Mountain View Voice

News - January 7, 2011

Local schools look ahead to 2011

by Nick Veronin

Despite incoming Gov. Jerry Brown's admonition that schools will take a hit this year, local education officials are hoping for a brighter 2011, after a year of budget shortfalls forced cutbacks across the board at Mountain View elementary, middle and high schools, as well as at the two community colleges that serve the southern Peninsula.

It is certain that difficult decisions lie ahead, but local districts have the advantage of entering the second decade of the 21st century leaner than they were last year. With an austere yet optimistic mindset, educators in and around Mountain View are preparing for a growing student population, continuing rises in health care costs and the demands of rapidly evolving energy and technological expectations.

Elementary, middle schools

Teachers in the Mountain View Whisman School District saw 2010 end on a high note: with a 1.5 percent bonus just in time for Christmas and a base salary increase of 3 percent. The perks came with a tradeoff, however.

When the union accepted the bonus and salary bump, it also agreed to cuts in health care benefits. Beginning this year, newly hired teachers will receive reduced health benefits when they retire and it is likely that teachers who choose the district's lowest tier health care plan may begin contributing to premiums.

"The district's costs for full-family health coverage has gone up by almost $4,000 per employee over the past two years," said Craig Goldman, district superintendent. Such rising costs are difficult for any organization to absorb — especially a public school district that suffered a $3 million hit to its budget in 2010.

Further complicating matters is the expectation that the newly elected Gov. Jerry Brown will cut education spending even further as he and the Legislature attempt to deal with the state's burgeoning budget shortfall.

"The question is not whether it will hit education, but how severely it will hit education," Goldman said.

Another change being considered in the coming year is whether to continue accepting Title I funds under the No Child Left Behind Act. Some schools in the Mountain View Whisman district accept the money in exchange for being accountable to stringent standardized testing standards.

Those standards, which rise year after year, are increasingly difficult to achieve, according to Assistant Superintendent Mary Lairon. When a district fails to meet its marks, as certain Mountain View Whisman schools have recently, the schools fall into what is known as "program improvement." The designation often prompts the most mobile parents to withdraw their students from the ailing school, making it harder for a given school to pull itself out of program improvement.

Goldman said the district will have to seriously consider whether it is really worth receiving the Title I funds, or if Mountain View Whisman might do better to go without the money and the burden of accountability to the federal government.

Despite the fact that it is expecting to see growth in its student population, the district plans to renew its lease of the Slater School campus to Google, which uses roughly two-thirds of the grounds and buildings for a preschool and day care center. The lease brought more than $730,000 to the district in 2010, Goldman said, calling the agreement a "life-saving source of revenue" for Mountain View Whisman.

Goldman said student population growth is not in "that part of town" and is focused mainly in the middle schools.

In the coming year, the district aims to cut back on paper consumption with a new online enrollment system. Instead of filling out a handful of paper forms, parents will be able to sign their children up through the district's website. Families without Internet access at home will be allowed to use district computers to enroll and will even be able to receive help and instruction on how to use the new system.

"The amount of paper and trees we will be saving is phenomenal," said Stephanie Totter, assistant superintendent.

High schools

In keeping with the paperless effort, in 2011 the Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District is introducing online course selection for students at both of its schools and even for incoming freshmen. The program was piloted at Mountain View High School in 2010.

The district may implement a Web-based registration system in the coming year, according to Brigitte Sarraf, associate superintendent of educational services.

Regardless of whether the online enrollment system kicks off in 2011, district officials are expecting plenty of new students. According to Superintendent Barry Groves, Mountain View-Los Altos expects a 25 percent increase in its student population by 2020.

In anticipation of that growth, the district went to the polls in June with Measure A, an extension of an older bond, Measure D, which passed handily. It will help pay for new classrooms, labs and other infrastructure needed to accommodate more students.

A $7 million solar panel project broke ground at the end of November and the district plans to begin work soon on a new swimming pool at Mountain View High School, which is to be completed in May. Other projects include installation of a WiFi system on its two main campuses and a new fire alarm system.

New programs are also on the horizon for the adult school and Alta Vista High School, including more career and technical education courses and a new culinary class for adults, which will be held at night on the Los Altos High School campus.

Community colleges

The Foothill-De Anza Community College District is also working on solar energy. It will install a new batch of solar arrays over the summer, and once completed, the district should be producing about 25 percent of its own energy, according to Becky Bartindale, a spokeswoman for Foothill-De Anza.

Construction will continue on two major projects at each campus, include the Physical Sciences and Engineering Center at Foothill and the Mediated Learning Center at DeAnza, although neither is scheduled to open in 2011, Bartindale said.

Although Foothill-De Anza was not spared when money for public education was slashed broadly in 2010, the district anticipates growing demand for its classes in the coming years.

Part of meeting that demand will be addressed in 2011 as the district focuses on finding a permanent home for the off-campus educational center currently located at the Cubberley Community Center in Palo Alto. The district is anxious to find a permanent location for the site and has proposed buying a portion of Cubberley from the City of Palo Alto, and has also looked at moving to a site in Mountain View. District trustees have hired a consultant to help search for a suitable site for the satellite campus.

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