Palo Alto school board backs Addison Elementary School project

One trustee raises concerns about progressive parity

The Palo Alto school board enthusiastically endorsed Tuesday night a multi-million dollar plan, paid for in full by an anonymous donor, to revamp Addison Elementary School's facilities, with only one board member sounding a note of caution about making sure the project adheres to a district value of progressive parity.

Almost a year ago, an anonymous donor stepped forward with interest in funding significant improvements at Addison, which is the district's oldest elementary school and as one of the smallest physical sites in the district, it has more children per site acre than any of the district's other 11 elementary schools, staff said at Tuesday's board meeting.

The donor has so far provided a $25,000 planning grant and $1.33 million to cover pre-construction costs, but intends to fund the entire project, which staff estimate could cost up to $17 million.

Planned improvements include a new two-story building that would house the administration on the first floor and a redesigned library on the second (and also move the administration building, which is currently less accessible on the inside of the campus, to the front of campus); a new multi-purpose room (the current one is old and does not fit the entire school population); more flexible rooms on campus; and replacing eight portables with permanent classrooms to open up more outdoor play and learning space for students.

Board members were "excited," "enthused," "impressed" and thought the plan was "terrific."

"This school is behind and we need to move forward," said board member Camille Townsend. "It's great that we've done Ohlone. It's great that we've done Duveneck, Fairmeadow. We've got to keep on marching down."

Ohlone, Duveneck and Fairmeadow elementary schools have all received new two-story classroom buildings in recent years. A priority of the district's $378M Strong Schools Bond, which voters passed in 2008, was to replace portables with permanent classroom buildings, Bond Program Manager Bob Golton told the board Tuesday. The district has also redone libraries at all of its elementary schools except for Addison and Hoover.

Where the Addison project becomes unique is the proposed revamp of its aging multi-purpose (MP) room, a problem that almost every other elementary school has, board member Ken Dauber noted Tuesday night. He pointed to the board's value of progressive parity, under which the district must "provide adequate and comparable school facilities, learning environments, educational experiences, opportunities, and staffing ratios throughout the district, including shared resources (such as libraries, subject specific classrooms, elective spaces, support staff areas, and athletic/play/outdoor areas). While recognizing that major facility renovations are incremental and sequential by nature ('progressive'), all facility improvements will be deliberately planned and phased to honor and work toward districtwide parity."

"The question I think for the board is, in accepting this donation for the improvements, is the district acting in a way that's consistent with that policy?" Dauber asked.

Funding this multi-purpose room and not ones at other schools "on the face of it produces inequity," he added.

"It's important because it supports the idea of educational equity and opportunity across the district and it avoids a situation in which we essentially authorize capital campaigns at each of our schools to raise money to do the things that the district has decided not to do," Dauber said of the board's policy on progressive parity. "MP rooms, I think, are an example of that.

"We don't want a race to the top in our individual school communities," he continued. "We want to have a collective responsibility for comparable facilities."

In the name of parity, Golton is recommending that the board allocate $163,000 to contract with the district's architect to develop conceptual designs for the other elementary schools. A total of $60.3 million currently sits in the district's Strong Schools Bond reserves for future elementary improvements. Superintendent Max McGee said "the plan is to incorporate that (MP rooms) into the design of the other schools."

Board member Melissa Baten Caswell said the recommendation to plan for the other schools is the "critical linchpin."

"It's really important to me that we have a plan across the district so that we can serve progressive parity across the board. We might not be able to invest in it tomorrow but if we plan, we can say, 'When can we do the next one?'

"If it's important to have an MP room that serves this many kids at Addison then it's important that we have an MP room that serves this many kids at Duveneck, too, and at Escondido and El Carmelo" and the other schools, she said.

But Tom Hodges of construction management firm Fs3 Hodges said that it's not as simple as saying, "let's take off three portables at one school and build a building" — or a new multi-purpose room — "because you may be losing an opportunity to really improve the campus overall."

The district has long-term plans at Duveneck, for example, to take out a few classrooms, convert an old multi-purpose room into classrooms and then build a new multi-purpose room toward the front of campus, but did not do that when building a new two-story classroom building several years ago.

