CUSD superintendent retires to help ease budget crunch

Stacy McAfee
Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Stacy McAfee, who runs human resources for the Cupertino Union School District, will serve as interim superintendent upon CUSD Superintendent Craig Baker’s retirement.

The superintendent of the Cupertino Union School District is retiring at the end of the school year to save the cash-strapped district some money.

Facing further budget cuts, Cupertino Union School District Superintendent Craig Baker announced Thursday (April 23) that he will retire, allowing the district to save money by promoting associate superintendent Stacy McAfee and not hiring to fill her position.

After more than 40 years in public education, Baker said he had always intended to retire in the next few years. When it became clear the district would need to cut approximately $3.5 million from next year’s budget and reduce a member of the executive cabinet, Baker said it made sense to step aside now, because he had already been planning to retire soon.

With McAfee, who runs human resources, taking over as interim superintendent, the plan is to reconfigure the executive team’s responsibilities, rather than hire to fill the vacancy. The Board of Education is slated to formally accept Baker’s retirement at a May 7 meeting and appoint McAfee to the top job.

The district expects to save at least $250,000 through the reorganization. However, McAfee’s contract has not been finalized and the exact cost reduction isn’t yet known.

The Cupertino Union School District covers parts of south Los Altos and includes Montclaire Elementary School within city limits.

Although Baker said he feels some sadness in leaving the district, he added that he will be leaving behind a great board and group of leaders.

“I can say without any equivocation that these years have just been such an honor,” Baker said. “To be able to work in this district – I’ve loved every minute of it, I’m not just saying that.”

A ‘win-win’ transition

Although the district currently faces challenging budget conditions and extended school closures, Baker said his decision to retire was a personal one that was made over time and is unrelated to the current pandemic.

About a year ago, when the board typically would have considered extending Baker’s contract, he told the board that he was thinking of retiring in the next couple years and didn’t want to extend his contract, which ran through the 2020-2021 school year.

Early this school year it became clear the district was going to face continued budget cuts and would likely need to remove an executive cabinet position. It was then that Baker said he began seriously considering leaving at the end of the current school year.

“I’m actually leaning into it and finding a way to make it a positive, that I can retire and it will help the district in this moment,” Baker said.

Having McAfee at the helm will provide stability, Baker said, adding that it seemed like a “win-win” to leave the district with a capable leader who knows the district, while also helping to cut costs.

“I don’t have anything but positive and wonderful things to say about Stacy, and I do have complete faith in her ability to keep the momentum that we have built,” Baker said. “Without her there, being able to step in and being willing to, I’m not sure what I would have done, because I was not going to leave the district in any kind of a difficult situation.”

This isn’t McAfee’s first time leading the district. She also served as interim superintendent before Baker was hired in 2017. McAfee said her focus will be on providing consistency and stability, even as the district faces many unknowns and tumultuous times.

“I think knowing my staff and knowing our employees and knowing our parents is really going to help,” McAfee said.

Board president Lori Cunningham praised her “calm and wise way of leading,” saying it speaks highly of her that she is being appointed as the interim superintendent again. However, she said Baker’s departure and the reduction of an executive position will have an impact.

“It’s a loss, I think there’s no other way to say it,” Cunningham said. “Losing Dr. Baker is a loss, and it’s a loss that will have impacts on our system.”

The district has faced declining enrollment and repeated rounds of budget cuts in recent years. The sprawling school district, extending from Los Altos to Santa Clara, was further set back when voters last month rejected a parcel tax measure intended to shore up district revenue. Although the measure got nearly 60% support, it required two-thirds to pass.

“There are only so many efficiencies that you can make,” Cunningham said. “You can only cut so many times and combine work so many times before it physically is not possible anymore.”

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