The State of the Almaden Schools
by Leslie Reynolds, Board of Education Trustee
San Jose Unified School District
March 2010

The state of our schools is a precarious one.  As the state's budget continues to plummet, so does the amount of money schools receive.  San Jose Unified alone has been cut over $50 million in just 2 years.  As we have discussed in a recent Almaden Valley Community Association meeting, school budgets are messy, confusing, over complicated, and can be really difficult to manage.  In San Jose Unified, we are blessed to have one of the very best Chief Business Officers in the entire state of California.  We also have a superintendent and senior staff that not only understand the budget, but along with the Board of Education are able to put together a budget that meets the needs of our students, keeps peace with our 5 union groups, and keeps us fiscally solvent with a balanced budget!

In reasonable times and under the aspects of Proposition 98, we received around $7,000 per student.  Currently, we are looking at getting only $4,700 per student.  We've had to eliminate librarians, school counselors, most of our janitorial staff, staff at the district office, and vice principals at our elementary schools, to name just a few.  We were the first district in our county to eliminate the popular Class Size Reduction program (other districts quickly followed) which has only one teacher per 20 students in kindergarten through second grade.  We've had to raise that to no more than 30 students to one teacher.  That was a hard choice, and while very nice to have, there has never been any proof that these smaller classes correlate into better grades or test scores.  Since this 8-year-old program was unable to deliver any measurable results, we found it necessary, as did subsequent other districts all over our state, to eliminate the program.  This saved us several million dollars.

Our staff and board are dedicated to putting the students first and have always managed to keep the constant cuts as far away from the classroom as possible.  This means that all the cuts take place behind the scenes, but make it harder and harder for our staff to deliver quality services to our students.  In Almaden, we are beyond fortunate to have such dedicated and involved parents who are the key to our overall success.  All of our Almaden schools are National Blue Ribbon and California Distinguished Schools!  When teachers, students, and parents all work together, these are the kind of results we are proud of and enjoy, even in the worst economic times.  In the years I have been on this board and despite making repeated cuts, we have been able to close the achievement gap between Hispanic and White students by 37%, and have the second highest graduation rate of urban school districts in the nation, all while having the most rigorous graduation requirements in California.  In other words, we did not lower the bar to make up this gap, but rather, raised the bar.

So where are we at right now?  We are continuing negotiations with our union groups to make even further reductions, but we are dedicated to try and make the best of it.  The biggest change for the 2010-2011 school year will come in the way of changing the length of the school year.  Currently, California requires schools to teach 180 days.  The Governor has signed a bill allowing districts to reduce the number of instruction days to 175.  After looking at our entire picture and all the details that go into it, and as painful as it is, we have come to the conclusion that this is now our only route to take.  To mitigate this for our students, we are proposing all day kindergarten (which is the practice in most private schools) and add instructional minutes to the days the students are in school.  All the administration at our schools and all the senior staff at the district office (including the superintendent) will be taking this reduction in pay.  We hope that the remainder of our bargaining groups will follow suit so we accomplish a total shut down during that week, thus maximizing our savings.

Beginning this fall, we will be taking the week of October 4th off from school.  Many parents are upset because they were not involved in the selection of which days will be removed from the school schedule.  This is a part of a negotiated agreement with our teachers union, which precludes parent involvement, and this is their recommended week  EVERY combination and scenario was considered, and the teachers feel this best balances out the first and second semesters.  While the second semester may appear longer than the first, many of the large, multi-hour tests take place during the second (such as the California State Test and the California High School Exit Exam).

We did interview several campaign consulting firms to determine if asking our voters for a parcel tax would fly in our district, and the answer was a resounding "No, not at this time."  Since Sacramento is an additional $20 billion more in the hole than they anticipated, and we do not have a parcel tax on the ballot, this is what we need to do to remain fiscally solvent, as is required by the county and the state.  Additionally, we are in the midst of a superintendent search, due to the retirement of our beloved Don Iglesias.  To say we have our hands full is a gross understatement, but we have a solid Board of Education and have many well qualified candidates for the superintendent's position, along with an established great senior staff, and we will make it out of this crisis leaner and stronger!  We do ask for your support and patience as we make these difficult but necessary changes.  Please check the district's web site for additional information at www.sjusd.org