A plan for a $378 million bond measure to improve and expand local schools without additional costs to Palo Alto taxpayers was presented at Tuesday's school board meeting.
The bond measure would maintain the current $44.50 tax per $100,000 of property value established by a 1994 bond measure until 2042, Chief Business Official Bob Golton said.
The measure's sum has increased about $31 million since October because construction costs have risen and the district added a couple more projects such as a new theatre at Palo Alto High School, he said.
The bonds would be issued in three series in 2008, 2012 and 2016, and could generate extra money from interest earnings or matching state funds of up to $15 million, he said.
The meeting was a preliminary discussion of placing the measure on the June ballot and required no board vote.
Of the bond measure's $378 million, $187 million would fund modernization while $149 million is budgeted for growth, Golton said.
The money is sorely needed just to bring Palo Alto's schools "up to par" with neighboring districts, Board member Camille Townsend said.
Among modernization projects bonds would fund are many basic improvements such as window replacements, she said.
And funds to expand are crucial, Golton said.
The district has been scrambling to find room for the 200 additional elementary students expected next fall, he said.
The decade-long trend of enrollment growth will likely continue as families move to Palo Alto for its schools and the 2,860 new housing units asked for by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) are constructed, he said.
The bonds would fund conversion of portable classrooms throughout the district into permanent structures and pay for new classrooms, according to the project list.
The measure would need 55 percent voter approval under the rules of Proposition 39, which also requires formation of a Citizen Oversight Committee to regulate bond spending, Golton said.
A fall survey showed massive local support for a school bond measure, with 81 percent of respondents saying they would approve if their property taxes did not increase, according to the Gene Bregman and Associates survey presented to the board in October.
School communities helped the district pinpoint which improvements are most pressing in a tight flurry of December meetings, Golton said.
The resultant proposal has specific projects such as $8 million to build a new main theatre at Paly to replace the run-down Haymarket theater, which would be renovated but not expanded, he said.
The proposal also earmarks $14 million for technology upgrades, including two rounds of updating infrastructure such as wires and routers within a 12-year time frame, he said.
Board members praised the proposed bond but asked about flexibility and speed of implementation.
Board member Melissa Baten Caswell, Vice President Barb Mitchell and President Dana Tom all asked whether the measure left the district any wiggle room if future needs change.
Despite growth forecasts, the district has written the bond proposal to flexibly accommodate students even if growth tapers off, Golton responded. The proposal's wording allows for construction of flexible, multipurpose rooms and funds to be juggled between projects, he said.
Townsend asked how soon construction could begin if the measure passes in June, noting the seemingly slow construction under the earlier bond measure frustrated some in the community.
"Can we hit the ground running?" she asked.
Superintendent Kevin Skelly answered that the district was eager to proceed, but expanding schools requires many architectural considerations.
"It's not just plugging in one building here or one building there," he said.
Finally, the board asked the district to spell out growth predictions for the larger public at a second discussion at the Feb. 12 school board meeting.
"Make it clear the high school could accommodate 2,300 students," Baten Caswell said, referring to the December recommendation of a district task force.
Most community members likely won't pore over the minutes of older meetings but should know the predictions, Board member Barbara Klausner agreed.
Community members at the meeting praised the measure, but Gunn High School parent Martha Bowden said more traffic at the growing school would make its already cramped roads more dangerous. The district could design a permanent drop-off spot near the current campus, she suggested.
The board will discuss the measure at its Feb. 12 meeting. More information is available at http://pausd.org/community/board/downloads/brd_packet/pkt_012208.pdf .