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Editorial: So far, all take, no give on Cubberley site

Original post made on Mar 15, 2013

We had high hopes in November, 2011 when the Palo Alto City Council adopted an ambitious work plan aimed at determining a thoughtful path forward for the use and related financing for the 35-acre former Cubberley High School site.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, March 15, 2013, 8:58 AM

Comments (44)

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Posted by Midtown resident
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 15, 2013 at 1:00 pm

The city is essentially paying for the school district's new PR person, who can spin the district's position on Cubberly as his first assignment.
Aside from politeness, what is behind the editor's judgment that the committee did a good job?


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Posted by An important read.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 15, 2013 at 2:07 pm

Good progress has been made, but there is still much to do. I recommend that residents read ALL of the Subcommittee Reports (the final report and Exec Summary really don't capture some of the important aspects of the complex issues around Cubberley). There is good information that every resident of this community should know.

Inform yourself by reading the reports. You may be surprised by what you'll learn.


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Posted by Mom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 15, 2013 at 2:24 pm

The PAUSD administration should relocate to Cubberly as part of this renovation, and then the new Paly gym could be located in the area where the PAUSD offices are currently. That would free up the middle of the Paly campus for classroom space.


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Posted by Cur Mudgeon
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 15, 2013 at 3:04 pm

@ Mom, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood:

Yes!!! Let them eat cake. : )


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Posted by pa parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 15, 2013 at 3:58 pm

I would love to see a Weekly article about all the administrators we have in the district, what they cost us, and just what recourse we have to reduce that expenditure and make the positions more answerable to the community.


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Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 15, 2013 at 4:16 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

Mom, A better solution is to put the Admins in the wing the REACH Program out of Foothill College had to endure. a HVAC system that was broken most of the time, RESERVED handicapped spaces that were always occupied by " I'll only be a few minutes while I pick up the kid " SUVs and BMWs and of course BMW SUVs ( the standing joke about the difference between a BMW and a porcupine applies at Cubberley ).
You realize that the PAUSD pays for Skelly and his mouthpiece with the money the Palo Alto has to fork over for buildings that wouldn't even pass a normal city inspection for an occupancy permit! You know, the same red tape citizens have to do to get that same permit on NEW construction..
That same chunk of money could have overhauled all the buildings and make the site similar to Jeffco's Taj Mahal that cost taxpayers there over $70 Million and have a set of pipe failures that turned the expensive brass and hardwoods into junk, much like the interior spaces we have had to endure at the REACH program.

Yes, that is the way Palo Alto treats the handicapped and elderly.


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Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 15, 2013 at 4:30 pm

Marie is a registered user.

Why shouldn't the city of Palo Alto subsidize the school district? I think the $7M is well spent. I've always seen the utility tax as a way for Palo Alto to subsidize the school district. It's why Palo Alto has more money to spend on its students, although we still spend far less than high ranking school districts on the East coast. It is less regressive than parcel taxes.

Also, I support the free shuttle, which serves as a substitute for school busses for high school students as well as serving for other city residents. It is one of the services the city provides that is most useful.

This doesn't mean I think the school district budget could be more efficient. It should. Spending $150K on a PR person is ludicrous. But cutting financial support for the school district is not the way to address this problem. Rather, we need to elect different people to the school board.


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Posted by Think before you Sign
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 15, 2013 at 4:46 pm

The City can start weening the School District from continuing to rely on the $7.Million the City gives the PAUSD for Cubberley by eliminating the $2. Million the City gives them annually for "the covenant not to develop"

In other words the City of Palo Alto pays the School District not to develop Cubberley. This is a huge waste of money and should be eliminated from any future lease agreement.

Also the City and the School District should agree to an annual flat rate for the next five years. No more annual increases, if we keep doing this the money the City pays the School District for Cubberley will go into the stratosphere.


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Posted by Plan with an eye toward the future
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 15, 2013 at 5:21 pm

The committee was discouraged from making certain specific recommendations as these were considered "points of negotiation".

The vision put forward for Cubberley is critically important moving forward. However, I think it is unrealistic and rather silly to expect a committee of this kind to come forward with specific terms for a lease agreement when the negotiations and existing lease are this complicated.

That is the job of Council, the BOE and staff at the table. It's probable the city will, at minimum, discontinue the covenant agreement which pays PAUSD not to sell off land. It's a certainty that PAUSD won't sell off land at this point. That would not be a politically tenable or very practical action. As for the lease, I think this vision creates some points for negotiation and leverage to move toward an intelligent future use of this incredibly valuable site--perfectly sited for community and PAUSD use. The committee got that very right.

We need leadership in the PAUSD, City and PTA that looks and plans FORWARD--because in the long run, efficient use of this site will save us money and provide what our growing city will need. I recommend that everyone read the Facilities Subcommittee Report which makes this quite clear.

Former Mayor Wheeler was correct. This will be a challenging task, but we now have a vision that both agencies can work toward together--if they choose to. They'll need support of the electorate to do that.

So, fellow residents, get engaged. This project is worth our while.


