Portola Valley schools: Big board changes coming as district ponders major decisions

Board member will be appointed in October; three will be elected in November

As the Portola Valley School District's board ponders several major decisions with long-term implications in coming months – including a master plan for upgrading the district's facilities and a possible bond measure – the board will have no more than two veteran members after November.

Four of the five board seats will be filled this year: three by election in November and one by appointment Oct. 25. Only one incumbent, Karen Tate, is running. Incumbent Gulliver La Valle's term ends in December 2019.

The Portola Valley School District's governing board voted Sept. 27 to appoint a board member to replace Jennifer Youstra, who resigned Sept. 8 with more than two years left in her term. The earliest month to schedule a special election would have been April 2018.

Interested residents in the school district have until Wednesday, Oct. 18, to apply. The appointment will be made on Oct. 25, effective immediately upon the appointment.

Many residents consider the appointment, and the upcoming election to fill three other seats on the five-member board, to be important because the district is in the midst of updating its facilities master plan.

A draft of the plan presented in September has projects ranging from new and renovated facilities to outdoor education and gathering spaces, and items to improve school safety, security and parking.

Projects at Ormondale School total $30.2 million with $42.2 million of projects for Corte Madera School.

The district has started polling residents to gauge interest in a bond measure that could pay for some of the master plan projects. The results of the polling will be discussed at the board's Oct. 25 and Nov. 15 meetings.

Superintendent Eric Hartwig said the school board will be looking at the draft facilities master plan at meetings between now and February. The board will be analyzing what projects are most needed and what the community will support, he said.

If the board decides to put a bond measure on the June ballot it will need to make a decision by February, the superintendent said.

Members of the public will be allowed to comment at all the meetings, he said.

The board has already investigated changing the configuration of grades on the district's two campuses and combining both schools onto one campus and decided to keep the current configuration, the superintendent said.

The candidates for the board appointment will be interviewed in public at the Oct. 25 board meeting. By law, the vote to make the appointment must also be made public.

The resignation leaves the district in an unusual situation because a November election for three board seats is coming up and four candidates have applied: incumbent Ms. Tate and three district parents active in the schools: Karyn Bechtel, a community volunteer from Woodside; Jeff Klugman, a retired software executive; and Michael Maffia, an investor and developer.

Superintendent Eric Hartwig said the district has been told that any of the candidates can apply to fill Ms. Youstra's remaining term of a little over two years. However, if the board appoints one of the candidates and that person wins a seat in the November election, she or he would have to resign from the appointed seat, take the new seat, and the board would have to make another appointment or schedule a special election.

The appointment will be the first item on the board's Oct. 25 agenda, Superintendent Hartwig said; the new board member will be sworn in immediately after a choice is made.

State law requires that school board members live in the district, be a registered voter and not a current school district employee.

The board usually meets on the third Wednesday of the month, with the open session starting at 6 p.m., in Room 201 of Corte Madera School, 4575 Alpine Road in Portola Valley.

The district has previously passed two bond measures: a $17 million measure in 1998 with a 77.3 percent "yes" vote, and a $6 million measure in November 2001 with a 73.4 percent "yes" vote. The second measure was needed to complete construction projects started under the first bond measure after construction costs inflated.

The $15.05 million still owed on outstanding bonds is expected to be paid off by 2029.


• Find the district's invitation to apply for the board appointment here.

• Find the application for the board appointment here.

• See the August draft of the master plan with a preliminary budget here.

• See the September draft of the facilities master plan with a more refined budget here.


Sign up for Express to get news updates. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

We can't do it without you.
Support local journalism.


25 people like this
Posted by Confused of PV
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Sep 30, 2017 at 9:51 pm

So we're already $15 million in debt because we built the schools 16 years ago, and the school district wants to add another $72 million to that debt? Plus, why have we only repaid $8 million in 16 years? What kind of inane accounting is that? Are we teaching kids any real life skills, like 'it's best to pay off debts first rather than use credit cards'? No wonder it's called the 'snowflake generation' - hell will have frozen over before this debt is repaid. The Board changes seem funky too. Need more info.

