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Potential closure of Cupertino schools provokes public outcry

Photo: City of Cupertino/LinkedIn
By Laila Weir - Published on November 06, 2020.

Dozens of community members spoke about potential closures of some Cupertino public schools at a sometimes-contentious Nov. 5 school board meeting that adjourned after 1 a.m. Friday.

The Cupertino Union School District Board of Education heard some two hours of public comments Thursday night about the potential closures, with more than 54 people signing up to speak, plus an unspecified number of others who raised their hands to comment but had failed to sign up to comment in time.

The board heard six scenarios for possible closures on Oct. 22, sparking consternation among parents and others alarmed to see their neighborhood schools on lists of schools that could begin closing as early as next year.

“I just want to say how sad it made me to hear that Lincoln was on the list,” said one fifth grader from Lincoln Elementary during the public comment session, which began around 11:30 p.m. after the board addressed other items from its regular agenda.

“Please don’t break our community,” the student said. “Lincoln has been a part of the Cupertino community since 1865. Please don’t close it!”

Interim Superintendent Stacy McAfee-Yao presented detailed financial information to the board about budget shortfalls she said had been accumulating for years. School closures are one possible solution, she said.

However, McAfee-Yao noted that school closures are not only a budget issue, as when schools drop below a certain level of enrollment, the board may need to consider closing them for other reasons.

McAfee-Yao cited numerous fiscal challenges, but her presentation boiled down to a single point: “We are spending more than we’re bringing in,” she said.

The district is facing a $4.9 million structural deficit for this school year, McAfee-Yao told the board. While she stressed this was an ongoing issue that the district has been planning for since 2016, the superintendent did say that this year’s deficit includes some $3-4 million unexpected Covid-related expenses.

Declining enrollment — which the superintendent said is an ongoing trend, with enrollment projected to continue falling in coming years — is a key concern, McAfee-Yao said, along with inadequate state funding, the need for employee salary increases and increasing costs for employee health care and retirement plans, an expiring parcel tax in 2023 and possible further Covid-related costs. Putting up a ballot measure for a new parcel tax was another possible funding solution presented to the school board.

The board heard from many community members imploring them not to rush into a decision to close schools. However, McAfee-Yao and a representative for the district teachers’ union argued that the district had been trying for years to find alternative solutions, including a parcel tax measure that failed to win voter approval.

“When people say they were uninformed or being blindsided or these decisions are being made in haste, I implore you to look back at the many years CUSD had been struggling financially and trying to make you see what is happening,” said the Cupertino Education Association representative.

The board will return to the issue at a special board meeting on Nov. 10 and at a daylong meeting on Nov. 19. More information can be found on the CUSD website.

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