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Posted by no surprize
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 16, 2013 at 7:49 am

The board of education is really and truly incompetent. As another story in this week's paper quotes a parent, under the leadership of this Board the district has "lurched from one mismanaged crisis to another." Editor I hope you don't delete this because it is relevant to Cubberly. This Board has mismanaged and mishandled things that are easy and not difficult at all. They don't understand basic legal obligations, get easily overwhelmed, can't handle the simplest things like running an open meeting. Camille Townsend is confused and rambles endlessly. Heidi Emberling is naive to the point of comedy. Melissa Caswell isn't dumb or rambling but she's for some reason paralyzed in this group, like a person incorrectly committed to a mental asylum who takes on the patient role and becomes institutionalized over time. Dana Tom is one of the most ineffectual and yet arrogant people I have ever seen. Barbara Mitchell is smart but she's some kind of Ayn Rand Atlas Shrugged libertarian extremist and so she doesn't use her abilities to solve government problems -- she things government is the problem. This group, these five people -- the chance that they would solve a hard problem like Cubberly is like the chance that a bunch of toddlers would decide to eat their spinach and not have the candy without being told.

The committee needed to twist arms and force the Board of Education to come to Jesus. That was an unrealistic idea. The committee is comprised of the same sort of people for the most part -- go along, get along folks who aren't going to bite the bullet and tell the hard truth. The chance that these former "electeds" who so prize their esteem in the community and their ability to work well with the board such as Mandy Lowell were not going to issue a report saying "time's up, the City should stop paying." So they kicked the can. Yawn.

We need a new Board of Education with smarter and more sophisticated members. These people can't even tie their own shoes. How are they going to manage Cubberly? They just like to look at pretty pictures not make real decisions. So the committee gave them pretty pictures. Why you praised that is beyond me. Maybe the Editor is starting to be institutionalized too.


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Posted by Change is good
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 16, 2013 at 8:14 am

Work well with? I think you got it just right by calling them "go along, get alongs" - but to use the phrase "work with" implies Doing, the exact opposite of these do nothings. We missed out on a great opportunity to partner with Foothill because of these no-vision, insular, self-serving "leaders" at the district. Of course they want to keep the city twisting in the wind for awhile longer, just long enough that they still have an excuse for why they didn't rebuild Cubberly and make Gunn a better, smaller campus, instead of filling it in yet more and turning it into a mega school. (The existing bond was clearly written to include Cubberly if the "leadership" so choose.) no problems, this community is a giant spineless piggybank to them and will surely hand over the dough with just as little oversight when they finally get off the dime.


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Posted by Change is good
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 16, 2013 at 8:21 am

Sorry, I just read my post. I was criticizing the district leadership, not the committee so much. Why this question is being dealt with only now is evidence of ditrict leadership's utter incometence, as you have so aptly described, surprize. I'd kind of like to hear you encapsulate the rest of the district "leadership".


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Posted by no surprize
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 16, 2013 at 8:59 am

Most people think that Kevin Skelly is incompetent and in some matters such as those being discussed on other threads, he clearly is. He is also lazy when it comes to very difficult problems such as Cubberly, and fearful of the power of the principals and teachers that unseated Callan. He has little leadership ability and prefers to simply let the perpetual motion machine of Palo Alto's high test scores carry him along on the river of good vibrations. He likes photo opportunities and visiting schools during special events to sample the goodies and see the happy children. He enjoys being Superintendent at the top of the world and does not like to hear bad news. His staff has probably learned not to bring him any. He also has traveled farther than his abilities can really carry him. He was a principal in Saratoga, where he was probably reasonably good at his job. He was the number 3 man in Poway where there was a lot of litigation against his division and he was not successful in dealing with special education. Through network connections he ended up here, which was probably beyond his level of competence or ability. He rose to his level of incompetence. But because PAUSD has a decentralized management system it wasn't all that evident or even relevant at first.

Then the suicides happened. At that point, the community got a look at "deer-in-the-headlights Skelly" which is what we have had to deal with since that time. We also got our first look at "angry and paranoid Skelly" though we didn't see him until the community started to question his leadership on the suicide cluster and the question of social-emotional health. Then we met "secretive and dishonest Skelly" though we only met him through PRAs and in the pages of the Weekly. Finally we now have "hapless and inept Skelly" handing out privileged communications to the media and bungling a federal civil rights case in public view. What we haven't seen is anyone at the helm of the district who can take the bull by the horns and make the hard calls and then exhibit the leadership to help people through the tough changes that are sometimes called for. We need a strong thoughtful leader who can make tough calls and engage in change management and we don't have him, we have a weak, secretive bureaucrat who just wants to go to crazy hat day and eat corndogs with the kids. Charles Young is like a dog that comes to take on the personality of its owner. Cathy Mak seems far more competent than anyone else in the district office. I wonder if she keeps her door closed to keep out the stupid. Bob Golton is looking forward to all the free 49er and Giants tickets he is going to get from the contractors and developers once we move to Lease-Leaseback. As a smart business leader once told me, Bs hire Cs.


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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 16, 2013 at 10:37 am

> Why shouldn't the city of Palo Alto subsidize the school district?

Because the School District is its own governmental entity, with the power to tax, and spend, as it sees fit. The City has no legal authority to subsidize this, or any other entity, with taxpayer funds. The City operates under the authority, and constraints, of a Charter. That Charter created the school district, and does not reserve any oversight rights, or funding obligations, for the schools.

Subsidizing the schools with City money should be considered an inappropriate use of public money—perhaps even an illegal use of public money.

> I think the $7M is well spent.

Can you tell us where this money is spent? If it had gone into a fund reserved for buildings/site development, there would have been over $100M in that fund, which would have built a lot of buildings, or paid for significant maintenance, by now.

But the money went into salaries/benefits for Staff. Poof! All that money gone, with nothing substantial to point to for its having been given to the School District.