Townsend said that if the district plans to engage the other elementary schools in conceptual design plans, it should be with a concrete commitment to action, rather than moving ahead "just to make people feel good."

"We have no intention of doing that," Golton said in response.

"Conceptual drawings without bond money put against them and without a concrete plan to turn them into buildings isn't enough to constitute parity under our district policy," Dauber told the Weekly in an interview after the meeting.

The board also discussed how to best move forward with such a significant donation from an anonymous source. Baten Caswell urged staff to "talk through what the steps would be" if the donor potentially balks when final budget comes back and its far higher than even the current estimate of $16,959,766.

She noted that this happened with a major donation for a project (now underway) to build a new athletic center for Palo Alto High School. As the project progressed and costs increased, the district's budgeted share grew from $5.7 million to $17.7 million.

Dauber also asked McGee to go back to the donor's representative and request that the donor voluntarily commit to revealing his or her identity at some point. Other board members said they had no issue with the donor remaining anonymous as long as he or she is not driving the process or district's priorities. Staff and board members characterized the process so far as "collaborative" and hands-off, with the donor deferred to the school site to identify its own priorities for facilities improvements.

"Who's providing very substantial dollars to public construction of schools in our district is I think information that the public has the right to know," Dauber argued.

Members of the Peery family, who made the largest single gift to the school district in its history to build Paly's new athletic center, first made the donation anonymously, but later publicly revealed their identities just before the board voted on conceptual plans for the project.

Dauber also voiced a concern that the board's first full discussion of the project came almost a year into the process. Baten Caswell agreed, and McGee responded that the issue could be addressed with potential policy changes.

The project will return to the board for action at its next meeting on March 8. If the board approves the project, construction would start by February 2018 and the new buildings would open by August 2019, according to a proposed timeline.

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12 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 24, 2016 at 9:59 am

It bothers me that I have to read 2 articles to find out the details on this now that we have quotas.

I have copied the text of my comments from the other thread as it still applies.

I agree that PIE and other fund raising projects is causing differences and also problems.

PIE providing certain things that the District should be providing is wrong. The District goes between screaming poverty when a school funding issue is on the ballot (we will have to let teachers go, we will have to increase class size and other baloney) to having a surplus and wonder what boutique product we can spend the surplus on.

I have given up on PIE for this reason and know many others who have done the same.

However, having a "generous donor" provide facilities for one school that another does not have is wrong and is exactly why PIE was founded in the first place.

We are not bottomless money funders. I think that if a wealthy individual or corporation wants to do something good then that is fine, but then that school should be out of other funding by the district or something, to compensate.

North Palo Alto elementaries have access to more wealth than south Palo Alto, but that shouldn't mean they have better facilities

17 people like this
Posted by Sally-Ann Rudd
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 24, 2016 at 10:14 am

I think we should say a big thank you to the anonymous donor and move on. PIE is restricted from expenditure on certain items, and I'm not exactly sure, but I'm pretty certain PIE money can't be used for salaries among other things. I appreciated PIE providing money for science, art and music enrichment at elementary level, the kids would not have had those activities without PIE, and they were provided to all elementary schools equally.
Addison has far more kids than the school was built for, during my kids' tenure they had to meet outside for assembly because the MP room wasn't big enough and recess had to be staggered because the play areas were not big enough. The grass field was in constant need of repair due to almost constant usage by students, sports teams and dog owners. Addison is way overdue for a major upgrade. Thank you donor!

17 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 24, 2016 at 10:26 am

As Baten Caswell mentioned last night, if Addison is over-crowded, why don't we redraw boundaries to send 25 students to Duveneck and 25 to Hays, which have 6 available classrooms between the two? That plus declining enrollment would allow us to just toss the 3 portables and reclaim the field space, without the need for a two story building at all. And maybe with 50-60 fewer students, they would all fit in the MP room as it is?

This could all be done in the next year or two vs. waiting till 2019 when the proposed project would (possibly) be done. We could take half the donor's money and spiff up the place, and use the other half for priority projects elsewhere.

