Woodside Elementary mailer claims district remodeled demolished building


A slick four-color brochure from the Woodside Elementary School District arrived in the mailboxes of district residents around April 14, with an update on how the district has recently spent the proceeds of a $13.5 million bond measure approved in June 2014.

The brochure, however, appears to rewrite history. The biggest project built with the bond money, the demolition of an old auditorium and the erection of a brand-new $8.26 million building, has been edited into a remodel in the brochure.

As soon as school ended in June 2015, the district knocked down the old building and a small adjacent building and hauled away the debris. Some of the theater lighting and other equipment installed when the building underwent a $1.5 million renovation in 2003, and a section of the gym floor, were salvaged.

However, the brochure, which says it is "provided as a public service for your information only, from the Woodside Elementary School District," claims the demolished building was repaired. It says: "Sellman Auditorium was in bad shape. ... We seismically retrofitted it, fixed the leaky roof and upgraded the facility."

A note signed by district Superintendent Beth Polito says: "Sellman Auditorium has been completely rebuilt to bring it to current earthquake standards, repair its basic structure and provide a covered lunch area for students."

School board members and the superintendent did not respond to repeated requests over several days for a comment about the mailer or its costs (Superintendent Polito has been out on family leave). The school board did approve the mailing in March when it discussed putting a parcel tax on the November ballot.

$8.26 million

Costs are never mentioned in the brochure, but the district spent $8.26 million on the new building which has a permanent theater, pull-out bleachers with folding seat backs, a kitchen, and a lobby, all of which the previous auditorium did not have.

The new building also houses an office for the middle school principal and is zero net energy, producing as much as energy with roof top solar panels as it consumes, according to Mike Wassermann, a vice president with Capital Program Management, which managed the school construction.

The brochure also contains a few other odd facts. When the district said it was planning to give the new building a new name, many fans of the late George Sellman protested and the school board agreed to name the new building the Sellman Pavilion. However, the brochure repeatedly calls the new building the Sellman Auditorium.

"Please come as my guest to the re-opening of Sellman Auditorium," says Superintendent Polito's note.

There are other revisions to history. A postscript to Superintendent Polito's note in the brochure thanks the Woodside School Foundation for its "capital campaign, which raised private money to match Measure D (bond measure) funds." Match, however, doesn't really mean match in this case, apparently; the capital campaign raised only $5 million, not even close to matching the $13.5 million in bond money.

According to a bond budget prepared for the school board's April meeting, $2 million from the capital campaign went into two new classrooms for the district's tuition-based preschool, $1.5 million went into a new design lab and close to $1.4 million went into the new Sellman building. About $113,000 of capital campaign money went into "program costs."

While the language of the ballot measure approved by voters in 2014 said its major purpose was to "repair basic Woodside Elementary School infrastructure ... upgrade educational facilities to meet current health/safety codes, renovate heating, electrical, sewer/security systems, fix leaking roofs," the bond budget prepared for the school board says only $2.1 million of the bond money has so far been spent on "renovation."

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8 people like this
Posted by ok
a resident of Woodside: other
on Apr 18, 2016 at 7:13 pm

" the capital campaign raised ONLY $5 million" ( Donations ! )

And considering how much Woodside owners pay in property taxes......which could fund most 3rd world countries. Do they deserve the improvement to their school ? Answer: They earned it.

24 people like this
Posted by fwiw
a resident of Woodside: other
on Apr 18, 2016 at 7:49 pm

Oh good grief. What an annoying attempt to create controversy where there is none. Not a single person in town could have possibly driven by the original building without noticing that it was completely torn down at the beginning of the summer. And then Barbara seems to want to have it both ways by declaring that see, gotcha it's a new building while at the same time rebuking the administration for even entertaining the consideration of a name change when the idea that is was a completely new building and deserved consideration as such was originally brought (and she has written about multiple times).

Amazing and generous donors (of which I cannot be considered one not withstanding my miniscule contribution) donated something approaching a 1/3'rd of the value of the campus improvements without regard to their own kids personal benefit. Many (most?) of the largest contributions came from folks whose kids had either completed their tenure at the school or whose kids are within a year of completing it. It should also be made very abundantly clear that not a single one of these exceedingly generous and community minded individuals asked for nor imho would have accepted naming rights to the new building.

in my humble opinion this whole "naming" controversy while obviously ill considered, has been unfairly misconstrued by the local reporting, creating the impression that anything more than a few individuals had entertained the idea of naming the building "Wildcat Pavillion" or "Paw Pavillion" or somesuch that reflected the entirety of the community and school pride in the building. Once the public consideration of what the naming should be was placed on the school board agenda, they were even locked out from doing anything more than calmly listening to the public input prior to the board meeting occurring.

Anyway, I find myself exceedlingly disappointed with the utter disregard and lack of appreciaton by the local reporting of what a small number of amazing people have given of themselves to improve the community for every person in the area.

And then most ironically of all, if these generous souls had not stepped up, we would not have these wonderful new facilities but would have been constrained to simply updating the old facilities with far, far less utility but at a minority of cost savings if any. The bond measure would have been perhaps a meager smaller, but the facilities difference would have been enormous.

