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THERE have been many years in the past half century of Milpitas' modern school era that have been preceded by budget cuts and staff reductions. This year's drop in the state funding for schools has brought about what must be one of the worst for a district which has struggled to maintain standards and keep increasing test scores.

The reputation of Milpitas as having an excellent school system is still there. But it is being rudely punctured and tattered. Consider the list:

n Say goodbye to the 20:1 ratio of students to teachers, which was formerly in many of the grades. They are pushing well beyond 30 as school opens this week.

n No longer will there be a free music program of any kind in the elementary schools. An outside fee-based program costing $35 per month is being offered instead.

n For the first time in district history, there is a charge for busing (except for Special Education and kids getting the federally subsidized lunch program.) The $360 a year bus charge for the 180 days of school will be offered instead.

n The swimming pool at Milpitas High is permanently closed.

n Along with teaching positions eliminated, many non-teaching jobs are gone. One librarian will serve the entire district. One high school counselor will each serve 800 students. Custodians, grounds-keepers, school secretaries, all got the ax.

These new cuts are in addition to the $400,000 in cutbacks the school board made two months ago which eliminated an assistant


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principal, the entire summer school program, zapping the award-winning Community Day school effort and a number of others. Based on the preliminary warnings about a very serious state budget imbalance, the trustees also acted on $2 million in other cuts early this year.

Much of this assorted bad news isn't new because the state has been in a fiscal mess for a long while. But it's all very discouraging for the professional educators, for the concerned parents who know that a good basic education is the secret to success in our competitive society, and for the community which must realize that a return to high property values is premised on the presence of outstanding schools. And in the past Milpitas has, indeed, had them.

There are some ironies and some lessons to be learned from the financial plight that faces Milpitas schools.

Many of the school districts in our county, especially those across the valley, have been able to retain a different formula for funding. These so-called "basic aid" districts get to retain far more of their property tax than Milpitas can. Palo Alto, with about the same size student body, has $12,000 to $13,000 for each child compared to about half of the amount which Milpitas gets. Both communities have about the same tax base with similar gross assessed values. The difference is the property tax amount diverted for the Milpitas Redevelopment Agency.

In addition, voters in Palo Alto and a number of other districts have authorized a parcel tax to supplement the property tax and state contribution.

Milpitas voters have not passed a parcel tax since 1996.

So the real question remains: What level of quality do we want in our schools and are we willing to pay for it? With the experience of this current belt-tightening that begins this week, it may be that the community will want to change that at an election next November.