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LA Hills Redistricting Plan Would Impact Palo Alto Schools

Original post made by Brewster, Los Altos Hills, on Nov 13, 2006

Los Altos Hills City Council is taking steps to create a new kindergarten through eighth grade school district within its town boundaries. This issue has significant ramifications for Palo Alto schools, as well as those in Los Altos and Mountain View. Here is the situation as I understand it:

Currently, Los Altos Hills (LAH) school-age children are served by three districts: Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD, serving K-12), Los Altos School District (LASD, serving K-8) and Mountain View/Los Altos Union High School District (MVLA, serving 9-12). LAH children attend schools according to whether they live in the PAUSD or the LASD/MVLA attendance areas.

There are currently no public elementary schools within LAH boundaries. PAUSD closed its one LAH elementary school in 1976 due to under-enrollment, and has been leasing the property to Pinewood School since then. LASD closed Bullis Purissima Elementary in 2003, after voters in that district, which includes Los Altos and Los Altos Hills residents, approved a more than doubling of the parcel tax which LAH voters believed would ensure the continued operation of the school.

When Bullis Purissima was closed, Bullis parents formed Bullis Charter School (BCS), which was chartered by the county in September of 2003 but not permitted by the LASD to operate at the Bullis Purissima site. It was instead located in portables at Egan School in Los Altos. Since the goal of the BCS founding parents was to keep elementary education in LAH, this was not the solution they had in mind.

The LAH City Council formed the Public Education Committee (PEC), whose goal was to research ways to return public education to LAH. Over the course of about 2 1/2 years, the PEC surveyed residents and identified options. During this time, the goal became not one of just having an elementary school in town, but one which could be attended by all elementary age students in LAH, regardless of whether they live in the PAUSD or LASD attendance areas. After exploring a number of options and presenting its findings to the LAH City Council, it was decided in July of this year that LAH would pursue the creation of its own K-8 school district.

This is where things get dicey for neighboring districts.
First, there is the potential loss of some or all of the tax revenue for the three districts that currently serve LAH. For PAUSD, the total contribution from property and parcel taxes for LAH is about $6.2 million. For LASD, the total is $5.6 million, and for MVLA, $3.7 million.

Second, there is the question of where the students go to high school from the newly formed district. It is logical and in keeping with state law that students in a K-8 district feed into a 9-12 district, however, residents in the PAUSD attendance area have made it clear, understandably, because it is one of the premier high schools in the country, that they still want access to Gunn High School. LAH City Council has assured LAH residents that there are only two options: For LAH students to continue to feed into Gunn, Los Altos or Mountain View high schools according to the current attendance areas, or for all LAH students to feed into Gunn.

Clearly, either option presents difficulties for PAUSD, which serves K-12. School Board members are elected by the population served by this district, and property and parcel taxes are paid by property owners in the PAUSD attendance area.

Supporters of the redistricting plan want LAH students to have a shorter commute to school without having to take a bus or cross any of the major thoroughfares that border LAH. They also believe that a stronger sense of community will be created by the presence of a school district within LAH borders.

I see several disadvantages to LAH residents with this plan:
* Most LAH residents do not have children in elementary or middle school. The presence of a local school will not affect their sense of community. They are primarily interested in their property values, which will depend on the performance of the new district, and if those students are permitted to attend high school in Palo Alto, whether the loss of revenue from LAH to PAUSD will negatively impact PAUSD's performance. All this will take years to determine. Anyone planning to sell his or her home in the meantime should be prepared for this uncertainty.

* LAH residents in the PAUSD attendance area with children in grades K-8 will lose access to PAUSD choice programs, including Hoover, Ohlone (though currently there are no LAH students there), Spanish Immersion at the elementary and middle school levels, Connections at JLS, Direct Instruction at Terman, and possibly in the future, Mandarin Immersion.

* There are currently approximately 600 students in public school in K-8 in LAH. This would be by any measure a very small school district, with fewer students than the number required by law. LAH City Council is counting on many of the 400 or so private school students in LAH to return to public school when the new district is created. This is far from a sure thing. There are a handful of K-8 districts in this state that have fewer than 800 students, but while a small elementary school works well for most students, by sixth grade many are better served by a larger school with more options for electives and a larger peer group.

* Even if it is approved for students from the new LAH district to feed into Gunn High School, the rules would likely be the same as for any student who transfers in from another district, which is that if the school is at capacity, the student can be overflowed to Palo Alto High School, or possibly to a future third high school in Palo Alto.

There is a public informational meeting on school district reorganization and creation of a LAH K-8 district from 7-9 p.m. at Council Chambers, 26379 Fremont Road, Los Altos Hills. For questions about the meeting contact the city clerk at kjost@losaltoshills.ca.gov or 941-7222. Also, more information is available at Web Link

Comments (23)

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Posted by Brewster
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Nov 13, 2006 at 11:35 pm

Please note that the meeting I refer to in the above post is this Wednesday, Nov 15.


