Big cuts, high anxiety in Cupertino
Families in Cupertino Union School District are anguished over their schools.
They thought that they had largely solved their district’s financial problems a year ago when they passed their first parcel tax, raising $4 million.
But now this K-8 Silicon Valley district, home of Apple Computer and some of the highest performing schools in the state, is facing a $9 million deficit for next year. And that’s putting in jeopardy many of the programs parents consider essential: small classes, summer school, the GATE program for gifted children, librarians.
On Thursday evening, when thousands of Bay Area teachers, students and supporters joined a protest in San Francisco’s Civic Center Plaza, 300 or so Cupertino parents gathered in a middle school gym to hear how the state’s funding crisis has finally hit home and to plot what they can do about it.
The central theme: Lobby your legislators, but don’t count on them.
“Our parents are confused about school funding,” Julie Darwish, president of the regional PTA, told the crowd. “Can we trust politicians in Sacramento? No, we must take responsibility to invest in our local schools.”
To that end, the Cupertino Educational Endowment Foundation is asking parents to help put an initiative on the November ballot that would lower the threshold for passing a parcel tax from two-thirds to 55 percent to make it easier to pass the next parcel tax. ** And organizers are asking every family to donate $375 toward a goal of $3 million to keep small classes in grades one to three while saving 105 teachers who’ve been told they’ll otherwise lose their jobs.
But even then, the district would still face a $5-plus million deficit, with the dismissals of half of the custodians, resource teachers and other staff. Teachers have been asked to consider furlough days to save some programs and jobs.
Half of Cupertino’s nearly $9 million project deficit is from a loss of one-year federal stimulus money; the other half is from budget cuts that Gov. Schwarzenegger is proposing.
Cupertino is a relatively poor district among rich neighbors. For historical reasons dating back to Proposition 13 and a low poverty rate, its per student revenue is the lowest in Santa Clara County, at under $8,000. Nearby Palo Alto and Los Altos, with high property tax revenues, raise several thousand dollars more per student.
But Cupertino, a magnet for well-educated immigrants from Asia, has done remarkably well anyway, with the top two API scores (998 at Murdock-Portal and 996 at William Faria elementaries) and 15 of the top 150 schools – out of 10,000 – in the state.
Now, however, Cupertino is facing what other local districts have already gone through: raising classes from 20 to 31, dropping summer school, laying off counselors. And parents are frustrated and angry.
Cupertino families may be wealthy enough to come up with $375 each to stave off firing more than 100 teachers – at least for one year. But most districts don’t have that option – and no one but for Sacramento to turn to.
(**Correction: The PTA and others in Cupertino are asking parents to help put the initiative on the parcel tax on the statewide ballot in November. The non-profit Cupertino Education Endowment Fund is not part of that effort; it is focused on seeking tax-deductible contributions to offset local budget cuts.)