School budgets reflect state crisis

Both MVLA and Mountain View Whisman finalize budgets for 2009-10

To get an idea of how California's financial crisis will play out across the state, look no farther than Mountain View's school districts, whose trustees passed 2009-10 budgets by the June 30 deadline but fear that millions of dollars more will disappear before the year is out.

Administrators at the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District and the Mountain View Whisman School District passed much-tightened budgets in the past week, but are still expecting even harsher cuts as the state Legislature prepares to adopt a new budget to compensate for its out-of-control deficit.

The most recent estimates say the state will be short $24 billion after California voters rejected five of six measures aimed at balancing the budget in May. Now Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to cut $5.3 billion from public education and community colleges.

"It's going to be bad this year and worse next year," MVLA school board president Judy Hannemann said of the budget. "Just wait for two years; it will be even worse."

The governor and legislators laid out potential cuts for revenue limit districts, which unlike most local districts receive the majority of their funding from the state. Lately there has been talk of basic aid districts contributing their "fair share," meaning the state would somehow take a portion of local property taxes, which is the source of their funding. Both Mountain View districts are basic aid, and receive some money from the state for special programs and maintenance.

The state reductions could mean cutting $71 in spending per Mountain View Whisman student for the 2008-09 school year, and $537 per student for the 2009-10 school year. Under this "fair share" approach, the high school could face a total of $2.6 million in cuts next school year, said Joe White, associate superintendent of business services. District administrators say these numbers are constantly changing, and they are unsure how much schools will get from the federal stimulus package.

"Information is changing by the minute," said Craig Goldman, Mountain View Whisman's chief financial officer, during a June 18 board meeting. "There are a lot of unanswered questions."

Mountain View-Los Altos

High School trustees passed their budget June 22, cutting close to $1 million for the 2009-10 academic year. With cuts looming, the district created a Budget Advisory Committee of teachers, administrators, community members and staff earlier this year. The committee made a long list of programs and positions to cut as they wait to hear from the state. (The document can be viewed here.)

Some of these reductions include eliminating Web positions, reducing the board and superintendent's budget and cutting back on funding for Latino outreach.

Trustees only had one objection before passing the budget. The district started a new Latino outreach program this year, allotting $20,000 to translate material from English to Spanish, make home visits to parents and bring in Spanish speakers in hopes of better incorporating the Latino community into the district. The Budget Advisory Committee suggested cutting this funding back to $5,000, but trustees said they wanted $10,000 to continue the programs. Administrators agreed to move money from maintenance or some other funding source to cover the difference.

Trustee Joe Mitchner said the budget sends a message about the district's priorities, and he saw the outreach as a priority.

"It is important to build on the efforts from last year and I would like to see that reduction be less," he said of the cutbacks to Latino outreach.

Mountain View Whisman

Mountain View Whisman also passed a budget in the last week, and administrators and trustees say they now face even more uncertainty.

Until recently, MV Whisman was a revenue limit district and received the majority of its funding from the state. But the state, facing a big deficit, is cutting back the amount of funding required to become a basic aid district. Mountain View Whisman property taxes meet this smaller requirement, so district officials are now waiting to find out how the cuts will be applied in their district.

During their meeting last week, administrators said that as they prepared their budget earlier this year, they thought they were in "pretty good shape." Superintendent Maurice Ghysels said the district was a "strong island," ready for cuts.

But the forecast now looks grimmer as the district faces "fair share" cuts.

"It turns out our island was just a sand bar," Goldman said.


Like this comment
Posted by Ned
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 24, 2009 at 7:05 pm

And I guess that money spent on consultings firm to study a tax hike and million dollar construction plans was money down the drain.

Like this comment
Posted by Ted
a resident of Jackson Park
on Jun 24, 2009 at 11:42 pm

Eliminate school buses. We don't need them, we are not in the country.

Eliminate full time Maintenance. Let Custodians, Teachers, Father's volunteer.

Eliminate Teacher's Aides and Secretary's. Parents do this work for free every day. Take advantage of it.


Like this comment
Posted by CL
a resident of Jackson Park
on Jun 25, 2009 at 6:32 am

Eliminate positions at the District Office. Based on other stories, they can't seem to do their jobs anyway.

Like this comment
Posted by Leroy
a resident of another community
on Jun 25, 2009 at 11:35 am

I recall the custodians maintaining the schools when our children were young. They cleaned and repaired anything. Maintenance workers came many years later when funds were available. Go back to that theory again until we are out of the recession. Believe me, it worked great.

Like this comment
Posted by disgusted
a resident of another community
on Jun 25, 2009 at 5:08 pm

".....fear that millions of dollars more will disappear before the year is out."

Disappear? No it's not disappearing, It's in plain site,

Just drive by Graham Middle School and see a perfectly decent parking lot (no potholes or even cracks that I can think of) being completely dug up and replaced using the last half-million dollars left over from the LAST facilities bond.

$500,000 for a new parking lot. Yep, we got our priorities straight.

Let's hear it again from the district office...."It's all about the kids"

Like this comment
Posted by Lee
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Jun 28, 2009 at 12:26 pm

The problem starts at the top and that's where it should be fixed first.
See the post and link put up by another commentor.

What a scandal.

School Boards and Superintendents throughout the County are showing a very poor example; almost none of the 34+ superintendents have a performance component in their pay !!

The Santa Clara County Grand Jury just released the following report


(Hint: It’s Not the Students)

Web Link

The paper should publish the findings of the Grand Jury!

Follow the money. This board should appoint an auditor, outside of education cirlces to clean up this district.

Too much waste at a time we can no longer afford it.

Like this comment
Posted by Claire
a resident of Jackson Park
on Jun 28, 2009 at 5:39 pm

We need to focus on the teacher in the classroom during their contact with children and nothing else. New construction, lunch programs, high-priced management that accomplishes little but spend money should be reassessed.

Like this comment
Posted by Huff Parent
a resident of another community
on Jul 9, 2009 at 8:45 pm

This is all starting to ring hollow. Between repaving the Graham Middle School parking lot and the $6,000 dollars given to the director of the schools for his car, on top of a way too high salary, I add up say $550,000 dollars wasted.
This money could have been spent better elsewhere.

Like this comment
Posted by Ned
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 9, 2009 at 9:09 pm

"The state reductions could mean cutting $71 in spending per Mountain View Whisman student for the 2008-09 school year, and $537 per student for the 2009-10 school year"

Eliminate the Superintendent's position, saving $44 per student, promote an underling to take his place, or better yet fire the HR director who botched the Polifrone case, and then hire a motivated individual who wants to work and who perhaps doesn't have a job at the moment. Then, stop spending $500,000 on a parking lot. There I've solved at least a few budget problems right off the bat sitting on my couch and no one had to hire a consultant.

Like this comment
Posted by Oh Please
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 21, 2009 at 8:16 pm

But the crisis is apparently not reflected in the salary levels of superintendents....

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