Palo Alto school board approves major donation for Addison Elementary School

Board also considers new policy, procedures around gifts

A plan to significantly renovate Addison Elementary School took a step forward Tuesday night with the Palo Alto school board unanimously accepting the first of what is expected to be several major donations made to fully fund the project.

The board approved an anonymous $1.33 million donation to cover pre-construction tasks for the project, which district staff have estimated could cost in total $16.96 million. Plans include building a new two-story building that would house the administration on the bottom floor and a new library on the second floor, a new multi-purpose room, replacing portables with new classrooms and creating more outdoor-learning environments for a school whose staff and parents say is uncomfortably crunched on physical space.

The anonymous donor has communicated to the district, through a representative, that he or she intends to cover the full cost of the project, Superintendent Max McGee has said. The donor also provided a $25,000 planning grant last spring to support a process at the site to develop a conceptual design with the district's architect, parents, teachers, staff and students.

Addison is the oldest elementary school in the district and has more children per site acre than any of the district's other 11 elementary schools, according to district staff. Addison's office manager, Nancy Panayides, told the board Tuesday that there is "not one iota of space" at Addison on certain days of the week.

Principal Amanda Boyce's office doubles as a conference room, Panayides said, and the school's counseling intern works behind a curtain out of the library office. The school has had to stagger recess and lunch for older and younger students to make sure there's space for students to comfortably — and safely — play and be outside, among other accommodations, she said.

"There is no parity in our geographic space," said Kelli Tomlinson, Addison parent and co-chair of the school's site council, referring to the district-adopted value of "progressive parity," which aims to ensure equity in facilities and education opportunities between all the schools.

At a previous board discussion on the project, at least two board members, Ken Dauber and Melissa Baten Caswell, expressed concerns about the implications such significant improvements at Addison would have on this value.

On Tuesday, the board, however, voted against a staff recommendation to bring parity among the district's 12 elementary schools by allocating $163,000 to draft conceptual designs for the other schools. Several board members questioned the value of committing the district to such planning efforts without the dollars in the bank to back them up.

Dauber said in his eyes, that would amount to "window dressing."

"My concern about that is that we're asking staff and parents and community members to spend a lot of time engaged in a design process for improvements that we don't have funding for and that would require that we take several steps in order to be in a position to do that," Dauber said.

Board President Heidi Emberling agreed, saying that the schools are best served when "we plan closest to the time that we need these improvements."

Dauber made a motion, supported by all board members except Baten Caswell, to strike the recommendation to engage in conceptual-design work with the other 11 elementary schools.

Baten Caswell insisted that the district needs to have a "roadmap for progressive parity" — a plan made ahead of time for what the individual sites are most in need of and how the district can use $60.3 million currently in the district's Strong Schools Bond reserves for future elementary improvements. Hanging in the balance is also the potential cost of building a 13th elementary school, which some board members have indicated support for.

"Whether it needs to be a $163,000 roadmap, I'm not necessarily sold on that number or the whole process, but I feel very strongly that if we don't have a roadmap for what we want to do next, we will go off and do something else and we won't pay attention to progressive parity here," Baten Caswell said.

The district could always alter any plans or identified priorities, "but to not have a roadmap? That seems like we're not really committed to progressive parity," she said.

At least three other board members agreed during board operations, at the end of the meeting, to discuss the idea of a roadmap for the elementary schools' facilities funding at a future meeting.

Proposed gifts policy

Earlier in the evening, the board also considered a new policy around how to handle major donations. The board's policy review committee (BPRC) discussed the policy last week and proposed adding a requirement that the superintendent seek board direction on donations anticipated to be in excess of $1 million.

The policy also says that school principals can approve and accept gifts up to $25,000 and the superintendent or a district designee could approve and accept gifts of up to $50,000, but anything more would require board approval.

Baten Caswell said that the policy should also include language around progressive parity; anonymity of donors (she suggested that the superintendent and legal counsel, for example, be informed of an anonymous donor's identity so that there is "confidence that there's no strings attached"); and, if district funds are going to be required to complete a project supported in part by a donation, that the board discuss such funding prior to accepting any gift.