27 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 24, 2016 at 10:41 am

Once again Ken Dauber is saying what needs to be said: it's not appropriate for a public agency to accept a donation this large from an anonymous source. As for the claim that the donor played no role in the shape of the project, that claim is self-evidently false -- both in the article and at the meeting McGee said that the process of project development was "collaborative" and involved tremendous communication and back and forth with the donor, and that senior staff (Golton) was in "almost constant" contact with the donor's representative about the shape of the project. The claim that the donor is simply writing a check but playing no role in the project is refuted on its face by these statements.

The donor is of course naturally playing a role and there is nothing wrong with that -- so long as the public has transparency. The fact that only one of our 5 board members even took a moment to note that there is a problem with accepting this amount of money -- millions and millions -- from a totally dark source is beyond words.

Even more importantly, Dauber spoke up for parity across our schools. The most important fact of being a public school district rather than 17 private schools is that we have a shared community responsibility for all students to have equal resources. We have already serious violated this parity principle in many ways by making Paly so much better than Gunn both physically (performing arts center, media arts center, Taj Mahal of gyms) than Gunn which looks like a prison boot camp, and actually -- Paly having advisory, as well as social justice pathway and journalism programs that are world class while the only world record Gunn holds is for suicides and probably AP classes per capita.

As Bob Golton reluctantly admitted following a long filibuster in response to Dauber's question, every single one of our schools needs an MP room and none have them because the district had higher priorities for that money. There is zero money left in the bond fund to do this kind of thing given the higher priority to handling increased enrollment by building more classrooms and geting rid of portables and possibly opening a new school. This means that Addison will have the only MP room and the other schools will (thanks to Baten-Caswell) get a picture of an MP room. I think the voters of Palo Alto are smart enough to know that Addison got a building and they got a picture of a building. That is, as Ken said, not parity.

[Portion removed.] I hope we get a board with a stiffer spine. Likewise, it was ridiculous that the public was just hearing this now, and a lot of pressure on Caswell and others could have been relieved if McGee was not secretive [portion removed] in how he handles the board. This is just EMAC part 2. Can't wait to see part 3. [Portion removed.]

12 people like this
Posted by Want parity - this raises the bar instead of lowering the standard
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 24, 2016 at 10:48 am

Perhaps we should look at this as raising the bar for the other schools with the goal of replacing all MP rooms in schools where they are too small. Ohlone, Fairmeadow and Duveneck recently got new buildings, so Addison is not the first elementary to be improved.

Thanks to the anonymous donor!

9 people like this
Posted by former teacher
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 24, 2016 at 10:49 am

Hope the district uses a better contractor and architect than they did on Fairmeadow. Broken pipes leaking into classrooms within a month of opening the new two-story building; drainage that actually acts like a swamp and then totally inefficient "solution" to that; inoperative electric windows; much smaller rooms than in previous 1950s building, for the oldest, biggest students; poor roof design that encourages nesting of rodents; siting rooms so that there is little natural light; and more. If you're going to do it, do it right.

5 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 24, 2016 at 10:58 am

The other thing that the voters of Palo Alto are smart enough to know is that Addison is getting a first-class private makeover complete with MP room while they still have portables littering their playgrounds -- that is, that they can't even get rid of their portables or their old stinky carpets, while Addison has a secret rich friend that is paying for everything. [Portion removed.]

31 people like this
Posted by Disgusted
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 24, 2016 at 12:36 pm

Whoa, $17 MILLION DOLLARS is a ginormous sum of money for one school no matter how stinky the carpets are. We in south PA know that north schools benefit from extra resources provided by generally wealthier families, but this is an outrageous flaunting of money that undermines the parity expected in a public school system. McGee and the Board should never have agreed to accepting money with strings attached without input from PA district families. What on Earth were they thinking?
As far as the donor "not being involved", this is inherently false. By stipulating that the funds be used exclusively at Addision rather than being subjected to the district prioritization of funds across all public school , he/she is undermining the meaning of "public" in public schools. If Addison needs emergency upgrades, the funds should be routed through proper channels. In these times, there's clearly plenty of money to go around. The key is transparency.

Addison's patron means well but It truly sickens me how often rich people flaunt rules that are in place to prevent just these sorts of problems and get away with it.

I am disgusted by McGee and the Board (except Ken, who I thank).

