Published in the March 20 – April 2, 2019 issue of Gilroy Life

James Pace

There is so much to celebrate in the Gilroy Unified School District. Our schools provide a great education for our students from passionate and caring professionals with a wide variety of programs. These include the elementary SEAL program, the kindergarten through 12th-grade English/Spanish Dual Immersion program, the Biomedical Science Academy at Gilroy High School, the Computer Science Academy at Christopher High School, the Dr. TJ Owens Early College Academy, FFA, music and art programs, and many other specialized opportunities. As a parent, I am so pleased with how my children have grown as students and young adults in Gilroy Unified schools, and grateful for the opportunities this education has opened for them. As a trustee, I am proud to see how the district is making a positive difference in the lives of Gilroy’s students every day.

In the past few years, GUSD has taken a number of steps to ensure our staff and students have access to state-of-the-art facilities and technology. A recent highlight of these projects is the new math building at Gilroy High School which integrates digital technology in every classroom. Thanks to the voters in Gilroy who helped to pass Measure E and Measure P, we are in the beginning stages of complete remodels of Brownell and South Valley middle schools, as well as a total overhaul of the pool at Gilroy High School.

However, changed realities in our student enrollment are forcing the district to make tough decisions. The board of education and district administrators are taking steps to ensure the continued fiscal solvency of GUSD.

For many years, the district’s enrollment steadily increased, but that has changed. In 2016, at the peak of enrollment, there were 11,509 students in Gilroy Unified schools. By the fall of 2018, enrollment had declined to 11,101 students. This downward trend exists throughout the county, with 25 of 31 school districts affected. In Gilroy Unified School District, enrollment in our eight elementary schools has shown the greatest decline.

Birth rates in California, Santa Clara County, and Gilroy have decreased in the past decade. Lower birth rates lead to smaller cohorts, or total number of students in a grade level, in the district. The average cohort size is decreasing. The current senior cohort is 972 students, and the current kindergarten cohort is 708 students.

Regardless of the reasons for the decline, the loss of 400 students in two years represents almost $3.7 million in lost revenue from the state. Decreased revenue, along with rising costs, has made it necessary to reduce expenditures for the 2019-20 school year by $3 million. At a recent meeting, these budget reductions were adopted by the board.

Superintendent Deborah Flores has formed a committee to consider the possible need to close an elementary school. This advisory committee is following the California Department of Education’s guidelines for this process. The committee is comprised of a wide range of representatives, including the district’s three employee bargaining units, parent groups, administration, members of the board of education, and a community member. Meetings are held monthly. By June the committee will update the board about its progress and preliminary recommendations.

The board will consider the committee’s advisory recommendations in August and make a decision this fall. If a school is to be closed, the closure would occur in August 2020, a year after a decision is made. As of today, no decision has been made on whether to close a school, and no school has been singled out for closure.

I want to thank the residents of Gilroy for their ongoing support of the students and staff members of the Gilroy Unified School District. The board of education is doing its best to navigate these challenges while maintaining the high standards of education we have for our students. I can assure you our staff remains committed to providing the highest quality educational experience possible for our children.

James E. Pace joined the Gilroy Unified Board of Education in 2012 and is currently serving as the Board President. He is the parent of two children who have inspired his participation in the district. Sloane (Class of 2018) and Ethan (Class of 2021) have variously attended Rod Kelley Elementary, Las Animas Elementary, Rucker Elementary, Solorsano Middle and Gilroy High Schools. Sloane is a student at the University of California, Berkeley.

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