Hundreds of Mountain View Whisman students must change schools this fall

New school boundaries cause drastic enrollment changes

With a new school opening in the Mountain View Whisman District, and a host of changes to school attendance boundaries rolling out, hundreds of students will be saying goodbye to their old campuses and going somewhere new in the upcoming school year.

Recently released enrollment projections for the 2019-20 school year show hundreds of district students are being relocated to new schools following a complete re-drawing of the attendance zones to reducing overcrowding at some schools. Vargas Elementary School is also opening in the fall, and is expected to enroll 323 students in its inaugural year.

And while most of the shifts in enrollment were expected by district staffers, whose estimates were central to the boundary-drawing process, there are some surprises. Huff's enrollment didn't decline at nearly the rate anticipated, and Landels Elementary enrollment didn't explode to 545 students -- it actually saw a decline.

Monta Loma Elementary, long considered a vulnerable school that could become too small to be viable if enrollment declines, also has fewer students than anticipated. In 2017-18 the school had 444 students, and now it's projected to have 354 in the upcoming school year.

In 2017, school board members voted to approve new boundaries to balance enrollment between district schools, focusing on a smaller "neighborhood school" model aiming for between 400 and 450 students on each campus. The decision came with a simultaneous crackdown on intradistrict transfers, doing away with a long-standing policy allowing the free-flow movement of students to any school campus with space.

The result is that a whole lot of students would be forcefully moved -- 540 in total, according to Assistant Superintendent Carmen Ghysels. To take the edge off the transition, school board members allowed "grandfathering" exemptions so fifth grade students could finish elementary school next year, along with their siblings. Several neighborhoods, including Shoreline West, North Whisman, Willowgate and Wagon Wheel, were moved in their entirety from one school to another.

While families were promised the opportunity to contest the move and request an enrollment exemption, the list of legitimate reasons for switching from neighborhood school is narrow and inflexible. Of the 81 that asked for an exemption, only 12 qualified, Ghysels said. Some families sought to switch from Theuerkauf Elementary to Landels, citing a need for safe bike routes to school. Ghysels said the district's exemption committee rejected those requests, in part because those same families were also requesting admission into the Stevenson PACT choice program. Stevenson shares a campus with Theuerkauf.

"It wasn't really about the distance, it was about the perceptions of the school quality," she said at the May 30 school board meeting. "And those were hard conversations and crucial conversations that the committee had."

One of the driving principals behind the new school boundaries was that Bubb and Huff elementaries, among the district's highest performing schools, were packed to the brim and needed several portable classrooms to house all their students. While both school shrank in size, both are still well above the sweet spot of 450 students.

Part of the reason could be that many families opted for the fifth grade exemption, temporarily dulling the effect of the boundary changes. A total of 95 fifth grade students and 43 of their siblings took advantage of the exemption, Ghysels said.

On the other end is Monta Loma, which is expected to lose students in the coming school year, and district officials are already estimating they will need to reduce the teaching staff from its current 18 down to 14 next year.

For years, outspoken parents and residents worried that opening a new school and redrawing boundaries could spell trouble for Monta Loma and Theuerkauf, dragging down enrollment until the schools could barely sustain two classrooms at each grade level -- otherwise known as "strands." Three strands was considered the goal throughout the boundary-drawing process.

It's unclear whether the boundary-drawing task force and the school board anticipated the enrollment drop. In June 2018, the board was advised that Monta Loma would have 396 students in the 2019-20 school year, just shy of the target. As of May 2, that number was only 342, climbing to 354 by month's end.

District spokeswoman Shelly Hausman cautioned that the enrollment estimates are a moving target and will change -- almost daily -- in the late spring and summer, before school starts on Aug. 19. She also suggested that the district's estimates back in June 2018 were right on the money, anticipating 346 students at Monta Loma for the upcoming school year. However, the publicly available documents from the June 2018 school board meeting tell a different story, showing a difference of 50 students. Monta Loma's enrollment project is the only school with a number that's changed in what is apparently a revised estimate for the school that is also dated June 2018.

Monta Loma is the designated campus for military families residing on Moffett Field, which could also be delaying enrollment at the school as families await military orders. Most orders are given in the spring and through July, Hausman said.

Another exemption approved by the school board allows student transfers to "under-enrolled" schools at less than 75% capacity. But the way the rules are being interpreted by district administrators, no school actually qualified for this exemption for the 2019-20 school year, Ghysels said. "Capacity," in this case, is based on a maximum of 450 students, rather than the available classroom facilities, meaning Theuerkauf and Monta Loma can each handle 575 students but neither one is considered an under-enrolled school.

