School board backs off on re-opening Garland

Citing economics, board votes 4-1 to extend campus lease to private school

The Palo Alto Board of Education Tuesday night backed off from an earlier decision to re-open Garland Elementary School to accommodate enrollment growth.

The board voted 4-1, with Chairman Barb Mitchell dissenting, to continue leasing Garland to the private Stratford School for at least the next three years.

The decision represented a tortured effort by board members to balance serious fiscal concerns against the need to accommodate uncertain enrollment growth -- which may be leveling off.

Given the recession and an as-yet-unsolved $3.4 million "structural deficit" for 2010-2011, the majority of board members said they preferred to take the "fiscally conservative" approach.

But Mitchell, predicting enrollment growth will be on the high end, vowed to "shave my head" if the district manages to accommodate comfortably the likely growth in the next three years without re-opening Garland as a 13th elementary school.

The discussion hinged on various scenarios for enrollment growth in Palo Alto, and underscored the enormous uncertainty of demographic projections.

Just two months ago, the board had approved schematic designs for a $15.5 million renovation of Garland with a plan to re-open the school in 2012.

But around the same time, as the budget outlook grew worse, school officials voiced casual observations that enrollment growth for the 2009-2010 year appeared to be slow, or even flat. Official enrollment tallies are done just once a year, on the 11th day of school in September. The next one will be Sept. 9.

Superintendent Kevin Skelly said his recommendation to back off on Garland boiled down to a question of economics.

"We're entering a period in terms of our fiscal stewardship where we have a tremendous challenge to provide the quality education we need for our students. We have a $1.4 million delta between opening and operating a school versus renting the school out.

"When I look at the fiscal situation we have and the ongoing structural challenges and weigh that against the additional school, the reason we're doing this is mostly economic," Skelly said.

If enrollment growth follows medium-range projections, existing facilities will be able to handle it, officials said.

If growth is high, officials offered "contingency" options that include slightly increasing class size, adding classrooms at Fairmeadow School or using space at Greendell School, which is being vacated this month by the Jewish Community Center.

With registration lines out the door in the last few days before schools opened Tuesday, officials now seem to feel next year's enrollment growth will be within mid-range projections despite earlier estimates that hinted at low-end growth or leveling off.

The elementary school head count Tuesday morning was 5,153, somewhat down from the 11th day figures from last September, Co-Chief Business Manager Bob Golton said.

However, there also are 130 "pending arrivals" at the elementary level -- students who registered but did not come to school Tuesday. Based on past experience, about half of those students eventually do show up, placing this year's numbers in the mid-range for growth, officials said.

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Like this comment
Posted by Erin
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Aug 26, 2009 at 9:13 am

Thanks for your vote Barb. I'll shave my head with you.

I really hope parents don't stand for the district increasing class size. Yes, 22 is still better than 32 but when did we agree that going above 20 was okay? This is a slippery slope and the district will just keep inching those numbers up one-by-one to fit the kids in.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 26, 2009 at 9:13 am

Reopening Garland at the level which had been suggested was a bad idea all round. Garland probably will be needed, but not necessarily in the manner of a 13th elementary school of such a size. Now the Board has given time to discuss just how this site should best be used and this is the aspect that should be looked at.

Do we need to use Garland to add middle school space? Could we make an innovation which we haven't considered? All these possibilities now exist.

Like this comment
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 26, 2009 at 10:57 am

Since the Campus for Jewish Life's pre-school will be leaving Greendell there will be room for any overflow at Greendell. Having written that, I don't think it will become necessary to use those facilities.

Like this comment
Posted by Betsy Allyn
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 26, 2009 at 3:10 pm

Thank you, Barbara Mitchell for your courage to see the coming problems and not
be cowed by them. There was NO NEED to spend $15,000,000. to re-open
Garland. It was being used by a private school which, I"m sure, had great interest
in keeping that school safe and clean! A little fixing- up, and our kids could have been
there this Fall. Now what you'll have for five yrs.or so, is increasing classroom size, overcrowding, crowded play space, etc. & etc. What nonsense!
The elementary years are SO important for children learning the language of language
and math. Very disappointing.

Like this comment
Posted by JSD
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 26, 2009 at 3:10 pm

Only part of Greendell is "available" -- Preschool Family, Young 5's, and preschool Special Day Class are still there and going strong.

Like this comment
Posted by Erin
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Aug 26, 2009 at 3:24 pm

The $15 million has nothing to do with this decision. The bond money and operating costs are completely separate. This decision was made based on operating costs. Unfortunately, the Stratford lease is only bringing in $650,000 a year and Garland is worth much more than that. The district should have negotiated the terms way up once they knew they wanted Stratford to stay.

Like this comment
Posted by Erin
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Aug 26, 2009 at 3:34 pm

Next question on putting Kinders at Greendell is, (although one board member told me this was the least favorable option on the list of possible contingency plans) where do the Kinders go after they finish at Greendell? Poof, they disappear into thin air? Or maybe they kick out Young 5s and Preschool Family?

If there had been more to the contingency plan than what was put forward at the meeting last night, I wish we could see it, and I wish the administration hadn't done the age-old trick of fast-tracking it through the summer months and having the vote at the first board meeting of the year when no one will be in attendance.

Like this comment
Posted by CALMom
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 26, 2009 at 8:24 pm

There is PreSchool Family and Young Fives at the Greendell site - and they are part of the PAUSD.

The rooms/space that the Jewish Life preschool is leaving probably has to be revamped and retro-fitted too (just like Garland) to house elementary level classes. It's all very preschool looking there.

With that said, the district should displace PSF and Young Fives.

Like this comment
Posted by CALMom
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 26, 2009 at 8:27 pm

WAIT.....the district SHOULD NOT SHOULD NOT SHOULD NOT displace PSF and Young Fives. Oh man, I don't believe I forgot the word NOT , where's my brain today? --- please don't think I'm suggesting displacing PSF and Young Fives. They are very happy where they are. The class rooms that the Jewish Life are leaving could be used for PAUSD kids .... but how? That's the question.

Like this comment
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Aug 26, 2009 at 9:14 pm

Betsy Allyn, where do you plan to get the money to operate Garland?

Like this comment
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 26, 2009 at 9:32 pm

It makes sense to consider Greendell for future use as an elementary school rather than Garland because it is in South Palo Alto where most of the new housing units are being built.

Also, it was quite obvious that North PA parents didn't want to cross Embarcardero and South PA parents didn't want to cross Oregon Expressway to get their children to Garland, so why reopen a school no one wants their children to attend.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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