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.
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."