At their first meeting Sept. 10, the approximately 25 – 30 members of the new Facilities Master Plan Advisory Committee were issued a one-inch binder, got a 90 minute lecture, and were assigned a homework sheet to turn in before their next meeting on Wednesday the 24th. Superintendent Jeff Baier, Asst. Superintendent Randy Kenyon, and Bond Program Manager Hodges worked hard to bring the new members up to speed on the bond effort. The members were seated at tables arranged in a giant square.
Two Sites > One Site > Maybe No sites
The group saw slides based on the Enrollment Growth Task Force Report (May 24, 2013) which documented the “growth problem” and recommended TWO NEW SITES as a cure. Then the group was told that this spring the Facilities Advisory Committee in its June 15, 2014 report — because of cost — recommended ONE NEW SITE plus improvements to existing campuses. Specifically it suggested $50M for ONE NEW SITE and $158M for improvements to existing campuses, even though only 2 of the report’s “8 new school scenarios” were as cheap as $50M. ( Most of the 16 members of FAC are now on the new Facilities Master Plan Advisory Committee.)
Specifically the FAC suggested $50M for ONE NEW SITE and $158M for improvements to existing campuses. The LASD trustees say no new sites is possible, but not preferred.
The trustees have heard from the bond political consultant that the ballot language should not be very specific. Promises can lead to lawsuits; just stay with some categories and prioritize those somewhat. It is not necessary to say, “$200,000 of roof insulation will be installed at Almond, $300,000 of roof insulation at Blach, $200,000 of skylights at Santa Rita, etc.” Rather just say, “Energy efficiency improvements will be made to existing buildings as needed.”
In response to this advice July 7, the trustees realized they needed a “Facilities Master Plan” pronto. Thereafter the architect had a whirlwind of brainstorming meetings with all the schools, and the FAC committee. Now there is a Draft Facilities Master Plan dated September 2, 2014. The earlier FAC report, Exhibit A-1, put the cost of these desirable improvements to existing campuses at $189M. The FAC, when it was asked to prioritize, got the $189M down to $158M. See graphic below.
Forming the FMPAC group – the more the merrier
It was only weeks ago that the bond consultant recommended that the board continue the FAC group and expand the membership of the FAC. Originally it was 16 members: LASD staff, teachers, parents including one charter parent. The new expanded FAC – the FMPAC – was to expand to include members for each city, for community organizations, etc. (Actually it turns out the FMPAC would take anyone who applied, EXCEPT former city council and school board members. Matt Pear of Mountain View was nixed.) The application period was really short or there might have been many more participants. An article in the Town Crier issued on a Tuesday said the application due date was “this Wednesday.”
And as Mark Goines described it in a recent board meeting, “The 1998 bond project advisory committee had a committee of 40. The more the merrier.”
First FMPAC Meeting – Surprise – New site solutions is not your job
Most members seemed surprised to learn from the Baier-Kenyon-Hodges triumvirate that they would not be weighing in on solutions for Priority 1 – accommodating enrollment growth, new campuses. Instead their job was to prioritize all the OTHER types of project spending. In other words, they were to rank spending on existing campuses as outlined in the draft Facilities Master Plan. And right now they would be prioritizing “categories” of spending, not really projects at existing schools (excluding the charter). Furthermore, they were in a hurry. The final consensus ranking by the group was due end of meeting Wednesday, Sept. 24. Why the hurry? This ranking of the Measure N Project List would be included in the ballot which gets mailed starting Oct. 1.
Questions About the Homework Assignment – Projects at Existing Campuses
Question: How can I prioritize these projects without knowing what it costs to do this category? Answer: We’ll work on that.
Question: The board recently voted for Full-day kindergarten and Transitional Kindergarten (TK). How many students will this add to each campus? [How many classrooms of policy-driven enrollment growth is this? ] Answer: When fully implemented, this will be 300 students in District-run schools. It is anticipated that providing TK will become mandatory for all school districts by state law.
[Lalahpolitico: Here are the K facts from board meetings this year. Switching from half-day kindergarten to full-day is a choice our trustees made earlier this year; it is not state mandated to supply it. Doing so entails doubling the K teachers and doubling the K rooms. With half-day K, a K class room can be used in the morning for Class 1 and in the afternoon for Class 2 – double duty. Some 5th and 6th graders at each district school will move into portables this 2014-2015 year in order to accommodate the wee ones in existing built classrooms. We aren’t going to put the wee ones in portables. Some of the Measure N bond money could be used to double the K outdoor play space.]
Question: Is it possible to have private donors sponsor certain buildings, like with a plaque and with naming rights.? Answer: No, this type of funding was considered but is viewed as “privatization.”
