School board eyes new bond | News | Palo Alto Online |


School board eyes new bond

Campuses compile wish lists for facilities improvements

Palo Alto voters could see a new school bond measure on the November ballot if the Board of Education decides to seek one to fund the next 20 years of facilities improvements in the district.

Trustees discussed Tuesday the potential of a $480 million or $375 million bond that would replace a $378 million bond voters approved in 2008. No trustee expressed opposition to the new bond.

The district is in the thick of developing a 20-year facilities master plan that would guide the bond measure, if approved. A district team and architecture firms have since last summer been gathering input from principals, staff and others about the upgrades they would like to see at their schools. The total cost of the schools' wish lists and other possible upgrades, presented to the board on Tuesday, is $1.18 billion.

The current bond has funded significant improvements across the district over the last decade, from new classrooms at the elementary and middle schools to Palo Alto High School's Performing Arts Center and Media Arts Center and Gunn High School's aquatic center and Central Building Project, but the schools say more is still needed to keep the campuses up to standard over the next 20 years.

At the elementary level, every school except Nixon Elementary School has asked for a new multipurpose room, which have been described as aging and unable to handle school capacity. New learning centers, resource centers, larger kindergarten classrooms, air-conditioning, accessible playgrounds and expanded administrative buildings have also been proposed for the elementary schools.

The middle schools are looking to modernize their science labs, add more administrative space to improve supervision and make room for new wellness centers and add gender-neutral bathroom facilities. Jordan and JLS middle schools have also proposed building new libraries.

Gunn High School, where the new two-story Central Building is currently under construction, is hoping to renovate its administrative and student services buildings, build a new two-story arts building, add two science labs and fully modernize Spangenberg Theatre, among other proposed improvements.

With a new bond, Palo Alto High School could see the renovation of the Tower Building and Haymarket Theatre, which was promised in the current bond but did not come to fruition. The site's wish list also includes tearing down two existing classrooms building to house a new wellness center, dining facility and more flexible, multiuse career technical education (CTE) labs.

"Nothing here seems like a boondoggle," board member Melissa Baten Caswell said of the proposed projects.

The estimated cost for the elementary school upgrades is $352 million; the middle schools', $216 million; and the high schools', $258 million.

Board members asked district staff to also consider future enrollment growth in their plans. Bond Program Manager Bob Golton said it's difficult to accurately predict growth — "our crystal ball is very cloudy as it relates to five years from now, 10 years from now, 20 years from now," he said — and it's up to future boards to take action, if necessary, to reprioritize the bond projects.

The future use of Cubberley Community Center, the 35-acre campus that the district owns with the city, still hangs in the balance as a master planning process moves forward.

An opinion poll conducted by an outside firm indicates there is sufficient support for a new bond. Firm TBWB Strategies polled 400 likely voters in March and April. One in four of them currently have children in the district.

After hearing both arguments for and against the bond, 63 percent of voters polled said they would vote for the more expensive measure — above the 55 percent threshold required for bonds.

The opposition arguments — including recent changes to federal tax law and concerns about district's leadership handling of the budget and student sexual violence — didn't appear to be problematic, said Gene Bregman of TBWB Strategies, who conducted the poll. Less than 25 percent of those polled rated the anti-bond arguments as reasons they wouldn't support the measure.

Public perception of the district does seem to be suffering somewhat: 63 percent of voters polled rated the district as doing an excellent or good job, down from 78 percent in 2014.

Community member Robert Smith told the board that he thinks the bond is "poorly timed" and that school leadership must first show that the boat has been righted after several years of upheaval, including failures to adhere to federal civil rights law Title IX, financial mismanagement, the divisive renaming of Jordan and Terman middle schools and high turnover at the district office.

"I am second to none in my disappointment in the district for some of the management and financial missteps we've had the last few months and couple years," agreed board member Todd Collins, but, he added, "the benefit for the students from continuing our building program and continuing it in a steady and predictable way is very, very high."

Staff will ask the board at its May 8 meeting for authorization to further refine the proposed project list and develop a bond resolution, which would need to be approved before an Aug. 10 deadline to place the measure on the November ballot.