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Posted by Board Observer
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 14, 2006 at 9:08 am

This is a potential for major financial impact on PAUSD. It would seem prudent that the BOARD would require resolution on this matter, or at least very clear contingency plans around each scenario BEFORE any other major decisions are made.

Such as AARG final decision, particularly if AARG recommends opening a new school. (I assume when LAH leaves, some significant number of students go with them, which changes the enrollment by site profile in Palo Alto?) Is AARG making recommendations with and without LAH Students? And which scenario does the Board choose without knowing the outcome on LAH?

Such as committment to major new Alternative/Choice programs that will add cost and complexity to the system. MI decision would need to be re-evaluated against a different demographic and demand profile remaining in PAUSD. Is the feasibility study going to provide the board a with LAH/Without LAH impact analysis and some scenarios? Which scenario does the board choose without knowing the LAH outcome?

A new choice program would also restrict the use of existing school sites in the scenario where PAUSD were NOT able to open a new site (if LAH leaves can we afford to?). It changes the decisions that needs to be made with regard to site/neighborhood impact from placement of the MI program. Likely changes the site placement decision itself.

Not only that, but tell us more about the tie in to the Management Trust and Respect issues. Has Mary Francis Callan served us well in this LAH issue, or have her 'people skills' fanned the flames? (In fact, I would presume that all major PAUSD decisions would need to be subject to review in a scenario where there was a major Supertintendenet/Cabinet turnover. Perhaps its in LAH's best interest to get away from a disfunctional school district, despite all the disadvantages you sited?

With all this stuff going on, I'd say the district is in a pretty high level of uncertainty and chaos. Lets see if the Board is prudent enough to slow down the train long enough for the tracks to get cleared.


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Posted by Duncan MacMIllan
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Nov 14, 2006 at 11:23 am

To Ms/Mr Brewster from another LAH resident:

Excellent summary of the major facts surrounding the attempts to bring public education back to the Hills and I have no problem, even on a second reading. We part on the conclusions but that can happen.

I will look forward to seeing you at the meeting but wanted to suggest that you visit the LAH website if you have time before doing so. One of the postings there speaks to an idea that the districts rejected on the way to our conclusion that redistricting was the only way left.

I am not hell bent on redistricting but, if the districts won't fix it, which I maintain they can, what is left? Very unpleasant circumstances.

So, check out:

Web Link

(That's the "featured link" (left side) - "public education" selection if you are hitting the main menu, www.losaltoshills.ca.gov)

In particular, check out the following doc that describes a final attempt to bring the districts to a joint solution:

Joint school/charter letter to district superintendents, PEC letter 1/31/06

That followed months of informal discussions with folks from both districts, even proposing the Government Code (6500 series) that would enable the creation of a joint powers authority for the provisioning of elementary ed in LAH, as one vehicle. There was a PEC ppt presentation to the LAHCC in public session that preceded sending the letter. If you would like a copy of that presentation, just email me at dmcmllan@pacbell.net

In the sort of scenario envisioned in the letter, everybody would keep their kids, their tax revenues, and the districts would "just" (granted, more work than average) manage their LAH public school properties - Fremont Hills (now Pinewood private school), Bullis (now a hodgepodge of private day care and an extended-day kinder program), and EastBrook (now Waldorf private school)- with our 450+ K-6 public school students in mind. By the way, that LAH enrollment is a bigger population than an entire Nixon, which is around 380.

Well, that failed. Should it be resurrected? Who can do it? Yes and the districts have to drink the water. We can't make those horses do anything. Perhaps you and others would like to ask again. Please....

Regards, Duncan




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Posted by Tammy Logan
a resident of Los Altos
on Nov 14, 2006 at 4:50 pm

Actually, I think that Duncan's proposal may be possible; however, he would have to accept that the school at the Bullis Site in LAH would be a regular Los Altos School District School.
LASD has made a commitment to reopen as a regular K-6 elementary no later than Fall 2008, has refinanced the current bond and is using the proceeds to rebuild the existing facilities. Thus far the PEC proposals have stipulated that moving the Bullis Charter School to the site is the only acceptable option. They do not seem to be interested in a regular LASD school.
Currently Santa Rita, Loyola and Almond are already over crowded and projections by the LASD demographer indicate that the 6 current elementaries will have to each house 600 children within the next few years even with about 300 children diverted to BCS.
LASD has recovered from the funding hiccup felt by all revenue limit districts and also PAUSD, I believe, when the decision was made to close Bullis. Closing Bullis was never a decision that was desired by the Board. Now the district has both the means and the need to re-open the school.
Both BCS leaders and LASD staff have indicated that they do not see sharing of the facility by two fully-functioning elementary schools as a good option. Therefore, BCS is likely to stay at Egan unless some other facility becomes available.
Additionally, LASD and PAUSD were able to agree in theory that PAUSD could provide revenue limit equivalent funding for PAUSD students attending a school in LASD when LASD is in Basic Aid status. This would partially offset the cost of educating those students and is still a possible option with a LASD school at Bullis, if it can be legally done. Presumably, these students would roll into PAUSD Middle Schools in 6th grade.
Unfortunately, this solution does not seem to satisfy the PEC and the LAH Council, because they are committed to bringing BCS to LAH even though significantly more K-6 children from LAH attend LASD schools than BCS today.
Any argument about driving distances for LAH children must consider the needs of Hills children who currently attend Loyola School. Those children would lose their proximity to an elementary school and also a middle school in favor those children living closer to Bullis and the Fremont site.
Finally, since a new LA district would absorb the Fremont school site, PAUSD would lose the rental income and Pinewood students would lose their home.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 14, 2006 at 5:03 pm