> I've always seen the utility tax as a way for
> Palo Alto to subsidize the school district.

That's not how the Utility Tax was promoted to the voters, back in the late 1980s, when the tax was on the ballot. Obviously the money from the lease, and the covenant-to-not-develop put $5M-$6M a year in the hands of the school district. This money also put the Cubberley site into the hands of the City to administer, and make available for some sort of public use. Perhaps some people saw the transfer of these millions to the District as a "subsidy", but that is not what the ballot language stated.

> It is less regressive than parcel taxes.

Parcel taxes are NOT regressive. Everyone pays the same, regardless of the value of the taxed property.

> Also, I support the free shuttle, which serves as
> a substitute for school busses for high school students
> as well as serving for other city residents

Nothing is free. At one point, Caltrain, the City and the PAUSD were contributing to its cost. Caltrain has reduced its contribution, over time. Few high school students actually use this shuttle. Given the wonderful weather here in Palo Alto, and the very short distances that students need to travel to get to their schools—high schoolers should be riding bikes.

> Rather, we need to elect different people to the school board.

Getting people to run for this board is getting progressively more difficult as the years unfold. Review of documents in the Palo Alto Historical Society's archive reveal that in the 1950s, there were PhDs from companies like HP and Varian on the school board. It would be difficult to interest these sorts of people these days, since everything associated with education has become so politicized. It's difficult to say anything critical of the PAUSD and not be attacked as a racist, or a "kook", or terms that are even far more unflattering, by one special interest group, or another. It's one thing to spend one's time trying to provide meaningful analysis and criticism of a school system. It's another having to fend off personal attacks, crafted by people well-schooled in adversarial tactics, because you are suggesting systemic change, based on the experiences of more successful organizations than the education sector.

But the point is well taken. It might be a little too soon to be suggesting candidates for the next election, but maybe not too soon to talk about the kinds of people that would make up a better Board than we have now.


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Posted by no surprize
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 16, 2013 at 10:52 am

@Wayne: you wrote: "Review of documents in the Palo Alto Historical Society's archive reveal that in the 1950s, there were PhDs from companies like HP and Varian on the school board. It would be difficult to interest these sorts of people these days, since everything associated with education has become so politicized. It's difficult to say anything critical of the PAUSD and not be attacked as a racist, or a "kook", or terms that are even far more unflattering"

Ken Dauber ran for the board. He has a PhD and is an accomplished engineer at Google with experience at the national policy level working directly for the head of (wait for it) the Office for Civil Rights (OCR). He's an expert in education data with 2 Yale degrees, who studied at Harvard and has a PhD in sociology and is a national expert in educational data. He was not elected due to the tactics you describe above and I assume you are talking about him at least in part. It will be very difficult to find someone of his caliber interested in running for that board again after the mudslinging that went on in that campaign. He was endorsed by 7/9 of the current city council, and a bunch of former elected officials. I supported him and I am a so called "prominent" person. A lot of people however sat on their hands watching him get dragged through the mud unfairly and never said a word in public. In private they told him they agreed with him and they supported him. That was worthless of course. But everyone was more worried about their buddies at the dogpark then about the future of our district and what it would mean to have someone like that on the board. Well, what could go wrong? What indeed.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 16, 2013 at 10:55 am

It has been said before and it needs to be said again.

PAUSD is in the education business, not the real estate business.

The value of Cubberly is in its usefulness for educating Palo Alto children, not in whatever income is generated from it.


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Posted by Ivans fan
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 16, 2013 at 11:27 am

No surprize you remind me of the late great Molly Ivans who said " There are two kinds of humor. One kind that makes us chuckle about our foibles and our shared humanity -- like what Garrison Keillor does. The other kind holds people up to public contempt and ridicule -- that's what I do. Satire is traditionally the weapon of the powerless against the powerful. I only aim at the powerful." Keep aiming!


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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 16, 2013 at 11:27 am

> It has been said before and it needs to be said again.

> PAUSD is in the education business,
> not the real estate business.

I have studied the PAUSD very closely, over the years. The PAUSD owns real estate (lands/buildings/other tangibles) values at somewhere between $3B and $5B (cost-to-replace valuation). This is a lot of public money to be given to this group of people—only to be told that they are not in the business of managing their real estate/buildings/other professionally—like a business does.

It's a real shame that people don't demand that the District account for all of the money that has been given to it over the decades.


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Posted by Change is good
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 16, 2013 at 12:24 pm

No surprize and other astute commentators above,
In this state, school districts are set up to be almost entirely autonomous governmental bodies. The purpose is for local control, in other words, so that the schools are under the control of those the schools are intended to serve: local families.

Unfortunately, the rules ended up vesting that power in a bureaucracy above those families, with no formal mechanisms to make that bureaucracy directly answerable to those families. An election every four years (and in Dana Tom's case right now, six) of a few peope who then appoint other people who then hire other people is not enough. We have an inefficient, self-perpetuating and burgeoning bureaucracy with no effective mechanism for checks and balances that vest the intended power in the families of a school district, or ever create pressure to streamline the bureaucracy. The autonomous governmental body ends up insular fom above AND below.

Parents may feel very strongly about one particular issue, such as in the math textbook debacle, without wanting necessarily to recall the board. If they feel as strongly about an issue as then, when over 800 elementary parents signed a petition simply asking for year's delay on making a final choice while we evaluated something for free that had been left out of consideration by accident, not only is that reasonable intervention, but there should be a normal mechanism for parents to have that kind of say in their district.

