Board backs Duveneck plan, even-year voting

Rare split vote highlights anxieties about where and how to build for growing enrollment

In two rare split votes Tuesday night, the Board of Education approved "conceptual designs" for major renovations to Duveneck School and agreed to align itself with the Palo Alto City Council by moving its elections to even-numbered years.

The 3-2 split over Duveneck reflected board members' concerns over the best way to respond to anticipated enrollment growth across the district, particularly in the younger grades.

While all five board members lauded theDuveneck plan for new classroom buildings and other amenities, two members asked to postpone the decision until the board meets in a March study session to get a better grasp of district-wide needs for new space.

"I don't understand the urgency in taking action on this before we have a bigger picture," board member Barb Mitchell said.

"I can't make a responsible decision on what we do at Duveneck out of the context of what we do at Garland."

Board member Barbara Klausner agreed: "I'd like to see us have that study session first, and then turn our attention back to all the good work that's been done at Duveneck."

But their three colleagues said that proceeding to "schematic designs" for Duveneck renovations was worthwhile because the campus needs basic renovations even if the full plan is ultimately not pursued.

Under the conceptual plans approved Tuesday, Duveneck will have new two-story classroom building, plus a new kindergarten play area and five new single-story classrooms ready for occupancy by January 2014. Portable classrooms along Channing Avenue will be removed.

Money for the proposed $10.56 million project will come from the $378 million "Strong Schools" bond measure passed in 2008, which has or will fund upgrades on all 17 of Palo Alto's public-school campuses.

In a second split vote Tuesday, the board voted 4-1 to move its elections to even-numbered years, aligning itself with the council.

The council's century-old tradition of holding elections on odd years ended in November, when nearly 77 percent of voters supported Measure S, a city measure to consolidate elections first proposed by Santa Clara County Supervisor Liz Kniss.

Voters resoundingly supported the argument that aligning city balloting with state and national elections would save election costs and boost participation.

Though school board members said they personally had not supported Measure S, four said the November majority was so decisive they felt compelled to follow suit.

The lone dissenter was board President Melissa Baten Caswell, who said moving the election time would be bad for the school board.

"If we put our elections in competition with other elections going on at the same time it's going to be harder to get the attention of the voters, and I worry we'll have a school board that's less representative of the entire population of Palo Alto," Caswell said.

"That concerns me enough that I don't' want to put us in the position to be competing at that level."

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 12, 2011 at 8:08 am

Why should the renovations be sub par considering we had B4E not too long ago?

It sounds as if the board are putting the cart before the horse, because the real decision needs to be re-opening Greendell (not Garland) for more elementary space.

We, the parents and the public, don't want mega elementary schools. We don't want mega schools at any level. Many of us moved here because the schools were not as big as other areas, and now we are losing that advantage. Additionally, the growth in Palo Alto is not in the Duvenick neighborhood but in South Palo Alto. We need to put the schools where the kids are for reasons like citywide traffic, neighborhood/community feel and safety issues.

As for elections, we didn't even get an election last time because of lack of people willing to stand, whereas the previous time we were spoilt for choice with some very strong candidates. What we should really be doing is making sure that we have candidates not whether or not people will vote. I would rather have people who are really concerned about who is on the board willing to vote which will be done at any time the elections are held rather than a few just voting for the candidate with the best smile or whatever.

However, the cost issue is real. Spending money for an election is always questionable. Keeping them altogether and cutting down costs makes sense. Getting candidates could even be easier as the mindset for thinking of whether to stand for election would be all at the same time.

Like this comment
Posted by Mega schools
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 12, 2011 at 11:03 am

If you don't want mega schools you have to pay attention to the amount of housing the city approves. Duveneck has almost twice the number of children it had ten years ago. This was pointed out last night.
Housing brings in children, even senior housing. An older family vacates a home and a young family with children moves in. Housing developers with the approval of the city council determine the number of children in town.

Like this comment
Posted by PA Mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 12, 2011 at 12:29 pm

Housing turnover also is driving enrollment increases. A high percentage of existing housing is currently occupied by people who have not had children in the schools in decades. As these folks age, they are beginning to move out. These homes are almost always bought my families with children.

We should be planning carefully for this because many of the schools that were built for this existing housing were closed when enrollment dropped some years ago. We used to have 22 elementary schools in PAUSD. Today we have 12.)

Watch this carefully. Watch what the state is doing with SB 375. They are forcing CA cities to densify (build more housing). Citizens need to be very active around these issues if we want to maintain excellent schools in Palo Alto.

Like this comment
Posted by Erin Mershon
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jan 12, 2011 at 7:51 pm

Bravo Barb and Barbara for standing up and forcing the issue of looking at enrollment issues before going ahead with a major renovation that goes over budget for Duveneck's balance of the bond money.

For anyone who doesn't think there is overcrowding in the North let me just give you some numbers: Walter Hays: 530 students, Duveneck: 480 students, Addison: 450 students. The North is at full capacity. There are no more schools in the north to send any kids to. Palo Verde has a waiting list situation every year for neighborhood kids. This is unacceptable. The only waiting lists happening in our district should be for our choice schools.

The pressure has to be alleviated from these schools by reopening Garland but the Board has to move on this issue soon. Garland should have been opening next year if they had gone along with the building plan. Instead we will see increases in class sizes once again in the elementary schools because of poor decision making on the part of four board members. Barb Mitchell, the lone dissenter on the Garland vote, gets to keep her hair but our kids have to squeeze into classrooms that were set up for 20 kids. Every year that class sizes increase the teachers scramble to make room for one or two more kids, make copies of one or two more of every lesson, make one or two more folders, etc. It's a time-sink that did not have to happen if the board had trusted the enrollment projections and gone ahead with opening Garland.

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