School board to city: 'Keep funding schools'

Voters intended school funding through Cubberley lease, board members say

Palo Alto school board members Tuesday argued for the City of Palo Alto to continue to make payments to the school district for rental of Cubberley Community Center, citing voters' intention to support schools through the payments in a 1987 election.

The discussion came as the board defined its positions in negotiating with the city over renewal of its long-term lease of Cubberley, which expires at the end of this year.

Since 1989, the lease has produced more than $100 million in city payments to the school district and currently generates $7.1 million each year, including $1.8 million from a 1989 city-school "covenant not to develop" five school sites, which were vacant at that time.

The city's source of revenue for the Cubberley lease payments has been the Utility User's Tax, which was approved by voters in 1987 explicitly to help fund the schools.

The City Council unanimously decided in February that elimination of the $1.8 million "covenant not to develop" should be one of its guidelines in renegotiating the lease with the school district. Council members noted that all five of the once-vacant school sites (Ohlone, Jordan, JLS, Garland and Greendell) are now in use or leased by the district.

School board members protested that argument Tuesday, insisting the schools still need the covenant money and that continued payments to support schools were intended by voters in 1987.

"The district is not looking for substantial modifications to the (Cubberley lease) agreement," Board President Barb Mitchell said.

"That doesn't mean we're dug in. It just means we believe the existing agreement still reflects the interests that formed the partnership in 1987 and 1989, and was renewed in 2003."

Superintendent Kevin Skelly said he wanted to renegotiate the lease based on "common interest" rather than negotiating "positions," but suggested the district could show greater flexibility on possible interim development at the site.

The district has said that if enrollment continues to grow, it may need the Cubberley land for a new high school around 2025.

"But if there are things (the city) wants to do there, we want to share in that discussion," Skelly said. "We're not two ships passing in the night. We all represent this community and we don't want to be that impediment."

Former school board president Carolyn Tucher, who served two terms on the board in the 1980s, urged the board to be more proactive in defining its vision for Cubberley.

"Three years ago, talks began between representatives of the City Council and school board," Tucher said. "Now, with only nine months remaining (on the Cubberley lease), the school board has yet to develop a public vision or take a public position on the major issues.

"You tell us you want to keep the money flowing in the district from the Utility Users Tax but you don't tell us on what premise you would base the ongoing funding," Tucher said, urging board members to be more transparent in its Cubberley discussions.

Two parents argued for continuation of the lease under current terms.

"No great economy grows by disinvesting in education," said Nancy Krop, a Barron Park parent and director of legislation for the Sixth District PTA.

"While California begins to turn the corner and increase funding for schools, here we are in Palo Alto talking about decreasing," she said.

Krop said Palo Alto's peer high-performing school districts spend far more per pupil – $22,000 or more – compared to Palo Alto's $13,000.

Even with a recent spike in property tax revenue, per-pupil funding in Palo Alto is not optimal, said board member Dana Tom, who noted many families move here specifically because of the quality of the schools.

"If you look at the aspirations our community has for our students ... they far outstrip anything we can do with the funding we have.

"There's no question that the Utility User's Tax funding is essential for our district," Tom said.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 26, 2014 at 10:26 am

It has to be said - yet again - that PAUSD is in the business of educating our children, not real estate investment.

Cubberly is needed now as we have huge high schools, huge middle schools and huge elementary schools compared with 1987. We have more homes in Palo Alto than existed in 1987 therefore it follows that there are more students. We have more housing proposed, particularly in south Palo Alto, and that will mean more students.

The school board has been saying for the last 15 years or so that the school population is nearing trigger points for opening new elementary and high schools, but all they do is ignore the previous trigger points and invent new ones. The size of our schools and the commute to get to them is one of the biggest traffic/parking issues we have. The bigger the schools the harder it is for even the staff to find somewhere to park and most teachers do not come to school by bike.

It is about time that these schools were considered for educating students rather than the amount of income they generate.

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Posted by Allen Edwards
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 26, 2014 at 10:41 am

My kids are grown so why would I want to give money to kids the way others did for mine? Perhaps because I want a better world and education is an important part of that. Perhaps because I want Palo Alto to continue to be a desirable place to live, which helps keep up the value of my home. We have a nice way to help fund out schools. Let's not throw that away.

