News

Board majority supports elementary school improvements, but others have questions

District staff recommend pursuing less costly projects first

A rendering of a renovation project proposed for Hoover Elementary School. Rendering courtesy Palo Alto Unified School District.

Larger multipurpose rooms that fit an entire school population, modernized classrooms and improved seismic safety are among the updates that elementary school principals and their communities feel are necessary to bring their campuses up to 21st-century education standards.

But on Tuesday night, two school board members questioned whether these updates, currently in the pipeline at four Palo Alto elementary schools, are the best use of district dollars.

The board discussed what many, including two board members, described as a long-overdue renovation of Hoover Elementary School, which was not updated as part of the most recent Strong Schools Bond. A proposed schematic design would rearrange the campus to allow for a larger multipurpose room, a new administration building, a new outdoor area described as a "town square," an updated library and expanded play fields, among other improvements.

Staff anticipate that the current budget estimate of $23 million will increase by 20 to 30 percent given market conditions.

Numerous Hoover parents and some staff turned out to voice their support for the plan, which was developed by a district architecture firm working with an advisory group of school staff and parents.

"Portables and classrooms at Hoover are old and outdated and not up to the new standards that exist," said Jonathan, a parent. "They're really unfit for Palo Alto… parity and fairness at this point really dictate that it's Hoover's turn."

President Terry Godfrey and board members Melissa Baten Caswell and Jennifer DiBrienza were supportive of the project moving forward. Baten Caswell characterized it as a "no-brainer" issue of bringing an "underinvested" campus up to snuff, including making sure the facility is earthquake safe. (She questioned how much of the campus currently meets regulations.)

"This is not about a beauty standard; this is about being able to plug all the computers in," Baten Caswell said. "This is to make sure if we did have an earthquake, that we would have a safe facility."

Vice President Ken Dauber and board member Todd Collins didn't disagree with the value the updates would bring to the Hoover community but argued the district must look at the project holistically and weigh it against enrollment trends and other financial needs.

Collins noted a recent decline in enrollment and said that as a result there are currently 32 classrooms — the equivalent of two elementary schools — across all elementary campuses not being used as academic classrooms. (At some schools they're "flex" spaces; at others they're being used for music, mindfulness and maker's spaces.)

Collins reminded the board of a 2011 decision to build new classrooms at Duveneck Elementary School because enrollment was on the rise, but it dropped by the time the project was finished.

"I would urge us to step back and make sure we understand — not that just this is next on the list but that we've got the right list and that we've thought through what our elementary needs are, which I don't think we've done," he said.

The district is in the midst of drafting a new facilities master plan that will review those kind of needs, staff said.

DiBrienza said that while it makes sense to consider the project holistically, the updates are not extras but rather "necessary components to have a school in this century and the way that we're teaching."

Dauber asked staff to return with more information on what's necessary to update the Hoover campus, particularly for safety, compared to what might be valuable but non-essential.

Bob Golton, the district's bond manager, said he would, but recommended against breaking the project down to simply bringing the campus up to basic standards.

Dauber and Collins also cautioned against moving forward now with plans for three new multipurpose rooms at El Carmelo, Escondido and Walter Hays elementary schools. At each campus, the new buildings would allow for other improvements, such as adding classroom space and getting rid of portables, said architect Lisa Gelfand.

The three multipurpose rooms are estimated now to cost more than $40 million, also with the caveat that construction bids would likely come in higher. This exceeds the $37.1 million in reserve funds the board recently released for elementary facilities improvements. Staff had recommended the district first pursue the less costly of the projects at El Carmelo and Escondido, leaving more complicated and expensive construction at Walter Hays for later on.

"There is a trade-off to be made between the quality of the project and its impact on a particular school and the impact that could be had on a larger set of students with a less ambitious set of projects," Dauber said. "I think we do need to consider that alternative for these dollars."

