Redwood City schools prepare for deep cuts

in Education/Featured/Headline

Redwood City School District trustees and the public last night reviewed proposals ranging from closing or merging a half dozen schools to renting out unused classroom space as the board grapples with major cuts to stave off insolvency.

Board members and a large crowd of parents and staff gathered in the auditorium at McKinley school heard two dozen proposals from an advisory council that has been at work since August to suggest ideas for reorganizing the shrinking district. It has lost 1,500 students over the past six years to charter schools, families being priced out of the Bay Area and other factors. State funding is, in part, tied to head count and the Redwood City district is further handicapped compared to neighboring districts by the way property taxes are allocated.

The bottom line, Superintendent John Baker said, is that, by Dec. 15, the district needs to come up with a plan to show the San Mateo County Office of Education where some $10 million in cuts will be made over the next two years.

Baker emphasized to the audience that no recommendations or decisions have been made yet, but said “There are going to have to be some consolidations of schools. We cannot get away from that.” The school district is being monitored by the county office, he added, “and we don’t want the county to come in and take us over.”

The board is slated to act at a Nov. 28 meeting, before which the district staff will consult with school principals and the advisory committee to come up with concrete recommendations. Two community forums are also planned: Oct. 22 at the McKinley Institute of Technology and Oct. 25 at Taft School.  Both meetings are from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

District enrollment since the 2012 school year has dropped from 9,136 to 7,557, with corresponding reductions in revenue. Among other categories, the district faces rising costs for workers compensation, pensions, special education, and according to a projection earlier this year, faces multi-million-dollar deficits unless reductions are made and maintained over several years.

Several ideas that were presented involved various scenarios for closing or merging schools, or consolidating specialty programs at one site. Closing a school could save $600,000 to $1 million, depending on the site, and a larger enrollment at fewer remaining schools might allow elective offerings to be expanded. On the other hand, geography needs to be taken into account in closing or reorganizing neighborhood schools, trustees said, to avoid creating hardships.

Some of the proposals might present legal or other feasibility problems. One idea, for example, was to raise the rent for charter schools, but it is already at the maximum, according to Trustee Alisa MacAvoy. Closing summer school would save $674,000, but the impact on migrant and special education programs would have to be addressed. Closing the district office and moving its functions to MIT could generate an estimated $1 million, but funding to remodel the school space for a business office would have to be identified.

Among the various combinations and mergers proposed: Creating one large middle school at Hoover; consolidating Garfield, Taft, Fair Oaks and Hoover students at two locations (K-5) and creating one middle school at Taft; combining the Spanish immersion programs at Adelante and Selby Lane at the latter school; expanding North Star Academy by letting it grow into the MIT building; or closing and renting out Clifford School. That would save an estimated $1,260,000 per year but there’s a risk of a “domino effect” if students are relocated far from the school, as well as the loss to charters and San Carlos schools.

On the other hand, expanding pre-school and after-school care might make the district more competitive with charter schools, as well as meet a community need, trustees observed. Consolidating all the charters into one “hub” would free up other school sites for possible mergers and potentially improve operational efficiency.

Trustee Dennis McBride said he’d like to see more information on where students live and how they’d be impacted by various proposals. “We all know that closing schools is a very emotional thing,” he said.

MacAvoy expressed hope that, while change is hard, schools will emerge improved in a right-sized district.

“It’s time for us to be real about what our enrollment is and how many schools we can have,” she said. The decisions that will be made shouldn’t be just tweaking but finding ways to improve, she added.

Asked for a timeline on the implementation of changes, Baker said specifics would depend on the school and the number of students involved, but “by mid-February, we will know what’s happening.”

32 Comments

  1. It’s time to get real about pension reform. Zero mention of that as part of the solution . Wake up. It’s the pensions stupid!

    • No, it’s the way schools are funded. As wealthy as that area is, it should be able to support quality schools. Look how well funded SUHSD is. Why? Because it is funded through property taxes and not ADA. There must be reform at the state level.

  2. Is it too little too late to resolve the property tax distribution situation? Clearly that’s a matter that needs to be looked into. What’s the tax distribution difference with the neighboring districts – maybe mirror that set-up?

  3. So sad to hear this, our neighborhood school Selby Lane I’m sure is not attended by neighborhood kids anymore. Our scores are so low that it’s no wonder parents are turning to private and charter schools! I guess our ridiculously high homes prices that are generating huge property tax $$ just don’t help our schools.

  4. They want to take Roy Cloud and Roosevelt and make them K through 5 instead of leaving them K through 8. They want to filter these students to Kennedy as one middle school as early as next year. They want the Roy Cloud kids to raise the testing scores at Kennedy. Roy Cloud parents who have a passion for our K-8 program, we volunteer and fund our own PTO. Our model works, why screw it up! North Star and Roy Cloud has the highest test scores. By filtering out these kids that will not help our kids especially to do that for a middle school that is a 4. Worst of all, our children are getting anxiety and RCSD will lose more students. Roy Cloud parents will choose a private school and personally my daughter asked I home school her.

    Please help us with this deficit budget! Save our Schools!

  5. The necessity to sacrifice the number and quality of our schools is exactly what our democracy does NOT need. The long-term effects of cutting education in any substantive way cannot be underestimated. It is a fact that the success of democracy depends upon an informed electorate.

    What incentives might the City Council have granted to the developers of the many and burgeoning number of mid-rise buildings that are crowding the downtown area along Veteran’s Blvd., Marshall street, Jefferson, El Camino, the railroad tracks, and elsewhere? it would seem that the revenue base should increase greatly from their presence. What is wrong with this picture?

    Further, blaming Proposition 13 for the current budgetary problems seems somewhat disingenuous with regard to residential property owners. The ranks are dwindling of those homeowners who benefited from Prop 13 (legitimately–without it, the [now] elderly folks who purchased homes in the 60s and 70s would be utterly unable to afford current tax rates on homes that have increased in value by, in some cases, 50x). Tax reform is due, however, as it relates to businesses and corporations that continue to be protected by Prop 13. THAT protection should have had a fixed term, and sunsetted long ago.

    The changes being considered will affect property values in the area, in general, and especially in the areas surrounding the schools, with a potential decrease in property tax revenues throughout the region. Parents choose to live where their children can receive a good education; overcrowding existing schools and closing others will have a long term negative impact as families choose to live in areas that can offer the schools and training their kids deserve.

    Cutting school services & programs in order to meet budget demands would be extremely short-sighted. It might get us through the current crisis, but the resulting, greater crisis that awaits down the proverbial road will be far greater. It is time to work smarter and more efficiently, and to lean more heavily on the developers that swoop in to make a buck, and depart, without concern for the community in which they DO NOT reside.

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  7. To put the loss of 1500 students into context of dollars lost, the loss is about $16.5M! To generate enough money to offset that loss will require dramatic changes.

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