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April 01, 2005

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Publication Date: Friday, April 01, 2005

Editorial Editorial (April 01, 2005)

District's work is just beginning

After appearing to exhaust every alternative, the Mountain View-Whisman school board finally decided last week to stick to its original plan and close Slater School, but with a costly addendum: the closure will not take place for another full academic year, meaning Slater will remain open until June of next year.

The year-long reprieve was not necessarily provided to appease the hundreds of Slater parents who strongly objected to closing their school but out of a realization that there simply was not adequate time to close the school this year and shift its 400-plus students to the district's remaining six schools.

Another critical factor -- the budgetary impact of not closing Slater this year and not renting its campus to a private school for what was expected to be $400,000 -- has yet to be fully considered by the school board. The district's finance chief said earlier that she could not guarantee finding a tenant for Slater due to the late start, a concern that had to play heavily in the board's decision.

The district's financial health will be a primary concern as the full impact of the closure decision is studied. It is a double whammy for the district's budget -- the cost of keeping Slater open another year and the loss of income expected from rental of the campus. The total hit to the district could be $700,000 to $800,000, an amount the district certainly doesn't have to spare.

In the meantime, the district needs to focus on hiring a new superintendent, who is not expected to start until sometime in August. Far from taking over a smooth-running operation, the successful candidate will face a mountain of work as soon as he or she steps in the door.

For example, a new superintendent will have to:

** Immediately begin plans to close Slater School by June 2006 and integrate its students and programs into the remaining schools.

** Emphasize and upgrade all the district's English Learner Language programs as Slater's students are dispersed.

** Present a budget that covers expenses through June this year and looks forward to operating a eight-school district as of August 2006.

** Inspire the school principals whose English Language Learner students are failing to meet the criteria laid down by the federal No Child Left Behind program.

It will take a special, experienced person to guide the district through what appears to be the toughest challenge it has ever faced. This is a big job with big shoes, and they won't be easy to fill.

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