Letters to the Editor
Publication Date: Wednesday May 31, 1995

Letters to the Editor

Based on sound analysis


On June 6 I will vote yes on Measure B to invest in Palo Alto's schools. By the time much of the funds are spent my children will have graduated from Paly. Nancy and I will follow the model of our parents and other Americans who invest not for themselves but for future generations.

I served on the planning committee that led to the Measure B proposals. I know that the case for Measure B is based on sound analysis.

Beyond the repairs that must be made, our schools need remodeling to use the latest technology and the best teaching methods. For example, teaching is best done sometimes with much larger classes (to see video lectures of world-famous teachers) and sometimes with a much smaller teaching setting. Current schools don't have the flexibility in classroom configuration.

Combining repair and remodeling is efficient. Measure B is a cost-effective approach to meeting two very different needs.

I hope Palo Altans who do not have children in school will join me and vote yes on June 6. Long-term investments cannot be made without the support of people who contribute for the common good.

As a professional economist I know that great schools are a major reason why Palo Alto property values are higher than in neighboring communities. However, maintaining high property values is not what will motivate my vote on June 6.

There is a great debate in America today about what family values mean. Yet all agree on the value to families of investing in children. Building for future generations is a great American tradition. We bind ourselves together across generations with a shared vision of the common good.

On June 6 Palo Altans can join with Americans in other places and other times in continuing the legacy of investing for the future.

Stephen Levy
Edgewood Drive
Palo Alto

Why I'm not voting for B


As one who places great value on the education of future generations as well as sensible funding initiative, I urge that we defeat Measure B and go back to the drawing board before we set in motion a process we will regret.

I applaud the effort. I support the goal. But I disagree with the proposed solution.

Passage of Measure B will raise our taxes and keep on raising them as property values increase. Combine higher property taxes with ordinary inflation and greater demand for single-family dwellings and you get higher real estate prices (valuations). On average, every additional $100,000 of assessed valuation will cost us another $63 per year for 35 years.

But the improvements and new construction may not last 35 years. We may need another extraordinary assessment in, say, 25 years--10 years before we have the first mortgage of $143 million paid off. Our children and their children will have a hard time ever affording a home in their childhood neighborhood. Isn't Measure B simply mortgaging our children's future again?

If we choose to reach for our wallets and throw money at this problem instead of looking for more creative solutions such as sweat equity contributions, what message are we sending to our children? Get more money from the taxpayers and once again everything will be OK for a while?

We can do much better than this.

We have overlooked those with the biggest stake in the outcome--our students--as partners in bringing down the price of this project. What could we save by using adviser contractors to show our students how to lay foundations and frame new buildings? Let's make this a learning opportunity. Give teens a sweat equity stake in the project. It might save them the cost of learning construction skills later at the local owner-builder schools where some of us pay significant fees to learn how to apply drywall and frame doors.

For maintenance, look to certain Japanese schools for best-practice examples. There students are required to spend part of every day cleaning and maintaining classrooms, lavatories and other facilities. Because they invest time and energy, they value educational facilities more and maintain them better. There is no graffiti or malicious damage.

I am not convinced that those who conceived Measure B properly considered the far-reaching financial impact. I am convinced that they can come up with a more resourceful and better-financed solution if they stop and think instead of rush to promote.

The arguments for Measure B are sounding a lot like the arguments for the lottery.

Ronald D. Albrecht
Loma Verde Avenue
Palo Alto

Financial strain showing


Since I moved to Palo Alto in 1956, the Palo Alto Unified School District has consistently maintained an educational program that is one of the finest in the country. All of us who reside within that district have benefited from the high quality of teachers, administrators and board members. Their work has been remarkable when one considers the financial challenges they have faced.

However, when I walk through Palo Alto High School or Jordan Middle School or any of the other school district buildings, I am acutely aware that over the last 40 years the physical plant has deteriorated. The financial strain that the district has faced shows in worn-out buildings and long-deferred maintenance. At this point, it is obvious to any thoughtful observer that the time is far past for us to bring our school physical facilities up to date. Measure B offers us that opportunity. I applaud those who have worked to bring it about.

