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Editorial: Yes on Measure A for schools' future

Original post made on May 8, 2008

Voters in the Palo Alto Unified School District will face a complex but vitally important decision when they cast their votes in or before the June 3 election.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, May 7, 2008, 12:00 AM

Comments (28)

Posted by who's right?, a resident of Downtown North
on May 8, 2008 at 4:55 pm

Interesting, after reading Martin's site, it looks like there is no guarantee all projects mentioned will be implemented. So, under the current presentation of this measure, we could be voting for a $378 million aquatic center and nothing else(?)

Posted by Me Too, a resident of Meadow Park
on May 8, 2008 at 5:16 pm

Yes, that is correct - the proposal lists a laundry list of projects that COULD be done, with out specific locations or amounts. The generality of the project list makes it almost a blank check.

The idea expressed in the editorial that we should "spiff" up the buildings to attract teachers seems nigh on ridiculous. $400M dollars is a lot of spiffing up! Skelly, who I generally respect, has said this too.

In fact, the proposed detailed project list, which is NOT part of the ballot measure, summarizes like this (copying from another thread):

- Gunn "acquatics center" = $4.8M
- Paly theater = $5.4M
- All HS athletic & theater (including above) = $42M
- Pool, gym, fields, hardscape at middle schools = $26M (!?)
- ALL gyms & theater & outside = $70M

- Paly Admin building renovation = $13M
- "Thermal Comfort Upgrades" (no kidding) = $17M
- New windows (middle & elem) = $18M
- Convert portables to permanent = $62M
- ALL upgrading, etc. = $110M

- NEW classrooms (true capacity expansion) = $25M
- Gunn RC conversion (might be add'l classroms) = $15M
- New modulars at elementary = $9M
- New Flex rooms = $8M

- All technology (combined, all schools plus Central Office) = $14M
- ALL New + IT = $71
- Total of above $250

- Other stuff (moved into the bond at some point) = $90
- Growth since October = $30-40M

So if you have been hearing that we need this bond for capacity expansion and IT, that's not right. That would be about a $100M bond. This is about improving gym & theater space ($70M+) and windows/ac and conversion of portables ($110M+).

And that's the what they are willing to present. How the actual spending will work is anybody's guess.

Posted by a long time resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2008 at 10:01 pm

I would expect that they would want flexibility.

The schools in this city is the primary reason home prices are higher than most neighboring cities.

The schools are facing large enrollment with the addition of many thousands of homes,condos ,townhouses and rental units. The increased taxes from new construction does not produce enough $$ to pay for the expansions necessary.

The city is considering selling off a large section of Cubberly land. The school district dosen't have enough $$ to buy it. They had to buy back the Terman school from the city, but actually traded a large portion of Cubberly instead of paying millions for the Terman school.

If the city sells Cubberly land the money will probably be used to build the oversized Police building or pay for part of the cost.

Failure to support the schools could result in a drop of property, homes,etc.,values by a few hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The city is losing so many of the other things that have made a highly desirable place to live. Low cost utilities, uncrowded parks, streets that weren't filled with bumper to bumper traffic, streets that were taken care of, promised underground power lines, and the list goes on and on. Another big one is probably ,possibly, unfunded retirment benifits that could be in the hundres of millions of dollars and new taxes to pay for them or new fees of all kinds.

Also if things are going the way they look, those not living in the FLOOD ZONE may be paying 10's of thousands of dollars each household to prevent flooding. The storm drain project was sold as a flood prevention parcel tax that everyone is paying for. No mention of it or how effective it will be is ever mentioned now.

Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on May 8, 2008 at 10:31 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by who's right?, a resident of Downtown North
on May 9, 2008 at 8:51 am

Hey, Mike, you didn't actually show where Martin was wrong. More like just throwing mud and hoping some sticks. Can you point to where the guarantees are in this proposal that we don't end up with a $378M aquatic center?

Posted by Peter, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 9, 2008 at 11:33 am

Can someone please point to a link showing the actual text of measure A? I'm unable to find it with Google.

Posted by Peter, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 9, 2008 at 11:36 am

Never mind. I found it at Web Link

Posted by No Way, a resident of Gunn High School
on May 10, 2008 at 2:17 pm

Every time I drive down W Meadow and admire the totally rebuilt JLS campus that I voted and paid for in the "Building for Excellence" project last decade, my deep confidence and faith in the ability of PAUSD to manage capital projects is strengthened and renewed.

