After months of contentious negotiations, Stanford University and the Palo Alto Unified School District are on the verge of approving an agreement that requires the university to contribute more than $120 million in funding for new district students as part of its ambitious expansion plan.
The agreement, which the school district announced on Monday and which the Board of Education is scheduled to discuss at a special meeting on Tuesday night and approve on April 23, represents a significant concession from Stanford to the school district, which has been lobbying for months for the university to contribute funding and potentially a school site as part of its plan to add 2.275 million square feet of academic space, 3,150 housing units, 40,000 square feet of child care facilities and other support space by 2035. It also effectively removes what has been one of the biggest barriers to the Stanford application.
Under the agreement, Stanford would pay the school district $5,800 for each new student enrolled in the district who lives in tax-exempt housing on the Stanford campus or elsewhere if the housing satisfies the conditions of the general use permit. The number of students will be counted based on the baseline of students who are enrolled in district schools and who live in tax-exempt housing on the Stanford campus as of the 2019-2020 school year, according to a report from district Superintendent Don Austin.
The 40-year funding agreement also includes a 2% annual increase in the per-pupil rate to account for inflation during the first 20 years, followed by a 2% decline from years 21 to 40, up to a minimum of $5,800.
Austin estimated that the agreement will provide $121.9 million in operational support for the district over the length of the agreement, which assumes a growth of 275 students in the fourth year and a total of 500 after 10 years and beyond, according to Austin's report. He noted that the exact number of students is impossible to determine because Santa Clara County staff is still considering the appropriate number of housing units that should be included in the general use permit.
According to the university, the payment will satisfy the county requirement that Stanford pay school-impact fees as part of its expansion application.
While the tentative agreement does not require Stanford to construct a new school, as the school board has initially requested, it does call for the university to provide $15 million for construction of an "innovative space" that will be shared by the university and the district. The new building will be on a school district site, according to Stanford, and will be used "for a variety of purposes designed to add value for PAUSD students."
Stanford also agreed to contribute $500,000 to the city's Safe Routes to School Program, which focuses on transportation improvements such as bike lanes and pedestrian paths at school-commute routes.
If approved, the agreement marks a dramatic turnaround in a process that has long been mired by disagreements over Stanford's obligations to the school district. Members of the school board and parent volunteers have consistently called for the university to "fully mitigate" the impacts of its expansion – requests that dominated recent public hearings on the university's expansion.
The negotiations gained some momentum last month, with both sides recommitting to an amicable agreement. At a March 15 rally in front of City Hall, Austin called the university "a partner to the school district" and a "valued resource." He expressed optimism about the school district's renewed negotiations with Stanford and noted that he wants to serve as many of Stanford's families as it can.
"We just want to make sure that when there's an impact, that they do their part to mitigate it. That's all we're asking for," Austin said.
According to Stanford, the new agreement was reached over a two-day period of "positive and collaborative discussion." A facilitator helped both parties "identify their priorities and focus on the many shared interests of the school district and university," Stanford stated in a news release.
In a Monday statement announcing the agreement, Austin thanked Stanford University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and the university's team for "their desire to preserve our excellent public-school system in Palo Alto."
"The conditional agreement should serve as a model of what is possible when groups take the time to understand each other and commit to finding mutually-agreeable resolutions," Austin said in the statement. "Beyond the finances of the proposed agreement, PAUSD is excited about the possibility of partnering with Stanford in ways that will benefit all students."
The tentative agreement stops short of what the board sought in its November 2018 resolution, which in addition to annual per-pupil payments and construction contributions, called for Stanford to set aside a parcel of 4 acres or greater on its own property near Sand Hill and Quarry roads. The parcel would be used to build a neighborhood elementary school primarily to serve the families of Stanford affiliates who live in university housing.
Tessier-Levigne thanked Austin and board staff for their role in the negotiations and cited Stanford and the school district's "deep history of partnership in pursuit of providing an excellent education for our students."
"Many of our prior interactions have occurred in an organic fashion," Tessier-Levigne said in the statement. "This agreement makes our engagement more systematic and organized, helping increase its impact for the benefit of students."
Under the agreement, the school district will not oppose Stanford's expansion plan and will not pursue any lawsuits related to the GUP application and associated county approvals, which could include a first-of-its-kind development agreement between the county and Stanford. The university and the county are now negotiating the development agreement, with Supervisors Joe Simitian and Cindy Chavez leading the talks from the county side.
School mitigations were expected to be a major component of the development agreement. The deal between Stanford and the district effectively takes the issue off the table.
According to a school district report, the district must also under the deal "make every effort to accommodate students living in housing generated by the GUP at Nixon and Escondido Elementary School." Stanford will contribute up to $1 million toward facility expansion or materials expenses generated by this accommodation.
Stanford and the school district will also hold discussions three years before the GUP expires to explore the possibility of a new school along Sand Hill Road. These discussions, according to the school district, may involve an exchange of land, location, timing and other factors. Representatives from the two sides will also meet annually to discuss the agreement's implementation and other collaboration opportunities.
The Palo Alto school board will hold a special meeting on the tentative agreement on Tuesday from 6-8 p.m. at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave. View the full agenda here.