School board scrambles to get informed ahead of bond election deadline

Portola Valley board discusses facilities master plan at study session

Portola Valley School District board members asked to reconsider this previously discarded idea of consolidating its two schools into one campus after visiting the new Laurel School Upper Campus in Menlo Park, which has a two-story building with collaborative spaces and connections to the outdoors. (Drawing by CAW Architects/Courtesy Portola Valley School District)

Portola Valley School District officials came away from a Feb. 6 school board study session on their facilities master plan, and a possible bond measure that might help pay for its projects, with one very clear message: Board members have a lot of work ahead and a very short amount of time to do it.

That's because four of the five school board members are new and not very familiar with the facilities plan, but there's an early August deadline to get a bond measure on the November ballot.

If that deadline isn't met, board members were told at the meeting, the earliest a bond measure could appear on the ballot is 2020.

Brent McClure of Cody Anderson Wasney Architects (known as CAW) and Amanda Moss from the political consulting firm Clifford Moss presented an overview of the facilities master plan the district has been working on for more than a year. They also provided the board with information to help it decide the size of a bond measure the district might put on the ballot.

But board members expressed interest in revisiting parts of the master plan, including the question of whether the district might be better off with one kindergarten through eighth-grade school rather than the current two-school configuration. Board members also said they might want to consider setting aside land that could one day be teacher housing.

An ambitious work plan

At a regular board meeting on Feb. 7, board members agreed to an ambitious work program that includes weekly meetings of a subcommittee made up of board members Jeff Klugman and Mike Maffia, Superintendent Eric Hartwig, and the district's architects and campaign consultants.

Every two weeks, that group will also meet with a representative of the town of Portola Valley, the principals of the district's two schools, school parent and Portola Valley Schools Foundation board member Tricia Christensen, and the district's chief business official, Connie Ngo.

The district also wants to have several community meetings this month that could include the Portola Valley Ranch homeowners' association and gatherings at the Sequoias retirement facility and the Town Center.

By the board's March 7 meeting, the subcommittee is scheduled to present some firm recommendations about whether the district should consolidate onto one campus or include teacher housing in the master plan.

Foundation may help

At the Feb. 7 regular meeting, Tricia Christensen, who has represented the Portola Valley Schools Foundation during the facilities master plan work, said the foundation "probably would do a private fundraising campaign and a capital campaign" to help pay for some of the district's desired projects, as well as help campaign for the bond.

Two community members spoke at the study session. Former school board member Judith Mendelsohn told the board, "I'm really concerned about the scope of your plans."

"This is really a big deal to take on," she said.

Corinne Moesta, a district parent, said the board should "find those projects that really make a difference in our kids' learning."

"We don't want to have buildings falling down, but we don't need the restrooms to be beautiful," she said.

Board member Mike Maffia asked the board to consider what could be eliminated from the facilities plan. Perhaps the existing multi-use space could be expanded to have a regulation-size gym and a performance space, instead of building a separate performing arts building, he said.

Mr. Maffia said he believes if the district educates the community about what a bond would pay for, voters would approve the bond.

Other district's bond spending

The consultant's presentation listed some of the bonds that have been issued by local school districts and how much spending per student they represent. The Almanac used state data found on to make a more comprehensive examination and found districts' per-student bond spending varies widely.

In the Menlo Park City School District, three bond measures totaling $136.1 million have been approved by voters since 1995. With current enrollment of 2,972 students, the bond spending is $45,794 per student.

In the Woodside School District, three bonds totaling $30.7 million have been passed since 1999. With 407 current students, the spending is $75,430 per student.

In the Las Lomitas Elementary School District, where the board is considering putting a $70 million bond measure on the June ballot, three bond measures totaling $84 million have been passed since 1999. With 1,353 current students, current bond spending is at $62,084 per student.

The approval of a new $70 million bond would bring the spending up to $113,821 per student.