Of course, I am *very eager* to sign up for 40 more years of
increased property taxes.

But only if I get taxed for construction of redundant community centers at all of the tiny branch libraries, construction of
a suitably prestigious HQ for the police department, and
get to pay huge amounts of hidden taxes to the city via the
Utilities department at the same time.

Posted by Fool me once..., a resident of another community
on May 10, 2008 at 7:01 pm

I remember voting $143 millions for Palo Alto Unified in 1995. That was supposed to fix anything and everything that regular maintenance could not fix. Now, barely 13 years later, when the previous bond is not even half way paid off, PAUSD wants almost half a billion(!) dollars yet again. Wow! At $35,000 per child, that is enough to buy a nice SUV for each and every student in the district. Talk about hutzpah!

Posted by Skeptical, a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 11, 2008 at 12:17 pm

This bond measure raises some serious questions:

Why did our city council approve the construction of thousands of new homes for which we haven't the school capacity for all the kids who will be living there? And why did our school board not speak out during that approval process and sound an alarm that we don't have enough classroom space for all these new students?

As a result, we residents are forced to choose between paying for additional school capacity, or seeing more crowded classrooms and a degraded learning environment for all our kids. In most parts of the country, developers are required to pay the total cost of the new schools required of the developments they are building. Why isn't that done here?

I predict much of this bond (if it passes) will go to portable classrooms in our playing fields and front setbacks, due to the urgency of providing for the growing student population.

Posted by Huh?, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 11, 2008 at 12:30 pm

Where are the 1000's of units? The Hyatt site is, I believe about 180 units. The Elks site next store is 45 units. Alma Plaza is 35-40 units. Did I miss a big development coming in?

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 11, 2008 at 4:43 pm

The housing could be the 1000's that the ABAG expects us to add. I don't the city is allowed to consider the school issues in conjunction with housing (CA law??) I know in many parts of the country, a developer is required to fund/build/donate the land for a whole elementary school...

Posted by Huh?, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 11, 2008 at 4:58 pm

So that is a "could be" not really related to the current bond.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 11, 2008 at 5:26 pm

At present, our enrollment is growing at about 1,000 kids per year. That is happening and many of these new developments are not completely lived in if they have started selling at all. This is not dreaming, this is reality. Our elementary schools have between 350 and 650 ish students at present. Do your math. We are talking about an increase of students at about the rate of 2 elementary schools a year (although the growth is at all levels not just elementary).

Posted by Huh?, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 11, 2008 at 5:57 pm

Parent, not sure where those figures come from. Here's a link to the PAUSD enrollment 2007 forecast presentation ( This shows an increase over the next 5 years of 300 elementary students, 200 middle school, and 500 in high school (all medium projections - add about 600 overall for the high forecast). So that's 1000 over 5 years, or about 200 a year. If you look at the graphs, these forecasts are roughly consistent with the trend of the last 5-10+ years.

So there is definitely and increase and need for space. So definitely a need for some expansion.

Posted by Skeptical, a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 11, 2008 at 7:23 pm

Regardless of whether our enrollment is growing by 200 or 1000 kids/year, we'll need to add a lot of school capacity in the next few years. Why do we keep growing like this? Is it fair to our kids? Does the law require us to? In her post above, "palo alto mom" says that CA law may not allow a city to consider school issues when approving housing. If that's true it would help explain why we're in such a mess. Anybody know if (and why) CA has such a law?

Posted by Huh?, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 11, 2008 at 7:31 pm

Skeptical, I think that school capacity needs are covered in the bond. Open 1 elementary and add marginal capacity at existing sites, and the elementary need is covered for 5-10 years. Middle schools similar - it's about an 8% increase over 5 years, and we did just open a middle school 5 years ago. High school is more challenging, with a 15% increase over 5 years; though high school classes are less sensitive to class size of course.

Again, not sure I would call it a mess - this is similar to the growth over the last 10 years if you look at the trends.

Posted by boardpacket, a resident of Downtown North
on May 12, 2008 at 8:20 am


"I think that school capacity needs are covered in the bond."

Where is it listed that opening a new elementary school is covered by this bond? The closest you have in the proposal is:
Construct new permanent classrooms and classroom buildings to accommodate enrollment growth and expanded programs.

Re-opening Garland isn't mentioned, it must be "cost-neutral".

