The Mountain View Whisman School District is looking to cut positions and drop programs as a means to scale back the size of the budget, which district leaders describe as unsustainable and a path to insolvency.
Recent years have been a boom time for Mountain View's schools and the envy of neighboring districts, with double-digit property tax growth fueling Mountain View Whisman's budget. In just two years, the district's annual revenue shot up from $61.9 million to $74.2 million, a nearly 20 percent increase.
But it also came with a huge spending spree that included big raises for both of the district's unions, special funds set aside for lower-performing schools, a complete revamp of middle school schedules and a "co-teaching" model intended to help kids with special needs. Barring any changes, the district is expecting anywhere from $4.6 million to $5.2 million in deficit spending each year through 2021.
Worse yet, those estimates don't include future raises for staff, nor do they take into account Bullis Mountain View, which is projected to divert up to $3.4 million in annual funding from the district's future revenue. The charter school would draw away students and reduce staffing requirements at the district, but it's still expected to reduce the district's overall funds.
"That is an unsustainable path, and this is also part of the reason why we have to make adjustments," Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph told school board members at the Jan. 24 meeting.
Numerous programs, services and jobs are on the chopping block, with the goal of bringing down expenditures by $3.6 million without having a direct and obvious effect on classroom education. Board members also made clear that programs aimed at helping at-risk students -- particularly children from low-income families -- needed to be preserved during the process.
Bus driver positions, maintenance staff, an accountant, a translator and an administrative secretary are all positions that were eliminated by the district's leadership in 2018. Under the district's current plan, fewer instructional coaches will serve the same number of classroom teachers, and the districtwide summer school program will be eliminated. Summer school provided 19 days of half-day instruction, which was hard on parent schedules and difficult to staff.
Rudolph made assurances that Theuerkauf and Castro elementary schools, which have a high number of low-income families, will still run a separate summer school program for high-needs elementary school students, and that other supplemental programs like Stretch To Kindergarten and the extended school year program won't be touched by the cuts. Cutting summer school is expected to save $150,000 annually.
With the wide range of job consolidations and reductions on the way, Rudolph told board members he's hoping to avoid losing any district employees in the process, and that job titles and wages are hopefully the only things that change for the affected staffers.
"I can't guarantee that across the board, but it is definitely our hope and our goal that we keep everyone within the district employed in some type of way at this time," he said.
Although the goal was to leave programs for at-risk children out of the cuts, some special education staffing positions are being wiped away under the proposed changes. Ten so-called "roving" instructional assistant positions have already been eliminated, along with one of the three special education coordinator positions that was left vacant during a staffing shuffle.
Rudolph told the Voice that roving instructional assistants are essentially on-call substitutes for the district's workforce of instructional aides, who are integral for providing day-to-day assistance and support for students with special needs. Getting rid of substitute positions shouldn't have an effect on special needs students, he said, and the employees serving in a substitute role weren't laid off in the process.
As for getting rid of a special education coordinator, Rudolph said the special education department is "staffed pretty generously" and seems prepared to handle the extra workload.
"Three or four years ago we had maybe one coordinator, this year we had three," he said. "And our special ed department says that they can function with two."
Board members generally agreed with the cuts, but they won't be taking action formally accepting the reductions until later in the year when the 2019-20 budget is approved. Board member Devon Conley said she hopes the district won't have to fire any staff or take away anyone's benefits, which she said is a very painful process for teachers and their families.
"The more we can retain high-quality staff, the better impact we have on our students," she said.
Board member Ellen Wheeler praised the plan for keeping the fifth-grade science camp program and the annual field trip to Yosemite National Park, even though the trip may not have a clear value when focusing on test scores and academic achievement.
Barring any unforeseen changes in property tax growth, the reduction plan should bring down deficit spending for the 2019-20 school year from $5.2 million to $1.6 million. It's not exactly a balanced budget, but Rudolph said it's about as close as the district can get before it really starts to have ripple effects.
"We wanted to make sure none of the cuts were felt in the classroom," he said.