What a mess all this sounds that we are in, both in Palo Alto and all the neighboring districts. Menlo Park is trying to do something to alter their schools too. We must try and get some clarification of this with everyone talking to everyone else and no one city trying to sort things out on their own as everyone impacts everyone else. It seems to me that we need a 4 or 5 city task force to work out the problem rather than city by city. I suggest that this proposal to put to all these cities' districts, starting with the meeting tonight. No one is an island and no district is an island. We have to work together to sort out this mess and make sure that something more sane is left for our future generations.


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Posted by Tammy Logan
a resident of Los Altos
on Nov 14, 2006 at 5:27 pm

You are right that this is a mess, but it is important to remember that even when our school districts experience bad situations, they still provide education quality that is among the best in the nation. Of course there can always be improvements, but home values in Palo Alto, Los Alto and Los Altos Hills are strong indication of the quality of our schools and greater community.

One note for PA Online: There are some Palo Alto residents near San Antonio Road who are located within the LASD boundaries for Santa Rita and Egan, yet those schools do not show up in your list within your community.


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Posted by John
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 14, 2006 at 6:07 pm

Simple questions:

Who owns Fremont Hills (now Pinewood private school)?

What are the terms of the lease?

If Fremont Hills was to be 'returned' to PAUSD public school use, what would be the financial impact to PAUSD?


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Posted by Bill Johnson
publisher of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Nov 14, 2006 at 9:59 pm

Bill Johnson is a registered user.

Tammy:

Thanks for the head's up about the schools listed. I'll see about adding Santa Rita and Egan. I hadn't realized some Palo Alto kids went to those schools.


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Posted by Brewster
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Nov 14, 2006 at 10:43 pm

John, here are the answers to your questions:
Who owns Fremont Hills (now Pinewood private school)? PAUSD

What are the terms of the lease? The property was originally leased to Pinewood for 20 years, beginning shortly after PAUSD closed Fremont Hills Elementary in 1976. During that time, Pinewood built new classrooms, a theater, science labs, gym and tennis courts. The school offered to purchase the property before lease expiration, but PAUSD declined and instead opened bidding to re-lease the property. Pinewood won the bid to renew its lease for another 20 years, with a bilateral escape clause after 12 years.

If Fremont Hills was to be 'returned' to PAUSD public school use, what would be the financial impact to PAUSD? Pinewood leases the site for about $965,000 per year.


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Posted by Nancy Kelem
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Nov 15, 2006 at 12:14 pm

Brewster raises many important issues in his post about the Los Altos Hills effort to provide public elementary schools for its neighborhoods. Here are some responses to his arguments:

He overlooks two key points: 1) Since Basic Aid funding guarantees that PAUSD collects all education tax from its area (including LAH-in-PAUSD residences), regardless of the number of kids being taught, administrators are incentivized to teach fewer students, thereby yielding higher dollars per student. 2) Closing schools and then ignoring population growth has worked so well in LAH that over 40% of school-age children attend private school. That's four times the average.

Brewster writes that Fremont Hills Elementary was closed in 1976 due to under enrollment, so long ago that few residents even recognize the public school name. But PAUSD has kept itself ignorant of the boom in the child population in that neighborhood. My street has gone from two to over 20 kids in 12 yrs. In fact, when the Pinewood lease was re-negotiated, I asked former financial chief, Bob Golton, whether he had bothered to learn the population of kids in the neighborhood and whether families would utilze a public school if one were available. He said, "No." But the Public Education Committee did do a survey and learned that 75% of families in LAH that send kids to private elementary school would prefer to send their kids to an easily accessible public school, just like PA and Los Altos have.

Another point: School districts are supposed to spend tax money to teach kids. If a district "loses" revenue, then it also loses the obligation of teaching the kids attached to the revenue. It should be a wash. If LAH succeeds in forming its own district, then more kids will attend public school. Tax money will be utilized as the state intended, not to provide extra programs.

Brewster says that elementary schools don't affect community because most LAH residents don't have kids. A professional survey taken two years ago showed that the vast majority of LAH residents feel so strongly that LAH needs elementary schools, that it wanted its City Council to pursue the matter.

