District copes with more students, new status

Mountain View Whisman enrollment up by 217 this year, administrators say

As predicted last year, enrollment numbers are up in the Mountain View Whisman School District, and administrators are now trying to figure out how those numbers will affect several of the district's policies in light of its "basic aid" status.

As of last week, administrators reported, there were 4,621 students in the district--217 more than the same time last year. Stephanie Totter, director of administrative services, told trustees this is largely due to an influx of young children starting anew in the district. There are currently 626 kindergarteners, even more students than their highest projection of 612.

According to a demographic report commissioned by the district, overall enrollment declined slightly from 2001 to 2006 but has been on the rise ever since. The report indicated that growth within the district is mostly occurring in the lower grade levels; kindergarten to fifth grade enrollments increased by a total of 313 students since 2005, with a 47-student bump this year alone.

The projections are based on birthrates and historical data about the percentage of children born in Mountain View who enter kindergarten in the Mountain View Whisman district -- typically about 50 percent. They are also based on migration rates and can be affected by things like fiscal crises and recessions, said Craig Goldman, chief financial officer for the district.

The bottom line, he said, is that "We need to be responsive to the enrollment we have."

"At this point in time we've seen an increase in students and we are up in enrollment," Totter told the Voice, "which is what the demographic analysis projected that we were going to be."

No extra funds

The high enrollment numbers could have significant implications on budget planning due to the district's basic aid status. Unlike "revenue limit" districts, which are funded both by property taxes and by the state on a per-student basis, basic aid districts are funded almost entirely by property taxes, with some supplemental funding by the state. Mountain View Whisman went basic aid officially in July.

It is not necessarily beneficial to have more students in a basic aid district, because that district will have access to the same amount of funding regardless of its student population.

Despite that, "We are better off," Goldman said of the district's basic aid status. "I believe there are better projections and flexibility for us as a basic aid district, but we're still awaiting details from the state, and there's always the risk that we're going to receive a set amount of money based on local property taxes" even if enrollment continues to rise.

At a district meeting last Thursday, Totter told board members that basic aid status will likely guide many administrative decisions in the coming year, among them potentially hot-button topics such as transportation, district boundaries, school sizes, inter-district transfers and the registration timeline.

Currently, she said, the registration timeline is designed to encourage enrollment -- because under its former revenue limit status, more students meant more money. This is one example of the type of adjustments the district may need to make under basic aid.

Totter told trustees that the district should open dialogue now regarding these issues and set an aggressive timeline to address them. Trustees added that they want communication between the board, administrators and parents to be open so that many perspectives are heard.

No specific decisions were made at Thursday's meeting, though discussion touched on a few ideas, such as limiting inter-district transfers to siblings and children of district employees, and closing off enrollment to new students from outside district boundaries.

Healthy reserves

Though enrollment will have a significant impact on district policies, Goldman said Mountain View Whisman is in a strong position financially, and has plans to revise the budget with this in mind. In a report to trustees at Thursday's board meeting, Goldman indicated the district has a healthy reserve from 2008-09 that is higher than they'd hoped.

This is good news for the district, as school officials begin to plan conservatively with more budget cuts looming.

"We know for 2009-10 they're going to reduce our categorical funding by 250 dollars per student," Goldman told the Voice, "but we don't know which programs will be affected."

Categorical funding is typically given to districts by the state with specific spending stipulations. Currently, categorical funds help with programs such as class size reduction, English language learning, school improvement and art and music classes, Goldman said.

"The state is being really reluctant to do cuts against those programs, but they may not have any options left," he said, emphasizing that cuts to these programs are only hearsay at this point. But at $250 per student, Goldman said, the projected loss for the district would be about $1.1 million.

Even more cuts are expected in the 2010-11 school year. Goldman estimated them to be in the neighborhood of $2 million, but he said it could get worse.

All things considered, he said -- given local property tax revenue, federal stimulus money carried over from last year, planned expenditures for 2009-10 and the $250-per-student cut -- the district is in a "healthy fiscal position."

"We're trying to keep expenditures under control," Goldman said, noting that the cost of special needs personnel has "skyrocketed," and that because of union regulations, the district must work with outside contractors for services such as speech and occupational therapy rather than using district employees. He said that because of market demand, contractors can charge up to three or four times as much as it would be to use an in-house employee.

"We are essentially in many cases locked into those services with little recourse. ... It ties our hands with respect to reducing costs."


Like this comment
Posted by Casey
a resident of Whisman Station
on Sep 14, 2009 at 4:45 pm

More spin and dribble from the exact same administrators who have ruined the school district. Great to know they are coping with such issues. It sure doesn't inspire much confidence.

Like this comment
Posted by Ken
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Sep 15, 2009 at 5:12 pm

I don't feel very inspired when I hear these administrators, whose entire professional lives have been in education, start talking as if they are experts in public policy and management.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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