Los Altos School District Bond Measure Poll Results

Written by lalahpolitico

Ruth Bernstein of EMC Research presents the poll results to the Los Altos School District

Los Altos School District bond measure poll results were presented at the May 7 LASD meeting at Covington School.  The findings showed support was well short of the 55% needed for bond measure approval.  On average the support was around 45%.  Posititive messages increased support to a  maximum of 51%.  Using language that said the reason for the bond was Bullis Charter School lowered support to 42%. Unfortunately, the poll language was crafted and the poll was fielded a few weeks before the mediated “Tentative Agreement” for long-term facilities was reached and announced earlier during this same LASD meeting on May 7.

Los Altos Politico doubts that LASD would today “message” the bond in the same way it was being messaged in this poll done in April.

If you don’t already know, here are the key facts about the LASD – BCS tentative agreement announced on May 7, 2012.  The 10 year agreement with 5-year options to renew is for BCS to migrate to one of four North Los Altos school sites – Almond, Gardner Bullis, Santa Rita, or Covington (10.5 acres of it) – no later than August, 2014.  In the meantime, the entire BCS enrollment will continue to be housed at Egan (no partial move to Blach).  BCS forgives legal costs and promises to work to pass a bond measure. This bond would would make improvements to all exisiting sites (about $65M) and pay for a new 10th site (~$55M).

LASD has posted a .pdf file you can read or download on its web site.
If you have the time…hear and see the synched slides of the entire presentation and the LASD board comments. Check out our video. The audio was recorded with an ipad3 so there is some room noise, but the crowd does quiet down. Ruth Bernstein and others speakers can be heard easily.


Why did so Many Voters Reject the Proposed School Bond?

Why did the poll fail so badly?  Because the poll says that the reason for the bond is Bullis Charter School. The survey creates the impression that any new school built with the bond money could be awarded to Bullis Charter.  The effect of years of negative messaging about BCS is apparent in the results.

The poll says that the REASON for the bond is Bullis Charter School

Also, the poll does not strongly promote the message that the need for the school can likely be blamed on enrolling 1,000 more students in the past decade. The survey could have also pointed out that this number will only increase in the next few years because so much new housing is being built in the Mountain View part of LASD. The poll does not mention that any new school built with bond money would probably be sited in Mountain View. The poll does not make clear that BCS will not be getting the new school. Here at, we think positive, accurate, and specific messages, including these omitted ones, would get a different poll result.

we think positive, specific messages would get a different poll result.


Audience Listening to Los Altos School District Bond Measure Poll Results May 7, 2012



Why was support for a bond so weak?  Well, first let’s agree with the EMC pollsters that , if the election were held tomorrow , there appears to be a core of about 29% of voters who would vote in favor of a $120M bond. EMC analysed 500 interviews collected by phone from April 23-28, 2012.



During the otherwise innocuous start-up questions of the phone poll, the interviewer asks this question.

Have you heard or seen anything recently about the Los Altos School District?

  56% of people  now know the poll is a vote for or against Bullis Charter … a leading question?

A whopping 56% (26 + 23 + 7 = 56), top of mind, unprompted, say something about Bullis Charter School.  As the pollsters pointed out in their presentation, this is unprecedented “hotness” of a issue.  Los Altos Politico thinks the poll doesn’t get off to a very good start when you ask people to recall the thorn in their side.  In effect, this becomes a leading question for 56% of the respondents.



A bit further into the poll, the interviewer asks this question.

Regardless of whether you have children in school,  [using  a, b, c, d, f grades like at school] please grade the following areas relating to LASD.


BCS is down at the bottom with 19% C-F grade, besting only “Management of District Monies” which got 25% C-F grade

You can see that that BCS is down at the bottom with 19% C-F grade,  besting only “Management of District Monies” which got 25% C-F grade.  What does this tell Los Altos Politico?   In a positive vein, 45% of people admit they don’t know enough about the Bullis Charter School program to judge it.  They withhold judgment.  How reasonable.  We see that 36% give it a positive grade. (About 10% of LASD population is at BCS.  About 33% of new LASD eligible kindergartners apply to get into BCS. It sort of adds up.) In a negative vein, trust of LASD management is low. A rather high 25% of people already don’t trust LASD with money.  Another 26% “don’t know,” and could be “informed” by bond opponents to not trust LASD with money.  It’s going to take a lot of work to get that check for $120 million from the voters.