13 people like this
Posted by Goodbye PiE
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 24, 2016 at 12:39 pm

This donation is great and extremely generous. It's fabulous Addison will get a much needed makeover. At the same time, this is exactly why we no longer donate to PiE. The idea that PiE evens the playing field between schools no longer applies with the district and school board welcoming and approving huge private donations that are site specific. Progressive parity cannot exist with some schools receiving a $17 million private donation (projected cost of Addison project) and others relying solely on bond measures and district dollars.

7 people like this
Posted by Jim H
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 24, 2016 at 12:48 pm

This donation is the same road PAUSD is taking for the Paly athletic facility. A donor donates a large chunk of money which then necessitates that the district pony up a large, unplanned, additional chunk.

With Addison getting a new MP room, now all the other elementary schools will want one. With only $60M allotted to the elementary schools, the money will have to come from somewhere.

And, what if the $17M doesn't cover the full amount? As we have seen with the Paly facility, the initial $6M PAUSD contribution on a $24M donation, has now risen to a $17.7M PAUSD contribution.

Money is never free...

15 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 24, 2016 at 12:48 pm

excellent point, @disgusted, that even I did not think of -- by specifying that the money should be spent only on a single site, the donor has by definition changed district priorities and directed the spending of the funds. Facepalm.

10 people like this
Posted by Jeff
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 24, 2016 at 12:55 pm

People donate money because they want to make a difference. To say a donor should give money blindly for the district to spend isn't realistic.

Why limit private contributions to being equitable among Palo Alto schools? Shouldn't nearby East Palo Alto get a share? I believe if donors are required to split their money with every school, there will be very few donors.

The district should find ways to encourage private donations yet steer towards equity.

A big THANK YOU to the prospective donor!

15 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 24, 2016 at 1:55 pm

We should be very thankful to the donor, and I'm not in the Addison district. The North/South animosity is getting tiresome especially after the Mitchell Park Library disaster. Gunn's facilities are way better than Paly's as well. Why tempt the donor to walk away? The donor can obviously afford private school.

1 person likes this
Posted by MP Room battles?
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 24, 2016 at 2:24 pm

wonderful news that we have such a rich donor in palo alto..can the renovations stick to the donor's budget and not come out of the school district's budget?
as for MP rooms, i know of atleast 3 south PA elementaries where the MP room capacity is not enough to house the entire school.....i'm sure there are more in both north and south PA.

15 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 24, 2016 at 3:25 pm

Bravo school board for not caving in to the few folks that don't see how this is a good deal for Palo Alto. Also, "Thank You" secret donor!

12 people like this
Posted by gift horse
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 24, 2016 at 5:49 pm

"Dauber also asked McGee to go back to the donor's representative and request that the donor voluntarily commit to revealing his or her identity at some point. "

What's next? Don't allow anonymous donations to PiE? [Portion removed.]

6 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 24, 2016 at 6:21 pm

What Dauber is asking is exactly what happened with the Peery donation. Skelly insisted that it couldn't be anonymous, so the donor agreed to disclose his identity when the deal was finally done - which is reasonable.

Giving $50 or even $50,000 into a general pool of a charitable foundation like PiE is one thing; funding a major project at a specific public institution at is another. This is unprecedented as far as I know at PAUSD; it seems prudent that the board should at least ask questions and get decent answers before proceeding

5 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 24, 2016 at 6:27 pm

Even Max does not know who the donor is. Golton doesn't know. No one knows. That is just not consistent with open government.

[Portion removed.]

6 people like this
Posted by recall time
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 24, 2016 at 6:39 pm

Yeah, a great idea. Let's not allow anonymous donations. Why would we ever want someone to make large donations to the district? If they want to remain anonymous, we don't want their money.

[Portion removed.] The whole idea of implying there is something sinister behind a large donation to a school district is just plain stupid. That's not open government, it's something else.

3 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 24, 2016 at 6:53 pm

@recall time - help me out. Can you point to any other large anonymous donations that funded a specific public school project? Either in Palo Alto or elsewhere? I don't know of any, and I imagine the Board members and Super don't either, so it seems prudent to at least ask. But if anyone can provide some examples, that would be great.