Parents ought to have some ACTUAL say in important matters like how we spend nearly a half billion in bond money, not just ceremonial show of allowing their "input" (having attended meetings, there wasn't even much show of it). It's our money, our district, our kids. The autonomy was because the power was supposed to be vested in us. It's not.

Please join me in contacting our state legislators, Rich Gordon and Jerry Hill, in asking for amendments to school district rules so that school district autonomy truly vests that power in local families. We will still need school boards and superintendents, we just need mechanisms to give families a formal hand on the rudder of the district, as the state intended.

Even the PTA bylaws allow all kinds of power of ordinary members to fix things when they go wrong. In fact, every two years, members get a chance to change many of those bylaws as needed. Is the PTA perfect? Of course not. But as a parent I've been able to accomplsh much more for the kids of our school through the PTA because I have some power to do that. Heck, I've been able to change more at the state level through a ballot proposition on the state level that my neighborhood group spearheaded (other community). With the district, it's just nothing. Frustration and powerlessness on my family's end - even to do good things with beneficial outcomes and long-term fiscal impact - and nothing or sometimes petty vindictiveness by other people who know they hold all the cards.

Mechanisms should make it easy for families to have real input and control on matters that directly concern them, course corrections, etc, in a way that doesn't allow things to be monopolized easily.

There is about seven months between now and the next legislative cycle in Sacramento when new bills are introduced, barely enough time as these things go to craft and refine something meaningful and make sure it serves families not the insular status quo. Especially if you are a prominent citizen - no surprize! - please please get involved.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and it's not just a maxim for presidents and kings. Many of these same people in the hot seat now for very good reasons, might have done a good job for our families with different rules. Or they'd have been gone, amicably, long ago. Please join me in trying to enact such change!


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Posted by Change is good
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 16, 2013 at 4:26 pm

@Wayne,
You make a very good point, but Resident was speaking to the way district personnel have repeatedly avoided dealing with Cubberley in a strategic way because they are getting this rent money. Their priority should be the education of our students, not being landlords. You and resident have both made good points, you're just talking about different things.

If residents had more say, as I point out in my above post, we would probably not be in this mess now.


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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 16, 2013 at 5:42 pm

A few comments on a variety of posts:
1. A parcel tax is, by definition, a regressive tax because it places the same burden on a property that is worth $500K as $5M; the percentage declines as the value goes up - that is the definition of a regressive tax. The UUT would likely be considered regressive as well, but less so as at least some utilities are more expensive with larger (and presumably more expensive) homes and, thus, subject to higher UUT. But the UUT covers things like telephone service and, I think, cable. These tend to have similar charges for all customers, thus being a greater burden on lower income families. The classic example of a regressive tax is a tax on food (and why most states don't tax food). Lower income residents pay more for food as a percentage of their income and, therefore, a tax on food would be a greater burden on them.

2. The UUT was passed with the express stated purpose of supporting the school district. The district published the original UUT ads in a board package earlier this year. The ads were all about makings sure PAUSD was funded at the levels of districts with similar economics. Was that the right thing? I don't know. But that is what it is.

3. Cathy Mak the smartest one of the bunch? Whoever posted that has clearly never her. She's a very good accountant, but a CBO is more than an accountant. She's out of her depth. I've been in a role as a parent that caused me to interact with DO staff regularly and she's one of the least competent people in that office. Look behind the curtain and you'll find Yancy Hawkins doing the hard work and speaking for her because no one can ever figure out what she's trying to tell them.


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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 16, 2013 at 8:11 pm


> The UUT was passed with the express stated
> purpose of supporting the school district

The following links point to the ballot language, and supporting materials, provided by the Registrar--when Measure B went to the voters--
----
Ballot Language For Palo Alto (CA) Measure B (1987)--Creating A Utility Users Tax

The voters of Palo Alto, CA, voted authorization of a Utility Tax in 1987. Given that the election was over twenty-five years ago, the details of the ballot language, the names of those promoting this tax, and their arguments for, and against, can be found on this post.

Part 1 of 5.

Web Link

Part 2 of 5:
Web Link

Part 3 of 5:
Web Link

Part 4 of 5:
Web Link

Part 5 of 5:
Web Link
---

There is nothing in the ballot language, or the ordinance, about supporting the schools--whatever that means.

Can these ads be produced so that we can see them?

(Source of Measure B materials: Santa Clara County Archive)


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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 16, 2013 at 8:58 pm

> but Resident was speaking to the way district personnel
> have repeatedly avoided dealing with Cubberley in a
> strategic way because they are getting this rent money.
No one can foretell the future, so it's not hard to understand the District's actions (or lack of actions). In 1970, there were about 16,000 students in PAUSD schools. By 1977, the number had dropped to about 7,700—because these were all "Boomer" kids, and they now had graduated and moved on.
So, in the early 1980s, a lot of school property was sold off—because it was sitting idle, and no one could accurate predict if/when there would be a new "crop" of kids that would significantly increase the District's headcount. As older folks have moved out of Palo Alto, families with children have moved in—slowly bringing up the headcount again.
The District has hired professional demographers, who have not exactly predicted the growth of the District out 20-30 years. In fact, they've been keeping their predictions to a fairly short timeline.
So, what's the District to do? They can easily do nothing until they have to, and collect the rent during that time. From their point-of-view, that is not an unreasonable path. If the City pulls out of the lease, the District would then either have to make some decisions—ranging from selling the property to using the property for some educational purpose. There aren't a large number of "strategic" options available to them, at least at the moment.
One of the problems that the District has to deal with is that there will be another exodus of young people one of these days—possibly reducing the headcount again. Distance learning, via the Internet and other digital technologies, could well reduce the need for as many classrooms.
Then there is the matter of ABAG trying to force thousands of new homes into Palo Alto. The current ABAG mandate is for the next ten years. The District needs to look out perhaps upwards of thirty years—meaning that there could easily be 6,000-8,000 new dwelling units in three decades. This changes the equation a bit.
My complaints have to do with the District's handling of money. The funds from the sale of the properties was deposited in the District's general fund—disappearing into salaries/benefits. The District had the option to create reserve funds which could have been used to better maintain the other buildings. But that was not their plan. They wanted to start floating Bond measure after Bond measure—to create a very large construction budget. Even the maintenance of the new construction was funded with very expensive Bonds.
> Their priority should be the education of our students,
> not being landlords.