At this point in the poll the interviewer reads language of a proposed ballot measure for the first time.

To support academic programs…shall LASD issue $120m in bonds at legal rates…


 The initial vote is 47% Yes

The ballot language does not mention hot buttons like “BCS” or “10th site.  But 56% of respondents (see slide 7 above) have already reminded themselves “this really is all about BCS.”  The initial vote is 47% Yes.



A bit later in the poll, the interviewer  talks about parcel taxes.  The interviewer eventually tells the respondent the actual propsed tax  is  [not a parcel tax] but, rather, no more than $30 per $100,000 of assessed property value.

 “..will cost property owners a rate not-to-exceed #30 per $200,000 of assessed property value annually, NOT market value…”

  The Yes percentage rises from 47% to 51%.

Los Altos Politico supposes, some respondents must have been able to do the math in their heads, and figured out that that their tax wouldn’t be as much as one might fear with a $120M bond. [Unlike a parcel tax, the brunt is borne unequally —  mostly by more recent home buyers.  Naturally, renters, who make up about 10% of Los Altos households, don’t care, but they vote less.]  The Yes percentage rises from 47% to 51%.



Now the poll moves along to stating the “reason” for the bond.

“ 10 schools on 9 sites…Bullis Charter sharing Egan…bond allows…build a new school…providing reasonably equivalent facitlities..”


When Los Altos Politico hears this, we think, “LASD is using my money to build a new school FOR Bullis Charter to occupy or, at the very least some poor school is going to have to move,  gosh knows how far away,  into a new school BECAUSE OF Bullis Charter.”

After Yes support rose to 51% in the previous test, now with this test  that assigns the blame to BCS, Yes support falls to 42%.

As we said at the beginning, we are sure LASD and EMC would not use this language today, in light of the mediated tentative long-term LASD BCS facilities agreement.  The language today would “blame” other things.  How about 1,000 more students in LASD compared to a decade ago? Did the board take its eyes off of the ball, distracted instead by litigation?  Or could we blame the forecasting demographers?

You counter with…but if the 400 BCS students would all just quit LASD and enroll in private school…then the  growth is just 600 and we wouldn’t really need a new school.  Yeah, BUT if BCS disappeared tomorrow only a fraction would really go to private school. Most would go back into the LASD common program.  [Los Altos Politico has not seen any data on the percent of children living in Los Altos or in LASD of each age enrolled in private vs. LASD.  We do know that as children age, a higher and higher percentage of parents pull their kids out of public schools and put them in a private school.  We also know that the available private school seats in and near Los Altos must have grown well over 25% over the last decade. If you know something about the percentages in private and public schools, please post something on the forum at]

 … how about also blaming the LASD board, the demographers, or excess development in Mountain View…

How about blaming Mountain View?  And that  600 or 1,000 more students over the last decade is just looking backwards.   Looking forward, the city of Mountain View is pumping out new housing units along El Camino & San Antonio, and to some extent so is Los Altos.  Still think that LASD doesn’t really need a new school?  Too bad that Google and Apple, with all their jobs, don’t just move to Nevada.  [The most likely site for the 10th school is in Mountain View.  LASD really needs to firm this up though, if they want voters to support a bond.  Too many unknowns for voter comfort.]



Next the poll presents 18 “features” that the bond could/would pay for. The interviewer asks the respondent to rate how important each feature is from 7 extremely important to 1, not at all important.

…on a scale of 1 to 7, tell me you opinion of each program…



Dead last are things that are or could be for the benefit of Bullis Charter

Dead last  in importance are the two items the equate in meaning to “building a new school BECAUSE of Bullis Charter.”  About 55% say building a new school is unimportant.



Next the survey presents 14 messages that  are supposed to be able to increase support of the bond measure. The respondent is asked to say if the message is compelling or not at all compelling.


Once again, down at the bottom are three supposedly pro-bond messages having to do with BCS.

Clearly when a message is about BCS, it is actually an anti-bond message.



Nonetheless, after hearing some positive messages, the interviewer reads the version of  of the ballot language that does NOT assign blame to BCS, and asks the respondent to vote again.



Omit language about BCS, and Yes goes up a tad to 52%.



Now the poll presents five messages that opponents of the bond might make.  The most compelling No on Bond messages are the ones about Bullis Charter and building a school.  The respondent knows that “building a school” is BECAUSE of Bullis Charter.