23 people like this
Posted by Remember tag?
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Sep 30, 2017 at 11:23 pm

Just had a look at the AWESOME preliminary budget of the master plan. Why do they want to spend another million ($800k CMS, $116k Orm) on playgrounds, when they just spent $500k this summer? Aren't they good enough?
Web Link

9 people like this
Posted by Bill
a resident of another community
on Oct 1, 2017 at 1:57 pm


without digging into the numbers, I suspect that quite a bit of the amounts paid have gone to paying interest rather than principal. Early payments are almost all interest, with the principal only slowly being reduced. You don't think the school district was able to borrow interest-free, do you?

As for real-life skills, most construction done by public entities is necessarily financed, especially if it is expected to have a substantial lifespan. The real-life skill to be learned is how to manage expenditures and income so that the debt service is within the ability to pay.

18 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Oct 1, 2017 at 4:59 pm

In 1998 there was evidently a 35% cost overrun and thus a second bond. What kind of cost control is that? Is there any reason not to anticipate the same kind of result from this next bond issue?
What are the consequences if no further renovations happen at this time? None of the proposals seem very critical.

19 people like this
Posted by PV Rancher
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Oct 2, 2017 at 12:14 am

hadn't thought about the bond. How long were we told the buildings would last when the last bond was passed? I don't have a lot of faith in the schools these days. The "upgraded" playground at Ormondale is just sad. Gone is the fun setup that a wide range of kids could enjoy. It has been replaced with some weird thing that is practically unusable and kind of dangerous when you think about kids losing their grip and falling. There's another structure that's ok but tiny. They spent a bunch of money and made it worse. Stop fiddling with what's there. Find another project.

by the way, does anyone know when they say the bond is 40 million, is that what is raised or what is paid back?

25 people like this
Posted by Fed up
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Oct 2, 2017 at 8:40 am

We are fed up with the "MORE, MORE, MORE!" attitude that prevails in the Portola Valley school district. We remember the survey that went out for this plan, and were unsettled at that time to read that they were asking for people to list every possible dream item (Think big!") they might want for either school. Frankly, I cannot for the life of me fathom why they need what must be marble and gold-plated bathrooms, a "new grass soccer field" to replace the current grass field, a 500k kitchen for an elementary school, and a brand new gym to replace the current one, which is perfectly adequate for a middle school. Eric Hartwig and Karen Tate are apparently hosting private, one-on-one meetings with certain residents in order to discuss these apparent "needs" with them---why? Is this the kind of "community outreach" they have in mind? Why did Eric choose Karen to "explain" the situation on the PV Forum? What's in this for them? Bolstering to the resume? Personal satisfaction in bringing this to life while not having to financially support it? Why the pushing? We are not willing to consider another expenditure until (a) The current debt is paid off (b) They have a solution to retaining quality staff (and encouraging the bitter ones to leave) (c) Addressing the affordable housing need in Portola Valley (d) Addressing the massive water runoff issue for the current field at CMS. We would like a publicly posted, explicit, line by line accounting of these proposed expenses by the contractor who detailed them. I mean, right down to the cost of each sink, blade of grass, and $ per hour each sub is being paid. Enough already.

28 people like this
Posted by Also confused
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Oct 2, 2017 at 9:46 am

In examining the slate of numbers, I am alarmed at these costs---they are far out of line with what's reasonable. Since we are about to improve our own kitchen, I'm shocked at the expense allocated for a grade-school kitchen. How much use does this kitchen see, and why is it not adequate at the present time? If kids are being taught weights and measurements with kitchen tools, why isn't this being taught outside (i.e. with sand, pretend concoctions, etc)? I feel like we have lost sight of how children actually enjoy learning, in the pursuit of "keeping up with the Joneses" re: electronic toys in the classroom.

A creative teacher holds the attention of his/her students, regardless of the "toys" involved. An uninspired teacher does not, regardless of the "toys." I witnessed this first-hand as a room mom---in fact, the new "toy" required the young kids to sit still in a warm room, and be called on one at a time. The other room mom and I were literally falling asleep, and so were the kids. Watching the teacher "shush" other kids who enthusiastically wanted to answer the question, while awaiting the results on the white board from the electronic toy....omg, we couldn't believe this was supposed to be an improvement. Just an example of how enthusiasm for what's hot or new is not necessarily supported actual use.