40& in private school, Kindergarteners getting on buses at 7:10am. This represents outrageous misuse of taxpayers' money. PAUSD has no motivation to fix the problem. What business owner would try to get more customers if he were already guaranteed their revenue stream?

Minor correction: PAUSD doesn't "own" the Fremont Hills site. School districts act as trustees for school sites.
Quibble: Hoover, Ohlone, and Bullis Charter are not "choice" schools. They are "luck" schools because admission is by lottery.

Homework for Tammy: See if your Principal will test the kids' potential. How do you know that schools are great unless you know what the kids are capable of? "Best in Calif." means "Best of the Worst." My kids have attended 4 public elementary schools and only one school tests not just the kids' achievment (STAR test), but also the kids' capability (COGAT). My kid stagnated in an LASD school for 3 years, depite parents' pleas to the teachers and principals to challenge all the kids.

Nancy


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Posted by k
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 16, 2006 at 9:20 am

Thanks,Nancy, for your detailed post - your comments are worthwhile for all of us across PAUSD to ponder.


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Posted by Brewster
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Nov 16, 2006 at 10:17 am

NANCY,
HERE, IN ALL CAPS, ARE MY RESPONSES TO YOUR RESPONSES:

"He overlooks two key points: 1) Since Basic Aid funding guarantees that PAUSD collects all education tax from its area (including LAH-in-PAUSD residences), regardless of the number of kids being taught, administrators are incentivized to teach fewer students, thereby yielding higher dollars per student. 2) Closing schools and then ignoring population growth has worked so well in LAH that over 40% of school-age children attend private school. That's four times the average."

THE FUNDING MODEL FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS IN THIS STATE IS SOMETHING WE COULD START A WHOLE NEW THREAD ON. SCHOOL FUNDING CHANGED DRAMATICALLY IN THE 1970'S WITH THE SETTLEMENT OF THE SERRANO VS. PRIEST LAWSUITS AND PASSAGE OF PROPOSITION 13. AT ONE TIME, PAUSD HAD, I BELIEVE, 22 ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS. FREMONT HILLS WAS ONE OF MANY THAT WERE CLOSED AS THE DISTRICT DEALT WITH DECLINING FUNDS FOR EDUCATION ALONG WITH DECLINING ENROLLMENT.

IT'S IRONIC THAT THE MOST PROSPEROUS DISTRICTS ARE GENERALLY "BASIC AID" AND GET NO FUNDING FROM THE STATE ON A PER-STUDENT BASIS; THEREFORE, THEY HAVE NO INCENTIVE TO KEEP STUDENTS FROM DEFECTING TO PRIVATE SCHOOL. THAT WOULD BE TRUE OF A NEW LAH K-8 DISTRICT AS WELL.

"Brewster writes that Fremont Hills Elementary was closed in 1976 due to under enrollment, so long ago that few residents even recognize the public school name. But PAUSD has kept itself ignorant of the boom in the child population in that neighborhood. My street has gone from two to over 20 kids in 12 yrs. In fact, when the Pinewood lease was re-negotiated, I asked former financial chief, Bob Golton, whether he had bothered to learn the population of kids in the neighborhood and whether families would utilze a public school if one were available. He said, "No." But the Public Education Committee did do a survey and learned that 75% of families in LAH that send kids to private elementary school would prefer to send their kids to an easily accessible public school, just like PA and Los Altos have."

ALTHOUGH THERE HAS BEEN ENROLLMENT GROWTH IN THE PAUSD ATTENDANCE AREA OF LAH, THE FIGURES PROVIDED BY THE PUBLIC EDUCATION COMMITTEE IN JANUARY, 2006, INDICATE 175 STUDENTS IN GRADES K-6. PAUSD NEEDS ABOUT TWICE THAT MANY TO JUSTIFY REOPENING AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL.

"School districts are supposed to spend tax money to teach kids. If a district "loses" revenue, then it also loses the obligation of teaching the kids attached to the revenue. It should be a wash."

IT SHOULD BE A WASH, BUT IT'S NOT. LAH RESIDENTS CONTRIBUTE ABOUT $14.5K PER STUDENT, AND PAUSD SPENDS SEVERAL THOUSAND LESS THAN THAT, SO THERE WOULD BE A RESULTING "HIT" TO PAUSD. IT SOUNDS UNFAIR, BUT THAT'S HOW SCHOOL FINANCE WORKS. SOMEONE WHO BOUGHT A LARGE HOUSE IN NORTH PALO ALTO AFTER 1978 (POST PROP. 13) PAYS SIGNIFICANTLY MORE IN TAXES THAN SOMEONE WHO LIVES IN A TOWNHOUSE NEAR THE FREEWAY, BUT STUDENTS IN BOTH HOMES GET EQUAL ACCESS TO PALO ALTO SCHOOLS.

