Schools

Elevating Expectations for Stretching Limited Measure N Funds

Los Altos Measure N is being stretched - with $180M of needs at existing schools, how much should be spend on the charter school?
What's the best way to stretch Los Altos Measure $150M funds? With $180M of needs at existing schools, how much should be spent on the charter school?
Written by lalahpolitico

The LASD BoT search for new land is headed to a deadend. The cost numbers just don’t add up.

The Los Altos School District — through its numerous committees and PR activities like the Conteneo forum — has hugely elevated our expectations… expectations of parents of BCS students, parents of Santa Rita students, parents of Egan students, parents of Almond students, parents of Covington students, parents of Springer students, parents of Oak students, parents of Blach students, parents of Bullis-Gardner students, expectations of North of El Camino residents who were serenaded with ideas for their own “neighborhood school, as well as expectations of non-parent Los Altos School District residents and taxpayers for “community healing” and financial stewardship.

Expectations of  Financial
Stewardship 
of Measure N Funds

Even among the somewhat biased LASD Facilities Master Plan Committee – a ~35 person group dominated by design with vested interests – only 45% of committee members said that they think “a portion of the community believes putting BCS on new land was the intended outcome of Measure N.“

If you read the bond language, there is no presumption that the intended outcome was putting BCS on new land. In fact 95% of the text seems to be about projects at existing schools.

If you actually did a survey of LASD, and let’s take the Measure N 57% YES vote as an indicator — AT MOST, 57% of the people would say Yes, they want BCS on new land AT ANY COST. But when you next inform people of the actual costs and tradeoffs, support goes way dowwwnnn.

IF  you were to tell people the whole truth…If you tell them that putting BCS on new available land 1) Costs at least $85M or over half of the bond, 2) There are $180M of needs at existing schools, 3) There will need to be another $150M bond in about a decade in order to meet the unmet needs of existing schools, 4) Some of the unmet needs at existing schools date from the disastrous 1999 bond program implementation…

…what “portion” of the community would “believe” that spending $85M or more out of the $150M bond for a new land campus for BCS is financially prudent?

Figure 1: Prioritized Projects Existing Schools

Measure N Priorities at Existing Schools

Firgure 1: The FMPC committee prioritized project categories from 1 (first) to 15 (last) at existing schools. The cumulative total for all 15 is $180M. Spending too much on the BCS permanent solution would allow maybe $65M worth of these projects (1 to 5)  to move forward. CLICK IMAGE 3 TIMES FOR LARGER

From LASD website: Report on Priorities on Existing Campus Improvements. See pages 6,7

Expectations of Fixing Up Existing Schools – $180M

Many non-parents in the community are unaware that there are $180M of “needs” at existing schools.  Before the run-up to the Measure N election, the District started up a “site council” at each school to list needs and wants at each school.

That came to about $180M for replacing outdated or “portable” Multipurpose Rooms, Libraries, and needed technology and infrastructure upgrades, such as bringing buildings up to code and enhancing seismic safety.  These 2014 site councils certainly raised parents expectations, don’t you think? This year the District decided to NOT reconvene them to consider revisions to the $180M of  “needs.” Apparently the BoT realized it would be politically foolish to raise expectations even higher.

Many non-parents in the community are unaware that there are $180M of “needs” at existing schools

Most people are unaware that some of these $180M of improvement projects are ones that were supposed to be have done by 1999 bond. For example, Springer never got a new, larger MPR like the other schools did. Bullis-Gardner – which was supposed to be the first site to be fixed up with 1999 money –  was instead closed and finally fixed up in 2006 using an additional loan and then reopened as a k-6. [Measure N funds may be used to pay off that loan.]

Figure 2: Prioritized Projects by School

LASD Measure N projects at existing schools, by school

CLICK IMAGE 3 TIMES FOR LARGER. Ot read the LASD report on their website.

From LASD website: Report on Priorities on Existing Campus Improvements. See pages 6,7.

 

Expectations of Moving 6th Graders to the Junior Highs

After talking about it for several years, the Superintendent has finally in 2016 admitted that “on balance moving sixth graders to the junior highs is a good thing. ”

Back in 2013, at least a couple hundred parents of extra brainy 5th graders started complaining about the existing math program. Taking accelerated math in sixth grade allows students to get on a path to taking a second year of calculus in 11th grade and then mathematical statistics in 12th grade. Other nearby school districts have had this for years. It is accomplished by moving 6th grade over to the junior highs, where they can be taught by math specialist teachers, not just a general education elementary school teacher.  This is called middle school grade configuration – 6,7,8 – and is the norm through most of California.