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Posted by Gimme gimme
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 26, 2014 at 10:43 am

My God what are these fools smoking. The city already told you no. What is wrong with you? And why should the city keep showering money on you? So you can hire a PR officer and overpay Skelly?

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Posted by Emily Renzel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 26, 2014 at 11:11 am

At the time the Utility Users Tax (UUT) was adopted, the School District had been selling off IRREPLACEABLE school sites, including Crescent Park , DeAnza, Ortega, and Ross Road elementary schools and others. Terman Junior High was sold and later bought back with a smaller site. A proposal was afoot to sell Jordan Junior High but was thwarted by angry parents. Enrollment had been declining and the School District demographic study said the enrollment would NEVER grow back to its earlier levels. But, of course, as homes changed hands, it did.

The City believed that the irreplaceable school sites were sufficiently valuable that it passed the UUT to help preserve those School sites which also provided important neighborhood playing fields. The City also assisted the School District by taking over the maintenance of a number of school recreational sites.

In the meantime, The District, instead of planning for re-opening closed schools, has become financially dependent on leasing out the closed school sites for more revenue and has filled the playing fields at other schools such as Duvenek, Addison, and Walter Hays with ugly portable classrooms. There are 98 portable classrooms throughout the district, presumably accommodating almost 2000 students. Who knows how many parents of Palo Alto School children are paying to send their children to the private schools now occupying PAUSD closed school sites.

It's time for the School District to tighten its belt and plan for re-opening the School sites saved by the UUT and decompress the crowding at all the remaining schools.

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Posted by anon
a resident of Monroe Park
on Mar 26, 2014 at 11:32 am

I live in Palo Alto, but my neighborhood is in the Los Altos School District (LASD). For years my neighbors and I have been paying a hefty LASD parcel tax as well the UUT. We've been supporting two districts for long enough. It's time to end the UUT payout to PAUSD.. actually, it's just time to end the UUT entirely.

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Posted by Stop ABAG or pay up PACC
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 26, 2014 at 11:59 am

If nothing else, this money should be considered a down payment on the ABAG imposition on the schools.

While PACC, and Keene have visions of giving this community a heart attack to please all the developer interests, at least keep it real with the pressure it puts on schools and the community.

Stop ABAG, or pay up PACC.

Residents complaining, deal with the problem where it's at, City Hall.

PAUSD Board, get smart and start sitting at the table to make decisions about what "Our Palo Alto means."

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Posted by Work it out, please.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 26, 2014 at 12:59 pm

Actually, PARENTS need to get more involved in this decision-making process. They have been quite absent form the public discussions (with a handful of exceptions) Too many of the key decision-makers at PAUSD and the city no longer have kids in our schools. They don't understand how much we rely on the city/school district partnership. A lot is at stake here.

We NEED both organizations to work together to find a solution that works for Palo Alto families.

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Posted by end run
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 26, 2014 at 7:37 pm

"Utility User's Tax, which was approved by voters in 1987 explicitly to help fund the schools."

What doesn't the city understand about this? Or is the city proposing removing the UUT?

I certainly hope the city's not intending to stop funding schools and just keeping the UUT money for themselves!

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Posted by Kay
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 26, 2014 at 7:54 pm

Stop ABAG.
I agree with the earlier comment about either paying for all the ABAG imposed housing in Palo Alto which heavily impacts the school populations. Otherwise join other Bay Area Cities and file a lawsuit to challenge ABAG in the courts. Most of the homeowners on my street don't have many children in the schools. Our schools will continue to face overcrowding as Palo Alto meets all the ABAG requirements for new low-income, very low-income, medium income housing units. Besides the overdevelopment going on, burdensome school traffic and trailers on school sites, there is a basic issue of democracy. Palo Alto has its own planning department which is being usurped with all these enormous housing/student population requirements. I know a few families in leased private schools, the parents withdrew from PAUSD because of some horrendous teaching/personnel problems. I noticed our school lost many students whose families moved out after trying the schools here. There should be a tracking system in place to determine where the PAUSD is not meeting the families' needs.

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Posted by Skelly, Please do Nothing
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 26, 2014 at 8:33 pm

[Post removed.]

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

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