The most compelling No on Bond messages are the ones about Bullis Charter and building a school.



After the negative messages, the interviewer asks the respondent to vote again.  Yes falls to 46%. At the May 7 LASD meeting the pollster for EMC research presented the following summary slide of the 5 instances of respondent voting.


…given all you’ve heard…would you vote yes….

After  hearing messages bond opponents might make, Yes falls to 46%. One can see that across the 5 separate instances of voting, YES sentiment never gets above 52%.  The most negative sentiment was 42% when the interviewer read ballot language that “blames” the bond on BCS.



Another summary slided presented during the May 7 meeting purports to show that 29% of voters always voted or leaned YES and can be counted on to vote FOR the bond.  It also argues that another 35% voted or leaned YES at least once.  The EMC pollster argues that these folks are at least open to being persuaded.

29% a sure YES. 35% are open to being persuaded

 But some of those 35% may have leaned YES once — accidentally

Los Altos Politico is not so optimistic.  We interviewed a few parents of school age children who took the poll, and most found the process to be rather confusing.  Many wanted to vote AGAINST BCS, but still be pro students and pro education. Some may have leaned YES once — accidentally — especially after the positive messages. (52% Yes)




To pass a bond, LASD board and management needs to rapidly switch gears from pugilism to conciliation. The language of this April poll  and its results reflect the board’s former litigious posture.  BCS has become a dirty word in this town. Now that the mediated  tentative long term agreement is public, LASD needs to take peace-making seriously.  We expect see them  talking the talk and walking the walk.

Yes, changing the “blame BCS” messaging to “blame Mountain View,  blame the demographers” may help to pass a bond

A large part of the community is probably relieved that there is a mediated agreement.  Most of us don’t care who “won” or “lost.”  However there is a sizeable minority of  (36% per the poll)  who probably do care.  There is a slice of that minority who are going to be stuck at the anger stage of grieving the outcome of litigation and mediation.  They are going to be telling the current board NOT TO SIGN and finalize the tentative agreement. They will need  your help passing through the 5 stages of grief.  The public process in the next couple of months should vent a lot of anger.  (It also could conceivably attract school board candidates who will support the anger and  promise to fight the bond.)

Advice to the board.  Yes, changing the “blame BCS” messaging to “blame Mountain View and blame the demographers” may help to pass a bond.  But voter  trust in LASD management is low – 25% gave them a poor grade for financial management.   The board will have to provide a very, very, very specific plan. Saying “trust us, it could be this way, or could go that way” with some hand-waving is not going to cut it. The voters are in no mood to write a $120M check without a concrete plan in hand. Everyone wants to know how it affects them where they live.

but the voters are in no mood to write a $120M check with out a concrete plan


TO LASD, please show us a very specific plan

The more details the better. But here is the minimum.

1)   get a firm option to buy on a specific location in Mountain View sooner than later. WHERE.

2)   outline innovative curriculum and gleaming facilities that will attract voluntary enrollment from the other 8 sites and even transfers from BCS.  The new site should be the “best” at something. WHAT.

3)   draw the boundaries for the 10th site.  Besides a magnet accepting applications for a lottery,  it is also a neighborhood school. What’s that neighborhood? WHO.

TO BCS, please pick Covington

BCS should consider moving to the site which will have the least disruption to current parents, students and most important, Los Altans’ housing values! That’s the considerate thing to do. To Los Altos Politico, that looks like Covington (~10.5 acres).  The homes in that area have historically not had a local K-6 school.

BCS-LASD must decide the BCS location before the bond can be successfully marketed. It’s cruel to put fear into the hearts all of North Los Altos property owners and parents living around the 4 schools on the “hit list” of the tentative agreement.  They will vote NO as long as they are kept in suspense.  Choose one of the schools sooner rather than later.

people around the 4 schools on the “hit” list of the tentative agreement are all being kept in suspense

Also after all these years BCS should accept the fact that it is more of a magnet school than a neighborhood school. Forget the Hills. Covington is a better location anyway because it allows more South Los Altans to consider BCS. Remember BCS has a requirement to keep its enrollment over 400!

THE LAST WORD – little chance till the June 2014 election

Los Altos Politico doubts that all these specifics can be put in place before November.  It will probably take till June, 2014 for the community to heal itself enough to vote to pass the school bond. Let the healing begin.



Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s stages of grief:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance


About the author


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 became fascinated with the business of local politics only in the past several years.