As I noted above, with perhaps $5B in assets, the District has every obligation to be landlords. It needs to hire competent property management—be it employees, or outside resources. There simply is too much money involved for people to dismiss the importance of managing it appropriately.

> If residents had more say, as I point out in my above post,
> we would probably not be in this mess now

I have my doubts—based on the low voter turn out for most City elections, and the difficulty in getting candidates to run for the PAUSD BoT seats.


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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 16, 2013 at 9:41 pm

Wayne,

You seem rather skeptical that these ads exist. Do you think you're being lied to? Other people have facts too.

See: Web Link for the ads. They're not well reproduced, but it is quite clear that the community voted for the UUT to support schools, regardless of what the ordinance said. And I'm really not interested in spending my time reading it... I was just trying to add some fact to a discussion that was full of conjecture and opinion.





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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 16, 2013 at 9:42 pm

And if you don't want to look for it. It's discussion item 12, attachment 2.


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Posted by Change is good
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 16, 2013 at 11:03 pm

Wayne,
Look a little closer at what has been going on. The district has planned how to spend our $400million bond based on needing space for increased enrollment. They've put multiple multi-story buildings on two high school campuses, even though multistory in school construction is so expensive compared to single-story, the state basically says don't do it, almost ever (unless you have money to burn). For the money we put into just the multistory and extra square footage to plan for those extra kids at the existing schools, we could have instead partnered with Foothill and rebuilt Cubberly, still getting the improvements at the other two high schools, but reducing their enrollment at those somewhat instead of packing in more students.

District people made choices about how to allocate the bond money and what to build -- which affects the infrastructure and future of our district for decades to come -- with that rent money in mind, above educational considerations. Again, the business of the district is not to be a landlord but to educate our children. The district has no obligation to be landlords, no matter what their assets, their only obligation is to do a good job educating our children with the resources provided by the community.

Voter turnouts have little to do with parent participation in schools. Parent interest and participation is exceedingly high in this area. The whole point of legal autonomy for school districts is for local control. Families deserve mechanisms to actually get that control which the state intended.


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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 17, 2013 at 8:15 am

> Voter turnouts have little to do with
> parent participation in schools.

That may be your opinion, but it's not mine. For starters—parents don't pay all of the taxes that are collected to pay for the schools. Most people in Palo Alto don't have children in the schools. Given a 30-year timeline, probably most of the long-time residents did have children in school at one time or another—but don't quality as current parents.

Businesses also pay a significant portion of the property taxes—about 46% of which go to the schools. To suggest that all property owners/businesses should not have a voice, or have nothing to contribute, is pretty offensive.

And then, how many parents have any experience to how large organizations operate—or how to determine the needs of a school district, which is encumbered with a vastly tedious EdCode?

Will there be parent-only elections on these sorts of questions? Or will there be a few self-appoint "leaders" who will tell the "parents" what to think, and what to say?

And keep in mind that over 10% of the parents are not Palo Alto/LAH residents. This 10% doesn't pay Santa Clara County property taxes, and in some cases, are not California, or even US citizens.

I do have some problems with the way that the Bond-authorized projects, but more procedural. There is very little transparency within the management of these projects. The District has contracted with a construction management company to manage these projects. There doesn't seem to be anything that comes close to performance auditing, so we don't really have any sense of how effectively the contracts are being let, or how well the contractors are executing their portions of the projects.

I would be surprised if very many of the parents have any idea what a performance audit is, or why these audits should be conducted. Even with the fiasco called the Mitchell Park/Measure N Library, very few people seem to understand that the City Management is a significant portion of the problem.
If the parents are the only people in town that should have a voice in the schools—then they should be the only people in town paying for them!


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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 17, 2013 at 8:23 am

> District people made choices about how to
> allocate the bond money and what to build

This is not strictly true. Measure A (the big one) was a Prop.39 election—requiring that the District identify the projects that were to be built with the funds. The District went to great ends identify all sorts of projects—and (if memory serves) actually identified the like costs, and the timeline when those projects would be built.

However, in the fine-print, the District also exempted itself from having to build any of those projects, since the Courts had previously allowed Districts that had gained Bonding authority via a Prop.39 election to not be held to their promised project lists.
While I suspect that most people didn't really read the Ballot documentation all that carefully, the language was nonetheless there. So, the voters authorized the District to do what it wanted by voting "Yes' for Measure A.

Of course, the School Board could have been more forceful in demanding that the promised projects be built according to the schedules promised. But it seems that they haven't—because they approved the language exempting the District from its promises.


