July 11, 2010

County Grand Jury Recommends School District Consolidation. Expect Massive Migration to Palo Alto.

What puts a house in rather than out of the Real Bay Area (RBA)?  A damned good school district.  Now watch some meddlesome busybodies try and ruin everything!

Consolidate Santa Clara County school districts to save millions, grand jury recommends

 

By Sharon Noguchi

Posted: 07/04/2010 07:15:28 PM PDT
Updated: 07/04/2010 10:24:07 PM PDT

When budgets are tight, businesses often consolidate — so why not school districts?

After all, Santa Clara County school districts are a hodgepodge of large and tiny agencies, each with its own administration, and with century-old boundaries that randomly join disparate regions while dividing other communities. Some superintendents oversee 25,000 students, while others supervise only a few hundred.

So the Santa Clara County civil grand jury has recommended unifying and consolidating the county’s 31 school districts, which it projects could save $51 million annually.

District officials dispute the estimated savings, and question the benefits. In past decades, similar suggestion have been shunned as politically implausible. Why should this time be any different? For one, schools are facing unprecedented cuts to their budgets now.

The grand jury released two reports on June 24th: “Achieving School District Efficiency through Consolidation” and “Looking at Policies Our Schools Use to Find and Place Employees.”  These thrilling potboilers describe that “while the school districts in Santa Clara County are doing well in all areas, there are redundant administrative functions that can be made more cost effective through school district  consolidation.”  I tell you, I couldn’t put it down!

By merging elementary and high school districts that share attendance areas, the county’s 31 distinct school districts could be reduced to 16, unless the county actually has 34 districts (per 2008-09 Grand Jury report “Who Really Benefits from Education Dollars? (Hint: It’s Not the Students)“).  That’s the fun of an official report; you just never know what alternate facts could emerge!  Last year’s report had six findings and suggested actions, and it’s number 6 that must have led to this year’s threat to school administrators:

Finding 6

The operation of 34 K–12 school districts and four (4) community college districts
creates excessively high management and administrative costs. Five K-12 school
districts have excessively high Superintendent costs per student which is reflective of
the district’s having only one or two schools.

Recommendation 6

A consolidation of districts should be considered to reduce the numbers and costs of
Superintendents/Chancellors, Boards of Trustees, administrative staff and overhead.

One piece of good news for administrators and board members is the grand jury didn’t recommend all 31 school districts be rolled up into one countywide nightmare like Los Angeles Unified.  Instead, they selected feeder elementary districts that could be merged with high school districts, creating “Unified School Districts” that serve the same boundaries.  These are the four “lucky” high school districts and corresponding K-8 districts singled out:

  • Campbell Union HSD with Burbank SD, Cambrian SD, Campbell USD, Moreland USD and Union ESD
  • Fremont Union HSD with Cupertino USD and Sunnyvale SD
  • Los Gatos-Saratoga HSD with Lakeside JSD, Loma Prieta JSD, Los Gatos USD and Saratoga USD
  • Mountain View-Los Altos HSD with Los Altos SD and Mountain View-Whisman SD

imageThe civil grand jury’s reasoning is that unified school districts save money and can operate more efficiently than smaller districts with just a few schools.  The grand jury holds up these unified districts in Santa Clara County to support the concept: Gilroy, Morgan Hill, Milpitas, Palo Alto, San Jose, and Santa Clara.  And their gold standard of the benefits of school district unification is last year’s formation of Twin Rivers Unified.  In Sacramento.  Puh-leeeeeze!

Are they seriously suggesting that RBA cities such as Saratoga, Cupertino and Los Altos should emulate mediocrities such as Milpitas and Morgan Hill?  Seriously?  The only RBA city on the Unified list is Palo Alto, and they’re so Special none of the regular rules apply anyway.

Can you see parents who paid the RBA premium to live in Los Gatos wanting to share a school district with the hillbillies of Lakeside?  Or the families who paid the big bucks to live south of Fremont Avenue now finding themselves sharing a school district with North Sunnyvalers?  Wouldn’t every Los Altan sooner pull their kids out of public school than consort with those troublemakers from Latham Street?

image Obviously I’m not going to comment about the proposed Campbell Unified District, because they aren’t in the RBA so nobody much cares.  The Grand Jury also wants to merge four East San Jose school districts into two union districts, and even fewer burbed readers would ask. (Berryessa + Orchard, Alum Rock + Mt. Pleasant, if you insist.  You’re welcome.)  All 21 school districts suggested for consolidation have 90 days to respond to the civil grand jury, and expect the replies to be even more thrilling reading.

Now, some of these recommendations make sense.  There is only one school in Lakeside, Luther Burbank and Orchard School Districts.  One-school districts are clearly wasteful, and the Grand Jury has already noted criminal behavior in Burbank SD.  But some of the proposed unified districts will be much, much larger than others.  The proposed Mountain View-Los Altos Unified would have 21 schools, and the proposed Los Gatos-Saratoga Unified, 14.  But both proposed Campbell and Fremont Unifieds would have 41 schools each, which isn’t much smaller than San Jose Unified’s 43.  All the other current Unified Districts (which the Grand Jury report specifies as an ideal model) have between 14-24 schools.

41 schools?  Are they serious?  Does this fit the reasoning behind “Five K-12 school districts have excessively high Superintendent costs per student which is reflective of the district’s having only one or two schools”?  Cupertino USD, a K-8 district, already has 25 schools, which is more than all but one existing SC County unified district.  This is not a school district with excessively high costs, the complaint of the 2009 report.  This is a district that manages to produce perfect API test scores despite below-average funding.  But someone took the idea of merging feeder schools into high school districts and ran all the way to Twin Rivers Unified with it.

image At a certain point, large school districts lose the ability to respond to parental concerns, and nobody could call a 41 school unified district anything but large.  Effective and responsive school districts are exactly what parents expect when they spend the big bucks to buy in the RBA.  So recognize this plan for what it is: a recipe to remove Cupertino from the RBA forever. 

It’s clearly a plot by Palo Alto real estate agents.

Comments (99) -- Posted by: madhaus @ 5:01 am