As for Vargas Elementary, the early projections indicate plenty of families are planning send their children there for its inaugural year. The best guess last year was that 298 students would attend the school in 2019-20, whereas the latest update shows 323 students will be attending in the fall.

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21 people like this
Posted by MV Parent
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jun 11, 2019 at 2:52 pm

Those “surprised” by the fact that Huff and Bubb numbers aren’t declining are those not paying attention nor applying common sense - our superintendent is at the top of that list.

MVWSD should explore a Chinese immersion program for one of the under-enrolled schools. It could be a win for MV.

2 people like this
Posted by Mtn View Mom
a resident of Shoreline West
on Jun 11, 2019 at 3:46 pm

Mtn View Mom is a registered user.

Kevin, thanks for reporting. Can you post a link to the updated enrollment projections.

1 person likes this
Posted by Kevin Forestieri
Mountain View Voice Staff Writer
on Jun 11, 2019 at 3:58 pm

Kevin Forestieri is a registered user.

@Mtn View Mom

It's attached as the third image in the story now.

1 person likes this
Posted by Mtn View Mom
a resident of Shoreline West
on Jun 11, 2019 at 4:30 pm

Mtn View Mom is a registered user.

Thanks Kevin.

Also, here are the current enrollment numbers by school from the last Board meeting in May as well the staff rebalancing plan.

Web Link

The difference between actual April 2019 enrollment and 2019-20 projected enrollment by school

Bubb: 547 students -> 495 students (-52 students)
Castro: 281 -> 339 (+58)
Huff: 619 -> 560 (-59)
Landels: 484 -> 444 (-40)
Monta Loma: 417 -> 354 (-63)
Theuerkauf: 287 -> 347 (+60) .

The only school in the enrollment sweet spot of 400-450 is Landels

1 person likes this
Posted by Steven Nelson
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jun 11, 2019 at 4:38 pm

Steven Nelson is a registered user.

Why is Huff not declining as much as "expected"? Grandfathering of 5th graders AND ALL THEIR SIBLINGS. That is the Board policy, probably what they thought of as a compromise, to allow the gradual shifting of students.

Of course - the most highly economically segregated school, STEVENSON is growing. Seems like it was projected to be between 450-500 last time I saw numbers. Why doesn't the Board and Administration change the attendance/admittance rules for Stevenson? That is very much directly IN THEIR CONTROL (maybe the charter school model they proposed?). - Sure -

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Posted by Steven Nelson
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jun 11, 2019 at 4:51 pm

Steven Nelson is a registered user.

450 capacity. That is an entirely reasonable method that is used for assignment in at least one school district / capacities of schools are calculated by classrooms and auxiliary facilities - teachers are assigned to those classrooms (based on district projections of TOTAL DISTRICT enrollment).

And then, through the MAGIC OF MATH a system-wide assignment algorithm is run until every student is assigned to a school with capacity, based on a minimized total distances-traveled scheme. Pretty cool (I guess they solve school continuity & siblings-at-the-same-site somewhere in the algorithm). {"That ALGORITHM, he knows everything" as the advertisement says). Link is to Belmont-Redwood Shores.

The Board was not interested in this (proven/working)concept when I submitted it to them.

Web Link

16 people like this
Posted by An Interested Observer
a resident of another community
on Jun 11, 2019 at 5:08 pm

An Interested Observer is a registered user.

Bottom line, a new elementary school was not needed.

3 people like this
Posted by Mtn View Mom
a resident of Shoreline West
on Jun 11, 2019 at 5:08 pm

Mtn View Mom is a registered user.

Hi @Steven Nelson. Over the weekend I met one of the Board Members of the Belmont-RWS school district and he described this algorithim to me, which sounds like it works great over there. However, their district population is much more uniform in income levels than our MVWSD district and as you would expect, the perceived performance of their elementary schools are more uniform as well. On Greatschools you'll see in Bemont-RWS 4 schools which rate 9 and 1 school rates as a 8 Web Link. In MVWSD, we have schools rated at 6, 7, 8. and 9. I think this makes the school assignment much more contentious and the public is less likely to trust an algorithm (I work on algos for a living and there is often more art than science to determine an "optimal" result).

Also, where do you see that Stevenson enrollment is growing? The projected staffing level stays the same (17) next year.