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Posted by no surprize
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 17, 2013 at 8:37 am

The district will probably be doing all its construction in the future through Lease-Leaseback, as system that promotes political corruption. Indeed, the Cubberley report specifically mentions using Lease-Leasback in their fantasy high school they 20 years from now. Lease-leaseback will be by far the worst thing that has ever happened in Palo Alto school management and it is happening entirely under the radar and without comment from the media or the public. Lease-leaseback is a no-bid system in which rather than using sealed competitive bidding, the district develops cozy relationships with particular contractors and can simply give them the job. These contractors come over time to have an interest in maintaining whomever on the staff and school board will continue that relationship because literally hundreds of millions are riding on it. They then pour money into school board campaigns and bond and parcel tax campaigns in order to fund the construction from which they will benefit. Southern California, which has been using this relatively new method of doing business for longer than northern california (approximately 10 years) has seen its entire school system corrupted. A very good piece of investigative reporting on this was published in a San Diego independent last month. It is very scary reading:

Web Link

Because this form of no-bid crony construction has only been in use for a few years, school districts are just starting to have the negative experiences. Fresno Unified also had corruption. Everywhere this goes into place it causes problems. That is because school boards tend to be weak and dumb, and administrators are excited to be the belle of the ball getting all kinds of free "lobbying-type" perks from the developers, contractors, and bond underwriters. And it's all legal. As the story says:

"This is a quid-pro-quo that would be illegal in just about any other circumstances," said former Assemblyman Chris Norby, who introduced a recent bill aimed at barring bond underwriters from contributing to school bond campaigns. "Can you imagine a politician getting money from a company and then saying, 'You're going to get all of my business from now on?' He'd be in jail for sure."

PAUSD is going to use this at the insistence of the donor, who is himself a major developer who could would stand to benefit from the move to lease-leaseback, for the $20 million Paly gym. The school board should pass a resolution at the same time stating that they will only use it in cases where there is a philanthropic contribution for the construction cost, in other words, this ticket good for one ride only. But this school board is comprised of naive idiots (with the exception of Barbara Mitchell who is a right-wing government hating libertarian who thinks no-bid is some nanny state control of free enterprise) so they don't even understand what they are about to do to us. At a recent board meeting Bob Golton (who is about to be the prettiest girl at the party) was asked whether he planned to use Lease-leaseback again and he said he would if he wanted to.

Whatever has happened up to this point with the district, with Cubberly, with deception, with hiding facts from the board, with spin -- all of it, is as nothing compared to the hurricane of corruption that Lease-Leasback will bring in its train. PAUSD will never be the same once contractors and developers are calling the shots behind the scenes.

Kevin Skelly has already repeatedly demonstrated his willingness to lie and conceal information from the board and public. The board has already demonstrated its willingness to treat being lied to by the superintendent as a "terrific opportunity" to learn about being lied to. This is going to be like taking candy from a baby, albiet a really dumb one. How much worse will this be when money is at stake? We need only to look to his former district, Poway, which is the poster child for the problems of corruption caused by Lease-Leaseback for the answer -- with it's billion dollar bond. Look at the SD article posted above. Every single PAUSD taxpayer and citizen should be fearful of this. It will be a catastrophe for local control of the schools.

This is a terrible step in the wrong direction for PAUSD and just another sign of how feckless, stupid, and secretive our administration and board have become.


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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 17, 2013 at 8:44 am

> In this state, school districts are set up to be
> almost entirely autonomous governmental bodies.

Hmm… Schools are a political subdivision of the State. The other such subdivision seems to be counties. This concept has always been a little murky to me, and might be to others. Here's a brief overview of the political subdivisions of Contra Costa County:

Web Link

> The purpose is for local control, in other words,
> so that the schools are under the control of
> those the schools are intended to serve: local families.

That may be one interpretation of the situation; however, the EdCode is the prevailing law, relative to the operation of local school districts—so it's a little difficult to accept that local people are doing what they want to do locally.

This idea of local control changed dramatically in the 1970s with the outcome of the Serrano-Priest case in Southern California that shifted school funding from local sources to State sources. Additionally, Prop.13 took the ability of school districts to raise local property taxes at will. With funding at the State level, local control became far less meaningful than some people think.

With the EdCode being over 13,000 pages in length—it's more than a daunting challenge to know what's in it, or just what a local school district can do.


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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 17, 2013 at 9:13 am

The concerns of the poster above could be dealt with by changing the EdCode to do away with the no-bid provision, and having Norby's bill become law.

While not necessarily straight-forward, there is no reason that specific school building projects could not be estimated using the current District-ownership approach, and the Lease-Leaseback approach. Given that the buildings end up in District ownership, the question becomes which approach is cheaper for the taxpayers?

This approach should be considered, but not without doing a rigorous cost/benefit analysis, and putting the projects out for bid.

By-the-way, this business about special interest groups (or businesses) effectively buying elections does get a little attention from the local media--

Web Link

The question is—are any of the voters/taxpayers paying attention?


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Posted by no surprize
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 17, 2013 at 9:28 am

Regardless of whether any particular project might be cheaper in the short term, the problem with Lease-Leaseback is that it creates a class of interested parties (developers, contractors, bond underwriters) who are holding Golden Tickets. It increases construction costs en masse over time because it creates demand for construction by those who are guaranteed to profit. What is investing $100K or $200K to a corporate interest that stands to gain $100M of guaranteed no-bid construction contracts if a bond measure or school board candidate is successful? Sounds like a good investment. There's your problem.