THE STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION STIPULATES THAT SCHOOL DISTRICTS MUST BE DRAWN IN SUCH A WAY AS TO PREVENT AND ELIMINATE RACIAL AND ETHNIC IMBALANCE IN PUPIL ENROLLMENT, AND I DON'T BELIEVE THE POPULATION OF LAH HAS SUFFICIENT ETHNIC DIVERSITY COMPARED TO ITS NEIGHBORS TO ACHIEVE THIS GOAL. THE TINSLEY LAWSUIT WAS SETTLED IN 1986 ON THIS PRINCIPLE, AND RESULTED IN STUDENTS FROM RAVENSWOOD ATTENDING PUBLIC SCHOOLS IN PALO ALTO, WOODSIDE, PORTOLA VALLEY, AND SEVERAL OTHERS.

"Brewster says that elementary schools don't affect community because most LAH residents don't have kids. A professional survey taken two years ago showed that the vast majority of LAH residents feel so strongly that LAH needs elementary schools, that it wanted its City Council to pursue the matter."

ARE WE LOOKING AT THE SAME STUDY? THE GODBE REPORT, PUBLISHED IN OCTOBER OF 2004 AND AVAILABLE AT Web Link SURVEYED 348 RESIDENTS IN LOS ALTOS HILLS AND 146 IN LOS ALTOS. ON PAGE 21, RESPONSES TO THE QUESTION ABOUT COMMITTING STAFF TIME AND FINANCIAL RESOURCES TO VARIOUS OPTIONS SHOW THE GREATEST SUPPORT FOR REOPENING BULLIS ELEMENTARY AS PART OF LOS ALTOS SCHOOL DISTRICT. THIS IS ALREADY GOING TO HAPPEN IN SEPT. OF 2008.

"40& in private school, Kindergarteners getting on buses at 7:10am. This represents outrageous misuse of taxpayers' money. PAUSD has no motivation to fix the problem. What business owner would try to get more customers if he were already guaranteed their revenue stream?"

NOT PAUSD AND NOT LOS ALTOS HILLS, EITHER.

"Minor correction: PAUSD doesn't "own" the Fremont Hills site. School districts act as trustees for school sites."

THANK YOU FOR CORRECTING ME ON THAT POINT.

"Quibble: Hoover, Ohlone, and Bullis Charter are not "choice" schools. They are "luck" schools because admission is by lottery."

CALL THEM WHAT YOU LIKE, BUT 20 OR SO LAH STUDENTS ARE "LUCKY" ENOUGH TO PARTICIPATE IN THESE PAUSD PROGRAMS.


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Posted by Brewster
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Nov 17, 2006 at 10:00 am

MAKE YOUR OPINION KNOWN AT UPCOMING PUBLIC HEARING

There will be a public hearing on the petition by Los Altos Hills City Council to form a new K-8 school district on Thursday, Dec. 7 at 4 p.m. in the San Jose Room at the Santa Clara County Office of Education, 1290 Ridder Park Drive, San Jose.

Members of the community who are proponents and opponents of the plan will have an opportunity to address the County Committee.

The agenda is posted at: Web Link


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Posted by Pauline
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Nov 18, 2006 at 5:02 pm

I was neutral on the issue of whether or not split off from PAUSD. I live in the Hills and was overflowed from our "home" school of Nixon to Juana Briones several years ago for our 2 youngest. I decided to stay at Juana for a lot of reasons,and have fallen completely in love with it. It is an incredible place.

My kids have gotten a great experience there, and our eldest is getting the maximum education possible in the form of Gunn High School. Juana, in addition to being fantastic in most ways educationally, is also a greatly diverse school in abilities, "colors", religions and nationalities..which I love and which suits my family to a T. I value it highly.

Of course, 7:05 buses are onerous, and driving 80 minutes per day to drop off and pick up your kids at the overflow school is a pain, especially if you have to add even more time to that if you want to volunteer to do anything in the middle of the school day. But, I figured this was the price we pay for choosing to live here, and for choosing to stay at Juana. It never occurred to me there was another way.

As much as I loved the experience my children were getting, and was definitely feeling very loyal to my school district ( PAUSD), I was neutral on the issue of separating out because I believe in small local government, versus central, and therefore completely support the right of local folks to form local schools. I also don't think that the value of "diversity", as great as it is for me, trumps the value of respecting the voice of parents to locally educate their children. I am not sure, but I think we have established as a nation that busing simply for diversity is not a great thing to do, all other things being equal.

However, I am beginning to understand the "straw that breaks the camel's back" sort of process which may have led to the revolt in LAH. It is one that is similar to the taxation without representation that led to the Boston Tea Party and a new nation. And that is when the people of the Hills in the MV-LASD district voted in a doubling of the parcel tax in the belief this would assure the continuation of their most local school, only to see the school shut down.

This makes local control of how your taxes are spent very, very appealing. Arrogant disregard of the wishes of the heaviest taxpayers leads to revolt. Establishing a local school controlled by a Board of Education that listens to the local people, and remembers who pays the bill of the School District, becomes quite attractive.