Like this comment
Posted by ST parent
a resident of Rex Manor
on Jun 11, 2019 at 11:47 pm

@Mtn View Mom

"Also, where do you see that Stevenson enrollment is growing? The projected staffing level stays the same (17) next year."

The new Stevenson campus was full to the brim the day it opened last fall.

Without adding portables, which there is no place to add them, there are simply no rooms to add any more kids. They would have to eliminate an after school program to free up a room and even then it would only add 25 kids, not 70.

Stevenson had about 430 kids this year and will be very close to that in the fall.

The District already said that the temporary campus (yellow buildings) used 2 years ago and are now the District offices will end up being fully mothballed once the new District Office building is done.

Bullis Mountain View may yet come back and try again to get those yellow buildings for themselves, so don't imagine those yellow buildings will become additional classrooms for Stevenson.

Like this comment
Posted by ST parent
a resident of Rex Manor
on Jun 12, 2019 at 12:21 am

@Steven Nelson

"Why is Huff not declining as much as "expected"?"

Funny how you always give Huff a pass on the fact that they have a percentage of Free/Reduced lunch families that is only slightly different from Stevenson's. You always lavish praise on Huff while ignoring their second-lowest SED numbers in the district.

Why not force-bus lots of low-income kids from far away neighborhoods to Huff to give those lucky kids...oh, wait, the district tried that about 15 years ago and it didn't work then either.

I wonder why you don't demand a real and robust residency check for all the kids of the district, starting immediately with Huff, Bubb and Stevenson to find out for sure if many families are cheating the neighborhood residency rules, or even don't live in the MVWSD overall boundaries?

Are you afraid of what you may learn about your perpetually favorite school Huff?

Personally, I have been pushing the District Office to enact a strong residency check on the entire district for 5 years now. Lets get started with Huff and Stevenson right away, OK?

You would support that, right?

I mean the demographers were pretty clear about their projections and if Huff has significantly more kids than projected, then maybe many families are faking a Huff area residency, or even faking a Mountain View residency.

I could only expect the Huff percentage to go even lower this Fall and lower still next Fall, because of the new boundaries, even lower than Stevenson.

What ever are you going to complain about if Huff goes lower than Stevenson?

"Grandfathering of 5th graders AND ALL THEIR SIBLINGS. That is the Board policy,"

The Board took quite a bit of public comment on this policy and the Task Force spent quite a bit of time dealing with that very issue. Personally, I advocated for a clean break all moves at once. But, the task force was pretty evenly split on this issue and in the end it was just a one vote difference.

"the most highly economically segregated school, STEVENSON"

By only about 1.5% over Huff this Fall and probably less next Fall, the projections showed Huff will become "the most highly economically segregated school", unless of course, lots of Huff families are cheating.

"is growing. "

Utterly false, Stevenson was full to the brim on opening day, no rooms available for any more kids. In fact, it's been quite a struggle this year trying to find space for meetings or even storage all year. The MUR finally opened months behind schedule, but it does not really have rooms for storage or classrooms either.

2 people like this
Posted by Enrollment Update Stupidity
a resident of another community
on Jun 12, 2019 at 12:43 am

One slide in the enrollment update speaks to the ongoing rental of portables. It doesn't give the numbers, but the normal rate to rent a 960 sq ft portable previously installed is about $8K per school year.

Here's where the stupidity comes in. The enrollment is declining at Bubb and Huff. So is the number of teachers. So CLEARLY the $8K portable rental fee could be saved by returning portables this summer--just part of them, not the entire set.

By the same token, going forward, it is going to be unlikely that Huff and Bubb will slim down and still serve their new attendance areas. It's likely that a portable or two at each site could still be put to good use. The cost is not astronomical--just $8K per portable classroom. But there is this statement
that the schools need to live without portables. Well, this is using the assumption to prove the hypothesis. Staffing a TEACHER for a class with overhead and benefits might cost $100K. But for one of these TEACHER's classes to operate
in a portable is a fairly affordable $8K cost. If it is just ONE classroom, I don't see the justification to shoehorn the school to fit a set number of classrooms. There can easily be population bumps where there will be a lot of kids in the attendance area of one particular age. You might do well to have an extra classroom so that you don't send 20% of the kids of one age cohort off out of the area to a different school. Its just small minds that value consistency so much that they eschew any potential use of portable classrooms. Portable classrooms are ubiquitous in schools. There's a reason.

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