15 people like this
Posted by why does Dauber want to stop this?
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 24, 2016 at 7:57 pm

@Parent, here's an idea, there's a search engine out there called google. You could try it before posting. It does help.


A bit of a different attitude to Dauber's as well. Rather than demanding the donor reveal themselves before accepting the donation, the Oakland's mayor's response is: "$34 million can make a difference particularly in the right hands,"

Why on earth would school board members want to start making demands on the donor and potentially alienate them? Why is Dauber trying to derail this? I would ask how much he has donated to the school district - I can't find that on google!

4 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 24, 2016 at 8:25 pm

No need for sarcasm. I did find that donation, but when you look at more detailed reports (like this one Web Link) it doesn't looking like money actually went to the school district - it went to "Oakland Public Education Fund," which I assume is like PiE, and presumably for an existing project (it says "to provide pre-kindergarten support for young children"). In our case, the giver is donating directly to the district, and for a project that was not being considered before the donor came forward.

I think Dauber, and Baten Caswell, btw, are both concerned about both parity and a gift of unknown provenance - which, as trustees of a public agency, they certainly should be. Did anyone even ask an Education Code lawyer if a public agency can accept an gift like this? What if it were money laundering? I don't think anyone is saying to turn away the money; they are trying to do their jobs.

What has Dauber donated? I find that question shocking. Agree or disagree with him, he has given as much of his time and energy as anyone in Palo Alto over the last several years, including now sitting on the Board. Being a school board member is no doubt the hardest volunteer job in Palo Alto, and all the board members deserve our thanks.

7 people like this
Posted by seems reasonable
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 24, 2016 at 8:36 pm

"What has Dauber donated? I find that question shocking."

Why? He is making demands of the current donor. The question seems fair. As others have noted, he does seem to be going out of his way to be obstructionist over this.

12 people like this
Posted by Greed over principle
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 24, 2016 at 8:43 pm

District policy? Open government? Don't bother us with that crap, someone's trying to toss some cash our way! Sheesh, you would think we lived in a Latin American slum and Daddy Warbucks had just driven by. It's pretty obvious that most of the board couldn't care a fig about equity or transparency so there's no need to worry anyways. You'll get your money.

9 people like this
Posted by wow
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 24, 2016 at 9:11 pm

I find it very strange that people are demanding that donors should reveal themselves. I, personally, would never want to reveal my donations. It's a personal gift and I don't need everyone to know what, how much and to whom, I'm giving.

What possible reason do you have that I should reveal who I am? For a board member to start demanding I reveal who I am is astonishing.

And, parent, you might want to google further and not venture far before posting again. Palo Alto accepted a $3M anonymous donation for Gunn & Paly turf: Web Link

5 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 24, 2016 at 9:31 pm

The difference with the Paly/Gunn turf donation in 2007 is that Dr. Skelly (and possibly members of the board) DID in fact know who the donor was. The donor asked to remain anonymous, and the request was honored. In the case of the Paly gym, the donor wanted to remain anonymous, but Dr. Skelly (perhaps egged on by board members) would not allow such a significant gift to remain anonymous.

In the current case, Golton and McGee have been very explicit that they have no idea who the donor is, and there is no requirement to be told. So I think this is unprecedented.

4 people like this
Posted by Seriously?
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 24, 2016 at 10:09 pm

Parent, really? All other cases are somehow "different".

The last thing the board should be doing us pushing he idea that it is difficult to donate to PAUSD.

I also went through recent PiE reports where they name donors. Some names were missing.

2 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 24, 2016 at 11:11 pm

Hmm. "some names were missing." Perhaps those "names" are under "A" for "Anonymous." Pretty ironic, dontcha think?

6 people like this
Posted by High School Parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 25, 2016 at 6:32 pm

I can't believe we are debating over an anonymous donation. Many high net worth donors make donations anonymously, and don't want to be tapped by every nonprofit on the planet. We should all be grateful that this person, family or foundation wants to help our community. Period.

Let's also be clear about North and South Palo Alto. Where is our showcase library? Mitchell Park in south Palo Alto. Where did we open the nations premier playground, Magical Bridge - receiving national attention and now a "destination" for everyone. South Palo Alto. What high school is consistently ranked higher? Gunn in South Palo Alto.

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

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