Drawing new lines for school attendance boundaries can be a tricky task that always leaves someone dissatisfied, and that proved true Tuesday night when the Mountain View Whisman School District laid out likely scenarios for new boundaries that could trigger the closure of the district's parent-participation school.
District staff presented five scenarios to the Boundary Advisory Task Force on Feb. 24, detailing new attendance boundaries for students throughout the city, and how those boundaries would look if a new school is opened in the Whisman and Slater neighborhood. The northeast end of Mountain View has been without a neighborhood elementary school since the closure of Slater in 2006, and both school board and task force members say now is the time to bring the school back.
But when the district spelled out some of the likely scenarios for how to do that, four of the five options involved closing Stevenson -- home to the parent participation (PACT) program -- and merging PACT with Theuerkauf or Landels. The move would be a reverse version of the Castro Elementary decision made late last year, when the district split Castro's traditional program and Dual Immersion Spanish program into two separate schools sharing a campus.
Right now, the district has just the right number of schools to handle the number of elementary school-aged children in Mountain View, according to Terese McNamee, Mountain View Whisman's chief business officer. McNamee said eight schools is the right number from a financial perspective, and adding another one would take bond money and operating money away from other schools. Closing Stevenson would essentially offset opening a school in the Whisman and Slater neighborhood area.
"These are the best recommendations we can make," McNamee said.
Stevenson parents showed up at the meeting to voice concerns over the plans. One woman, a Stevenson parent, said the district should keep in mind that Stevenson is not just another choice program, but has turned into its own school in the last six years.
"The school has really grown and planted its roots where it is, the education program has developed, the community has gotten stronger and more stable," she said.
Another parent, in an emotional response to the proposal to close Stevenson, said that there would be some problems in merging the PACT program with a neighborhood school. She said PACT parents are willing to commit to a "heck of a lot more work and a heck of a lot more expectations than you can imagine."
"The idea of PACT being merged with Theuerkauf and being a neighborhood preference will be a detriment PACT and its philosophy," she said. "The Theuerkauf teachers are excellent (but) it's the parents that make the difference, and that's what makes PACT stand out compared to Theuerkauf."
Stevenson Principal Tyler Graff immediately followed the comments by emphasizing that all parents in the district cares deeply about their children and their education -- just as much as the parents at PACT that spend four to five hours a week volunteering in the classroom at Stevenson.
"Some parents need to work two jobs and it's really important that we respect that they also value their kids' education just as much," Graff said.
Some committee members also pointed out that one of the goals of the Boundary Advisory Task Force is to minimize impacts to students and families in the district, and that scenarios proposing to shut down the school that houses PACT and merge it elsewhere is very disruptive.
Greg Coladonato, a board member and a Stevenson parent, said a lot of people in the PACT community feel like they've already been moved around a lot in the past decade -- from Slater to Castro to Stevenson -- and now possibly from Stevenson to elsewhere.
"There's a bit of fatigue there," Coladonato said.
McNamee said it's important for the task force to acknowledge concerns on issues raised about the effect of closing down Stevenson, and that it's important for each school site to make sure the concerns are heard. But at the same time, she said, the option that makes the most sense won't necessarily please everyone.
"That doesn't mean everyone is going to be happy or feel like it's meeting their needs, but in these conversations that never happens 100 percent. We can at least acknowledge and understand these are the best options, given the circumstances," McNamee said.
McNamee added that the district is not trying to set up a situation where Stevenson parents and residents of the Whisman and Slater neighborhoods have to compete with one another to keep their own school site.
"This isn't a banging of heads between Whisman-Slater and Stevenson," she said. "We're not setting anyone up to do that."
The school board decided last month not to make an official decision on whether to open a school in the Whisman and Slater neighborhood area in favor of letting the Boundary Advisory Task Force come to its own conclusion, coming back to the board with a recommendation on March 19. All of the scenarios discussed included opening a school in the Whisman and Slater area, but no official consensus has been reached by the task force yet.
One option suggested moving the PACT program from Stevenson to the Whisman and Slater area rather than open a new traditional school -- an idea that flopped in the past. Last year former superintendent Craig Goldman proposed moving the Dual Immersion choice program at Castro to Slater Elementary to appease the demand for a school in the northeast quadrant of Mountain View.
But the plan was criticized by residents in the area, like Whisman neighborhood resident Bob Weaver, who said the community was looking for a neighborhood school with a traditional program for the approximately 600 elementary school-aged kids in the area.
Whisman or Slater?
Both Whisman and Slater Elementary sites are currently closed and leased out, but it turns out Whisman might be the better option for the new school.
Whisman Elementary, currently leased to the German International School of Silicon Valley, was closed down back in 2000. Despite being closed long before Slater, the facilities are actually more intact and need less work, McNamee said, and the district would have to spend millions less to get the school up and running.
Projected costs by the district show that opening Slater would eat up about $30 million in Measure G bond funds, compared to only $12 million to open Whisman.
Then there's also a question of continuing to lease out the campus. If the district decides to share Whisman with the German school, it would continue to take in between $850,000 and $950,000 each year in rent. Continuing to lease out space at Whisman might be more reasonable than at Slater.
Former city council member Ronit Bryant also raised concerns over how many students the Slater campus could handle. She said her kid went to the PACT program when it was at Slater, and she said the acreage doesn't really allow for a new neighborhood school if it needs to share the campus. Right now the district leases the Slater campus to Google for its daycare program.
"Slater is a very small campus," Bryant said. "I can't physically think of how it would work."