It’s been about a year since Santa Clara Unified School District’s schools were open to every student. Now, the District is preparing to reopen at the end of the month for in-person learning for a limited amount of priority students. At the Board of Trustees meeting on Thursday, March 11, they shed light on their progress to get campuses ready.
Now that educators are getting vaccinated, the Board approved adjusting the District’s Reopening Plan to shorten the phased reopening. Now, after Santa Clara County enters the Orange Tier and the schools begin a phased reopening, students will be returning to school using a two-week phased return. Before this change, it was three weeks.
Board Member Vickie Fairchild and parents asked why they couldn’t phase in students faster, saying that students can handle it. Superintendent Dr. Stella Kemp said it was important to make sure their safety measures are working and give the youngest learners the time and attention they need to adjust to in-person learning.
Depending on when the County enters Orange Tier, the following Monday staff would return to campus along with Grades 1 and 2. Then, on Tuesday, Alt Ed Schools (all grades), Grades 6 and 9, and Post-Secondary students would have their first day. On Thursday, Pre-K, TK, and Kindergarten students would be welcomed back. The next Monday, Grades 3, 4, and 5 would come back, and on Tuesday, Grades 7, 8, 10, 11, and 12 return.
Chief Academic and Innovation Officer Brad Stam said that they are working on custom return schedules for special education students and teachers.
In a reopening update, Stam shared the details of the At Home vs At School Learning survey. In total, of those who answered the survey, 41 percent of students preferred to return to campus and 59 percent wanted to remain at home. Of the 6,486 identified priority students, 45 percent elected to return to campus and 55 percent said they would stay at home. Back in December, the District defined prioritization categories including but not limited to foster/homeless, ELS, Special Ed, poor grades, children of essential workers, etc.
Over many meetings, parents have expressed their dissatisfaction survey’s options and the data, saying the survey asked them if they wanted to do Distance Learning at home or do Distance Learning from a classroom.
Stam said that most priority students were able to get assigned to their original teacher. The District was able to accommodate all priority students who wished to return to campus. Stam said they were also able to welcome some non-priority students but there is a waitlist: 477 elementary students, 246 middle school students, and 132 high school students — 0 Pre-K and Post-Secondary students. Stam said some elementary schools automatically put families who didn’t respond to the survey on the waitlist, so they’re trying to clean up that data.
Fairchild said she wanted more data on how many students are coming back per school and per grade. Dr. Kemp said that data is coming.
Aftercare centers are at full capacity and there is a waitlist, according to Stam. Board Member Bonnie Lieberman was concerned about the lack of availability of extended care saying that working families would have a hard time with in-person learning without this resource.
The District is currently working on bringing on more substitutes, said Assistant Superintendent Kevin Keegan. They will need more once teachers return to campus.
Mark Schiel, the District’s Chief Business Official, said they are working on prepping school sites with shields, signage and more. They are also going to prepare bus routes once they know which students are coming back to campus. Schiel also shared that meal service waivers have been extended through Sept. 30.
Unless things change, Dr. Kemp said the County may not enter the Orange Tier on March 24 due to not meeting the criteria just yet. If conditions improve quickly, perhaps the County will enter the Orange Tier on March 31, making the reopening date April 5. However, Dr. Kemp said, the District is still preparing for March 29, just in case.
“I want us to have all of our ducks in a row so that we can open. I think that’s what everyone on this Board feels,” said Fairchild. “I hope… that we’re able to open as soon as we can. That everything that we have been promised would be in place, is in place so that we can open.”
Many parents called into the meeting. Some were frustrated about the reopening pace. Many want to know what’s happening in Fall, saying that if schools don’t reopen to their students, they may move their students out of the District. Concerns about being placed on the waitlist and extended childcare availability were also hot topics. Some parents highlighted the toll this year has taken on their children’s mental health.
Schiel presented an update on the 2020-21 Second Interim. He said that property tax revenue is showing a modest 0.7 percent increase and shared that the District got a one-time $2 million boost from the sale of the Santa Clara Convention Center Complex and RDA lease revenue.
Also, thanks to how well some of their programs are doing, they can make a dent in their OPEB obligation. The Unfunded OPEB is now 42.8 percent funded — it was only 21.9 percent funded last year.
In the second interim, the General Fund is showing a surplus of $11.5 million and an Ending General Fund Balance of $94 million.
Schiel says the multi-year projections look stable. However, with property tax appeals on the rise, there may be bumps in the road. The appeals are currently on hold due to COVID-19.
Later in the meeting, Matt Kolker with Government Financial Strategies presented an update on the Measure J Advanced Refunding effort. Kolker explained how the bidding went and shared that they were able to save even more money for taxpayers than they thought — $3.6 million in savings.
Remembering Don Callejon
At the beginning of the meeting, the Board had the opportunity for the community to share thoughts on the passing of Don Callejon. Superintendent Dr. Stella Kemp shared Don Callejon’s long and memorable history of service at the District — including having a school named after him. The Board Members all shared their thoughts and personal memories of Callejon as well.
Former Superintendents Paul Perotti and Stan Rose shared their memories and condolences. Former School Board Members Elise De Young, Emily Adorable, and Teresa O’Neil also joined in with touching words about Callejon. Holly Chang and other community members called in to remember the great man.
His daughter Donna Callejon, on behalf of her and her brothers, said her parents were very dedicated to Santa Clara and the District.
“My parents had Santa Clara in their blood, and I think many people tonight have expressed that,” said Donna Callejon. “And if Santa Clara was in their blood or in the air that they breathe, schools were the heartbeat.”
Board Members had an opportunity to engage with legal counsel regarding President Jodi Muirhead’s idea to hold Community Listening Meetings. Attorney Lisa Mori with F3 Law and F3 Law’s Director of Communications and Legislative Affairs Terilyn Finders were on hand to answer questions and give advice. The Board didn’t take any action.
Due to the late hour, the Board tabled multiple items including the First Reading of CSBA Recommended October 2020 and December 2020 Updates to Board Policies.
The Board closed the meeting in memory of Don and Clare Callejon. The Board will meet next on Thursday, March 25 at 6:30 p.m.