Districts must send out pink slip notices by mid-March, and administrators in the Mountain View Whisman and Mountain View-Los Altos school districts say they have to start planning potential reductions now to meet this deadline. The governor most recently proposed slashing $6.6 billion from education from now through 2010 as the state faces a $41 billion deficit. This would force the elementary school district to cut $3 million from its budget, and leave the high school district short $2 million.
"Things are really bad," Mountain View Whisman's chief financial officer, Craig Goldman, told trustees at a board meeting last week. "There is a storm out there and we have to be ready."
State politicians and the governor have been debating how to balance the deficit since last spring, but insiders say California could have a new budget by February (see story, Page 9). Under the governor's proposals, schools would lose cost of living adjustments allotted in last year's budget and would face additional steep reductions in revenue. The governor also proposes saving $1.6 billion by cutting five school days a year. Administrators say they don't know if this proposal will pass, but no matter what the state has to make cuts.
As the Mountain View Whisman trustees prepare to make cuts, Goldman reminded them at the Jan. 22 meeting of the district's top priorities, including core academics, math, English language arts, extracurricular activities and protection of jobs. This "doesn't mean we will be able to protect all jobs," he said. "But it is a priority."
The district will try to keep cuts away from the classrooms. Staff positions for programs and teachers on special assignments will be the first to go if the current proposal passes. While administrators wait for a state budget decision, the district is drawing up a list of seniority, and newer staff members or teachers on special assignment will be laid off first if the district needs to hand out pink slips.
"You cannot cut $3 million without some amount of pain," Goldman said. "We are not going to do more than we have to. We are dealing with people's lives and layoffs."
There is a glimmer of hope on the horizon: An economic stimulus package currently in Congress could send $10 billion to California schools over two years if it passes. Although the package would not completely bail out schools, it would provide additional aid during the current hardship. Both houses are expected to approve a package in mid-February.
Mountain View Whisman is a revenue limit district, meaning it receives the majority of its funding from the state. It faces more cuts than the high school district, which is a basic aid district, and is funded primarily through local property taxes.
For its part, the high school district formed a budget advisory committee of 20 teachers, parents, students and administrators to help balance its budget. The district board will use recommendations from the committee to make a final decision on budget cuts in March.
With MVLA facing $2 million in cuts, Joe White, associate superintendent of business services for the district, said that personnel would take a hit. Eighty-six percent of the district's budget goes toward health care and salaries, he said.
"There have to be some cuts in there that are personnel-related."
PACT project approved
Also last week, Mountain View Whisman trustees officially approved a controversial project to turn district property into a campus for PACT, the parent participation program currently housed at Castro School.
Trustees hope the decision will alleviate overcrowding at the Castro campus, which also houses regular students and another special program, Dual Immersion.
The new PACT campus will be in the Stevenson School, a small campus next to the district office on San Pierre Way. The program will move this summer after the district finishes $2 million in renovations there.
The site, which is currently rented out to the YMCA, will cost an additional $363,000 in annual costs, including the loss of $125,000 in YMCA rent each year.
Trustees finalized the PACT move to Stevenson despite dissent from two community members, who said the decision was rash and potentially too expensive during the current economic downturn.