In other business Tuesday, the board approved a raise for new interim Superintendent Karen Hendricks, who was appointed following former superintendent Max McGee's sudden resignation last month. She will be paid an additional $68,000 for the remainder of the school year, bringing her annual salary to $295,000.

The board also approved up to $100,000 to hire an interim human resources director to take over Hendricks' responsibilities as assistant superintendent for human resources, the position she was hired for this summer.

The cost of McGee's resignation agreement — six month's pay and benefits through the end of the calendar year — is about $161,000, but the district will save about $286,000 from his salary, benefits and car allowance for the rest of the school year.

The net cost of the leadership transition is $43,000.

The board also decided to strike language from Hendricks' contract — copied from McGee's contract — that prevents board members from voicing "concerns, criticisms and dissatisfaction" with her performance outside of closed-session discussions or the formal evaluation process.

Collins suggested the change, saying that he found the language "cumbersome" when dealing with McGee's performance in recent weeks. Prior to McGee's resignation, Collins and Dauber released short public statements calling for his removal.

Dauber agreed, arguing the clause made it "vexing for board members trying to understand how to communicate effectively with the public without inadvertently creating a contractual issue with the superintendent.

"I don't think it serves the public's interest to have this in our employment contracts," he said.

The other three board members and Hendricks stressed that the board should first voice any performance concerns in closed session.

The board ultimately voted unanimously to strike the clause in question — "Board concerns, criticisms and dissatisfaction with the Interim Superintendent's performance shall therefore be addressed through closed session discussions or via the evaluation process" — and replace it with, "Feedback from the board to the superintendent shall be provided as part of the formal evaluation process."

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Comments

12 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 11, 2017 at 9:07 am

Isn't this what we were told last time they did work at the elementary schools, and the time before.

I think somebody, somewhere, thinks we have bottomless pockets.


19 people like this
Posted by Sarah
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 11, 2017 at 10:05 am

I rather they spend the funds in hiring more teachers in reducing class sizes. And provide more activities to the students. Or give bonuses to the good teachers.

The School Board never listened & Acted


16 people like this
Posted by 4good
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 11, 2017 at 12:07 pm

These renovations are truly needed. I encourage you to visit these schools and classrooms to see for yourself what a difference having modern facilities would make. Many PAUSD classrooms do not have air conditioning.... imagine trying to learn when the inside temperature is 90 degrees. I fully support my tax bond dollars being used for these improvements. Why should only Addison get updated because a private anonymous donor funded it. How is that for fairness and parity?


5 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 11, 2017 at 12:43 pm

> imagine trying to learn when the inside temperature is 90 degrees

This is a data-driven world. Everyone who lives in Palo Alto knows well that there are few days a year when the outside temperature is 90 degrees, and those days are generally in the summer, when school is out. There are a few days in Sept. when the temperatures might get up to 90 degrees in the afternoon, but only a few days.

If high temperatures in classrooms were really a problem, why would the District not have installed thermometers in affected classrooms and produced data that documents the temperatures in classrooms by the minute. Therefore, we would not have to "image" what's going on in these classrooms.

We also need to remember that for decades the classrooms did not need airconditioning because they were carefully aligned with the sun by the original architects. Now that houses are costing $2M a pop, we need airconditioning in the schools as another reason to justify these outrageous home prices.


4 people like this
Posted by $$$?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 11, 2017 at 2:27 pm

Why is the proposed renovation at Hoover described as if all the elementaries save Hoover got fixed up? Near as I can tell, we got a few two-story buildings and a lot of expensive paint and hardscape for the money.

If Hoover can be wntirely renovated for $25 M now, imagine what could have been done when we passed the bond. The new two-story building at Gun was $20M, the new single-story addition was $8 M, and the new athletic center was $12 M. So, let's go big and sat itwould have taken $20 M to renovate each of 12 elementaries (Addison has a donor), for $240M. That's still $150M left, since Paly's gym got a donor, enough to pay for all the new stuff I see at middle and high schools. But we DIDN'T renovate the elementaries. Where is all that money?