Pay-to-play cannot be allowed to come to PAUSD. This is a very serious catastrophe in the making and it is happening with no discussion and no understanding. Our local paper, so good in other respects in its coverage of the district, is dropping the ball on this one. Everyone wants to see the new Paly gym. Pretty pictures! Look at the weight room! Oooh! Ahh! No one wants to do any real reporting about the dangers of no-bid for our political culture because what if it queers the deal? What about the pretty pictures?

Lease-leaseback has infected school politics with corrupt self-dealing. It has also caused stupid ineffectual school boards like ours with stars in their eyes about the pretty pictures they were shown by developers to go ga-ga over buy-now, pay later. Poway Unified, Kevin Skelly's old district issued a construction bond for $100M that will cost $1B to pay off making their board a national laughingstock:

Web Link


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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 17, 2013 at 10:00 am

> It increases construction costs en masse over time
> because it creates demand for construction by
> those who are guaranteed to profit.

Is this conjecture, or can anyone point to case studies that demonstrate this as a hard fact?

School construction in California has been very expensive, for a number of reasons. Certainly the experience of the District during the initial days of the Measure B (mid-'90s) construction points out how ineffective the District's management of construction projects is. One poster claimed: "the district can not be landlords." So, if they are not to be landlords, what makes them qualified to be construction managers?

Without seeing how a lease-leaseback project is actually funded, and maintained over the lifetime of the lease agreement, we don't know anything about this kind of school construction/funding scheme upon which to make any meaningful decision.


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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 17, 2013 at 10:05 am

> Poway Unified, Kevin Skelly's old district issued a construction
> bond for $100M that will cost $1B to pay off making their board
> a national laughingstock:

This is a truly frightening situation. However, the situation at Poway has nothing to do with lease-leaseback. It has to do with incredibly stupid school board members, who were voted into office by the parents of Poway.

And don't forget, San Diego's problems with its municipal pension system has been in the news for a couple of years now. It would appear that self-governance has completely failed in San Diego.


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Posted by no surprize
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 17, 2013 at 2:34 pm

Poway's "incredibly stupid board members" are not worse than our incredibly stupid board members, or at least there's no evidence for that. They were being led around by the nose by their Superintendent, Don Phillips, who was the patron of Kevin Skelly, and who sent him to us. When he got here, he made it known that he wanted a school board that deferred to him as the Poway Board deferred to staff. The board promptly took out their blankies and mats for naptime.

The experience of Southern California and other places (Fresno Unified) with Lease-Leaseback is instructive. As the SD Voice found, pretty much everywhere it is utilized it eventually corrupts the political system of the district. We won't be any different. If anything we'll be worse. Some of our richest and most powerful citizens are major developers. They already exercise outsized influence over local politics and this will extend that into the schools. PAUSD is the Silver Tuna for Lease-Leaseback as we have a somnolent board, a secretive staff, an insiders club loaded with developers, and an endless willingness to vote ourselves higher taxes to support our schools which is the goose that laid the golden egg of property values. Combining those factors means a vast potential for corruption and cronyism that will make SD County pale by comparison.


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Posted by no surprize
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 17, 2013 at 2:41 pm

Wayne wrote: "Is this conjecture, or can anyone point to case studies that demonstrate this as a hard fact?"

Here is a summary of the study of the Voice of San Diego independent report:

"The Question
We wanted to know whether major donors to school bond campaigns are likely to win contracts from school districts once the bond passes.
The Research
We looked at every school bond campaign in San Diego County since 2006, and focused on companies that donated more than $5,000 to campaigns. Then we approached each district to see whether the same companies won contracts from the district that were paid for with bond dollars.
The Results
We found a significant correlation between major donors and contracts in 13 of the 17 districts we studied. In some districts, that correlation was striking. In the business of bond underwriting in particular, almost every major donation was followed by the company winning a contract from a district."


Here's more from the story:
Luckily for California districts, private companies are willing to spend big cash to boost bond campaigns. Construction firms, architects, lawyers and investment banks all stand to make a lot of money from school districts if their bond measures are successful.

Those donations aren't supposed to influence districts when it's time to start handing out work to finance and build projects paid for by the bonds. School officials and trustees are supposed to pick the firms that will give taxpayers the best deals on loans, financial and legal advice, and construction work.

But in some districts, the number of big donors that also received contracts was striking.
Eight companies donated more than $5,000 each to the campaign for Poway Unified School District's Proposition C, which passed in 2008. Seven of those firms won contracts with the district.

Five companies gave the Oceanside Unified School District's Proposition H campaign more than $5,000 in 2008. They all won contracts to work on the bond program.
Every one of the 12 companies that contributed more than $5,000 to the Grossmont Union High School District's Proposition U campaign in 2008 won a contract from the district.

The subjectivity involved in handing out hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded work, combined with the fact that large campaign donors often end up winning contracts, has government watchdogs, lawmakers and other regulators concerned."


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Posted by Change is good
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 17, 2013 at 4:53 pm

"School construction in California has been very expensive, for a number of reasons. "

Which the State Allocation Board studied and wrote a comprehensive document about, and which districts that want state matching funds must apply (not necessarily using all the strategies, just applying them to see if appropriate to reduce their costs), and which our district thumbed their noses at and ignored. In fact, often doing the opposite for no good reason. When I inquired about why we were doing some of them, I was told we needed to "trust the experts" -- meaning the construction people. (What's wrong with that picture?)


