Saturday, September 26, 2009

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

School District Boundaries Update

Update on last night's back-to-back special Santa Clara Unified School District board meeting and County Office of Education, Committee on School District Organization public hearing:

The skinny: By a unanimous vote, SCUSD board of trustees gave a qualified nod to Santa Clara south-of-Pruneridge residents' request to move the neighborhood from the Campbell Union school districts to Santa Clara Unified. The question now is in the hands of the county Committee on School District Organization, which then heard from neighborhood residents.

SCUSD's qualifier is that, because Santa Clara schools are already over capacity, the district needs time to find additional space for roughly 150 new students – almost all of them currently in elementary and middle school. However, new residential development in city – both planned and currently under construction – means that the district will need additional capacity in any case.

The county Committee on School District Organization was primarily there to listen – which they did very generously, allowing speakers to make their points even when they ran over the two-minute limit.

The Campbell districts' case is that they will be hard hit financially without the tax revenue from that neighborhood. In K-8 grades (Campbell Union school district), Santa Clara residents represent 2 percent of the students and 4 percent of the revenue. In 9-12 grades (Campbell Union high school district) Santa Clara residents, 15 to 20 students, represent $600,000 in district revenue.

Campbell's status as "basic aid" funded district hangs by a thread at 0.1 percent over the cutoff. The proposed change would return the district to "revenue limit" status. (Basic aid districts are less vulnerable to state funding cuts and benefit more in a rising real estate market. However, they are more vulnerable to declines in local tax revenue).

Despite these favorable imbalances in cost and revenue – a "goldmine" is how county School District Organization Committee member Phil Nelsen characterized it – the Campbell districts closed all three schools near Santa Clara, sending students to Lynhaven elementary, Monroe middle and Del Mar high schools. Residents also pointed out that inter-district transfers – suggested as an alternative by district administrators – are approved about as often as the Bay Area has a blizzard.

The unedited "feed:"

SCUSD special board meeting:

Facilities are the critical factor. Schools overcrowded already, some are already over-capacity. "We're portable-ed to death," was how Trustee Pat Flot put it.

"Regardless of financing, it's a foregone conclusion that we're going to have to open new schools so we might have to do this sooner," said Trustee Albert Gonzalez. "As I see it the financials are positive." The change would increase SCUSD's per-student funding by about $170.

"The numbers indicate that it would be favorable to us," said Trustee Andy Ratermann. "The [construction bond] debt we have out there is new, mostly amortized, so I don't see an issue there. I think if we get enough time we can do this, but if we don't it's going to be a great strain. All of that about [Campbell districts' assertion that petitioners' objective is] improving property values, I don't find at all compelling."

After voting against the staff recommendation to deny the request, Trustee Andy Ratermann put forward a motion that the SCUSD board was "favorable" to the change, "but concerned about timing and ability to provide adequate facilities." That passed unanimously.

SCC Committee on School District Organization hearing:

"I've lived there [Santa Clara] 44 years," said resident Richard Harrison. "We thought we were in SCUSD [when they bought their house]. But didn't matter because [CUSD's] Parkway elementary school was there [on the corner of Saratoga and San Tomas]. Then they closed that and moved everything to Lynhaven. Then they closed Cypress middle school [Cypress and Stevens Creek] and moved everyone to Monroe. Then they closed Blackford high school [Moorpark and Boynton] and moved everyone to Del Mar.

"We have been disenfranchised as far as academic facilities," he concluded. "This school [Santa Clara HS] is closer than for kids than Prospect."

Santa Clara native Ann Leno pointed out that a growing number of young Santa Clarans "have made a conscious decision to stay in Santa Clara."

In today's world where two incomes are necessity, not a choice, having a school within walking or public transit distance versus a school that you have to ride a school bus to, spells "huge differences in students' ability to participate meaningfully in after-school programs. Most of us work in the opposite direction," she said. "We take our kids to school and then have to head the opposite direction to 101, Central Expressway."

CUSD Superintendent Joanna VanderMolen and Deputy Superintendent Jim Crawford took a different view in representing CUSD board's vote against the transfer.

VanderMolen laid out the financials. This year Campbell became a "basic aid" funded district, topping the cutoff point by 0.1 percent. "The district receives 4 percent funding and gets 2 percent of students [from Santa Clara] so the neighborhood is providing a 2 percent subsidy from these students. Plus our district has charter schools. So this would mean $1.5 million in cuts. It would just wipe the district out at this point."

