We have been fortunate to have the ability to innovate our classrooms to increase student agency and collaboration—skills they’ll need in the workforce—and promote our 8th graders into high school with full leadership as well as academic skills.” James Dent, Principal, Gilroy Prep High Cost of Preschool Options For families with children aged three to five, pre-school offers an early start on academics and provides safe reliable daycare during work hours. Privately-owned facilities tend to be cost-prohibitive for many young parents. “Families are coming to us for pre-kindergarten opportunities within the school district,” Betando added. “Many are dual-income families who work out of the area. This year we started a transitional kindergarten (T-K) program at El Toro and it has grown.” “We are also exploring options to develop our own pre- schools on our campuses. I’m excited about this opportunity. We’re conducting a study on this now, looking at facilities, staffing and costs to offer this service for student families as well as for our employees with children. We need to be competitive with other districts where people work, like San Jose.” Rising Pension Costs GUSD School Board Trustee James Pace said that as CalPRS and CalSTRS rates continue to rise, the state has increased school districts’ required contributions to these pension funds. In some cases, districts’ are seeing these costs double. Meanwhile, teacher’s strikes like the January strike in Los Angeles point to the challenges of low-paid teachers, over- crowded classes and under-funded education programs faced by many California school districts. Pace added that locally, educators have worked through tough negotiations to reach resolution, avoid strikes, and keep schools operating. 36 GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN Increased Special Ed Costs Mary Ann Dewan is Superintendent of County Schools in Santa Clara County’s Office of Education. Dewan said that the majority of the county’s 1,674 employees in the Office of Education are focused on special education, early learning, and alternative education programs. Some of their services and programs are funded through LCFF and grants, but as she noted, special education programs are funded primarily by the local school districts. “We are seeing increasing enrollment of students identified as having a disability,” Dewan said. She added that dyslexia and autism are examples that might indicate special education services would be needed for a student. “In California, school districts aren’t funded based on the number of students with disabilities. Meanwhile, the cost of programs, staff salaries, benefits, and facilities are going up and so, a larger portion of district budgets is needed for special education.” According to GUSD Superintendent Flores, “Many school districts are under-funded by the state, yet we’re mandated by the state to provide these services, and we want to, but it’s a challenge. Our required contribution to special education programs has doubled in the last five years.” Tweaking the COLA Every year, the state budget includes a cost-of-living adjust- ment (COLA) to certain school and community college programs. By law, the COLA must link to the national price index set by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (U.S. Depart- ment of Commerce). The index reflects the cost of goods and services purchased by state and local governments nation- wide, with the largest element of the index being employee salaries and wages. The new COLA rate for 2018-19 is 2.71 percent (up slightly from 2.51 percent the previous year). The estimated cost of the COLA increased to $1.7 billion—$1.3 billion for april/may 2019 gmhtoday.com CHARTER recent years to reward their employees and be competitive with other districts. But even with that, many teachers are forced to live outside the district and commute in from a distance.