Other board members supported the idea of having someone within the district know the identity of a donor who wishes to remain anonymous publicly, and noted that Stanford University requires that somebody at the school knows who a donor is in order for an anonymous donation to be made.

Baten Caswell also requested explicit language around the board's involvement in donations, not necessarily linked to the amount of the gift, as proposed.

"To me, it's not an amount of money. If I'm a donor and I give $10 with the assumption that it's going to be a $10 million project with small donations over time, the board needs to talk about it when its $10," Baten Caswell said.

In the case of the Addison project, the board did not talk about it when it was at its $10 equivalent. The donor gave the $25,000 planning grant last May; Addison then embarked on an in-depth design process, with the support of district leadership, over the next several months. The board's first full discussion of the donation and proposed improvements, however, came this February, almost a year later. The new language in the proposed gifts policy around a $1 million trigger for seeking board direction was developed in part as a result of that.

Others, however, worried about making the district's process for accepting donations unfriendly and unappealing.

"I want to make it an easy process for people to give us money," said board member Camille Townsend. "I'm getting uncomfortable that we're being onerous in our statements. While I'm supportive of transparency and everything else, I feel like we're hammering people in a way that doesn't feel good. I need to see a policy that reflects our gratitude."

She suggested contacting past major donors to seek feedback about their experiences with the district's process and asked the two board members who serve on the BPRC, Dauber and Terry Godfrey, to be "very cautious" in adding additional stipulations.

"Our goal, at least from my perspective, will be to address a process that brings clarity to the extent that we can and that is not at all intended to increase the burden on donors — in fact, quite the opposite," Dauber said.

The gifts policy will return to BPRC before coming back to the board for action at a later date. The board will next discuss the Addison project when a schematic design is developed.

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14 people like this
Posted by Golden Rule
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 8, 2016 at 11:58 pm

"I feel like we're hammering people in a way that doesn't feel good. I need to see a policy that reflects our gratitude."

Oohhhh, the donor. I thought for a moment that someone on the board finally recognized how utterly unprofessional and evil the administration can be to families who aren't so influential. (Oh wait, that's hammering people in a way that doesn't feel good to just those people, sorry. Still waiting for the district folk to hear that OCR letter they wrote for its screaming hypocrisy.)

Good for Addison (very sincerely). Thanks to the donor. But this whole situation makes me cringe at the lack of reflection on why the bond did not pay for substantially renovating the campuses. The district planners openly ignored requests to consider things that increased construction costs unnecessarily. The implication was that there was plenty of money and we didn't need to care. Now we see that the money has been spent and so much of the district is still in bad shape, like Addison. (And the rich parent willing to do something when things are not good is going to have no sense of what is lacking elsewhere. That shouldn't be their problem, but then again, neither should improving Addison when we just had a $400 million facilities bond.)

i support our schools and will continue to give them plenty myself (not on that order, but) but I intend to take the exemptions I can as soonas Ihit 65. No good money after bad.

4 people like this
Posted by Agustín
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 9, 2016 at 11:38 am

Dauber and Townsend are right about creating a policy that makes donating to the district less of headache. There is so much red tape and bureaucracy not to mention the criticism and scrutiny that come with wanting to help our schools, that many donors avoid it altogether. There are a lot of resources in this community that will find their way to other initiatives that are less fraught with drama. Supporting our public schools should be easy. The board is on the right track and unless we find ways to access philanthropic/private dollars, parity amongst the schools will be a long way out.

3 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 9, 2016 at 12:03 pm

Good job on all fronts school board!

13 people like this
Posted by Longtime Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 9, 2016 at 12:57 pm

Few things in life are free. There is likely to be some kind of payback, at some point in time.

One can normally "follow the money", in Palo Alto. But in this case, the public will never know. A lack of transparency to this degree is problematic.

Some one has to cash the check. Or will it be given via cash, dropped off in a parking garage, at an appointed time, for an insider to pick up?

8 people like this
Posted by JA3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 9, 2016 at 2:09 pm

Thank you, donor, very much. I sincerely appreciate your donation.

2 people like this
Posted by alas
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 9, 2016 at 9:01 pm

Thank-you, donor.

