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

1 comment:

  1. It's sad to hear that these kids and their future are being held hostage over money to the Campbell School District. They should put it up to a referendum in that neighborhood and let them decide. Of course it needs to make sense. The Santa Clara school district needs to be able to accommodate these new students and access to these schools should be more convenient then their current situation.
    When a district closes schools and makes it difficult for for families to transport their children to and from schools, the option to change school districts should be available for disenfranchised homes or communities.