Figure 3: 6th Grade on Egan Jr. High

LASD Architect photo of board and blocks depicting 6th grade on Egan

LASD Architect Lisa Gelphand photo of board and blocks depicting 6th grade on Egan. CLICK IMAGE 3 TIMES FOR LARGER

At first, in response to the parent complaint, the District tried a panacea of having roving math specialists float through the 7 elementary schools. However, the “whisper on the street” is that the sixth grade students were not “tracked” properly, so classes were held back by typical students, such that capable students never actually received accelerated math.

In 2014, during the course of the Facilities Master Plan Committee, the District had Lisa Gelfand prepare simple hypothetical site plans for placing 6th graders on Egan and Blach, even with the charter still situated on Egan and Blach.

According to the Gelfand rough cost estimates, a reconfiguration of Egan and Blach to house 6th graders in their own little “homerooms” cluster would cost $15M to $20 total. [See clustering in Menlo Park.]

Figure 4:  6th Grade on Blach Jr. High

LASD Architect photo of board and blocks depicting 6th grade on Egan

LASD Architect’s photo of board and blocks depicting 6th grade on Blach. CLICK IMAGE 3 TIMES FOR LARGER

Moving 6th graders to the 15+ acres Egan and 15+ acre Blach — which are way below the capacity for which they were built —  will free up space at all the District elementary schools, solving the “enrollment growth problem” at those schools.

Critics of the Board of Trustees decisions claim it is holding off moving the sixth graders precisely BECAUSE that grade reconfiguration would go a long way in SOLVING the enrollment growth problem.  Hence, it delays and delays. Grade reconfiguration might make Measure N seem less necessary?

Expectations for a BCS site and buildings – 11-14 acres

In 2014, during the course of the Facilities Master Plan Committee, the District had it’s architect, Lisa Gelfand, prepare a couple of simple site plans for placing a 900 student BCS school, on a hypothetical 14 acre site or alternatively on a 11 acre site; the actual new site land location TBD.

Figure 5: Gelfand Interior Footage for Charter

LASD Architect Gelfand worked up the space requirements for a 900 student k-8 school. In other words for school to house BCS.

LASD Architect Gelfand worked up the interior space requirements for a 900 student k-8 school. In other words for school to house BCS. CLICK IMAGE 3 TIMES FOR LARGER

Fourteen acres would make the 900 student BCS site comparable to Egan and Blach which have the capacity for 900. A LASD meeting handout dated  9/23/14 reports actual school sizes of of September 2014. See below. Clearly Blach and Egan have the capacity to house our sixth graders. These students need to be moved to the junior highs to keep pace with neighboring districts. Because so many more parents start their child in K at the age of six, today’s sixth graders are more “mature” than in the olden days.

Figure 6: Gelfand 14 acres for Charter

LASD Architect Gelfand worked up the space requirements for a 900 student k-8 school. In other words for school to house BCS.

Here is a 900 student k-8 school — aka a BCS — on a hypothetical 14 acre site. CLICK IMAGE 3 TIMES FOR LARGER

 

SEPTEMBER 2014 Enrollments

Almond 542
Blach Jr. 525
Covington 553
Egan Jr.  616
Gardner 337
Loyola 530
Oak  458
Santa Rita 572
Springer 536

The typical Los Altos School District elementary site is 10 acres and serves 300 to 600 students.  The Junior High sites are 15+ acres and are designed for up to 900. Covington elementary site used to house a Jr. High and is 15+ acres. Egan enrollment is noticeably higher than Blach’s because the District “allows” some 50+  Blach students who are in LA High attendance area, to attend Egan. [LASD is a k-8 district. Mountain View – Los Altos is our 9-12 district and operates two high schools. It is “fed” by MV-Whisman k-8 and LASD k-8.]

Figure 7: Gelfand 14 acres for Charter

LASD Architect Gelfand worked up the space requirements for a 900 student k-8 school. In other words for school to house BCS.

LASD Architect Gelfand worked up the space requirements for a 900 student k-8 school. In other words for a school to house BCS. CLICK IMAGE 3 TIMES FOR LARGER

Excluding the cost of land, LASD committees have estimated the cost of a two story Gelfand building for BCS like these above to cost around  $75M.