In the Portola Valley School District, $23 million in two bonds have been approved since 1998. With 604 current students, spending is now $38,079 per student. If an additional $70 million bond were passed, the spending would be $153,974 per student.

If Portola Valley district voters approve a smaller bond measure of $40 million, the spending would be $104,304 per student.


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

Or show your support for local journalism by subscribing.

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


11 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 10, 2018 at 11:15 am

Keep going to the well for more tax money. It’s going to get harder to pass these bond measures with no tax deduction for them. Start running your organization on what you get in tax revenue. The well is running dry!

14 people like this
Posted by Concerned in PV
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Feb 14, 2018 at 2:17 pm

Mr. Maffia: We don't need to be educated. The community has sent clear and consistent signals on this repeatedly. It's insulting that your path continues to fly in the face of the sentiment of voters & taxpayers. You are mistaking opposition for ignorance.

There is little community interest in tearing down or extending a fine gym that isn't a perfect gym (and one we're still paying for). There is little interest in doing more than undertaking the routine maintenance that you should have been performing all along to keep these assets in service as was promised when the community committed millions previously. You may be new to the board, but we've been paying for years, so we don't need educating. We need the district to take care of the assets and make the absolute most of them. Then when they're paid off, we can talk about what's next.

2 people like this
Posted by PV Resident
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Feb 14, 2018 at 4:24 pm

I was at this meeting as well, and I have to say that I think Mr. Maffia's quote was kind of taken out of context. I was happily surprised to see how well the board was working together to figure this whole thing out. Mr. Maffia was actually a voice of caution---what he meant was that the current Master Plan (from the previous board, it was noted several times) is all over the place. I believe he meant that the ACTUAL needs for the schools need to be distilled in a clear and transparent/cost-effective way, so that the residents of the town can understand exactly what the problems are, and what the proposals are to fix them. He actually steered the conversation away from the "let's just do everything and get everyone to pay for it" method, and into the "there's a better way to accomplish this" method. I was gratified to hear that. And gratified to see agreement from the board. I did not vote for Mr. Maffia, based on my assumption that, as a developer, he would be another big push for developing as much and as expensively as possible. I'm glad that, thus far anyway, I've been proven wrong.

The one thing I found disturbing---perhaps naively so---was the presentation by Amanda Moss. I had no idea that a political consultant had been hired to advise the PVSD on how to successfully push through the bond measure. Seriously. That was the presentation---analysis of the polls of the % of the "likely to vote" population of PV, plus results of the push to persuade "opinion leaders" of PV---about 100 people, if I remember correctly---and further discussion of how to get them on board so that they would push public opinion to approve the whole huge bond measure. {Amanda stated she didn't think the big one would go through successfully; that an initial ask of $40 million was more in line with the poll responses.} I was also bothered that the wording of the presentation repeatedly used phrases separating "us" as the PVSD from "them," the residents of PV. As though we weren't one and the same. Luckily, I didn't see the board responding in kind. Lastly, I was perhaps overly disturbed to see a pull-quote on the slide that advised what the message of the PVSD should be to the residents of the Town----"MESSAGE: "Schools matter here. We are assessing our school facility needs. Our goal: safe, modern facilities. Our needs are REAL. We are EXPLORING OPTIONS, reading out, and LISTENING. Your opinion matters. We want your input. No decisions have been made." I took a photo of this, because I wanted to make sure I got it right, to think about later. Since the previous board had clearly already made their feelings known about how badly they wanted this big bond measure, I really didn't like that tone of manipulation.

I'd like to note that it was clear in this meeting that, while the board seemed very impressed and enthusiastic about the way Upper Laurel and Woodside Elementary schools have turned out, they also noted that the amount of money spent by Upper Laurel (31 million +/-) was a LOT less than the current ask by PV. As well, they stated that they were unsatisfied by the scope of what could be accomplished with the amount of the ask for PV, and wanted to revisit the whole plan because of that. As well, they were clear that while it would be wonderful to have all of the options that had been discussed previously, "We can't pay for it. So we can't do that." That was reassuring.

