With two new members, school board to discuss array of items at first meeting

Elementary renovation projects, sanctuary resolution on agenda

The newly constituted Palo Alto school board, with two new members and a re-elected one, will discuss an array of items at its Tuesday meeting, from capital improvements at the district's elementary campuses to a proposed resolution to support immigrant students.

Melissa Baten Caswell, Todd Collins and Jennifer DiBrienza, who were elected Nov. 8 to fill three open seats, will be sworn in on Tuesday night, joining Ken Dauber and Terry Godfrey at the dais. The board will also elect its new president and vice president for 2017.

The board will discuss where to spend $60 million that was released earlier this year to fund renovations at the elementary schools. Staff has proposed to spend $37 million to build new, "proper sized" multi-purpose rooms at three campuses, $13 million for improvements at Hoover Elementary School and $300,000 to create conceptual designs for renovations at Escondido, El Carmelo and Walter Hays elementary schools.

Staff will also present a conceptual design for the Hoover project on Tuesday, with plans for a new administration, multipurpose and library building; new classrooms; and expanded play fields, among other improvements. The total price tag for the project is estimated at $23 million, according to a staff report.

In other planned improvements in the district, the board will also discuss a bid to renovate Jane Lathrop Stanford (JLS) Middle School's swimming pool. The pool, which was built in the 1950s, has seen few upgrades over the years, a staff report notes, and is in need of renovation "so that it can serve the campus and community for many more years to come." The estimated cost is $140,000.

In other business, in the wake of the presidential election, two sitting board members have proposed a resolution reaffirming the district's support of immigrant students and families. Schools should be considered "safe sanctuaries for families," the draft resolution states, pointing to a 2011 Department of Homeland Security policy that designates schools as a place where Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) "officers and agents exercise sound judgment when enforcing federal law at or focused on sensitive locations and make substantial efforts to avoid unnecessarily alarming local communities."

The resolution states that all Palo Alto Unified schools should be "considered sanctuaries for students to the fullest extent allowed by law."

Godfrey, who drafted the resolution with Baten Caswell, said she hopes the resolution, if adopted, will both remind immigrant students and families of their legal rights and send a message of support in the current political climate.

"Sometimes you just need to reach out and say, 'We have your back; these are your rights; we're here for you,'" she told the Weekly Monday.

The resolution encourages principals and school staff to "work with and support families and students who express concern about immigration enforcement actions at school, including students who may not be attending school because of such concerns," and states that any request for a student's information from the federal government should go "promptly" to the superintendent's office.

On Tuesday, the board will also vote to ratify tentative agreements on benefits with its teachers and classified unions. The district's agreement with the Palo Alto Educators Association (PAEA) includes recently negotiated benefits around full-day kindergarten, which was launched this fall at all elementary schools.

The board will also vote on a new policy that would create a research review committee to support — and monitor — the increasing number of students conducting serious research in district classes and programs.

The Tuesday, Dec. 12, meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave. Read the full agenda here.


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