16 people like this
Posted by Midtown parent
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 11, 2017 at 4:03 pm

Before you think our schools don't need to be renovated, please visit the campuses in question. Hoover is the only Palo Alto school that has not been renovated in 30 years!!!! It is much more run down than the other schools. At this point it is a question of parity. Unless the board plans on shutting the entire school down with declining enrollment (and that is clearly not happening anytime soon--enrollment is not going down that fast), it needs to be fixed up.


3 people like this
Posted by Sanctimonious City
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 11, 2017 at 4:49 pm

Sanctimonious City is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by @Sanctimonious Poster
a resident of another community
on Oct 11, 2017 at 4:55 pm

[Post removed.]


17 people like this
Posted by A Parent of 2
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 11, 2017 at 4:58 pm

You could start phasing out Hoover next year and close in 3 to 4 years and either rent out the campus or just use for expanded special education or although school (both badly needed). Hoover is basically just an alternative neighborhood school that primarily serves Asian families. Do we really need an ethically segregated choice school? We would be better off closing it and putting the money elsewhere.


14 people like this
Posted by DTN Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 11, 2017 at 9:38 pm

DTN Paul is a registered user.

Parent of 2 : what exactly is the relevance of your point that Hoover "primarily serves Asian families?" I'm going to assume that you're not trying to be racist, so why does the ethnic mix matter?


10 people like this
Posted by Agree with Collins and Dauber
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 11, 2017 at 10:15 pm

Agree with Collins and Dauber is a registered user.

I agree with Collins and Dauber that we should rethink the use of this money and make sure we are spending it on our top priorities. I appreciate their thoughtful oversight here. I am guessing that spending more on people/teaching and less on facilities would be a win at this point.


2 people like this
Posted by Parent of 2
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 11, 2017 at 10:28 pm

@DTN Paul, Hoover is a "choice" school at which the primary difference is that it has a much different ethnic mix than other schools in the town. In 2016, Hoover was 66% Asian, 15% "Other" (mostly multi-ethnic Asian) and 9% Caucasian. The next most ethnic Asian elementary school was Palo Verde, with 40% Asian and 38% Caucasian, and the elementary schools overall were 41% Asian and 43% Causasian. [Portion removed.] Ethnic segregation is the opposite of what I want in schools.

[Portion removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Misled
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 12, 2017 at 7:55 am

I'm surprised we are talking about buildings!

I thought we raised bond money under the false pretense, specifically so that it could be given to the teachers union for no extra work. (Except Paly where it takes a lot of time to harass students and convey all conversations via 1950's-era phones. Those people need new infrastructure so they can mishandle investigations more efficiently. And a raise - it's a lot of work to not follow laws)

New Phones for Paly!!
New Phones for Paly!!


4 people like this
Posted by Peers Parent
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 12, 2017 at 8:15 am

Peers Parent is a registered user.

@Agree -
Bond money isn't spent on teachers. The community voted for this bond for facilities improvements. It was all done to improve our buildings. Hoover is outdated and in need of work. That's what the bond is for.


2 people like this
Posted by Agree with Collins and Dauber
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 12, 2017 at 8:20 am

Agree with Collins and Dauber is a registered user.

@Peers Parent -- The Strong Schools Bond does not cover Hoover. This is new, discretionary spending. We have no obligation to spend money on these or other buildings.


4 people like this
Posted by Parent of 2
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 12, 2017 at 10:01 am

I agree that we always need to prioritize our dollars. However the Hoover renovations are first and foremost about classroom spaces. Having PA kids spend all day in substandard portables is just unacceptable. This isn't a sexy renovation. It's about bringing classrooms up to today's standards for safety and learning. The classrooms don't even meet current seismic standards. I don't think people understand the needs here. Classrooms come first.