And just a final thought with respect to the bond measure, it should be noted that the board could have gone out for a bond more than 20% larger and still met the Prop 39 requirement that limited the super majority to 55%. Certainly the polling indicated that such a measure would still have easily passed. This is in contrast to every other local school district in the area who has floated a recent Prop 39 bond. Compare on contrast to Menlo Park, Palo Alto Unified, and Sequoia district.

I for one, feel incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by thoughtful and community minded souls who are so giving towards the community.

2 people like this
Posted by OK
a resident of Woodside: other
on Apr 18, 2016 at 9:07 pm

This is the reason some generous folks don't donate. If they do it's not enough and if they don't they're not supportive.

14 people like this
Posted by Mike Keenly
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Apr 18, 2016 at 10:20 pm

@fwiw, why attack the messenger? Let's face it, the brochure was not clear about what had happened. This was a simple issue to describe. Why does the brochure need to hide the truth on an issue that was likely not controversial in the first place?

20 people like this
Posted by Darlene Batchelder
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Glens
on Apr 19, 2016 at 9:13 am

As a Woodside Elementary School graduate, as the parent of two Woodside Elem graduates and as a form Woodside Elem School board member, I appreciate both the fine facilities on the campus and the financial commitment of voters and the generosity of private donors who helped make them possible.

That said, I also appreciate the intelligence, curiosity and courage of our local Almanac reporter,Barbara Wood, a friend I have known for some time. She raises valid questions: 1. Why was this brochure sent out? 2.Who paid for it? 3. Why would the Board and school administration approve a public communique with inaccurate statements that seem to misrepresent the work that was done?

The brochure either, sadly, represents sloppy work or a manipulation of the truth. I wonder why they felt compelled to do this? If everything is above board, why obfuscate?

We have a lovely new Sellman Audtitorium/Pavilion! I am grateful. AND I am also curious about the rationale behind an inaccurate brochure. Gratitude and curiosity aren't mutually exclusive.

15 people like this
Posted by Chuck
a resident of Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on Apr 19, 2016 at 11:04 am

So let me get this straight:

* Woodside School demolished an older building and replaced it with a modern, awesome, state-of-the-art facility that will benefit hundreds if not thousands of our kids

* The construction was approved and funded by a public bond from local residents

* Much of the cost was offset by private donors who generously contributed to improve a public facility

Everywhere else, this would be touted as a triumph and tremendous boon to the local community. But the Almanac somehow has a problem because a brochure didn't perfectly describe every feature?

Almanac, you're better off writing more biased hit pieces on SurfAir. There's no controversy here.

14 people like this
Posted by Woodsider
a resident of Woodside School
on Apr 19, 2016 at 11:04 am

I think there's a simple answer to the question why the mailer was sent ... the school is getting ready for the next parcel tax and wants to send an upbeat message to the community.

When I received the mailer, I also thought it was odd that the district would describe the new Sellman building as basically a repair rather than a rebuild. I agree with Darlene's comments on that.

To FWIW ... I didn't see criticism of the capital campaign and the generous private donors who supported the school projects. Ms. Woods' criticism is focused on the district, not the donors.

6 people like this
Posted by member
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Apr 19, 2016 at 5:08 pm

The tone of this article reads more like an Editorial than reporting. Phrases such as "odd facts", "revisions to history", "costs are never mentioned" or "rewrite history" contribute to the tone.
For decades, The Almanac has been supportive of the local schools and the communities that support the school and reporting has been factual. This article is disappointing.

2 people like this
Posted by Beware Woodside
a resident of Laurel School
on Apr 19, 2016 at 6:15 pm

[Post removed. Please stick to the topic.]

2 people like this
Posted by Yes on D
a resident of Woodside: other
on Apr 19, 2016 at 9:27 pm

The article belongs in the editorial section or on a virulent website. It is a thinly veiled hit piece, [part removed.]

Shame on you Ms. Wood and shame on you Richard Hine for your abdication of your responsibilities as an editor/publisher.

Are you seriously hanging your journalistic credentials on whether the new building dedicated to Mr. Sellman is called 'Pavillion' or 'Auditorium'?

A bit of integrity and professionalism is not too much to ask. The article really does read like a petulant letter to the editor rather than a news article.

Editor's note: Please point out how the story is inaccurate. Read the mailer and look at the picture, and draw your own conclusions. Also, note that district officials have not responded to repeated attempts to get their comment on why there is such a divide between what is said in the mailer and what actually happened. Do you not think that school officials have a responsibility to report accurately to the community?- Richard Hine

6 people like this
Posted by biased reporting
a resident of Woodside: other
on Apr 19, 2016 at 10:37 pm

Seriously? How about some unbiased journalism here. This article should have been placed on the editorial page. Ms. Wood clearly has a personal grudge against our incredible local, public school and it's generous donors and makes no effort to hide it. The article, much like many of her other articles with a negative slant toward the school, is truly disappointing and sad.

Like this comment
Posted by Disappointed
a resident of Woodside School
on Apr 19, 2016 at 10:51 pm

[Post removed. Please stick to the topic.]

6 people like this
Posted by Menlo Park parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Apr 19, 2016 at 11:54 pm

Having no stake in this, I agree that the brochure is mis-leading as to the extend of the project considering it was a demolition and rebuild.

As for Menlo Park Measures A and C, the primary concerns I've been hearing are the parcel taxes do NOT have an expiration. To me, this is unacceptable.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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