I also fail to understand why there needs to be further playground "improvements." The kids aren't even allowed to play running or chasing games (i.e., "remember tag?") on the playgrounds----and recess is mostly taken up by lunch, anyway, but that's another topic.

How about we support the excellent teachers we have, identify the poor ones, and require them to seek additional training? How about we find a way to allow them to live locally, if they so choose? How about we consider the idea that a school district of 600 students might not require the amount of top-heavy administration (combine with Woodside? Perhaps?) Just a thought.

28 people like this
Posted by Disappointed
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Oct 2, 2017 at 10:20 am

If you have to fix some bathrooms or AC, that makes sense. This however seems a case of expanding needed maintenance to justify the grand vision of a small group. I went to the meeting at the town center and there was NO support for the extravagant items on the list.

21 people like this
Posted by PV Resident
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Oct 2, 2017 at 11:25 am

With children at both schools I can't imagine what else they could do with that amount of money. However, I would be willing to put serious money behind a high school....

25 people like this
Posted by ex-pv schools parent
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Oct 2, 2017 at 12:09 pm

I had 3 kids that went thru the pv school system and the improvements needed have nothing to do with facilities. If you want to improve the education and the overall experience for the kids, improve some (not all but significant number) of the faculty and staff. It was hit and miss each year to figure out if the kids were going to learn a lot or nothing at all (babysitting). A telling point was when I pulled my kids out, nobody even asked why. Bizarre. BTW the kids got good grades and never caused trouble. It's easy to spend millions on a remodel (when its not your money), but hard to deal with bad staff and their unions. I'll vote no.

18 people like this
Posted by Danna Breen
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Oct 2, 2017 at 3:28 pm

There is a long way to go before the school district decides what they are going to do regarding the possible bond. IM open, I'm listening. BUT the meantime, there is a school board election on Nov 7 and many of you have ballots coming to you. Four candidates for three seats.... do you all know who you are voting for? Do you know what their positions are re a bond, teachers, technology, facilities... ?I'm doing my homework and meeting people and asking questions. I urge you to do the same and I do wish that there was a panel discussion for the all residents to inform themselves, because it does mattter who is elected. And if next year there is a bond and a significant one, there will be implications to residents. I urge you all to pay attention and do some reading and talking.

15 people like this
Posted by Really?
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Oct 3, 2017 at 11:06 am

Parcel tax due for the school this year $1,200,000 approx. Salaries for superintendent, finance and it guys (the top 3 PVSD salaries on $664,549. Necessary expenditure?

Like this comment
Posted by Soccer Mom
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Oct 3, 2017 at 2:20 pm

Unfortunately, the soccer fields really do need work. They're a mess. Drop by Ormondale some time and try to run without twisting your ankle in the gopher holes.

11 people like this
Posted by ORM & CMS Dad
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Oct 5, 2017 at 8:30 am

Planned amount to fix CMS existing soccer field is $1.3M according to the publicly available information. What are they filling the gopher holes with, iPhones and Teslas?

2 people like this
Posted by Leslie Kriese
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Oct 5, 2017 at 11:02 am

Note to Soccer Mom, in the PVSD Board Study Session presentation there is (only) $116K allocated to Playground and Field Improvements. So it's questionable whether this would address your Ormondale field issues.

There is $1.3M allocated "Soccer Field Renovation (Natural Grass)" for a field which is already natural grass. It would be nice if they fixed the continual watering run off issue. Not only would they save water, the would save a few $$$ too. Perhaps that is not a priority though.

2 people like this
Posted by Leslie Kriese
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Oct 5, 2017 at 11:03 am

I should have mentioned that the $1.3M is for CMS. This is the field that is already natural grass and has a water run off issue.

Like this comment
Posted by Richard Hine
editor of The Almanac
on Oct 5, 2017 at 12:55 pm

Richard Hine is a registered user.

Election update: Web Link

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

Don't be the last to know

Get the latest headlines sent straight to your inbox every day.

Barcelona tapas restaurant coming to Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 14 comments | 7,181 views

By Aldis Petriceks | 5 comments | 1,453 views

Couples: Reading List
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 898 views