The funding advantages of a basic aid district enable a better education for students, VanderMolen said. "I'm here really being the advocate for the 7300 kids who want that better education If we lose these properties we will step back out of basic aid just as we stepped in. the impact of losing these children at this point in time and going back to revenue limit would cause further cuts."

Campbell Union High School district would take a "$600,000 hit for this transfer of property out," said Pat Gaffney, deputy Superintendent CSUHSD. "Proximity is a big issue here. I went to Google and took the distance between Mike O'Halloran's [lead petitioner on the request to the county OOE] house and Del Mar. The distance is shorter to Del Mar than to this high school.

"There's so much technology these days we can take the opportunity to use communications technology to [reduce the impact of distance]," Gaffney continued. "I wasn't able to find anything on SCUSD's site on any of these programs [referred to by residents]. We can certainly make folks aware of the opportunities in Santa Clara."

"Forty minutes ago SCUSD board voted not to deny this request," said SCUSD Superintendent Steve Stavis. "The question of facilities currently remains an issue. [The change would represent] $170 per student more than we're currently getting. The biggest impact would be on facilities and reopening a school to the cost of about $11 million."

"As educators we have to put children's best interest at the highest priority," said former Montague teacher Joann [name]. "As my sister said, "adults need to get out of the way and do what's best for kids."

"Why do we – 131 students – have to bear the brunt of this school budget crisis?" said Megan [name].

Several speakers spoke about requesting inter-district transfers and being told that no transfers were given.

"When I ask how do our kids get to school and they looked at me and said "I don't know" and they weren't going to help me find a safe way to get to school," said Santa Clara resident Barbara Drummer.

"I'm really concerned with the sense of community and being part of a community," said Santa Clara resident Joseph Goschy. "It's really about the kids and what's right for the kids, what's right for the community and our future. There's a lot of spreadsheets and discussion. If we had one kid with a safety issue, I think we'd be rethinking all this. We understand that it's not an overnight change. We're open to some long-term cooperation to work together to resolve this."

"I'm a 45 year resident of Santa Clara," said Kay Harrison. "I'd like to see the little kids growing up in our neighborhood be part of Santa Clara schools."

"I sympathize with the petition," said county School District Organization committee member Nick Gervase. "There's no question there's more identity with Santa Clara. However, we have to speak to some reality. We are faced with a requirement on how and what to vote on. There are nine criteria you have to meet. We have to vote on all those criteria."

Of those nine criteria, three are potential showstoppers, Gervase said:

  • No significant disruption of educational programs: Campbell is going to say that their educational program is going to be affected
  • No significant additional costs for housing students
  • No substantial negative effect on fiscal status of district

Committee representative Phil Nielsen concluded the meeting with this observation. "This area is paying a lot on a per-student basis – more than their fair share. You're [Campbell] basic aid by 0.1%. It seems to me you've lost it already. You get 4 percent of funding for 2 percent of students – it's a goldmine. In high school you're getting $600,000 for 15 students – another goldmine."

"For Campbell it's all about the money," one person leaving the meeting was heard to remark. "I've been in budgeting and layoff meetings in corporate American that were more humane."

For more information about the School District Organization committee, visit the committee's website or contact Suzanne Carrig in the Center for Educational Planning at (408) 453-6869 or suzanne_carrig@sccoe.org.

Friday, September 18, 2009

SCUSD Staff Opposes Proposed Boundary Change to Include City Residents South of Pruneridge

Note: In the interests of full disclosure, I live in the south-of-Pruneridge neighborhood. I have no school-age children.

On Sept. 22, the Santa Clara Unified School District Board is holding a special meeting to take up a request by Santa Clara residents in the south of Pruneridge neighborhood to move from the CUSD and CUHSD districts to SCUSD. The question was tabled at the Sept. 10 meeting based on the fact that although SCUSD staff opposed the change on financial grounds, they couldn't provide any analysis to support this.

In August, a petition signed by 276 voters -- out of 593 tax parcels -- in the neighborhood was submitted to the Santa Clara County Office of Education, which ultimately decides on the request. The proposed change would potentially add about 150 students to SCUSD.

Campbell Union School District has gone on record opposing the change, claiming that proponents of the change were motivated by residents' desire to increase their property values. (Someone in the audience observed that if this were the case, the neighborhood would be trying to join Cupertino school district.)

Santa Clara Unified staff opposes the change on the grounds that it would hurt SCUSD financially and, because there are no schools in the parcel, would over-tax the district's facilities. "We're in trouble facilities-wise in the near future," said SCUSD Business Administrator Roger Barnes. "It would be a significant impact on facilities. The amount per student we'd get from this area is less than we're getting from other property."

