Hundreds of cars drove through Cupertino, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara and San Jose on Nov. 7 to protest potential school closures in the Cupertino Union School District (CUSD). Many parents were stunned when a recent report by the district’s Citizen’s Advisory Committee (CAC) recommended school closures to help deal with the district’s financial issues.
They took to the streets in protest and those who could not signed a petition on Change.org to express their concerns.
“Making [a] school closing decision during a major pandemic is irresponsible,” said Susan Chan in the comments on the Change.org petition. “The community is hurting and stress to make ends meet and we cannot afford to lose our neighborhood schools too!”
“Classes in CUSD schools are overloaded already! Closing 20% of schools is the worst way to go and will save only a few millions,” said Hailing Li.
Many of the petition’s signers think the closures are a gut reaction to recent district funding issues and the financial losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Interim Superintendent Stacy McAfee-Yao says this is an issue that’s been building for a while.
“We’ve done staff reductions and layoffs every year for the last five years. We have just continued to cut and we’re now at a point where we feel like we can’t do that anymore and still operate schools,” said McAfee-Yao. “On top of that, we’re declining enrollment at a very fast rate, projected to continue declining enrollment for another five years. Every time we lose a student, we lose money.”
McAfee-Yao says the enrollment issue was amplified years ago when the state changed its formula for distributing funds to school district. CUSD has received less state funding since that change and now the district has nearly exhausted all of its options.
“I think part of the concern from the community is, over the years, we’ve done really well at managing with a very poor budget and so the community hasn’t necessarily seen the struggles because we’ve been able to make it work,” said McAfee-Yao. “We had said last year, ‘We’re not going to be able to function as we are. We have no place else to cut and make this operational.’”
McAfee-Yao says the small silver lining is that the community is now aware of how dire the district’s fiscal situation is and they’re willing to support the district. Earlier this month, the school board approved plans to explore the possibility of placing a parcel tax on the ballot in the spring to help deal with declining funding for the district.
“It would be a rather large parcel tax, but it could help us resolve our fiscal stability and not have to close schools if it were to pass,” said McAfee-Yao. “If we’re able to pass a large enough one, then we would be fiscally able for the next five to 10 years and school closures would be off the table.”
The CAC proposed multiple scenarios for potential school closures next school year. At least two of the scenarios included the possibility of consolidating Montclaire Elementary School and Sunnyvale’s West Valley Elementary School. Two of the scenarios would redraw district lines in Sunnyvale. Another scenario proposed the closure of West Valley Elementary School.
All of the scenarios impact schools across the district, including Eisenhower Elementary in Santa Clara and Nimitz, Stocklmeir and West Valley Elementary Schools in Sunnyvale.