 

Timeline: Manipulating Our
Hopes, Fears and Expectations

2012:You may recall that the 2012-13 Superintendent’s Enrollment Growth Task Force (SEGTF) made a recommendation for an IDEAL OUTCOME — a 10th AND a 11th new site. That certainly raised expectations: “Yeah, Get rid of the charter AND get rid of those MV people. Wonderful!” Lalahpolitico: That’s not my opinion, but a sentiment I hear way too often.

2013:Afterwards, another Los Altos School District committee — one which was allowed to look at estimated costs —  looked at the original SEGTF report, and concluded, “Oh, gee, I guess we can afford only one site, not two. So we’re looking for 10th site, and not an 11th site.”

After the decision to pursue only ONE SITE, the Board of Trustees has been coy and non-transparent with both the parental and non-parental communities.  Was the District’s “Tenth Site Committee” shopping for 1) a smallish site suitable for a 300-500 student North of El Camino district-run elementary OR for 2) a site adequate for a 900 student k-8 BCS?

How clever to keep expectations high for everyone, that is to say, to string along every constituency for three years – Lalahpolitico

2015The District continued to shop for a “unicorn” site. But with a $180M worth of unmet needs at the 9 existing schools and a $150M budget, the District really can’t “afford” to buy ANY new sites around here on the private market.  Zero! It has shopped and shopped for a “unicorn” site since 2008. The realization new land might be too expensive only seemed to occur to the BoT in late 2015, when the BoT restarted talks with the City through the Public Lands Subcommittee.

The District has been shopping for a unicorn site. about 10 acres, flat, dry, available, and oh yeah, affordable. Like the unicorn, it no longer exists.

The Los Altos School District has been shopping and shopping for years and years on the private land market for a unicorn new building site: about 10 acres, flat, dry, nearby, available now, and oh yeah, affordable. Like the unicorn, it no longer exists.

Jan ’16: If the City were to “donate” its ~8.5 acres Hillview Community Center Parcel to LASD, that would be “ideal” way to lower costs. At that point, it finally became clear to the members of the public, that the Tenth Site Committee search was to site BCS, not a NEC neighborhood school.  “Ok, let’s just abandon that NEC constituency for now.”

Mar ’16: That “certain portion” of the District parent community that hoped for a sweet deal for the City’s 8.5 Hillview acres saw their hopes abruptly crushed in March 2016, when the City Council told the District that with its 115 Acres vs. the City’s 50 acres, the District was no where near a “last resort” situation. Furthermore, Hillview was a precious City asset. During City Council discussion, various Council members suggested that the District should 1) stop applying artificial constraints on BCS solutions, 2) use it’s ample existing lands for a BCS solution, and 3) preferably spend its Measure N $150M by spreading it around for the benefit of the largest possible number of public school students.

Figure 8: Preferred Option tradeoffs

Slide from LASD deck

Only 45% of the the ~35 person Facilities Master Plan Committee members felt that a “portion” of the public had been lead to “believe” that the intended outcome of Measure N was putting BCS on new land. But 91% say the key tradeoff is less money for existing sites. http://www.lasdschools.org/files/user/1/file/DraftFinalInterimReport0309151.pdf

 

NOW two more months of BoT denial ahead

As of April 2016, judging from recent LASD board meetings, it seems that for a couple more months, the Board is going to remain in denial that the District cannot really afford ANY new sites. BoT President Pablo Luther has said there are 2 or 3 more sites to evaluate before Bot will let staff doing any preliminary site planning to use existing District land. But Luther has also stated that “trustees need to be good financial stewards. ” Lalahpolitico: …therefore the 2-3 remaining sites are too expensive?

Real estate advisors say that all the 5-6 acre City of Mountain View sites which have been considered over the past couple of years by BoT to site BCS — Old Mill Office, Mora Drive, Federal Realty — would burn through pretty much all of the $150 million bond money. Right now the District is looking in the City of Los Altos at the 4+ acre Village Court shopping center and something even smaller in Los Altos further down El Camino.   Real estate advisors say the land at Village Court could be a bit cheaper $65M, so let’s say Village Court burns $85 million after refurbished. Lalahpolitico: Still too much.

All these 4-5 acres BCS new land  “solutions”  risk renewed litigation and provide no community healing. And cost too much!

The numbers just don’t add up. The costs and benefits don’t balance.

 

 

About the author

lalahpolitico

Norma Schroder is an economics & market researcher by trade and ardent independent journalist, photographer and videographer by avocation. Enthralled by the growth of the tech industry over the decades, she only became fascinated with business of local politics only in the past couple of years.

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