After years of budget cuts, the Cupertino Union School District is now considering plans to shut down schools as soon as next school year.

The district convened a Citizens Advisory Committee earlier this year, with the aim of developing criteria to inform board decisions on closing schools. The committee presented six potential school closure scenarios to the board at a meeting last week.

Attendance at the meeting, which was held over Zoom, peaked at more than 500 people. More than 30 attendees spoke during the public comment portion. The meeting was meant to provide board members with information on the committee’s work and their closure scenarios. No decisions were made.

The board is slated to meet again at 5 p.m. today, when they will hear about additional ways to save money or raise additional revenue beyond school closures. Board members are slated Nov. 5 to discuss the closure scenarios the committee presented last week.

District staff have previously said that any decision on school closures would need to be made by the end of this calendar year to allow time for closures starting in fall 2021. The board could adopt part or all of any of the scenarios from the committee, decide on something else entirely or choose not to close any schools.

Superintendent Stacy McAfee-Yao said the current discussion about closing schools is the culmination of four to five years of work, trying to find ways to maintain fiscal solvency amid declining enrollment.

“I know that it’s been very hard for people, who may not have been involved in the district over the years, to suddenly start hearing this year that we’re talking about closing schools,” McAfee-Yao said. “It really has been a long-term discussion. … We really have tried to change the budgetary trajectory of our district to no avail.”

Enrollment has dropped from a peak of 19,194 students in 2013 to 16,720 in 2019. According to McAfee-Yao, projections show the decline is likely to continue. The district receives funding from the state based on its student population, meaning fewer students has led to tighter budgets. In March, the district failed to get the needed two-thirds vote to pass a parcel tax that would have raised $4.3 million annually for five years.

“We are facing a systemic problem of underfunding – we simply don’t make enough to cover our costs,” one of the committee members said. “Many things have been tried for years leading up to this, and the reality is that we simply can’t make ends meet without more drastic changes.”

Six scenarios

The six scenarios presented various configurations of school closures and consolidations, aiming to meet a number of board criteria and guiding principles. They include saving $5 million to $7 million annually and having elementary schools of between 432-720 students. The district spans six cities, with 25 schools spread across Cupertino, Los Altos, San Jose, Santa Clara, Saratoga and Sunnyvale.

Montclaire Elementary School is the only campus in Los Altos. This school year it has 413 students, falling slightly below the 432 minimum target. Three of the scenarios presented involved turning Montclaire into a magnet school, and then to consider combining it with West Valley School in Sunnyvale if enrollment continues to decline.

The public commenters at last week’s meeting featured many parents arguing against closing any schools, in particular during a pandemic, and urging the district to take other steps instead. Some of the commenters added that at a minimum, the district should delay any decision and give more time to consider the options.

One parent from Lincoln School in Cupertino said the prospect of closures has caused division in the community, with some people pointing to other schools to close, as a way of protecting their own.

“I implore the school board to come up with other measures to alleviate the budget deficit instead of school closures. The divisiveness, it has to stop,” the parent said. “We’re in the middle of a pandemic and to close schools, it’s not what our kids need right now.”

To view the slideshow on the six potential scenarios, visit go.boarddocs.com/ca/cusdk8/Board.nsf/Public, navigate to the agenda for the Oct. 22 meeting and click item 6.1.