News

Despite cuts, school board approves budget with deficit spending

 

Coming down from a period of spectacular growth and booming budgets, the Mountain View Whisman School District adopted a budget earlier this month that mixes red ink with a large drop in per-student spending.

Even with school board-endorsed cuts to staffing and programs, budget documents show $7 million in planned deficit spending over the next three years. Despite concerns about a balanced budget, some of the cut staffing and programs approved in February were restored in the final budget, and trustees are already making a list for what else to restore if more money becomes available.

The budget for the upcoming 2019-20 school year, unanimously approved on June 13, includes deficit spending of just under $3 million, which was tempered by numerous cuts recommended by Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph. Fewer instructional coaches will serve the same number of classroom teachers, family outreach staff known as school community engagement facilitators (SCEFs) are getting cut and the districtwide summer school program will be eliminated. School support staff for at-risk youth are also being cut, in part because they were never budgeted as permanent positions, Rudolph said.

"These were only for one year, and they were always contingent on funding," he said.

A vacant administrative position overseeing special education will also go unfilled; Rudolph said the position was considered unnecessary. Bus drivers, maintenance staff, an accountant, a translator and an administrative secretary are all positions that were eliminated by the district's leadership in 2018.

Estimates in February show those cuts were supposed to bring 2019-20 deficit spending down to $1.5 million, but that number nearly doubled to $2.9 million in the months that followed. Textbook adoption that was originally postponed for two years made it back into the budget, which will draw from funds provided by the city's Shoreline Regional Park fund, and the new Vargas Elementary School will have its own designated librarian. The district had previously planned to rotate librarians from other schools run the Vargas library, an idea that was later rejected by the school board in March.

The budget assumptions do not include potential raises for teachers and classified employees, which added an extra $2.4 million in costs last year.

District spending has gone up significantly as property tax revenue reached staggering new heights, with annual double-digit growth for the last three years. Per-student expenditures have increased by 73% in the last five years, reaching a high point of $15,797 for the 2018-19 school year. Due to a sudden drop in tax growth and the round of budget cuts that followed, per-student spending is expected to sink back down to $15,003 in the upcoming school year.

The softening of the local economy puts pressure on the school district's budget in multiple ways. The district has sought to pay for the construction of Vargas Elementary School through developer fees, but when construction slows, so does the money. When developer fees dry up, the district has to dip further into lease revenue -- generated by leasing school sites to Google and a private school -- that would have gone into the general fund.

Although still deep in the red and far from the board's own stated goal of having a balanced budget by the year 2020, school board members reviewed June 13 a priority list for "reinstatement" of budget cuts, in the event that more money becomes available. Rudolph's recommendations called for bringing back districtwide summer school as a first priority, followed by at-risk supervisors, reinstatement of community engagement coordinators and rehiring instructional coaches for teachers.

Board members strongly disagreed with the priorities and essentially flipped them upside-down, arguing instructional coaches and supervisors for at-risk youth were going to have the greatest positive affect on students.

"For each dollar, what is the maximum impact we're going to have in terms of students and student gains, so we should frame (the priorities) along those lines," said board president Tamara Wilson.

Board member Ellen Wheeler also made a pitch for some type of after-school program for low-income families and working parents with children at Mistral Elementary. Earlier in the meeting, close to a dozen parents -- mostly speaking in Spanish -- urged the board to consider a program similar to the Beyond the Bell program co-sponsored by the city.

Mistral Elementary School, home to the district's Dual Immersion language program, used to have access to after-school child care through Beyond the Bell when it was part of Castro Elementary. By splitting the program off as its own separate school in 2015, those services were no longer available to needy Mistral families. About 44% of Mistral students qualify for free and reduced-price meals, making it the district's third-highest concentration of low-income families, behind Castro and Theuerkauf elementary schools.

Parent Bridget Harrison presented a letter on behalf of 200 parents urging the board to consider investing in an after-school program at the school, calling it a badly needed resource for families working full-jobs to stay in Mountain View. Mistral parent Imelda Moreno, speaking through a translator, said she worries children from low-income families need a supportive environment to play and do homework, many of whom live in small apartments.

Mistral did not qualify for a Beyond the Bell program, making it the only school with more than 40% low-income students without the after-school program. The alternative, the districtwide "Right at School" child care program, costs $480 each month, which is unaffordable to many of those families, according to the letter.

Board members did not take a formal vote on either the priorities for budget reinstatement or the after-school program.

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Comments

36 people like this
Posted by Ernest
a resident of Jackson Park
on Jul 5, 2019 at 4:33 pm

Oh OK. Now I understand why the district needs to pay Westover $200,000 AND spend $96,000 to on a consultant to train her on Voodoo Economics.

And Wheeler is showing her true colors. She whines about the low-income needs at Mistral while dismantling the program in the same breath.

The situation in this district is hopeless. Overspend on salaries for high-end earners accompanied by Board Member hand wringing about not enough money for the low-end and poor students.