We all know that our homes carry a premium value over surrounding communities. The market for Palo Alto residential real estate has been substantially enhanced and supported by the quality of our schools. I believe the "school factor" supersedes the importance of all other amenities available to Palo Alto residents when home value is considered. If for no other reason, every Palo Alto property owner should vote for Measure B to preserve the worth of their own home. Should the measure be defeated, the depreciation of our residential real estate over time would be far greater than the corresponding additional taxes brought about by the passage of B.

Vote for Measure B! Our children win, our families win, our community wins and each homeowner makes a wise investment in their own financial future.

Boyd C. Smith
Coleridge Avenue
Palo Alto

Signing a blank check


I am the author of the ballot arguments against Measure B, the $143 million bond measure in the Palo Alto Unified School District.

There are many objections to the measure. Chief among them is that the school district is asking voters to sign a "blank check" with regard to the particular real estate to be purchased and facilities to be built.

The district is top-heavy with administrators yet cannot seem to even balance its annual budget.

This bond measure could have been placed on the ballot last November. Instead, the district has called a costly "special" election June 6 in a transparent attempt to get a low voter turnout dominated by supporters.

I only ask that voters read the ballot arguments thoroughly and vote on June 6. Don't let a small minority of voters impose 30 years of higher property taxes on everyone else.

Karen Purvis
Terman Drive
Palo Alto

Protect your investment


In the special election notice concerning school-improvement bonds, there were arguments in favor of and opposed to the measure. A Ms. Karen Purvis condemns this "invitation to waste" as a "blank check," with the school board "completely free to change plans and use the money for any property acquisition or construction projects it might later choose."

The implication, of course, is that the agency most concerned about the quality of the school system is the organization most likely to misuse the funds. But if the school board is not qualified to administer these funds, who is?

This sort of reasoning would mean that no funds could ever be given to any government agency anywhere if that agency were normally in charge of administering the funds; governments and government agencies are not to be trusted.

Would Ms. Purvis and others with the same mind-set suggest that funds be administered by private citizens with absolutely no governmental connections or experience? Or, perhaps, would they hold that no funds be granted to any organization, especially if it's public?

Yes, I can understand Ms. Purvis's concern with her money and her investment. To her I should whisper, "Ms. Purvis, the reason that Palo Alto property values have increased in the last several years, while elsewhere the real estate market has been soft, is primarily because of the reputation of the Palo Alto schools. Isn't that protecting your investment?

"And, just by the way, your kids and all the kids in--and who will enter--Palo Alto schools are going to benefit, too."

Sam Bernstein
Kipling Street
Palo Alto

Politically incorrect


Measure B addresses two things that are not politically correct in the mid-'90s: bigger government and deficit spending.

Palo Alto's Measure B seeks authority to deficit-spend $143 million, ostensibly to renovate schools (do we believe them?).

If passed, it guarantees another $143 million in deficit spending.

Why should government have to live within its financial means?

Residents of Palo Alto want to pay another $200-$1,000 property tax?

What happened to the Lotto windfall? Lotto officials keep it and call it salary, benefits, etc.

What happened to Palo Alto's utility tax for education? The school board gave its employees raises with that money.

If you're a Palo Alto voter and you feel compelled to vote for Measure B because of the children, please look beyond the facade and consider the broader implication of your vote. Thank you.

Dave Alden
Park Boulevard
Palo Alto

A fitting tribute


Much attention has rightly been given in the news recently to the efforts of those who helped the United States and its allies win World War II 50 years ago.

It is worth noting that from that same generation were the men and women who came to Palo Alto after the war, built new homes, raised their families and provided the vision and leadership that built the schools that we enjoy and benefit from today.

Many from that remarkable generation continue to live in this community, enjoying the benefits of their work, investment and community service. It is to be hoped that these citizens will, in the coming school election, want to continue to preserve, restore and improve those schools they once built.

My main thought is that those of us who have come of age during the five decades since that war would do well to follow the example of those we have been honoring of late. Not to build tanks or march off to war. But just as our elders had to stretch to tax themselves back in the '50s and '60s, now it's our turn to look beyond our own personal issues and act for the greater good--both for today's generation and the next.

A resounding "yes" vote on June 6 would be a fitting tribute to the service and sacrifice of those who have gone before us.

Daniel A. Logan
Charleston Avenue
Palo Alto

Leaky kindergarten


I'm a kindergarten teacher at L.M. Nixon Elementary in Palo Alto and am writing to urge voters to support Measure B in the June election. I'd like to list a few of the structural and mechanical problems we have at Nixon and describe how these have affected the children.

