Enrollment surge puts district in a bind | December 5, 2008 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |


Mountain View Voice

Opinion - December 5, 2008

Enrollment surge puts district in a bind

The Mountain View Whisman Elementary School District may have painted itself into a corner.

Just two years ago, the district looked at its slumping enrollment and decided that it could squeeze itself into six elementary schools and give up Slater School, which it signed over to Google for $650,000 a year on a five-year lease.

Today, the district is watching its enrollment shoot upward, reaching near capacity at all elementary campuses. Current enrollment numbers were not expected until 2011.

And now the district faces a new problem: The highly regarded and popular PACT program (Parents, Children, Teachers), with 160 students, is outgrowing its home on the Castro campus. So last month, members of the school board discussed spending nearly $2 million to build a new home for PACT at the district office on San Pierre Way. By doing so, space would open at Castro School and the pressure to accommodate more students would be relieved.

It's an appealing option, but expensive, even after the $2 million. That's because a new PACT campus would be housed in a site now being leased to the YMCA. Counting lost rent and additional expenses, the new campus would cost the district $400,000 a year to maintain.

And as longtime board member Ellen Wheeler immediately pointed out, now is not the time to be spending such a large sum when the outlook for state education funding is so bleak. Wheeler raised the issue of salary increases for teachers, asking rhetorically, "Do we say no teacher raises, but we are going to spend $400,000 a year to move PACT?"

It's a tough question, and one the district will continue to ponder. But it is difficult to ignore the bind the district created when it gave up Slater School, along with the capacity to house more than 300 students, back in 2006.

Equally difficult to ignore is the almost certain loss of about $1.5 million in state revenue that is expected to be announced in the next few months. Couple that with the $2 million price tag for a new PACT building, and the loss of $400,000 a year, and the district is looking at a huge financial burden in its near future.

Meanwhile, the students continue to pour in. As for taking back Slater School, that can't happen until the 2011-12 school year — and, of course, it comes with its own debilitating loss of the $650,000 a year in rent which Google pays the district. That may be the cheaper option, however, compared to the alternative of building a whole new campus.

Given the sour economy and the rotten outlook for state funding, the best course is for the district to shepherd its resources for the benefit of all its students, not just the 160 in the PACT program. Now is not the time to commit to even a minor building project.


Posted by parent, a resident of Castro City
on Dec 5, 2008 at 9:56 am

Google has done MAJOR modifications to Slater School to make it accomodate all preschool children-it is unlikely that it will become a public elementary school again. Whisman is up for lease consideration in 2011. It should be taken back by the district.
I can't accept this explanation that the district had NO IDEA population would grow this quickly. Closing Slater was a horrible, costly decision that was mostly motivated by Google offering LOTS of money. We have to keep Google happy. Even the city council had no interest in preserving a much needed neighborhood school. Not if it meant upsetting the giant. If Google is reading, where is your "do no evil" in this situation?

Posted by jane horton, a resident of North Whisman
on Dec 5, 2008 at 10:36 am

For those of us who fought so hard to keep Slater School open, this is not a surprise. We had thick packets of data that projected that what is happening now was actually going to take place. The then-superintendent and her cronies, along with the entire School Board, got us into this mess, and led us down this road. PACT moved from Slater to Castro, and now a proposal is to have PACT move again is on the table. The Board was short-sighted and made a bad decision in 2006; are they now more competent to make decisions concerning the students, their families and their transportation needs? The legacy of the ill-thought closure of Slater has affected many, many people; I hope that the Board, in considering spending 2 million dollars, is really thinking this through better than they did the Slater-closure issue.

Posted by Jen, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Dec 5, 2008 at 5:58 pm

In response to Parent (in Castro neighborhood):
I went to alot of the board meetings at the time of the closure, with worry that they would close my school. I stayed in the loop as much as possible.
I don't disagree with your first paragraph. However, I must say, that the Google deal (offering LOTS of money) was not on the table when the district decided to close Slater.
It seems to me that Elenor Yick was working on closing Slater for quite a while. There were many things being done before the announcement of a closure which leads me to this idea.

But, I am told that Slater had a few potential people looking at the site AFTER the closure was announced, and Google was only one of them.

