What we can learn from Cupertino’s Their Future is Now

Recently, I’ve seen some comments regarding Cupertino’s Their Future Is Now project, a parent lead effort to raise money for the school district, wondering why our district and school board seems to be standing in the way of Scotts Valley doing something similar. While I don’t subscribe to that sentiment I did some research I feel is worth sharing, so let’s look at some numbers.

According to City-Data.com Cupertino’s population is 53K and growing (+6.1%, since 2000). That’s 4.8 times Scotts Valley’s shrinking 11K (-2.3%, since 2000) and it’s import to note that Cupertino is K-8 with 20 elementary schools whereas SV is K-12 with two elementary schools.

Assuming Scotts Valley could organize to fund raise as effectively that would equate to $416K ($2M / 4.8). Vine Hill and Brook Knoll elementary school PTA’s raised nearly $200K with the two auctions alone (I don’t have the official numbers as neither PTA budget is published online as far as I know) although it’s worth noting those are not district dollars and will be spent at each school respectively.

According to this article it was Cupertino’s teachers/unions electing to take five, yes five, furlough days putting their fund raising efforts "over the top".

"The collaboration of all the unions and the district was monumental, as is this budget crisis. It shows what can be accomplished when we work together," said Dave Villafana, CEA president. "The teachers have overwhelmingly decided to save jobs as five furlough days will cost each teacher 2.67 percent of their salary. Even with increases in employee health coverage costs this school year and next, teachers are willing to make these sacrifices to ensure that their colleagues are employed."

Last year, SVEA voted not to take furlough days though I discovered at this year’s Strategic Planning meeting the Scotts Valley district office took two days saving the district $11K. It will be interesting to see what happens with relation to furloughs this coming school year although with the district having enough reserves to withstand one more year before facing consecutive $950K shortfalls we’re not in the same position Cupertino found itself with a $7.3M deficit for this year 2010-2011. In other words, they’re one year ahead of us in terms of running out of money and that’s even with their $125 parcel tax passed May 5, 2009.

In fact, in Cupertino it’s not just the teacher’s union but several other unions contributing as well, again according to the above article.

All four of the district’s union groups have agreed to take a five-day work furlough during the 2010-2011 school year, saving the district $2.5 million.

I’ve asked on several occasions what the savings would be for one SVEA furlough day and it’s my understanding it would amount to approximately $50K per day. Multiplied by five and combined with district office furloughs and PTA auction revenue Scotts Valley it seems would easily outperform Cupertino’s fund raising efforts with those three line items. Of course, that’s far easier said than done as furloughs are not exactly an attractive option especially when there are reserves available.

In essence, the data has me concluding it’s very difficult to make an even comparison between the two school districts or communities however, it does illustrate what can happen when everyone works together to with a shared sense of responsibility.

So, what can we learn?

The take-away is through organizing as a community we can tackle big problems like the one we’re facing. Make no mistake it will require shared sacrifice, cooperation between schools and organizations and lots of hard work to prevent continued increase in class sizes and a drastic decline our children’s education. The time to get engaged is right now. Unless we can find a way to duplicate Cupertino’s success a year from now we may all be forced to make drastic decisions to salvage our children’s education. We’re now less than a year away from a parcel tax vote and as a member of the group working on the Parcel Tax I’m greatly concerned we can’t seem to gather more than a tiny handful of people to help in what’s likely to be our district’s only lifeline. Please get involved, join your school’s PTA, attend a school board meeting(s), talk to your neighbors and get involved.

Hope is certainly not lost and I’m personally doing everything I can to create and foster neighborhood organizations to educate and recruit as many people as possible so we can have our own success story as opposed to reading about one.

Vine Hill PTA
Brook Knoll PTA
Scotts Valley Middle School PTA
Scotts Valley High School