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89 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 24, 2018 at 8:25 am

I can't believe this, but then again knowing PAUSD of course I can believe it.

We are out of PAUSD now, but being a K - 12 family, we have had construction at the schools we attended for the whole of their time. When they were in elementary school they had construction and just as we moved on the construction started on the middle school and then the same happened when they started high school. I don't believe we ever spent a year in a school where there was no construction happening!

And the school board are willing to spend money changing school names. I do not think they are fiscally responsible with our money. They look on us as money pits.


78 people like this
Posted by wow
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Apr 24, 2018 at 8:59 am

School district has a lot of bal.......asking for money after the whole P.C. CHANGE THE NAME OF SCHOOLS JOKE!

Absolutely no!!!!!

This is an insult to the parents in PAUSD to even ask for money.

33 people like this
Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 24, 2018 at 9:46 am

A billion dollars decided by 30,000 properties is about $30,000 per property. All to be paid from additional property tax. Chew on that!

51 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 24, 2018 at 9:46 am

Has the previous bond been paid off yet? If not, how much longer before it is paid off?

And did we really need some of the new facilities, like 2 gyms at Gunn?

And loading up on another $1 Billion of debt, when the unfunded liabilities of pensions has not yet been addressed is quite a big risk.

34 people like this
Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 24, 2018 at 11:11 am

Samuel L. is a registered user.

10 years ago the bond was $378M for the entire district. Now they're asking for $352M JUST for the elementary schools! There's also $354M allotted to non-district sites, central facilities and "other costs". "Other costs" total $170M. There's no detail in the presentation for any of that $354M.

PAUSD must just look at the community as big dollar signs.

When will the district replace Bob Golton? Last year he pulled in over $130K in salary plus an additional $225K from his pension. Didn't he retire over ten years ago? Can PAUSD not find someone to take over that position?

27 people like this
Posted by nope
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 24, 2018 at 11:57 am

I can see it, but no consideration until after they:

- demote people for their demonstrated incompetence
- fire people for their demonstrated incompetence

Otherwise, why throw more money at their incompetence.

22 people like this
Posted by Parent2
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 24, 2018 at 12:01 pm

@Samuel L.
I agree. The last bond was $375 million. If we look at what the state says cost per square foot for building schools was, even in expensive areas, PAUSD could have replaced all of the elementaries and middle schools with brand new facilities. if you consider that the entire Mitchell Park Library and Community Center was $40M, it’s a benchmark. (That’s 9.5 community centers and libraries, or up to 20 schools.)

PAUSD made a lot of unnecessary and short-sighted choices in how it spent the last bond measure that unnecessarily increased the cost of construction for nothing, according to the evidence-based guidelines of the state of California, which PAUSD could and did deliberately ignore because it wasn’t taking state funds. The state has studied what makes school construction more expensive and recommended how to fix it, but people like Golton and Caswell seemed to feel that it was unnecessary to be careful with funds and that PAUSD is above having to make adjustments to trim the budget for unnecessary waste. Skelly indicated in district meetings over the construction that the community was always good for more if they didn’t complete the work on that bond.

I hope the public finally understands that the oversight committe was never charged with making sure our money was spent well, only that it was spent on the things we got. No one was ever charged with ensuring the money was spent well, and the parties involved clearly felt that the public is an infinitely pocket for school matters. We saw the results of that in the recent tax in which we were told reduced class sizes would be funded but instead it went to raises. Bait and switch.

In this last bond, we were already told exactly those things would be done. Where did the money go? It looks to me as if we got a few high profile buildings that could have been put up for far less and a lot of very expensive paint and landscape/hardscape.

Before I vote for any more funding, I want to see an analysis of how well the money worked for us in the last measure, with a holistic look at how the funds could have been spent (usingvthe state’s recommendations). I want to see a reexamination of that Paly Parent’s warnings about a flawed process published in the Weekly. Then I want to see changes that will ensure any future funds are spent well, otherwise, I will opt out as I am thankfully able to do now. I hope seniors will appreciate the need to not approve anything just because it’s for the schools. When the public has rejected proposals, the district finally made improvements, when the public just buys whatever the district promises hook line and sinker, we get a bait and switch like the last tax measure and a lot of lipstick on too many district oinkers (renovations that definitely don’t look indistinguishable from new facilities, as the $375 million bond promised).