5 people like this
Posted by Support Hoover
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 12, 2017 at 10:02 am

Not sure if there is another school in the nation that is at the top in terms of ranking but at the bottom in terms of basic facility (do people commenting this article realized how many portable classrooms Hoover has?).
Give the best principal a reasonable classroom please...


8 people like this
Posted by Hoover parent
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 12, 2017 at 10:43 am

Actually it's the classrooms that are substandard. The portables are in better shape. The great thing about portables is that you can haul them away and replace them if they get old.
I think that renovating classrooms is a good idea. I'm less convinced that a new admin building and MP room are a high priority.


4 people like this
Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of another community
on Oct 12, 2017 at 12:43 pm

Hoover is a fantastic school. It is wrong to say that it is a school that caters to Asians. Rather it caters to American children who like a structured curricula. We chose Hoover, over our neighborhood school, because we were impressed by the well-rounded education provided by the school. The school is a Palo Alto treasure and it should be given the appropriate funds to make sure it keeps up with the times. I strongly support Hoover getting the requisite funds for its upgrade.


6 people like this
Posted by Unity over Division
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 12, 2017 at 2:14 pm

Hoover has the worst classroom condition in the entire school district. The classrooms feel so old and need renovation just to be safe and enjoyable. The district needs to preserve Hoover as a choice school with its unique teaching methodology.

[Portion removed.]


6 people like this
Posted by Fairmeadow Residents
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 12, 2017 at 2:25 pm

I'd agreed to spend the money elsewhere since my kids are no longer in Hoover. However, if you ever attend any events at Hoover, especially at the MP Room, you'd support Hoover renovation. Whether it is a choice school that attracts mostly Asian or not, kids at Hoover deserve to be treated fairly. Many, if not all, other PAUSD elementary schools have built new (two-story) buildings on the campus the past couple years. Why can't Hoover deserve the same?


4 people like this
Posted by DTN Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 12, 2017 at 4:25 pm

DTN Paul is a registered user.

@ parent of 2: segregation generally means the forced setting apart of one group. If there is a school like Hoover that happens to appeal to one group more than others, but there is no discrimination and everyone has access equally to that school, I don't see what the issue is.

It SOUNDS like what you're implying is that since it's mostly Asian, that demand is from people who are not really Palo Altans, and therefore it matters less. I know that's probably not what you mean, but as an Asian, that's what i hear. Just FYI.


3 people like this
Posted by Agree with Collins and Dauber
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 12, 2017 at 7:50 pm

Agree with Collins and Dauber is a registered user.

"Why can't Hoover deserve the same?"

Well, if all schools had to be treated equally, it would be much harder and more expensive to make improvements. The Strong Schools Bond prioritized carefully where investments should go. We had to pick and choose, because we are not overflowing with money. The thought process was sound, and people supported it.

Ten years later, we are still not overflowing with money, surprise surprise. So we should continue to be careful prioritizing our spending. Parents should understand that adding air conditioning to all classrooms, removing all portables, and adding two story buildings because "everyone else has them" (not) are not top priorities.

Kudos to Collins and Dauber for advocating care with our funds. Let's look across the district and see where the need is greatest. We've made some difficult cuts lately.


2 people like this
Posted by Educate
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 12, 2017 at 8:59 pm

@4goid & others: the problem is that the money they extract from us "for the children" is being spent on lawyers.


7 people like this
Posted by Heart
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 12, 2017 at 9:11 pm

It'll be interesting to see the comments continue. Why didn't it take long for ethnicity demographics to get into the dialogue? Aren't all cultures community members? Safe to say those comments come from outside the Hoover community. The Hedgehog community can be deeply misunderstood by people who don't know us. We may seem quiet, reserved or unaffected - but together we are a lively asupportive family and caring community with concerted support for our students and young citizens of education and budding self esteem. Those outside would consistently question why we chose Hoover if we were not Asian? The question embarrassed me, on behalf of the person asking. Why was this detail important?
Please take the ethnicity question OUT of this renovation conversation. Our children are watching.
Improvements are needed. For once Let's discuss how to come to terms, rather than cheering for the opposing side to fail until we've lost the credibility of our own voice.