Bottoms-up projects analysis should have been first
Lalahpolitic0: Basically, with the group ranking exercises of the first two meetings, the FAMPC is helping to market the bond to the community! Did they know that? After that chore their meetings are supposed to continue for six more meetings, so they may actually get down to the the school project level detail after Oct. 1. Obviously, it would have been more proper to do a bottoms-up analysis of 100 plus school projects, and ONLY THEN to follow with the BROAD CATEGORIES RANKING they are doing this week! When the group does a bottoms-up analysis, they are supposed to try to bring up campuses that have been stinted to “parity”. The cart is before the horse.
Trustees Own Priority No 1 – Accommodating Enrollment Growth
The trustees have decided there has been enough talk about the oodles of speculative options for new sites and their costs. This language below is ALL you are going to get from the trustees before the Measure N bond election about the FACILITIES SOLUTION for North of El Camino growth and Charter growth. [Source: LASD Presentation to the FMPAC Sept. 10].
Preferred Option for Accommodating Enrollment Growth: ACQUIRE ONE NEW SITE AND Expand capacity at exisiting campus (either by moving 6th grade to junior highs OR by expanding capacity at elementary schools.
Non-preferred Option for Accommodating Enrollment Growth: IF unable to acquire new site for whatever reason, THEN we must USE OUR EXISTING CAMPUSES [as land assets].
LALAHPOLITICO: NO HOPE FOR MORE SPECIFICS ON PRIORITY ONE. If you are expecting or hoping for more specificity in the ballot or the “education information” running up to the bond election about the ONE SITE SOLUTION, just forget about it. Measure N will promise to TRY TO acquire land for ONE NEW SITE which might be either… k-2, k-5, k-6, k-8, neighborhood, magnet, charter, in either Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, or Mountain View. IF they can’t get more land, then they will do some other things to accommodate growth by using land at existing campuses [more intensively].
Measure N will promise to TRY TO acquire land for ONE NEW SITE which might be either… k-2, k-5, k-6, k-8, neighborhood, magnet, charter, in either Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, or Mountain View.
As Tamara Logan claims and the rest of the board agrees, ” It is much easier to acquire land when you have a check in hand. We need the bond to pass before we can make a deal for a specific site.” Since 2009, there have been many site shopping efforts. There is a formal site committee; there have been several ad hoc groups. At least 27 sites — private and public in Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Mountain View — have been investigated for their pros and cons for use as some kind of a school: k-2, k-5, k-6, k-8, neighborhood, magnet, charter. Some of the properties are “not for sale” and would entail eminent domain. Since 2009, some of the properties are sold.
Trustees say “when you have a check in hand, it is easier to acquire a site.” Lalahpolitico is no Commercial Real Estate Maven, but there is such a thing as an “option to buy,” and many other deal structures…
LALAHPOLITICO: SITE SHOPPING HAS NOT BEEN SERIOUS. Since 2012 when I first started covering the District’s facilities issues, the trustees have been using this line…” when you have a check in hand, it is easier to acquire a site.” I’m no Commercial Real Estate Maven, but there is such a thing as an “option to buy,” and many other deal structures that do not require a big check in the ready. The District already has experience getting loans based on using its land as collateral. The 2007-8 Gardner Bullis modernization spending is being financed with a lease-leaseback contract which runs for more than another 10 years till paid off. Gardner Bullis land secures that loan. Perhaps the District could take out a loan on the Covington land ASSET and get a” big check in hand?” [ Note:: The upcoming bond is essentially “secured” by the property tax INCOME flow the District receives. The District “qualifies” for a 150M bond.]
Some Good Bond Spending Items that dropped off the Project List
At the July 7 District Board meeting, Assistant Superintendent for Business, Randy Kenyon, made a presentation of staff recommendations (his?) on how to prioritize spending of the $150M bond receipts. Of course Number 1 was accommodating enrollment growth, aka buying new site(s). But Number 2 was using some bond proceeds to pay off loans/ pay off leases. In particular, $3.5 million would pay off the lease-leaseback contract on Gardner-Bullis modernization which is secured by the land there. He suggested the District “use “at least portion of the bond” [$x.x M] to “convert [some?] leases on our portables to purchase.”
Lalahpolitico: I think I’ve know for some time that the overwhelming majority of portables on LASD land are being RENTED. But Kenyon’s presentation reminded me of that fact. As I understand it, only the oldest portables — some of those on Egan used by the charter, some scattered on other campuses — are now owned. That is because the leases ran their contractual course. I assume many of those lease agreements were entered into when interest rates were much higher than now. It makes sense to close them out. That will expand the portion of annual operating income that can be used to hire more union teachers and staff creating better working conditions. And maybe improving educational outcomes? Or maybe better facilities — those energy efficient, flexible classrooms with natural light skylights — will improve education outcomes? Maybe both?
A couple items which reduce annual operating expenses recommended by Kenyon on July 7 have remained on the project list: A $6M FUND to pay for annual maintenance/repairs; SOLAR panels. Kenyon and the architect said solar was $15M few years ago and now is only $8M. There are rebates.