Walk around Terman, look in the bathrooms, the music room. Walk around after it rains. Go in the MP room. Did this renovation oroduce something equivalent to new? Go look at the text of the bond, and the speeches the superintendent gav. What were we promised? Now, how do we ensure that we do not just repeat the past?

31 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 24, 2018 at 12:23 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

How about budgeting to bring back the school buses and/or coordinating with the PA Shuttles ? School pick-up and drop-off times are highly predictable and one of the easiest ways the city can reduce traffic.

They probably also cost less than what the city's spending on traffic calming and road furniture that costs us all both time and money.

32 people like this
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside
on Apr 24, 2018 at 12:33 pm

Until governments have shown that they can be fiscally responsible, for example by getting rid of defined benefit pensions, concerned citizens should vote no on all taxes. Otherwise, we are simply enabling fiscal dysfunction.

25 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 24, 2018 at 2:04 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

Since the voters approve every school bond measure by huge majorities, why wouldn't the school district float another huge bind measure? Palo Alto voters are the cow that never stops producing milk, and they believe everything politicians tell them. After all, the entire build build build develop develop and then develop even more majority in the CC ran as residentialists.

37 people like this
Posted by Stew Pid
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 24, 2018 at 3:18 pm

PAUSD School Board Financial Strategy:

1. Ask voters to approve bond measure to support classroom aides, art programs, etc.
2. Give away more $ to teacher's union than you have coming in via property taxes.
3. Cut classroom aides, art programs, etc.
4. Declare fiscal deficit, need for more funds.
4. Rinse, repeat.

28 people like this
Posted by CeCi Kettendorf
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 24, 2018 at 4:58 pm

The City Council needs to press the pause button on ALL GROWTH, housing or office, precisely BECAUSE of the financial crisis within our school district.
Six school sites were sold off in the late 70's, gone forever.(Did no one on the school board then consider that the Baby Boomers had not yet begun to reproduce?) Worse, school enrollment is now that at the height of the Baby Boom. Worst of all, school enrollment will continue to expand at a frightening rate as growth brings more families.
School sites are truly crowded. If you examine the 1952 map of Palo Alto school sites, you will see that the playgrounds have shrunken as buildings and portables were added. (Fairmeadow Elementary, as an example, has Bessie Bolton Center, Jackson Hearing Center and Redwood Enrichment Center on land designed as playground.) Where do the children play?
If Mayor Kniss and CC and PAF are truly advocating for a diverse community balanced with families and children as well as workers, they would address the growing need for adequate, uncrowded, well maintained schools. They should problem solve for the children of Palo Alto, before speaking for the outsiders who want to live here.

I am fully aware that the PAUSD is separate from the city. Still, city planners are expected to plan for schools, something which hasn't happened in Palo Alto since 1952. The City and the PAUSD, in the past anyway, related to one another as if they are divorced spouses who are still angry. They need to make up to solve this problem.
So BEFORE we build yet more housing and offices, City Council needs to step back, partner with the PAUSD to find remedy. (Why hasn't PAF screamed for the schools while screaming for housing? Housing begets children who need an education. Why does PAF retreat in dread silence? )
When my kids were in school the voters always approved every bond measure because we had little choice and it was recognized by everyone, parent or not, that the schools drove property values during those years. It is all very different now, no?

21 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 24, 2018 at 6:11 pm

Please vote No on this bond proposal, when it appears on the ballet (for it surely will, at some point).
The tax and spend mentality knows nombounds here - it is excessive.

This is one of the wealthiest school,districts, yet in my opinion, their choices are irresponsible. I hold out the fond hope they will prioritize the basics and PLAN within budget and save for eventual obvious necessities such as new school roofs, but they prefer to focus on salaries, benefits, pensions and the roofs are then an issue - extras requiring a new charge on our already sky high property taxes.
Learn to live within a reasonable budget like most of the rest of us. We’re not all the (locally known) billionaires.