2 people like this
Posted by Make no mistake
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 13, 2017 at 12:22 pm

It is called segregation when one or two ethnicities dominate enrollment in a school or a district, while historically underserved groups like Mexican-Americans (and their Latino counterparts) and African-Americans are shut out through legal, ethical,and illegal and unethical means.


4 people like this
Posted by Rats in Portable Classroom
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 13, 2017 at 1:41 pm

I am a Hoover parent. The classrooms for 4th and 5th graders are portable. On rainy days, the rooms are surrounded by muddy puddles. It is hard to find enough dry space for all the school backpacks. A couple of weeks ago, they found rats in my kid's room! The teachers and students did the best they could carrying on regular learning activities with pest control crew working in the same room. They simply need a safe place to teach and learn.


11 people like this
Posted by Parent of 2
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 13, 2017 at 2:10 pm

Self-segregation is still segregation. "Birds of a feather flock together" is not a good social or educational policy, and I don't see why PAUSD would support or enable it. If they had a choice school that was mostly white, or mostly one gender, or mostly ANYTHING, that would also be bad in my view, and there would have to be a very good educational reason to justify it, since it deprives those kids and all other kids of the diversity which we know is a social and educational good.

As most people know, Hoover doesn't really have a differentiated pedagogy at this point - maybe it did years ago, but for the last decade plus it has been similar to other other PAUSD schools (except Ohlone, which is also not as different as it once was). There's certainly nothing WRONG with Hoover as a school - it's fine - but self-segregation is not ok (note that includes both those who choose it and other ethnic groups who choose to avoid it).

FYI, Hoover went from 50% Asian in 2003 (oldest I can find on the district web site) to 78% Asian in 2014 (now a bit lower because it looks like they changed how they count multi-ethnic students a couple years ago - now counted in "other"). So this is actually a problem that is getting worse, not better.

The best part of Palo Alto for me is the diversity, especially in the schools. I have a problem with segregated public schooling and PAUSD allowing it to happen without even a discussion about whether it is ok and justified.


4 people like this
Posted by Open Arms
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 13, 2017 at 6:47 pm

60% of the world is Asian. Theres great deal diversity at Hoover even before exploring the other European/Latin culture here. Typically one can find a dozen options beneath the heading of 'Asian' on the demographics option. Please come and visit our beloved International Festival, Ice Cream Social or other community gatherings. Be with us and see that our students are learning global concepts, a country is not one homogeneous destination, and segregation is not our thing. We may be the epiphany of multicultural in this town. We've been tending to it quiely n our own backyard - but make no mistake ALL are welcome.


4 people like this
Posted by Agree with Collins and Dauber
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 13, 2017 at 8:31 pm

Agree with Collins and Dauber is a registered user.

It seems like a few folks at Hoover (and other schools, but it seems mostly from Hoover?) feel they've been under-served, and want a remodel so they can keep with the times, or keep up with other pausd schools, or ...

I think you may be over-estimating what everyone else has. I'm sure it's frustrating to buy a $3M house and find your kid is going to school in a trailer and attending assemblies outside, but that is not at all unusual here.

FWIW, my son was in a portable at JLS last year, and never mentioned it. His teacher was great, that was all he cared about. He was in several portables at Fairmeadow, and preferred them, because they were air conditioned. He was in portables after school at BBKC for hours, and just loved that place. The MP room at Fairmeadow can't fit everyone, not even close. So full-school assemblies are held outside, and partial ones inside. It works out great.

The two story buildings were added because the schools (JLS, Fairmeadow, Ohlone) were so huge that even more portables weren't enough. I wouldn't be envious of that. It's nicer imo to have a smaller school with portables than a larger school that packs kids into two-story buildings. And just so you know, the rooms in those two-story buildings are not air conditioned, and are on the small side, at least at Fairmeadow.