Our heating system makes so much noise in the classrooms that the children often cannot hear the teachers. This same noisy system spews hot air into the classrooms in the summer and cold air in the winter. The children have had to wear coats in the classrooms in the winter.

Nixon was built when it was fashionable to use tinted glass in the windows and when "less was more" so that we have very few windows. When the lights are out, we have to use flashlights to see. This is a problem during brown-outs, which we have with some frequency. This caused a major problem in my classroom when it rained, since I had a leak which splashed onto a light. We had to turn off the lights for safety reasons when it rained heavily. There were four days this year I had to teach in the dark, since the patches in the roof didn't initially solve the leak problem. True, the kindergartners did enjoy the long story times, but our writing and math programs suffered!

We have a major drainage problem all around the school, and the kindergartens were seriously effected this year. Because of the spill-off from the roof into areas that are not properly drained, water formed pools near classrooms. This winter two of the kindergarten classrooms flooded so severely that they were unusable for two days. One teacher used the hallway for her class, another split his class, putting half in a first-grade room and half in my kindergarten. Because of the flooding, I had 35 5-year-olds in my room one morning. The kindergartners loved seeing their friends, but again, the academic program was affected.

I have been phoning voters for the school district and wish to thank all of the wonderful supporters who have been so gracious during our conversations. I strongly urge you to get out and vote in June. The children truly are counting on you!

Joan Phelan
Kindergarten teacher,
L.M. Nixon School
College Avenue
Palo Alto

Valuing education


On June 6 Palo Alto will be voting on Measure B, which will allow the Palo Alto Unified School District to issue bonds for $143 million to improve, upgrade and renovate school buildings. Some voters may be confused if they don't have children currently attending the public schools why these funds are necessary. Since the district is a "basic aid-funded" district, meaning that the local property tax collections exceed the state's maximum per-student entitlement for spending, some groups have questioned the Board of Education's ability to manage already generous funds.

It is true that the district receives around $1,500 more per student than other non-basic aid districts. If we are to compare this to the state funds earmarked for each student, this difference could be substantial. When we consider the fact that California's school financial ranking has dropped from 22nd to 40th since 1978, and compare our per student spending in Palo Alto of $6,800 to Princeton, N.J. at $10,700, we have a bigger perspective to form an opinion. Although Palo Alto schools may be leaders in California, they struggle to be leaders in the nation.

As PTA co-president of one of Palo Alto's elementary schools this year I have had personal experience observing the pressures placed on school administrators and teachers by the business community and parents to prepare students for proficiency in a global community. These pressures have forced school PTAs to raise upwards of $60,000 (at some individual district schools) for supplementing or continuing programs our "wealthy" district was forced to cut from the classroom.

It has puzzled parents that the state doesn't value education as a higher priority, spending $20,000 each year for a convicted prisoner versus $5,000 on a student enrolled in a public school. The bond presented to the state voters in 1994 to provide $1 billion of funds for upgrading all state school buildings should have passed, eliminating the need for our local measure.

We must pass Measure B. Our schools need upgraded wiring and electrical systems to assist teaching the ever-expanding technology students are expected to master by graduation in preparation for securing employment. Overcrowded classrooms need to be enlarged so computers, CD-ROMs, TVs and VCRs can be relocated from hallways into the teaching environment. Science labs and general renovation including earthquake, flood and fire upgrades are included in the school districts' plans for providing a safe and healthy school building for students. Palo Alto must say yes to our school infrastructure, and we as community members must be willing to pay our share to see this vision materialize.

Nancy Shepherd
Madrono Avenue
Palo Alto

Challenges must be met


I am writing to urge your readers to vote yes on Measure B. I served on the Board of Education of the Palo Alto Unified School District from 1973 to 1978. Even then we were unable to adequately provide for the physical facilities in the district. We were forced time and again to make difficult decisions about where to make cuts while striving to retain the quality of education for which the district is well-known.

The people who are currently serving on the Board of Education and in the district administration continue to face difficult choices. From my terms in the state Senate and as vice chair of the Senate Education Committee, I know that as a "basic aid" district, Palo Alto receives almost no help. The district's physical plant is aging and badly in need of upgrading. Modern technology demands new facilities and infrastructure. The challenges must be met.

