The district's latest budget documents show Mountain View-Los Altos expects to have $93.3 million in revenue for the upcoming school year, an increase of nearly 44 percent from four years ago. The vast majority of the windfall comes from property tax growth in Mountain View, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills.
"The driving component, hands down, is the strong housing market and property values in the area," said Associate Superintendent Mike Mathiesen.
The strong revenues enabled the district to increase teacher salaries by an average of about 5 percent each year during the last three rounds of negotiations, bringing the pay scale for some of the highest-paid teachers in the state even higher. The district's latest salary schedule, approved last month, ranges from $82,819 on the low end to $156,497 for the most well-educated and longest-serving teachers.
Mathiesen said the state is asking school districts for increasing amounts of money to pay for retirement costs, which he said now accounts for millions of dollars in added costs to the district each year. The ramp-up plan for pension contributions, which began in 2014, is expected to cost the district about $6 million each year when it peaks during the 2020-21 school year. The so-called "CalSTRS 2014 Funding Plan" was signed by Governor Jerry Brown as a necessary move to prevent the pension program from going broke in the coming decades.
The high school district has also faced major enrollment growth in recent years, putting pressure on district officials to add classrooms and hire more teachers, making the extra property tax revenue more of a necessity than a luxury. Enrollment in the district has increased by 755 students since the 2012-13 school year, and in one year, jumped by 218 students.
Mathiesen said the district is expecting about 131 additional students this fall, which is largely responsible for the eight or nine full-time equivalent teachers being added to the teaching staff. While he didn't have the numbers available, he said, the district's per-student spending is about the same.
"On the whole we've been so fortunate with the property tax growth that we've been able to maintain our per-pupil spending, and it may have even gone up slightly," he said.
What's worrying to district officials is that property tax growth has already begun to taper off and is expected to slow even more, but enrollment growth shows no signs of slowing. Mathiesen said the concern is that that the high school district won't be able to rely on rapid increases in property taxes forever, and may have to tighten its belt.
On the school construction side, district officials say they have spent most of the 2010 Measure A bond money, with the remaining money staked out for $200,000 in annual technology upgrades. The district is also moving ahead on plans to spend money from the $295 million Measure E bond, passed by voters last month, intended to add much-needed classroom space on cramped campuses. Plans to add new two-story classroom wings at both schools will go out to bid in the spring, in hopes of opening the doors by fall 2020.
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