Merger won't flyWe doubt if the Santa Clara County grand jury's idea to save money by merging the three local school districts will generate any enthusiasm in Mountain View or Los Altos. Merging is one of those ideas that looks good on paper but would be virtually impossible to execute.
First of all, it would take a majority vote of each school district's board or a petition signed by 25 percent of the district's registered voters just to get the question on the ballot. That hurdle alone presents a huge challenge, due to varying demographics in the Mountain View Whisman, Los Altos and Mountain View Los Altos High School districts.
These are not homogeneous districts. Academic performance at most Whisman schools, while excellent, is not quite on par with standardized test scores achieved in Los Altos elementary schools. It would be counter-intuitive for Los Altos parents to support merging with the Whisman district, especially if they asked, "What's in it for us?"
Likewise, we can't see why parents who live in the high school district would elect to share their higher property tax income with the elementary districts.
Superintendents who spoke to the Voice also were not eager to leap into a merger. Barry Groves, superintendent of the high school district, noted that "there would be some fiscal disadvantages. I think we are very successful with our current configuration and I'm not sure how the proposed consolidation would make things better," he said.
If a three-way merger ever could overcome the political hurdles, the Grand Jury projects $9.4 million could be saved by operating transportation, maintenance, IT, food and other functions as one entity. Even more could be saved, the jurors said, if the merger strategy was applied to collapse 17 unique districts in the county into four large districts, which could save $51 million a year.
But even if there would be substantial savings, we don't believe local residents would agree to give up control of their schools to a mega-district. Craig Goldman, superintendent of Mountain View Whisman, which is the result of a relatively recent merger, says the grand jury's suggestion is much more complicated than merging the two elementary districts nine years ago.
"Ultimately," he told the Voice, "because of the higher funding level received by Los Altos elementary and the high school district, we don't think (a merger is) a viable alternative."
Angie Cardoza, grand jury foreperson, sees it differently. "Any time you're asking for change, people will be hesitant," she said. "It's easier to stay the way it's always been — the status quo — instead of saying, 'Let's try something new.'"
"Something new" might make sense financially, but at least for the foreseeable future, we doubt if there will be any interest in consolidating the local school districts. There just isn't enough upside to make it happen.