We have some similar issues brewing in PAUSD right now, not relevant to this post except in the way that a lot of us in the Hills on the PAUSD side are beginning to understand the feelings of those on the MV-LASD side of the fence better. A disregard for implied promises of parcel tax increases, and disregard for the priorities of the taxpaying community,( in this case referring to the PAUSD community as done through a professional and valid survey), can lead to a great deal of discontent on the part of the taxpayers, who may come to the conclusion that an arrogant elitism has overtaken a school system, an attitude that presumes to "know better" than the very parents who are placing their children in the schools. At least in a private school such actions are rewarded with a lessening enrollment, which makes the managers of the private school sit up.

In a basic aid district, the incentive is all wrong. To remove your child is, in fact, a GOOD thing for the District, in that your child is one less kid to educate, leaving that much more for the rest of the kids. So, the incentive is messed up.

Well, I just wrote all this to say I understand and applaud the efforts of the "pro-split" side of this discussion. A lot of us on the PAUSD side of the Hills are watching.

I have wondered how Hills people with kids younger than 5 years old feel about this? I know that if I had children who hadn't already had such great experiences in PAUSD, or kids younger than 5, I would be completely on the pro-split side.




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Posted by Disenfranchised
a resident of Monroe Park
on Nov 18, 2006 at 11:36 pm

To the Editor -

My family and I are one of those Palo Alto familes that live within city limits but attend LASD schools. Yes, we do exist, though your comments about being unaware don't surprise me. I often think the two school boards (PAUSD and LASD) are equally unaware. Having spoken to people in both districts, it's clear we aren't large enough to really have a voice, either by population or tax base.

I've found the issues of the Bullis Charter School and then Redistricting to be very ironic. That some members of LAH would feel entitled to a school within their town and then access to Palo Alto high schools is just too much. I guess money really does talk. As a Palo Alto resident, I'd like my kids to be able to attend schools within their town, too, and I wouldn't even ask for the ability to cherry-pick.


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Posted by Duncan
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Nov 19, 2006 at 10:47 am

Specifically to "Disenfranchised"...

The issue in LAH is elementary education and providing that within a neighborhood setting as a matter of equity with Palo Alto, Stanford, and Los Altos neighborhoods. Except for immediate properties, students don't get the privilege of neighborhood schools for high school. We understand that and are not cherry-picking. We asked the County to keep high school attendance just the way it is now (PAUSD or MVLA, based on the current map).

Neighborhood elementary schools are incredibly important for early childhood development, as I am sure we can all agree. They are not a birthright but, if everyone else seems to have neighborhood elementary schools, equity is then a real issue.

In the Hills, with its semi-rural atmosphere and lack of civic infrastructure/available land, I maintain that the existence of operating public schools is relatively more important than in towns like Palo Alto and Los Altos. Those cities have downtown areas, civic centers, senior centers, even city pools, and plenty of places for people to hang out/connect. Unless you are a horse, we are not in very good shape and schools can provide at least some of those attributes for a community in search of local connections.

The rub is that LAH already has 3 public school properties but no public elementary schools operating in them - all have private tenants. Neither district (LASD or PAUSD) "sees" enough of our existing 450 K-6 public school kids so neither operates a neighborhood school within LAH. And, LASD cannot solve the problem by itself when/if it reopens Bullis-Purissima - Bullis will not be a neighborhood school, easily accessible to all of LAH.

I have a feeling that your kids are attending Santa Rita, within LASD. If so, great for you - a quality elementary school within easy commute. In any event, I certainly hope your elementary school is relatively nearby, with no 40-minute bus ride and no crossing major highways (Foothill and Page Mill for those of us who bus or commute to Nixon from LAH). If you are getting a neighborhood elementary school out of LASD or PAUSD, I wouldn't worry about the district name - both provide quality schools. We are not getting neighborhood elementary schools from either district and we have plenty of kids and plenty of public school properties for them to use (Bullis to get started and Fremont Hills as we attract private school parents back to public education, when it comes off lease).

This is an interesting time. It is really too bad that the districts can't/won't work together to solve the problem. A little more work would be required at their ends to jointly manage LAH but would be hugely beneficial for everyone. Now, we have to continue the re-districting journey as the only game in Town. I am sorry, but after 39 months trudging through the details, I don't know of any other way....

Regards, Duncan (fellow supporter of public education)


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Posted by Nancy Kelem
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Nov 19, 2006 at 3:24 pm

A few responses to Brewster's CAPS:

The 2000 census shows LAH has approx. 120 kids in each grade. Assuming they are evenly spread among the Eastbrook, Bullis-Purissima, and Fremont Hills elementary neighborhoods, that would fill two classes in each grade, like Juana Briones. Actually, when my sons attended J-B, one son's grade had 20 J-B neighborhood kids and 40 commuters who were overflowed or Tinsley'd in.