See: Web Link

Posted by Huh?, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 12, 2008 at 9:19 am

If you look on page 22 of your link (which is Exhibit A of the bond resolution) you can see Garland listed as an elementary site. The list of projects is broad enough that it would cover any worked needed for Garland per the Master Facility Plan. BTW, I'm not saying that work should all be done - but that is how it is covered by the bond.

BTW - just to clarify, Garland isn't "closed" - it has been leased to a private school. So there is a functioning school there today.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 12, 2008 at 9:56 am

Yes, Garland isn't closed, it is leased. That means that at present it is actually earning money for the district which is money that will be lost. As far as I understand it, the site is not up to B4E standards, which means that to open it as a PAUSD school there are several upgrades that will be needed as it did not get refurbished by B4E money.

This work will have to be done regardless. If it is used as a stop gap school while another elementary school is remodeled, there will be some additional costs, but it can be used as such in the same way it was used before when Terman we reopening and Nixon was refurbished. If on the other hand it is opened as an elementary or secondary school, it will incur many more costs as apart from the teachers and classroom costs (which would happen anyway) there will be costs for an additional principal, office staff, library and librarian, etc. all on top.

Whatever happens, Garland will cost us money both in the cost of reopening and in the cost of losing the rental income.

Posted by boardpacket, a resident of Downtown North
on May 12, 2008 at 10:05 am

"BTW - just to clarify, Garland isn't "closed" - it has been leased to a private school. So there is a functioning school there today."

Ah, now re-opening Garland is cost-neutral! :}

The real pity is that the document referenced does have a break-down of the budgeted expenditure for each site but that this isn't part of the bond proposal.

Posted by Huh?, a resident of Meadow Park
on May 12, 2008 at 10:58 am

If you want to see the overall "wish list" for Garland and everything else, you can see it in the PAUSD Master Facility Plan - here's the link

It's a big document, but if you search for Garland you'll find a summary page that lists B4E upgrades, etc., broken out with amounts. The numbers are astounding if they do it all - $8M for modernization, $19M for everything they could think of.

I'm not aware of anyone saying Garland would be "cost-neutral" btw - I think everyone is expecting to spend money to get it going, the question is just how much. But the capital expenditure portion is included in the bond proposal.

Posted by boardpacket, a resident of Downtown North
on May 12, 2008 at 12:02 pm

Huh?, Your document shows the capital expenditure projection to be $771M dollars. The bond is "only" asking for $378M. How do you know which of these projects are covered by this bond? The bond proposal sure doesn't provide a budgeted list of projects.

Posted by Huh?, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 12, 2008 at 12:12 pm

Right, BP, the bond only covers about half the Master Plan (and I agree, even just the bond is an astoundingly high number). The answer to your question, though, is that nobody knows what projects will be done. The district and the Board have (a lot of) flexibility to decide what they want to actually do. The bond language is very broad.

There was a more detailed list that added up to the bond numbers handed out in at a fall Board meeting. I have not been able to find it online; it is not included with the Board package for that date. Me Too above appears to be summarizing from that same list. I can't recall what it had listed for Garland.

Posted by Wynn Hausser, a resident of Barron Park
on May 12, 2008 at 2:12 pm

The background information and project list can be found in the February 26, 2008 Board Packet. See Web Link

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 12, 2008 at 2:18 pm

the Garland site was used a few years back as the "temporary Terman" while the real Terman Middle School was refurbished (beautifully refurbished, I must say). One wouldn't think it would take that much more for the Garland site to be OK for a PA public elementary population to move in. Yes, I know a private school has been using it recently.

Posted by Huh?, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 12, 2008 at 2:21 pm

Thanks Wynn. Here is a link directly to the board package - Web Link

The list is on pages 30-36 and covers specific projects by school.

Posted by fuzzy list=no vote, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 12, 2008 at 3:09 pm

From this conversation I'm gathering that this is B4E deja vous. The bond amount was determined by how much they believed the public would be willing to spend. There's no correlation to the work needed or a priority list. (Do you see a 'lack of priorities' pattern here?)

After they get their expected 'yes' vote, they'll sit down and waste lots of time & money dreaming (anyone remember sitting on those community input boards??). Reality will set in, and they'll settle on bare essentials and/or projects that they don't think they'll find money for elsewhere. Mitigating overcrowding won't make the cut because that's an easier sell to go back to the residents for, as opposed to a new pool, for example.

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