My advice would be to echo what one of the board members stated emphatically----that this process should be done carefully, slowly (not rushing to try to get it on the ballot in November by getting everything done by June 27th, their last meeting) and very, very transparently. The residents of the Town ---ALL of them, and not just the percentage that Clifford Moss deems important---need to have ample time and opportunity to come to meetings, ask questions, and get detailed answers.

In looking at the CAW website (the architects), I see that they are very experienced in designing educational facilities. So I can see why they were hired for this project. However, I'd like to know (a) where the numbers come from re: the building expenses and (b) if they work specifically with certain contractors. How will PV solicit bids for this project, should it come to pass? As well all know, contractor bids can be all over the place, depending on a number of factors, but certainly including their own overhead. Let's make sure that the bid process isn't limited only to the ones who have done the high-end projects in neighboring towns.

Thanks very much.

9 people like this
Posted by Concerned in PV
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Feb 14, 2018 at 6:45 pm

Good point, PV Resident. I wasn't there so I should allow that I may have misinterpreted Mr. Maffia's comments. I am exasperated at the manipulation here - there's no new news. The community has broadly voiced opposition against this, so it looks like rather than take that to heart, PVSD is trying to find ways around that opposition by political tactics and condescending language. You don't have to spend a lot of time and effort listening this have to demonstrate that you HEARD what was said last year. Do the maintenance, then revisit this when the current debt is paid off.

The plan to spend $40 million is just out of step with the town's norms and outsized for our shrinking student body. The Almanac's print article has a table that shows that PVSD has over 2x as much debt per student as Woodside. Every single student in PV represents $153,000 of debt. It's 114k for Las Lomitas, 75k for Woodside and 45k for Menlo Park. The $40,000,000 bond would make the PV number $220,000. As the population dwindles, you'll see that number creep up toward $250,000 per student. Do you realize that? The new $40,000,000 = $66,225 per student. How about we have the kids make-do with a non-regulation gym and pay them $20,000 each for the hardship they'll endure? I'm sure they'd take it and we'd all end up ahead!

Like this comment
Posted by Barbara Wood
Almanac staff writer
on Feb 14, 2018 at 6:53 pm

Barbara Wood is a registered user.

It may not be clear in the chart, but the Portola Valley number includes the maximum $70 million bond that has been proposed, not the current spending per student. The Las Lomitas number also includes a proposed $70 million bond. Please see the story for current spending per student numbers.

1 person likes this
Posted by Barbara Wood
Almanac staff writer
on Feb 14, 2018 at 6:56 pm

Barbara Wood is a registered user.

From the story: "In the Portola Valley School District, $23 million in two bonds have been approved since 1998. With 604 current students, spending is now $38,079 per student. If an additional $70 million bond were passed, the spending would be $153,974 per student.

If Portola Valley district voters approve a smaller bond measure of $40 million, the spending would be $104,304 per student."

7 people like this
Posted by Concerned in PV
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Feb 15, 2018 at 8:48 am

Thank you for clarifying Barbara. It seems the current numbers are:

Portola Valley $38,000 of debt per student
Menlo Park $45,000
Las Lomitas $62,000
Woodside $75,000

So adding a $40,000,000 bond for PVSD would bring it to $104,000 of debt per student for 600 students

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.

Beer and brats: Ludwig's German Table coming to Mountain View
By Elena Kadvany | 4 comments | 3,020 views

The Other Greenhouse Gas
By Sherry Listgarten | 8 comments | 1,655 views

Who Pays for Palo Alto Schools
By Steve Levy | 24 comments | 1,451 views

Couples: Mirror, Mirror on the . . . Fight?!
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,339 views

Meet the Nurdles
By Laura Stec | 6 comments | 1,114 views