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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 18, 2013 at 9:43 am

> We found a significant correlation between major
> donors and contracts in 13 of the 17 districts we studied.

Strictly speaking, this situation has nothing to do with lease-leaseback construction/financing schemes.

> Which the State Allocation Board studied and
> wrote a comprehensive document about

It would be a help to the folks reading these proceedings to provide links to cited sources. I don't disbelieve that something like this might be true, but double checking (even triple checking) facts/claims/assertions is really good practice, but time consuming.

Every one is busy in this town—so expecting people to spend their time googling for poorly documented sources of information is not exactly helpful, and perhaps even a little impolite.


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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 18, 2013 at 9:59 am

> We found a significant correlation between major
> donors and contracts in 13 of the 17 districts we studied.

This situation is not unknown, just no one seems to have been very concerned about it. You won't find many newspapers actually investigating fraud in government, at least in California. All one has to do is ponder for a minute what newspapers were reporting on in Bell, CA—when that City was spiraling into financial ruin?

The underlying question about how government buildings/infrastructure should be financed is not well-served by the kinds of thinking in the previous postings. All buildings have a lifetime, and at that point, the buildings/infrastructure needs to be rebuilt, or refurbished. That is a given to people who see the world in realistic terms.

It makes more sense to bid-out those large capital projects to the private sector, than to grow a mini-construction industry inside every government agency (which would only hasten the complete bankruptcy of the US). The bidding process has, for whatever reason, favored the lowest bidders. We all know that there are flaws in this approach—yet there doesn't seem to be much motivation to change the practice, because the alternative is to open the doors to evermore expensive public sector projects.

So—some private sector company is going to get a contract. The current system seems to allow private sector companies to contribute to the "Vote Yes" campaigns, and if that company subsequently bids on some portion of the work, and is awarded contract(s)—is this the basis to cry foul without any more information?

Seems to me that before suggesting that fraud/malfeasance is afoot, that details of the contract award process should be more public than they are, so that better oversight by the public would offer us more information than we have now.

Certainly ending "no-bid" contracts except for limited/low-value situations would be a good idea. Giving a little thought to Norby's law, I am wondering now if it would not be a better idea to have the bid/response cycles far more transparent. Moreover, I believe we need to bulk up the Audit functions at every level of government. Having full time Auditors assigned to all large capital projects, from beginning to end, would provide a level of oversight that does not exist in most government projects.


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Posted by Change is good
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2013 at 12:27 am

Wayne,
I welcome your involvement in local school oversight. Just a note about the above discussion, though -- I in no way suggested parents should be the only ones voting concerning school issues. I wrote a post about the perils of having a governmental body that is essentially insular from above and below, and how changing the rules to allow more accountability from below could help make that governmental body function more efficiently for its intended purpose, to serve the local community. And that if that were the case, we would probably not be in this mess now with the school district (which is the subject of the editorial this thread is about, lest you forget). Please read my post above on this issue, I am specifically speaking about mechanisms for vesting power for the direction in local schools through local control, i.e., not just through infrequent elections. You said you had your doubts, citing low voter turnout in city elections. Since I wasn't speaking about elections, I inferred that you were speaking about having doubts that locals would have any interest in having input if they had formal power to do so, to which I made my point that such a notion contradicts all experience with families relative to the school district. This is a very active area when it comes to parents and the schools. Anyone in the community could be active in school board oversight, just as anyone could vote. I never even remotely suggested in any way that parents should be the only ones to vote.

I value your input, which seems concerned and intelligent, but I'd sure appreciate if we were talking on the same page when you comment!


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Posted by Change is good
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2013 at 12:53 am

Here's an interesting article that deals somewhat with the issue of school board powers:
Web Link

"Founded on the belief that citizens should play a dominant role in determining how children in a community are educated, local school boards have been described as a historic linchpin of American educational governance."*

In California, the state has granted school districts even more autonomy, precisely for that local control. Unfortunately, lacking formal mechanisms to vest the intended power in those citizens, districts like ours can end up insular and lacking accountability from above AND below. Although "local boards are authorized by state law to adopt their own procedures," the aforementioned insularity means they aren't likely to change those procedures to give away power, even to those whom they are supposed to be serving. The state can amend the rules to ensure the autonomy they grant school districts in order provide local control actually works to provide that local control.

*Read more: School Boards - RESPONSIBILITIES DUTIES DECISION-MAKING AND LEGAL BASIS FOR LOCAL SCHOOL BOARD POWERS - Web Link"


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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 19, 2013 at 8:19 am

> article on school boards ..

Thanks. And here's one for you--directly from the CA.EdCode:

CA Ed Code/Powers of School Board:
Web Link


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Posted by Change is good
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2013 at 9:10 am

Wayne,
Thanks, that was a very helpful link.


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Posted by Alex Panelli
a resident of Monroe Park
on Mar 19, 2013 at 9:18 am

@Marie:

You said: "Why shouldn't the city of Palo Alto subsidize the school district? I think the $7M is well spent."

In addition to Wayne Martin's comments, I'll provide you with another reason: not all Palo Alto residents are in the Palo Alto School District. My neighborhood, like the rest of the citizens of Palo Alto, have been paying the UUT for the past quarter century. Yet we do not enjoy the benefit of the subsidy. Worse yet, there are residents of Los Altos Hills and Stanford who do NOT pay the UUT, but ARE in the PAUSD.

The bottom line is that PAUSD is a taxing authority and therefore should not rely on others for its revenue.


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