But despite this assertion SCUSD did not, in fact, have information about the area's property values to back this up. "You're really not sure what that would bring us in terms of educating students," observed Board Trustee Ina Bendis. "So it could be that, as we're sitting here now, we could be passing up a windfall. We don't know."

If the parcel joined the SCUSD, property owners would be accountable for general obligation bonds and the proposed parcel tax. "What would the average debt per parcel that this section of town would assume if they come onboard?" asked trustee Andy Ratermann. "Who knows? They may end up paying for the majority of it."

Further, Bendis said, "The proponents of this [change] point out 140 students. Fairfield [Gallery on Central Park], the impact was 130 to 180 students and we didn't kvetch about it. I would like to know why we're kvetching about this – we don't even know if that's going to hurt us."

"We have negotiated with the developer [Fairfield] for $6,000 in developer fees per student," replied Barnes.

"So it sounds like everything would be equalized if they were willing to pay us $6,000 per unit," Bendis shot back. "The problem is the developer fees for those units went to someone else and we can't get it. So we're not talking apples to apples."

Noting that he'd never heard from this neighborhood before, trustee Don Bordenave observed that, "Those houses are 40 years old. The facilities issue is a big issue and the reason we should turn it down."

Other unknowns come into play as well. "If we did end up with that parcel, would it affect relations [with the teachers union]?" asked Trustee Pat Flot. "Basically we have to make this decision without information."

Other board members saw the question as going beyond dollars and cents.

"This is not a territorial issue," said trustee Andy Ratermann. "I don't see it that way. I don't see it as an issue about money. I don't buy the argument that it's going to be a big loss to Campbell and it's going to be a big cost to us. It's a small area with a high amount of retail on Stevens Creek and the property values are fairly high.

"[The issue is,] What is the effect on the kids?" he continued. [Students in the CUSD] go a long way to school, it's somewhat disenfranchising for those kids, they feel like they're not part of Santa Clara. What I don't want to see us doing is making a very short-term decision. What is the right thing long term for the kids? And if it turns out that the right thing to have them in our district, then that's what we should do and figure out the details."

Trustee Albert Gonzalez reminded the Board that the students in questions were Santa Clara residents. "A month ago we were talking about Adult Ed," which serves people outside the City of Santa Clara. "These people are in Santa Clara. They want to be part of Santa Clara. I can't see how we could vote against allowing them in the district."

Because the Board's vote on the question isn't binding on the county Office of Education, trustee Jim Canova suggested avoiding needless contention. Suppose, he said, the county approves the change. Being on record opposing it "is an awkward way to go forward. It seems like the neutral option is something worthy of consideration."

While hours of deliberation are needed to consider whether Santa Clara's residential neighborhoods should be part of the SCUSD, it takes no time, it seems, to decide whether areas without residents should be annexed. The next item on the September 20 agenda was an agreement with San Jose to transfer a parcel of North 1st Street in Alviso into the SCUSD.

"There are no residences here and absolutely no chance of residences here. [But] we would get the property tax from those buildings," explained Business Administrator Barnes. The Board voted unanimously to approve the change.

The SCUSD Board is holding a special meeting on this question, on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2009 at 4:30 p.m. at the Santa Clara High School Theater, 3000 Benton St. For more information visit www.santaclarausd.org or call (408) 423-2000.

California School District Boundaries – Legacies of a Land Grab Era

Today's Santa Clara County school district maps are byproducts of the Bay Area's post-WWII municipal land grab era – a time when population was growing quickly and cities were swallowing up smaller towns and unincorporated areas. As San Jose annexed property, those rural districts didn't want to be part of San Jose Unified.

Leaving annexed property in the original school districts sweetened the deal and reduced potential opposition according to former City Council Member Frank Barcells, because districts retained their tax base.

"State law was changed to say that school districts didn't have to be contiguous," says County Supervisor Ken Yeager. "There was no connection where the cities grew and where the school districts were."

While the much of the south-of-Pruneridge neighborhood is within a short walk of Westwood elementary school, there are no CUSD or CUHSD schools within walking distance or on a safe biking route. Students must travel across Kiely, Stevens Creek and Highway 280 – and, for some high school students, Winchester, Bascom and Highway 880 as well.

In addition, Santa Clara students in Campbell schools won't benefit from tax revenues generated by the proposed 49ers stadium.

Carolyn Schuk can be reached at cschuk@earthlink.net.