The Godbe survey showed that a majority wanted SOMETHING done, but no overwhelming support for any of the half-baked solutions. We still aren't fully baked, but we're close. Following current high school divisions seems sensible, but there's no precedent for it. There is a precedent for LAH being part of PAUSD, but handling its own elem. schools. So it's not a matter of "cherry-picking" Gunn. It's a solution that has a precedent.

Regarding ethnicity: don't get me started. Anyone who thinks LAH isn't ethnically diverse is just guessing. 15 years ago, my street was all white. Now we have parents from Hong Kong, China, Viet Nam, Egypt, and Israel, off the top of my head. 3 Chinese households out of about 20 houses. LAH has a large Persian population. We have so many mixed kids it's funny: Finnish-Persian, Filipino-Italian, Scottish-Chinese for Pete's sake, Japanese-Australian (if you think that Australian isn't a distinct ethnicity, you haven't met Ron). My kids' friends' parents speak Gujarati, Urdu, Telagu, Farsi, Tagalog, Hebrew, Korean, not to mention Hindi, Mandarin, and Cantonese. LAH is just as ethnically diverse as Los Altos. Neither has much socio-economic diversity. But heck, very few elementary school neighborhoods are socio-economically diverse. High schools, yes.

True, LAH School District will be Basic Aid and, therefore, incentivized to close schools to encourage private school patronage. But the district would be accountable only to LAH. I hope you can concede that it's much easier for PAUSD to turn a blind eye to LAH's kids than it will be for an LAH district that serves only LAH kids. It takes a child's own village to raise a child -- not the village on the other side of the expressway.

Nancy
p.s. to Pauline: I agree that Juana-Briones is a treasure. In fact, each of the four elem. schools my kids have attended has had uniquely endearing and valuable attributes. But the closest to our hearts was the closest to home, where my kids learned the importance of "Mi casa es su casa."


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Posted by Brewster
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Nov 25, 2006 at 3:58 pm

I've watched this process unfold and tried to make sense of everything that is happening, but the numbers and arguments seem to change to reflect the wishes of the minority of people who support the current option.

I responded to Nancy's comment about whether or not there were a sufficient number of students in the PAUSD attendance area of LAH to justify reopening Fremont Hills Elementary (Pinewood) when the lease was being renegotiated, and she countered with a statement about the total number of elementary aged kids in all of LAH.

"Disenfranchised" accused Nancy of "cherry-picking" Gunn, and Nancy described a scenario that is not even under consideration, claiming that the solution has a precedent. She even acknowledged that there is no precedent for the option currently being pursued by the LAH City Council, a K-8 district that partly feeds into a K-12 district for high school.

The Godbe study showed a strong lack of support for creation of a K-8 district in LAH when all students would then attend Mountain View/Los Altos High Schools. The LAH City Council then extrapolated that information and assumed that there would be support for a K-8 district if the students went to Gunn High School, but this assumption was never validated, as far as I know.

Nancy claims that PAUSD is turning a "blind eye" to LAH students, but I would like to have some specific examples to demonstrate this. My daughter and her family live in Palo Alto, and she feels that PAUSD has turned its back on its students and parents in many respects, no matter where they live. She's looking for some big changes as a result of the current investigation into the superintendent and her right hand woman.

If I lived in the LASD attendance area of LAH, I would have been furious about voting to pass a parcel tax in November of 2002 and then having our local school closed even before all the "Yes on H" signs were taken off the lawns. I agree that there was an implied promise in that case. There was never any promise, implied or otherwise, however, when we voted to renew and increase the PAUSD parcel tax in June of 2005.

So while I do understand the anger and frustration of some LAH residents, those are the ones who are already getting what they want: the reopening of Bullis Elementary School. Why would those families support a different option that cannot possibly be implemented in that time period? It's not clear to me that there is ANY support coming from LAH residents in the PAUSD attendance area who have no children in school.

Proponents of redistricting say that it's a matter of equity; that they just want what PAUSD students have in terms of proximity to their elementary schools, but students in unincorporated Portola Valley and Stanford who attend PAUSD schools have to be bussed or driven to school, as do students who move to an area near one school and are subsequently "overflowed" to a different school in another part of town. It's also disingenuous to suggest it's a matter of equity when Palo Alto has nearly 3 times the population density of LAH.

Anyone who moved to the PAUSD attendance area of LAH in the past 30 years did so knowing that there was not an elementary school in town for their children to attend. LAH town boundaries cover 8 1/2 square miles with most roads lacking sidewalks and bike lanes, so that the majority of students would still have to be driven to school no matter where it was located.

Likewise, some students living in the southern part of town would travel just as far through the dangerous intersections of Foothill/El Monte, and Foothill/San Antonio to reach Fremont Hills Elementary in the northern part of town as some students do now to get to Nixon Elementary in Palo Alto.

All this effort to create a K-8 district in LAH is costing time and taxpayer dollars. It will require waiving state laws and have a negative impact on neighboring school communities. It is likely to result in tax increases.