3 people like this
Posted by Duveneck Resident
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 10, 2016 at 10:00 am

Thank you to donor for helping their entire Addison neighborhoods children. Thanks to the board for putting the children first and giving some love to Addison, one of the last schools which has not received much needed renovations. This will help free up money for renovations at other schools. I hope it will be easier for large donations in the future to other PA schools as well.

13 people like this
Posted by What a Shame
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 10, 2016 at 11:31 am

The whole "thank you" thing shocks me. Everyone seems to know that the donor is simply buying an upgraded school for her own kid's future use. That's it. If their kid went elsewhere - then forget it. There's no generosity involved - this is simply what it costs to upgrade the school your kid plans to use.

Shame on the board for just laying down its principles - parity, who cares? transparency - that's for suckers! - and the community for egging them on. What a shame.

6 people like this
Posted by PiE Donation Regrets
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 10, 2016 at 4:33 pm

This donor is extraordinarily generous. Anyone who gives to the schools gets a thumbs up. Addison clearly needs the upgrade.

Now my only regret is all the years I donated to PiE instead of donating directly to my children's schools (the way this donor has). I didn't know the PAUSD School Board would be so welcoming of site specific private donations. I bought the PiE "we're all in this together" marketing shpeel hook line and sinker - silly me. I wish I could ask PiE for a refund and redirect those many years of donations to my neighborhood schools. After all, under the Board's new "Proposed Gifts Policy", I would've been able to give up to $25,000 directly to my children's school principals. We don't have a lot of school years left in Palo Alto, but you can bet I'll be donating directly to my children's schools from here on out. Goodbye PiE.

4 people like this
Posted by ohlone parent
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 10, 2016 at 4:43 pm

Starting next year, I won't be donating to PiE. I will be donating directly to my child's school.

Thanks donor, for setting the trend.

5 people like this
Posted by Palo Verde Parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 10, 2016 at 8:51 pm

I too will be donating directly to my child's school. It seems to me that PIE's days are numbered.

1 person likes this
Posted by Golden Rule
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 10, 2016 at 9:43 pm

The time to make a difference was when the district was planning ro spend the bond money. No one cared that the public input was one of the most laughable farces ever, no one listened to the very few people trying to get the public to care that we would get here, it was inevitable, the money gone and little to show for it. Tonight my around the dinner table everyone was literally trying to figure out how the district managed to spend the bulk of $400 million while accomplishing so little, or how they could have spent more than $200 M for what they actually did.

(Them who has the gold, make the rules...)

Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 10, 2016 at 10:19 pm

@Golden, you're mistaken. There's been a lot of building done, and since it good quality, designed to last many decades, and done in Silicon Valley while schools were occupied, it isn't cheap. Extensive work at both high schools (still ongoing), all 3 middle schools, and 3 elementary expansions, plus technology spending, and purchasing 525 San Antonio Rd. There's still $130M to be spent, so more than a third left. Maybe a dinner tomorrow, you can chew it over again.

Like this comment
Posted by policy update
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 29, 2016 at 5:05 pm

AR 3290 Gifts, Grants, and Bequests

Web Link

"This policy has been back and forth between the Board and BPRC more than once. The language has been revised to be more encouraging and welcoming for donors. Also, the Board will be discussing two options for handling anonymous donations." These are:

Paragraph four currently reads:

"Superintendent shall ascertain the identity of the donor and inform the Board in confidence. This requirement for identifying an anonymous donor to the Superintendent and the Board may be waived by a vote of the Board in a public meeting."

Staff recommended replacing paragraph four with the following two paragraphs:

“While PAUSD encourages donors to share their names so they can be publicly recognized, the district realizes some donors prefer to remain anonymous and welcomes and honors these anonymous gifts. If a donor of a gift in excess of $50,000 prefers to remain anonymous, and the gift is made through a donor advised fund, which has a documented process for vetting the source of the donor’s funds, PAUSD will not seek to ascertain the identity of the donor.

If an individual wishes to make an anonymous donation from a personal account, the Superintendent shall identify the donor and alert the Board if a potential conflict of interest exists or there is another reason for potentially declining the gift. This requirement for the Superintendent to identify an anonymous donor may be waived by a vote of the Board in a public meeting.”

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