As Foothill College prepares for an eventual exit from Palo Alto, college officials expressed regret they could not reach agreement with the Palo Alto Unified School District for shared use of the old Cubberley High School campus.
Former Palo Alto Mayor Betsy Bechtel, now a trustee of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, said she was "deeply disappointed at the lack of collaboration," despite what she said had been years of efforts.
Trustee Bruce Swenson, a 35-year Palo Alto resident, said the failure to agree represented a "huge missed opportunity" to create an educational institution for the future.
Bechtel said she was particularly galled to hear public testimony at a City Council meeting recently to the effect that, "'It will hurt our brand in Palo Alto if we allow a community college to be (at Cubberley) as opposed to Stanford.'
"That really bothered me because we are a real resource to the community, and I think people don't know it and don't appreciate it," said Bechtel, a Stanford University graduate, in an emotional statement during a Foothill-De Anza trustees' meeting Monday.
"I've heard some school board people say, 'Our children don't go to community college, they only go to four-year colleges.' I hope people will convey ... that they may think Palo Alto students only take AP classes, but there are a whole lot that don't, and there are a whole lot that our schools could serve better," Bechtel said.
Between 13 percent and 18 percent of Gunn and Palo Alto high school graduates enter community college after graduation each year, according to figures supplied by Foothill-De Anza.
The high schools themselves publish somewhat lower percentages. Gunn said that 13.7 percent of its Class of 2010 said they planned to attend two-year colleges, and Paly published a figure of 9.2 percent.
Bechtel said many other Palo Alto students begin at four-year schools but return to regroup at Foothill when things don't work out as planned.
Foothill offers a little-known Transfer Program in which admission to certain University of California and California State Universities is guaranteed if a student maintains an agreed-upon Foothill grade point average.
The college works with administrators at Los Altos and Mountain View high schools to offer many classes on those campuses -- including digital photography, Photo Shop, sports medicine and environmental horticulture -- for which students get both high school and Foothill credit.
However, except for a Java class once offered at Gunn, Palo Alto schools have not taken up the collaboration offer from Foothill, according to Denise Swett, Foothill's associate vice president for the Middlefield Campus and community programs.
Swett oversees Foothill's Middlefield Campus, which serves up to 4,000 students, about 25 percent from Palo Alto. Since 1984 the Middlefield Campus has occupied about five buildings at Cubberley and now pays $933,000 a year in rent to the city of Palo Alto.
With $40 million in bond money, Foothill had hoped to purchase 8 acres at Cubberley to build a state-of-the-art education center.
That option appeared all but dead this week when the Palo Alto City Council decided to send a letter to Foothill-De Anza stating it is not interested in selling Cubberley's eight city-owned acres. The decision followed a unanimous June 28 statement by the Board of Education that it will need all of Cubberley's 35 acres for future enrollment growth.
Foothill officials said despite numerous meetings with Palo Alto school officials, they could not find enough common ground for collaboration.
"Over the past year there have been a number of meetings with the superintendent that also have been attended by the city manager," Foothill-De Anza Chancellor Linda Thor said.
"We have not found a lot of areas of agreement on opportunities for joint programming, or even necessarily a shared vision for the type of programming we would offer at an education center."
As Foothill turned its sights toward two land options in Sunnyvale, Swett said she hopes to keep some programs at Cubberley, where the college is on a month-to-month lease.
Those include the popular REACH program for people recovering from strokes, as well as classes using gym space, including yoga and pilates.
"We feel like it's a done deal," Swett said. "I'm always looking to collaborate and we've really reached out.
"I'm really disappointed because we really would have loved to stay here."