I applaud the district's efforts to remain in the forefront of elementary and secondary education. I urge district residents to support Measure B on June 6.

Becky Morgan
La Cresta Drive
Los Altos Hills

Hoover's lost momentum


I am writing in response to Don Kazak's article titled "The man in the think tank" (Weekly, May 10). This is a perfect example of why you shouldn't believe much of what you read in a newspaper. It was made even less believable when the author quoted Donald Kennedy, the failed president of Stanford, as an expert on joint appointments. If Don Kazak had had the courtesy to call me, I would have shared a few facts with him such as the following.

If one was to go back to academic year 1978-'79 when my colleagues and I raised $12.5 million, Raisian and your interviewer would find out that, in real terms, this is probably greater than the amount he raised in the last five years. (These amounts totalled about $8 million per year for the first two years since I ceased to be director on Sept. 1, 1989, $6 million in the next two years, and $5.7 million in 1993-'94.) In real terms, the latter amount is probably the lowest raised in the last 25 years. If John Raisian had continued the momentum in fund raising that he inherited, the endowment would have been about $200 million instead of the $140 million at the end of the 1993-'94 fiscal year.

The senior fellows who have opted for retirement are getting as much as $250,000 in university funds plus $100,000 in Hoover funds for travel, secretarial support and other expenses.

For the fiscal year 1994-'95, development expenditures are projected at $933,000, or 5 percent, and administration expenditure projected at $1.2 million, or 7 percent, making a total of $2.1 million, or 12 percent of total outlays. If gifts for 1994-'95 reach $8 million instead of the $5.7 million that was raised in 1993-'94, this will still mean that over one-quarter of the gift total will be spent for an ever-growing bureaucracy in fund raising and administration.

One thing John Raisian cannot deny is that he is building a large bureaucracy, irrespective of whether it is productive or not!

The factual story of the building of the Hoover Institution will be found in my almost completed manuscript titled "Better than Farming: My Life at Harvard, Hoover, Washington Think Tanks and in Public Service."

W. Glenn Campbell
Director emeritus,
Hoover Institution
Serra Street

Bring back big bands


This 73-year-old has derived immense enjoyment listening to KCEA. When I tuned in recently and found that the station was no longer transmitting the music that my generation enjoys, my first reaction was that something had happened to Frank Spinetta.

Elizabeth Darlings excellent article (Weekly, May 17) clarified what had happened. Hopefully Frank's action was not motivated by personal gain and he will be cleared of the accusations.

In the meantime, KCEA, we miss you and want you back on the air ASAP.

Henry K. Brodersen
Forest Avenue
Palo Alto

Our community property


Right on, Debbie Mytels! I heartily endorse your indignation about the planned demolition of Arastra House (Weekly, May 17). What a waste!

Two or three times a month our group of senior walkers passes the house--we always bemoan its impending destruction.

A handful of privileged folks should not be able to buffalo the City Council into destroying a valuable resource. The proposal you cite by Bay Area Action to save the house should satisfy even the most irascible neighbors.

I'm sorry I didn't voice my thoughts earlier; thank you, Debbie Mytels, for your articulate defense of our community property.

Don Kobrin
Greer Road
Palo Alto

Misuse of statistics


Bill Evers (Letters, May 17) reported findings of a Palo Alto parent survey about the district's math curriculum (Weekly, May 26). As a parent member of the subcommittee that conducted the survey, I was troubled to see Mr. Evers' distortion of survey results to bolster his own opinion. Evers is not a member of the committee and apparently obtained our data summary before it was presented to the School Board on May 23. The survey targeted 432 parents of a random sample of K-12 students in the district: 199 or 46 percent responded.

In his letter to the Weekly, Mr. Evers reported "three important findings" from the parent survey that lead him to an "inescapable" conclusion. His conclusion is that the Palo Alto School District should create two math programs with different modes of instruction--one using direct instruction of facts and the other promoting an active student role in problem-solving, derisively dubbed the "new-new math." In fairness to the parents whose opinions he uses, I would like to point out inaccuracies and faulty logic in Evers' use of our committee's survey data.

