With Castro Elementary School at full capacity, trustees decided last week to move the school's popular PACT program to a new building, giving other students there a little more elbow room.
The unanimous vote came on the heels of a charged Jan. 15 study session, with parents, administrators and teachers pleading for help from the Mountain View Whisman School District board. Overcrowding at Castro, they said, has exhausted all of the school's resources.
"I spend a disproportionate amount of time on safety and security when I would like to spend time on learning," said Castro Principal Judy Crates.
The problems didn't end there. According to Crates: money for programs for at-risk kids was going unused, a tutoring center was taking up space in the school library, the cafeteria was so overcrowded that kindergarteners only had 15 minutes to eat lunch, the parking lot was overflowing in the mornings, the computer lab was rarely available for computer training, counselors were unable to work with kids one-on-one and could only offer group counseling, and a high teacher turnover rate was partly blamed on the overcrowding.
A dozen parents backed up Crates' assertions, speaking for 30 minutes about the effects of overcrowding at Castro and begging for the board to do something.
Trustees eventually did, deciding that PACT, a parent participation program which stands for "Parent, Child, Teacher," will have its own campus at the Stevenson School next fall, at a cost of more than $2 million to the district. The board promised to make its decision official during its regular meeting on Thursday, after the Voice went to press.
The Stevenson School is a small campus located next to the district office on San Pierre Way. It is currently being rented by the YMCA for use as a preschool; the lost rent will cost the district $363,000 per year, in addition to $2 million in needed renovations.
District Superintendent Maurice Ghysels applauded the move, telling those assembled that "It is the students' need to learn that is being compromised. We are going to lower enrollment and we expect more from Castro."
The district has reached enrollment numbers not expected until 2011, and Castro was hit especially hard. Besides its regular classes, the school hosts PACT and a Spanish Dual Immersion program, bringing the campus population to 651. Ideally, administrators said, the school should have no more than 600 students.
With parents of incoming students preparing to register for next year, district administrators gave the board two weeks to choose among six options for dealing with the overcrowding at Castro: leaving the campus as it is, limiting enrollment for kindergarteners, moving some of PACT to a different site, prohibiting new transfers from out of the district, or creating a new campus for PACT at either Graham Middle School or Stevenson.
"Come Feb. 1, folks will be getting in line to enroll their students," said Craig Goldman, the district's chief financial officer. "We want to be prepared to know what we are offering."
The decision to move PACT to Stevenson came as a surprise to many. Trustee Ellen Wheeler had been apprehensive about spending money during the budget crisis, but said she changed her mind after hearing from administrators and parents.
Administrators said the money to renovate the building would only come from a special construction fund, and added that any option for reducing Castro's enrollment would cost money.
Moving PACT to Stevenson is the most expensive option, administrators said, but it's also the quickest way to alleviate overcrowding at the campus.
The renovation money will go toward a quad and lunch area at the new PACT site. The district has set aside money for maintenance and construction, and those funds cannot be used in the classroom or for other programs, even as the district faces painful budget cuts.
Administrators said that since they do have some reserves, now is the time to be building in light of low construction costs.
"If we can fiscally handle it and our values are in the right place, [Stevenson makes a lot of sense to me," said trustee Ed Bailey.