Posted by poor decisions, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Dec 6, 2008 at 10:22 am

After the closure of Slater the next year brought overcrowding to every elementary school. There are many Children being bussed away from their neighborhood schools due to overcrowding. The Whisman School should be taken back to relieve overcrowding and so that neighborhood can have a school nearby. This is costly, and unfortunately the school board made poor decisions in the past, but the Students deserve better conditions, and shouldn't have to suffer based on poor decisions by adults in power.

Posted by parent, a resident of Castro City
on Dec 6, 2008 at 11:25 am

Well then Jen, you were fooled. Of course they didn't announce or admit the Google deal but all they saw were dollar signs. The district has had a relationship with Google and had already been renting Google space at other school sites before Slater was closed. You don't think there were any discussions behind those doors?

Posted by QM, a resident of North Whisman
on Dec 6, 2008 at 2:46 pm

MV Voice, March 3rd 2006

The answer to Slater Elementary School's fate once it closes in June may be short and sweet: Google.

The company hopes to use the site for its child care and preschool needs. The Mountain View-Whisman School Board met on March 2, after the Voice went to press, to discuss a possible joint use agreement with Google. The board will then hold a follow-up meeting March 9 to vote on the agreement.

A draft of the five-year agreement was provided prior to the Thursday meeting. It indicates an average yearly rent of $690,000, allowing Google to use two-thirds of Slater's 45,000 square feet for employee child care and a preschool. The district had hoped for $500,000 of income from a Slater lease, if it came to that, so the Google proposal will more than meet those expectations.

Google currently uses part of Theuerkauf School for child care and preschool programs, with a long waiting list of employees wanting to enroll, according to Rebecca Wright, the district's chief financial officer. She called the joint use agreement plan a "win-win."

If the board and Google decide to move ahead with this plan, the elementary school district would continue to be able to use Slater for its own state-funded preschool under the joint use agreement. The plan also allows community members to continue to use the school's playing fields, addressing neighborhood concerns about being deprived of open space if Slater were leased to a private school.

"It's a dream in a lot of ways," said board vice-president Fiona Walter.

Posted by parent, a resident of Castro City
on Dec 7, 2008 at 7:52 pm

That about sums it up-thanks QM!

Posted by Jen, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Dec 8, 2008 at 7:21 am

Except that the article was AFTER the decision was already made to close a school.

The District always anticipated to rent out the space; however, when Google came through, they ended up getting way more money than they had in their "budget" for this rental space.

Posted by another parent, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Dec 9, 2008 at 7:35 am

The decision to close a school had been on the table for a long time starting with the School Closure Task Force back in 2005, long before the article was written. I think 'parent" was trying to make the point that MVWSD may have made a poor decision because they had dollar signs in their eyes. It now seems that it would have actually been cheaper and wiser to have kept Slater School and all schools open. Thank goodness we have that nifty construction fund-once we build this new school we can close it and rent it out too!!

Posted by Kenneth, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Dec 10, 2008 at 7:23 am

Easy solution. Require proof of ciizenship before enrollment. Overcrowding will be eliminated, budget shortages will be controlled. Students will again be challenged to perform. Test scores will go up. Gang problems in the schools will be minimized. No, it is not politically correct, but it is true.

Posted by Mike H., a resident of Cuernavaca
on Dec 10, 2008 at 5:40 pm

Kenneth, your proposal, I believe, would only solve a small percentage of the problem, because most of these children are citizens because their parents illegally entered the United States and had them delivered for "free" in U.S. hospitals. Free to the undocumented parents that is, but not free to the tax payers and private hospital owners. Many hospitals in close proximity to the border have gone out of business because of all the anchor babies delivered without reimbursement.

Posted by another parent, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Dec 11, 2008 at 12:25 pm

By the way, they are not talking about actually "building a new school" (although that is the way the Voice made it sound). They are removing the YMCA from a building and putting PACT there. The building is part of Stevenson school (another school closed by Mt View - a long time ago). The District uses the rest of that school as their offices. The building-fund money comes in when they have to renovate the building to bring it up to code.

(I do wonder why a building does not have to be up to code when there are kids in it already?)

Posted by USA, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Dec 11, 2008 at 1:16 pm

So where are all those people who say that illegal immigration doesn't cost us anything?