by the teachers' union members and their supporters show why California is in the toilet and will likely stay that way. What part of "We do not have the money" do you not understand.

This state has 12.5% unemployment, 20+% underemployment and "Teacher" thinks we have to give huge raises to keep the teachers we have. I say if they can do better somewhere else, God bless them and I hope they enjoy it at their new place of employment. I guarantee there will be at least 10 qualified applicants for every position left vacant.

The teachers' union controls the school board so they rubber stamp anything they want. Well, as a taxpayer, not one red cent more. I will be voting at every special election where they try to milk some more parcel tax from us. Luckily I am grandfathered in by Prop 13 so I do not pay the exorbitant taxes that my neighbors do. Otherwise I would have cleared out of this state long ago.


Posted by UJ, a resident of North Whisman
on Jan 7, 2011 at 12:46 pm

Let's take a hard look at teachers pensions. While they might not earn too much on a year to year basis, they have incredible benefits, furthermore, most stand to earn more in retirement in real dollars (adjusted to inflation) than they do during their term of employment.


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