First, Evers stated that "over 50 percent of parents want to start laning in the sixth grade or earlier." However, this result comes mainly from elementary school parents. Among middle school parents, where laning currently begins in the seventh grade, only 29 percent would start laning by sixth grade and 35 percent would prefer to postpone laning until eighth grade or later. Furthermore, what does parent disagreement about laning have to do with the proposed split in methods of teaching? Why didn't Evers conclude instead that the district should offer choice between a program in which laning begins in elementary grades and another program in which laning begins in eighth or ninth grades?

Second, Evers claimed that "parents are sufficiently discontented with the district's math performance that in massive numbers they are resorting to outside math tutoring programs." However, the 48 percent figure Evers reports includes help parents give their children on math homework; the figure is just under 25 percent for outside programs or tutors ever used in the child's school career. Further, only 19 percent of this group said that "changes in the math program" were a reason for seeking extra help (this computes to 9 percent of all parents surveyed, a far cry from Evers' 48 percent!). Most parents providing help said that they did so because their child was "struggling" in math (52 percent). A more reasonable interpretation of Palo Alto parents' enormous investment in math education ($1 million a year, Evers says) is their concern that their children do well in a highly competitive system--not because of any changes in the way math is being taught. Why not conclude that the district should devote more class time to mathematics and provide more tutoring in math?

Third, Evers stated that "50 percent of parents with children at Palo Alto's middle schools . . . are deeply dissatisfied with the amount of math facts and techniques their children are learning." This grossly exaggerates the data. While 44 percent of the 52 middle school parents were negative on the survey question about math facts and techniques, only 21 percent reported a "strong" opinion--a response which might warrant Evers' label "deeply dissatisfied." Why not conclude that more balance should be sought between math facts and and problem-solving, as the District Advisory Committee recommended to the School Board on May 23?

Evers called his proposal to split the math curriculum into two distinct modes of instruction an "inescapable" conclusion from the parent survey findings. However, if anything, parent opinions argue against such a dichotomy. Especially relevant are facts Evers chose not to report. For one, the area of greatest satisfaction among middle school parents is "the way mathematics is taught" (56 percent positive). Also, a majority (53 percent) feel that their child is "learning to think mathematically and to apply math to real-world problems"--a goal of the math program which Evers pits against the facts-and-techniques goal. Why would parents unhappy with the amount of math facts and techniques their child is learning choose to give up aspects of the program they are most satisfied with?

The parents polled in our survey were not given the chance to react to Bill Evers' proposal for two specialized math programs. Probably most would be unhappy to learn that he misconstrued their opinions to bolster his own.

You can receive a complete summary of the parent survey results by writing to the Superintendent's Advisory Committee on Curriculum, 25 Churchill Ave., Palo Alto, CA 94306.

Joan Talbert
Alvarado Row

Keep rent control local


A bill, SB 1257 (Costa), presently before the state legislature (Weekly, May 26), will take rent control from the hands of local government and prohibit cities and counties from acting in their own best interest.

More than 100 communities in California have seen the necessity of some form of rent control program for their communities. If SB 1257 becomes law, those programs will be negated and no local entity will be allowed to enact any form of rent control.

In conforming with national interests of reducing big government, SB 1257 seems to do the opposite. It is erroneous to think that distant state legislators know what is best for individual communities with their own government to solve local problems.

East Palo Alto has had rent control since its inception 12 years ago; the issue has been voted on three or four times since, each time being upheld by the local citizenry. Previous legislators authorized local autonomy over rent control. It is a local issue, to be decided by local governmental bodies and their constituents.

Chet Smith
East Bayshore Road
East Palo Alto

Modest tax increase


Why should I vote yes on measure B? My children are all grown, I hate to pay taxes. What will the proposed school bonds do for me? Why should I pay more taxes?

A purely selfish reason to vote yes is to increase the resale value of my home. The strong demand for homes in Palo Alto is due in large part to the excellent reputation of our schools. We must continue to earn that reputation.

We can debate the virtue of this measure versus any other proposed solution. But the fact remains that defeat of this election would send a clear signal to area newcomers that Palo Alto voters did not support their schools.

Secondly, the passage of Proposition 13 caused my real estate taxes to go down, and they have increased very little in the years since then. I know from personal experience that property taxes in Oregon are at least three or four times as high as they are here. I think we can all afford this modest increase for the value we will receive.

I urge everyone to vote yes on B.

Dick Abbott
Melville Avenue
Palo Alto

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