16 people like this
Posted by Parent2
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 24, 2018 at 7:04 pm

The other problem this time around is that local families already squeezed by the Trump tax increases on middle income Californians will be double hit by this now that they can no longer deduct their property taxes. Since the media never take a sober look at the actual circumstances of how people live here, and the LWV locally act like Stephen Levy zombies, it’s likely to result in some families quietly forced out of their homes and schools, ironically, since seniors who don’t have to pay it themselves (or are as a group better off financially if they do) love to approve these things.

24 people like this
Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 24, 2018 at 7:35 pm

Samuel L. is a registered user.

$1B over 20 years is $50M/year! Golton just said at the board meeting that this will not "complete the schools" but is the next step. At what point are the schools "complete" if not after $1.5B over 30 years?

15 people like this
Posted by laird
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 25, 2018 at 10:25 am

When can we get rid of Golton and the complacent architecture firm, Gelfand Partners, he tows around with him to do mediocre work in every school project?? Start using rfp’s if you are going to build more!

16 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 25, 2018 at 10:47 am

Annette is a registered user.

Presumably the PAUSD encouraged this article as a sort of trial balloon to gauge support for a bond measure before spending money on a bond campaign. Unfortunately for the PAUSD, timing matters. The current School Board is awash in controversy. Better for this sort of request to come from a position of strength when the community is feeling positive about the Board's judgments, analytical prowess, and decisions.

3 people like this
Posted by BP
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 26, 2018 at 1:46 pm

Does anyone know what is the operating expenses of the Los Altos, Mountain View, and Cupertino school systems, on a cost per child basis, compared to Palo Alto?

Seems the school board in mirroring the City of Palo Alto's financial philosophy.

2 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 26, 2018 at 3:16 pm

School bonds regarding construction have a major problem as shown in the Alum Rock School District - Santa Clara County. A number of school districts have signed construction contracts to a organization in SOCAL - City of Commerce. All of which have been fleeced and are suing for lack of performance. This plays out weekly in the news. How is it that so many school districts have signed up with this organization when they have a terrible track record? Who directs the award of the contracts? Is this a Sacramento job? I think we know how that works out - Sacramento is losing credibility on the accountability of finances and overall administration of school district bond funds.

Before anyone puts this on the ballot for a vote then they have to include a description of how this will be awarded and managed. It amazes me that the Attorney General for the state has not interjected himself into this mess since he is located in the SOCAL vicinity. And a candidate for office for governor who is in that congressional location to oversee how taxpayer funded efforts in the state are managed?

8 people like this
Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 26, 2018 at 4:39 pm

Samuel L. is a registered user.

Looking at spending per pupil is a double-edged sword. The school district/PTA likes to pull that out to show that PAUSD pays less than comparable districts back east. The easy way to increase that number is to increase spending (or find a way to eliminate students!).

Palo Alto teachers are paid very well, as are the administrators

According to
Web Link

PAUSD per pupil spending for 2017-17 was $19.5K. That seems high compared to what's been reported, I think.
MVLAHS (only high schools) per pupil spending was $19.6K
Cupertion Union (no high schools) was $10.1K
Fremont HS District (Monta Vista, Fremont, Cupertino, Lynbrook and Homestead) was $13.7K

Also, different schools use different methods. Some include capital expenditures and debt, some don't. This data is possibly the best apples to apples comparison as it all comes from the same source. You can also see how much comes from Certificated, Classified, Benefits, Books and supplies.

A few things stand out. Over the four year period from 2012-13 through 2016-17 enrollment was essentially flat, actually down about 100 students. However Certificated salaries have increased by 31%, Classified salaries up 34% and employee benefits are up 58%.

Numbers are probably similar, however, to other local districts.

PAUSD has money, plenty of it. They'll continue to use fear tactics and claim poverty to get bonds passed. They want us to think that we need pretty buildings, fancy desks and shiny new gyms in order to do well. Mostly, what it does is gives people a reason to feel better about themselves than others.

7 people like this
Posted by jerry99
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 30, 2018 at 7:57 am

We have been paying for the last "major improvement in PA schools" for 10 years" With that coming to an end the administrators and City Council are salivating and rubbing their hands together at the thought of more money for another 10 to 20 years on endless unnecessary and non-critical projects.There is always an excuse to spend money.

Enough is enough. NO MORE TAXES

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