I am struggling to understand the rationale that some folks are providing here for why this large amount of money is needed to enhance these facilities. In my experience, teachers (and class size) matter so much more.

So thank you (again) to Collins and Dauber for keeping their eyes on this. We don't have money to spend on niceties. We need to spend it where it will most meaningfully benefit the most kids.


6 people like this
Posted by That's Diversity?
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 13, 2017 at 8:33 pm

Dear Open Arms, there are lots of white ethnic groups and nationalities too, but that doesn't mean "all white" is diverse. Seriously, if there was a PAUSD magnet school today that was 80% white and 10% Asian, would that be ok? How would you feel if they said, "we celebrate dozens of white identities, from Austrian to Welsh! We are truly diverse!" If all are welcome, but only certain people actually come, it's sounds like a problem - unless there is a compelling educational reason. Is there one?


Like this comment
Posted by Nicole
a resident of University South
on Oct 14, 2017 at 9:46 am

When will Addison be updated?? Addison is loaded with portables!


Like this comment
Posted by Portables need to go
a resident of Walter Hays School
on Oct 14, 2017 at 10:11 am

@Agree - your son might not have complained about the portables at JLS, but my daughter was in a portable at Hays last year where the floor was falling out from underneath them. You couldn't put a pencil on a desk without it rolling off.

The portables at Jordan aren't any better. Two years ago, my daughter came home saying they had to move their choir class because the portable was leaking from a rainstorm.

So, maybe your son didn't notice any issues with the JLS portables, or maybe they are newer.

The point is that portables were supposed to be temporary, and now they've been in place in some places for over 20 years. Let's fix those schools that were promised improvements with the B4E bond and never got them. Why do we sit on the money like we're stashing it under our mattresses? In my opinion, that's a blatant misuse of taxpayer funds.


4 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 14, 2017 at 3:44 pm

Considering our city is being sold off to foreigners at prices our kids and grandchildren won't ever be able to afford, who really cares about this anyway?
My in-laws we active in building up these schools over the past 60 years with their both time and money. My wife and I have paid astronomical taxes for over a decade on our current home. Our kids are leaving the area to buy homes simply because they have given up hope of ever owning a home - even with exceptionally high salaries and education.


4 people like this
Posted by Jamie Barnett
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 14, 2017 at 6:36 pm

I'm really unhappy with how this conversation has devolved into racist name-calling. Seriously! Regardless of your view on bond spending, it’s not appropriate (or at all useful to the conversation) to bring race or ethnicity into it. All kids deserve great teachers AND great facilities (these two things are not mutually exclusive!), wherever they or their families hail from. By the way, whenever you have people from different cultures integrating into one area, there are bound to be philosophical differences. Rather than point fingers and use racial or ethnic slurs, let's seek to understand the differences, listen to each others’ points of view (no matter how heartily we disagree with them), and educate each other with gentleness on our own points of view.


8 people like this
Posted by Parent of 2
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 14, 2017 at 7:13 pm

@Jamie Barnett - what slurs do you mean? The school is self-segregated by ethnic group - that's just a fact, you can look it up in the district's enrollment report. We shouldn't run away from that. Maybe that is ok (though I haven't heard anyone explain why it might be), but I don't see why talking about it is inappropriate. To me, ethnic segregation is just bad on its face and we need to face up to it.

I get that talking about race is uncomfortable for some people. But we shouldn't just sweep issues like this under the rug, especially since it seems to be getting more segregated over time.

This isn't a criticism of the school or the people who go there. No one is blaming anybody or putting anybody down. I'm sure they are all wonderful - they are my neighbors! I just don't get why the public school district offers a magnet school whose primary draw seems to be its ethnic concentration ("birds of a feather"). That seems almost illegal and definitely not what I want for our community.


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