15 people like this
Posted by MP
a resident of Monta Loma
on Jul 5, 2019 at 7:24 pm

And it appears that the low end and poor students are always the sole focus of the spending priorities. Let’s not worry about the kids of the parents that are actually paying the taxes that fund these schools. No wonder so many opt for private schools.


5 people like this
Posted by Cfrink
a resident of Willowgate
on Jul 6, 2019 at 12:07 am

Cfrink is a registered user.

I love that the district does a significant amount of professional development at all levels of the DO. I think this is important to the health and strength of the district and it’s staff, and of course, we know this kind of training convinced people to hang around a long time...particularly important since the folks of this district seem to enjoy the hire from within philosophy.

I do hope a good alternative to beyond the bell is created for Mistral. Those families need all the help they can get.


23 people like this
Posted by Ernest
a resident of Jackson Park
on Jul 6, 2019 at 6:14 am

@Cfrink,

Please list the "significant amount of professional development at all levels of the DO". You appear to be making such un-qualified and broad statements in ignorance. And there is no such training for teachers proportionate to up to a third of their yearly salary. Maybe that's why Mistral has lost a quarter of its teaching staff in the last year and the attrition rate for teachers at other schools is high as well.

And BTW, hoping for a "good alternative to beyond the bell" or some other form of quality after school program is not the same as actually having one.


7 people like this
Posted by Return of austerity
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jul 6, 2019 at 3:50 pm

Return of austerity is a registered user.

The board should consider the reinstatement of inexpensive programs like ISP.


22 people like this
Posted by James
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Jul 6, 2019 at 4:17 pm

Leasing school sites to Google and a private school generate more than one million a year plus donation from Google, Realtors. Mountain View Whisman District saving account can resolve such deficit. The problem is not the money. The problem is the conflict of interest of that millions of dollars. Mountain View community deserve
an investigation. It is needed to clarify how it is spent and who benefits from this money


6 people like this
Posted by Somewhere
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jul 7, 2019 at 1:54 am

@cfrink your comment 'Those families' needing all the help they could get, really shows that the district and the pro-district folks, though few, are trying to dismantle and de-incentivize a program for the native Spanish speakers, therefore lowering enrollment overtime. The comment and the districts actions are at minimum, quite derogatory if not full on oppressive.


26 people like this
Posted by Ernest
a resident of Jackson Park
on Jul 7, 2019 at 6:59 pm

The problem would appear to be elected board members unqualified and lacking experience to manage such a large and complex organization. We have a couple of underemployed lawyers from low tier law firms, a para-legal / legal secretary, a mid-level government employee and a former teacher. Compared to the high qualified board members on the Los Altos and Palo Alto school boards, we have the equivalent a high school junior varsity team. To make matters worse we have a first time novice superintendent who has shown on numerous occasions already serious problems in owning up to his screw ups. It all just makes for an exasperating set of circumstances. The district is largely being steered directionless and now with deficit spending. This will not end well.


8 people like this
Posted by LongResident
a resident of another community
on Jul 8, 2019 at 10:20 am

LongResident is a registered user.

The charter school program would have cost the district $10K per student in funding and provided a unique service that would highly benefit the low income students who would make up 35% of its students. The $10K average cost would go down if the make up didn't include 35% low income students.

The district has such expensive programs that it spends nearly $16K per student. Programs like the charter's provide a service to the low income students at a much more affordable cost. Naturally the bozo's on the board listened to the incompetent superintendent and greeted the charter program with hostility and dismissive comments until they killed it.


16 people like this
Posted by Interested
a resident of Jackson Park
on Jul 8, 2019 at 11:16 am

@LongResident

It was Bullis Mountain View’s refusal to take steps to guarantee enrolling the students they claimed to want to serve that killed their plans. There are plenty of other concerns about MVWSD’s leadership, but they get credit for holding BMV accountable.


3 people like this
Posted by MVWSD Parent
a resident of Rex Manor
on Jul 10, 2019 at 9:18 am

@Ernest

"The problem would appear to be elected board members unqualified and lacking experience to manage such a large and complex organization. We have a couple of underemployed lawyers from low tier law firms, a para-legal / legal secretary, a mid-level government employee and a former teacher."

Now that you have identified the problem, what do you propose as a solution?

“Complaining about a problem without posing a solution is called whining.”
― Teddy Roosevelt


6 people like this
Posted by Politics
a resident of The Crossings
on Jul 10, 2019 at 9:42 am

Politics is a registered user.

Charter opponents loudly warned that BMV would "drain" funds causing financial trouble for the District. The claim was misguided because MVWSD is a basic aid district.

The District collects $thousands more in revenue per-student than the charter would receive, and the District would keep the difference. The District would profit by $thousands per charter student for its own program.

Turns out financial trouble was coming anyway. Killing the charter made it worse and deprived MVWSD of a much-needed scapegoat.


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