I would much rather see our elected officials put their energy and our dollars into creation of a community center or other program that would truly benefit all LAH citizens.


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Posted by Samuel Broydo
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Nov 26, 2006 at 10:18 pm

If K-6 is restored in the old Bullis school within LAH (as is now planned) then it makes no sense to fight the redistricting windmills to get K-8.


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Posted by Brewster
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Dec 7, 2006 at 12:31 am

I just received a letter from the Los Altos Hills Ad Hoc Committee on School District Reorganization, which seeks to reassure residents that there is no possible scenario in which students could lose access to Gunn High School in the process of creating a K-8 district.

The letter says, "And remember, even if the State Board of Education were to approve a plan in direct opposition to the Town of Los Altos Hills and at least one of the affected school districts, that plan would come to the people of Los Altos Hills for a vote. We, as voters of Los Altos Hills, will have the ultimate authority to accept or reject any school plan that affects our children, and any plan that does not include Gunn High School will be rejected."

Let me get this straight. The Ad Hoc Committee can predict how people will vote three or four years from now. That's amazing, because the residents of LAH who live in the Los Altos School District attendance area, who outnumber those in the PAUSD attendance area, have nothing to lose by voting for such a plan. They will either continue to attend Los Altos or Mountain View High Schools, or go to Gunn, which is considered a superior school.

Furthermore, someone should inform the Ad Hoc Committee that in the unlikely event that the State Board of Education approves this plan, it might specify that the students go to PAUSD for high school, but it will be up to PAUSD to determine if that high school will be Gunn, Paly, or a third high school which may need to be opened due to increasing enrollment. While it's true that Gunn High School is geographically closest to LAH, our power in the PAUSD will be virtually nonexistent or at least severely diminished due to the fact that we will be participating in just under 1/3 of the PAUSD school system.

There is a preliminary hearing on this proposal this afternoon, Dec. 7, at 4:00 p.m., 1290 Ridder Park Drive, San Jose. It is open to anyone concerned about this issue. You can send your comments to suzanne_carrig@sccoe.org, or bring a printed statement to give to the County Committee. Please bring 20 copies.


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Posted by samuel broydo
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Dec 26, 2006 at 9:56 am

I attended the County Committee meeting and heard that Palo Alto School District (PAUSD) will not agree to continue Los Altos Hills access to Gunn HS if a separate Los Altos Hills K-8 school district is formed. I understand that nobody can force them to change their mind. On the other hand the Los Altos Hills Town Council adopted a resolution stating that under no circumstances will a separate school district will be formed if the access to Gunn will be lost as a result. Given those mutually exclusive and unchangeable positions of PAUSD and LAH, will someone explain to me why continuation of the fight is not a giant waste of time and money?


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Posted by Brewster
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Dec 26, 2006 at 11:19 am

Samuel, you've got it just right. The County Committee stated that after the first meeting, it did not think the petition met the nine criteria used in making a decision in favor of redistricting. The size of the newly formed district would be too small according to state law, and there is no evidence to suggest that the needs of LAH children are not being met under the current structure. You can see the whole Weekly article at

Web Link

Still, the County Committee agreed to convene another meeting to hear the remaining 50 speakers before making a final decision. The second public hearing will be held on January 25, 2007, at 4 p.m. at the Santa Clara County Office of Education, 1290 Ridder Park Drive in San Jose.

Even if the County Committee rejects the petition at this juncture, redistricting supporters can start the process all over again by gathering signatures of 25% of the voters in Los Altos Hills. Given the likelihood that the speakers at the next public meeting will not be able to address the petition's shortfalls with respect to the state requirements for redistricting, I sincerely hope that our City Council will move on from this issue and look at more constructive ways to enhance the well-being and sense of community among all LAH residents.


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Posted by Board Observer
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 5, 2007 at 12:46 pm

Something's fishy in the PAUSD school board meeting agenda for tomorrow night:

Web Link


III. OPEN SESSION 7:00 p.m.
A. Memorandum of Understanding Between Palo Alto Unified School District and Lost Altos School District
Action 1

The Board will approve the MOU regarding charter school funding and interdistrict transfers between PAUSD and LASD.

B. Administrative Regulation – Los Altos School District
Information 2

This regulation sets the process for PAUSD Los Altos Hills students to transfer to Bullis‑Purissima Elementary School and for returning to PAUSD schools.


Looks like the board will be voting on financing for interdistrict transfers from PAUSD to LASD. The board packet doesn't seem available online (blank on my computer), but I don't remember seeing this as an agenda discussion topic in any earlier meetings. What happened to the two-meeting rule?

Especially if there's going to be money transfered for interdistrict transfers, why are we only considering LASD? We don't usually pay LASD (or other districts) for interdistrict transfers, so why this one now?

Also, what's this information topic about LAH kids who are PAUSD residents going to the Bullis-Purissa site, coming back to PAUSD? Wouldn't they usually come back anyway?

Something's hokey.

Meet me at the board meeting?


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