District considers hiring private eye | September 26, 2008 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |


Mountain View Voice

News - September 26, 2008

District considers hiring private eye

Mountain View Whisman trustees want to verify student enrollment

by Casey Weiss

With elementary school enrollment growing much faster than expected, and around 80 students on a waiting list to attend their neighborhood schools, some district trustees want to hire an investigator to explore whether all students are properly enrolled.

The Mountain View Whisman School District currently has a student population of 4,408, a number administrators had not been expecting to reach until 2011. In part, administrators said during a board meeting last week, the increased enrollment can be explained by a growing number of families at Moffett Field and the expanding technology industry.

But several trustees suspect there may be something else at work, and suggest hiring a private investigator to make sure that all of the enrolled students are residents of Mountain View or have permission to attend the schools.

"It shocks me that today we are at the numbers we thought we would reach in 2011," said trustee Ellen Wheeler, who initiated the conversation about the investigator.

Students who are not residents within the district are allowed to transfer in, but are not given first priority. The district gives first priority to neighborhood students, then to students living within district boundaries, then to students from outside of the district.

This year more students were transferred from their neighborhood school to another campus, and trustees want to "make sure we are serving our kids — in-town Mountain View kids first," said board president Fiona Walter in an e-mail to the Voice.

During last Thursday's meeting, trustees reached no decision about hiring a "private eye," but agreed to continue enrollment discussions on Thursday, Oct. 16. They seemed to be split on the issue, with some arguing the technology industry was the biggest cause of increased enrollment.

"I just want to make sure we are targeting the right group," said trustee Ed Bailey.

Administrators said enrollment was up 47 students from last year — an unusually high number compared to enrollment several years ago. Most of the elementary schools are close to reaching full capacity, they said.

To address increased enrollment, trustees and administrators are considering moving PACT, a program that encourages parents to participate in the classroom, off the Castro campus and onto the district site. They are also planning to hold a new demographics study; the last such study was done in 2004.

"The demographic study will give us data that will need to be reviewed and then [we can] determine next steps," said director of administrative services Stephanie Totter.

Balancing class size

California has a class size reduction program which Mountain View Whisman participates in, meaning the district must keep classrooms below 21 students in order to receive funding. This year, because classes had reached this capacity, the district waitlisted 84 students who wanted to attend their neighborhood schools.

"When a classroom exceeds its maximum, we look at the last student put in the classroom and move them to another classroom that is below the maximum," Totter said. "We try very hard not to move a student out of the school."

The waitlist also includes 112 Mountain View residents who want to transfer schools, and 64 students who want to transfer into the district. There are also nine families who have an older child at one school but have to send younger siblings to another school due to over-enrollment.

"This has been an anxious time as they wait to see what happens," Totter said of those families.

Private eye

Typically, the district verifies students' addresses through electricity bills, lease agreements and home visits, and this year, administrators said, they have already found several families who lied about their address. But some trustees now say they may want to take more drastic measures.

For the last several years, Mountain View-Los Altos High School District administrators have worked with a contract employee to help them verify students' addresses. The elementary school district trustees said this may be a good solution.

Joe White, associate superintendent of business services, said the system works well for the high school district. "When there is a document they want to verify, they call this person up," he said.

The high school district is a basic aid district and receives the majority of its funding from property taxes, meaning it does not get more funding for increased enrollment. The elementary school district, by contrast, is a revenue limit district and receives funding depending on average daily attendance.

Even though the Mountain View Whisman district benefits from increased enrollment, trustees said they want to verify that students are properly enrolled out of fairness to those students being moved around.

E-mail Casey Weiss at cweiss@mv-voice.com


Posted by Lew Lee, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Sep 26, 2008 at 8:54 am

Hiring a private investigator to verify proper enrollment as the answer to a significant increase to student population is too narrowly focused. The Palo Alto Online's article on "Schools hit 20-year high, but numbers puzzling" describes a similar situation in Palo Alto. (Web Link) The article suggests one possibility of students previously enrolled in private institutions now being enrolled in public schools because of the tight economic situation. Our trustees may want to do a bit more homework (such as networking with adjoining districts) to see a bigger picture before choosing an investigative method that would miss seeing the potentially wider range of root causes.

Posted by Mrs. Anderson, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 26, 2008 at 9:00 am

I must argue that it is not only it's the business aspect that is impacting this matter; but the fact that in today's economy, many families are being squeezed out of their homes and many are forced to have multiple families in one home. This is very typcial in my findings; in addition, it is also very true that many documents are falsified and some families go so far as to have "affidavits" signed to testify that the student is living within the district. Again, I have found that these are affidavits of "convenience"; I have found many students to be out of district under affidavits. Due to recent and new Notary laws; I would strongly recommend affidavits be thoroughly investigated to verify authenticity. I would strongly recommend that staff thoroughly validate any and all documents received. In addition, I have found that community involvement is key in solving a lot of out of district students. A system should be in place to have the anonymity of the reporting parting secured.

Posted by susan, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 29, 2008 at 1:29 pm

The closing of Slater was terribly short sited! PACT was on that campus, was then moved to Castro, and will now be moved again. This is unfair to all the kids that were on the Slater campus. It is even more unfair that the schools are so overcrowded! Parents warned the district that this would happen, and only 3 years later and look where we are!
PACT is a great program and will do great things with their own school campus, however, this is essentially an opening of a new school, after a closing of one 3 years ago.