On July 7 several trustees asked Kenyon for an ROI analysis of 1) solar 2) refinancing of Gardner and 3) paying off rented portables. To Lalahpolitico’s knowledge if an ROI analysis occurred, it was not presented to the public. (ROI – return on investment, a method for evaluating which investment provides the largest payoffs. One does the the high ROI ones first.)
Sexy Solar, Prudent Maintenance Fund remain on Project List
Lalahpolitco: Almost certainly all Kenyon’s ideas for reducing operating expenses should be executed when the bond passes. The ones which remind the public about our existing debt exposure – rented portables, Gardner land being used as collateral – have been dropped from the bond marketing. Only the sexy or prudent sounding ideas remain in the marketing – sexy Solar, prudent fund for Maintenance. But not to worry — please realize that when the bond passes, it is the trustees guided by staff who will actually decide how to spend the money. All these committees and all the citizen email and comments are just ” advisory.”
Transparency in the Project Cost/Spending Numbers?
One should expect that the trustees, the staff, and the plethora or committees are hopefully all just iterating toward some stable dollar cost estimates. But the project cost estimates-in-progress so far do create some confusion. For example, what will a new school on a new site cost? Especially if it is for the charter? Back at the July 7 trustee meeting, Trustees Logan and Smith talked about needing to spend “at least half of the $150M bond.” Kenyon showed the above slide estimating one new school on new land at $80 -100M. But the FAC group recommended spending only $50M on a new campus even though most of its 8 “new site” scenarios were closer to $100M.
Why does the total cost of projects at existing campuses shift so much? And why are the categories and project naming shifting. Confusing?
Back at the July 7 board meeting, the staff presentation included a 11×17 inch worksheet showing facilities projects at existing campuses which totaled $174M. But the FAC was working with a list of projects which totaled $189million. The two sheets have somewhat different projects in somewhat different categories. The new FMPAC had not yet been supplied with detailed project costs, as the earlier FAC had been. Why does the total cost of projects at existing campuses shift so much? And why are the categories and project naming shifting. Confusing?
The Seduction of “Public Input” & Master Plans
LALAHPOLITICO: I guess we just have to have FAITH that these convoluted, time-consuming, democratic (?) committee processes and the project cost estimates are iterating towards some pleasant outcome. After all, it’s for all the kids, right? Faith sure would be easier if we knew WHO THE TRUSTEES ARE going to be. Let’s remember they are who ultimately will make ALL THE DECISIONS about the allocation of the $150M Measure N funds, no matter what the “majority” advice of the scores of committee members.
It feels to LALAHPOLITICO like the LASD is making the same mistake, the City of Los Altos made with its 2012 bond marketing. The City touted a nice master plan for the civic center which got you interested. But when you realized it was going to take 3 bonds, not one, to pay for it all, you got mad. Similarly, LASD’s Facilities Master Plan marketing is creating a false impression among lightly-informed voters that 1) all those swell things can happen at existing campuses soon AND 2) growth in NEC and at the charter can be accommodated AND 3) portables can all be removed. As the bond finance consultant said, it could take 3 bond measures over a decade to get to that nirvana.
Learning from Mistakes. Have Faith.
Wait a minute. Maybe the City made the mistake of actually STATING which projects it was going to do first at the Civic Center in Phase I? Maybe if the City never had said which buildings were in Phase I, if there never had been a Phase I, the bond survey would have passed muster? So maybe LASD learned from that mistake, the mistake of being forthcoming? LASD is not saying what specifically it will or will not do, or what it will do first. It just has good “intentions, consistent with a DRAFT Master Plan”, as suggested by the bond political consultant. Perhaps that is wise. And LASD needs only 55% yes, while the city needed 66.6%. It’s for all the kids, right? Have faith.
Measure N ballot language as of August 4, 2014
LASD Facilities Advisory Committee Report, June 15, 2014
LASD Enrollment Growth Task Force (EGTF) Report May 24, 2013
Some Issues Raised by Duncan MacVicar about the EGTF.
LASD Demographers Report April 19, 2013
The new FMPAC committee is scheduled to meet 9/24, 10/8. 10/22, 11/5, 11/19, 12/3, 12/17
The LASD Measure N resources page.
The new FMPAC committee is scheduled to meet 9/24, 10/8. 10/22, 11/5, 11/19, 12/3, 12/17.
Postscript – Citizen Survey of NEC parents about a new NEC School
Member of the public Phil Aaronson spoke at the beginning of the meeting. He claimed that he surveyed residents of North of El Camino – both LASD parents and BCS parents. If there was to be a school intended for their group, they wanted a standard parity school. That means around 10 acres. A new school crammed on a 4-5 acre site would not be at parity with the rest of LASD.