Editorial endorsement: Yes on Portola Valley school bond, Measure Z


Should residents of the Portola Valley School District support Measure Z, the $49.5 million bond measure that will raise funds to rebuild or repair buildings mostly constructed in the late 1950s and early 1960s? There are many good reasons to vote yes on this measure, and none that we can think of to reject it.

As with many aging buildings, problems with leaking roofs, old electrical wiring and plumbing, failing heating and cooling systems, and even mold have come to plague the district's schools creating an environment that's hardly conducive to learning.

In coming up with its plan for upgrading buildings on its two campuses – Ormondale and Corte Madera – the school district assessed what the most pressing needs are on both campuses, with the guiding principle being to repair what could be repaired and rebuild if necessary. The estimated cost of projects identified as highest priority ranges from $49. 2 million to $54.5 million.

Some 61 percent of the classrooms that would be replaced if Measure Z passes are "temporary," portable and prefab structures, according to Superintendent Eric Hartwig. The bulk of the bond revenue would be spent on new construction, he said, because in many cases, it would be more expensive to repair the buildings than to start from scratch They are, clearly, past their useful life.

As with other local school districts, enrollment in the Portola Valley district has stopped growing, and in fact has been slowly declining over the last two years. The Measure Z plan calls for fewer classrooms than now exist, but the creation of space better suited to next-generation learning.

The measure needs the support of 55 percent of district voters, and if it passes, property owners' tax bills would increase a maximum of $300 per $1 million of assessed valuation on their properties.

The thought of kids being sent off to school to sit in moldy classrooms with leaky roofs, and in decades-old "temporary" structures with failing infrastructure, is a dreary one. But that's what the Portola Valley School District and its students face. If you find that reality unacceptable, you should vote yes on Measure Z.

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20 people like this
Posted by Corte Madera '15
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Oct 13, 2018 at 7:08 pm

As a former student of Corte Madera (class of 2015) and Ormondale (Class of 2011), I have to say that the image that this author is portraying of the conditions of the school buildings are incredibly unfair. Not once did I notice any sort of leaking roof or mold growing, etc. Rather, my experience was that the buildings were very nice and kept in good shape. As I am not a taxpayer, I do not think the tax increase is that big of a deal, but this money could definitely be used elsewhere on more important issues.

21 people like this
Posted by Also Class of ‘15
a resident of Portola Valley: Los Trancos Woods/Vista Verde
on Oct 13, 2018 at 9:30 pm

I was also in the class of ‘15 at cms. Like the above commenter mentioned, I don’t think the writer really knows what they’re talking about. Making complete generalizations about the overall state of the campus is inaccurate and misleading. Some of the buildings definitely need repairs and/or reconstruction. And the bathrooms also are in desperate need of upgrade. HOWEVER many of the buildings are in good condition and hence a bond measure of the current size seems out of proportion. The writer should take a tour for themselves and look at each individual classroom in the current state. After gaining this perspective I believe the article and its accuracy could be updated and improved.

16 people like this
Posted by Bill Wall
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Oct 16, 2018 at 9:26 am

No on Z.

10 people like this
Posted by Anne F.
a resident of Woodside: other
on Oct 16, 2018 at 11:06 pm

Anne F. is a registered user.

Our facilities are outdated - some are almost 60 years old and don’t meet today’s standards for health or safety. Sometimes these issues aren’t visible to the outside observer — like issues with mold and moisture that are found in air ducts or behind vinyl wallpaper. Other issues have been more visible, such as broken water pipes or outdated heating systems. When you’re dealing with buildings of this age, things fall apart and this is unacceptable for our schools. The cost of maintaining outdated facilities is incredibly expensive and does not create the best environment for our kids. We need Measure Z to make these necessary upgrades and support a quality education.

15 people like this
Posted by Frustrated
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Oct 18, 2018 at 8:03 am

This is the most lavish spending proposal ever put before the voters here. With the interest, the cost is approximately $100 million, taken from the community via property taxes that no longer qualify for a tax deduction.

The public has resisted this repeatedly and the superintendent has plowed ahead hoping not enough of us take notice to vote.

The rationale has shifted (read past almanac articles and check the comments). It's now "it's more costly to maintain than to rebuild." But none of the cited repairs validate. And they always generalize the worst-case part of one building to project a crisis. It's disingenuous and politically manipulative at best. You'd think I'm sending my kids to a leaky, rat-infested, lead-painted, mold-spewing, asbestos-stuffed crackhouse.

If anything, the schools suffer from poor maintenance and administration, which can be addressed by revisiting both. Or we could just spend $97,000,000 and do it again every 15 years.

9 people like this
Posted by PV Taxpayer
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Oct 23, 2018 at 10:43 am

This morning (10/23) I received an email, "Community Connect: PVSD Fall 2018 Update. In discussing the facilities the Superintendent said this:

"Later in this newsletter you will see an update on this effort, including the formation of a citizens' committee to pass Measure Z, which would finance much-needed improvements to our two school sites. If the bond measure passes, we will ramp up our work to take us beyond just studying and planning and into the realm of hiring, designing, and building. "
In other words, there has not been a lot of due diligence of scoping out costs. This is a big ask for $$ with a “trust us, we’ll figure it out later”. When you add up the total cost of this adventure it is just under $100M in debt for a district with fewer then 450 students, a declining enrollment and a previous bond measure to still pay off.

The stunningly beautiful Woodside H.S. Science building which opened last year cost $18M to build. The district’s numbers are half baked and out of line.
Until the board shows the district a reasonable plan with costs and all the details my answer is NO, NO, NO on Z.

9 people like this
Posted by PV Parent
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Oct 25, 2018 at 2:51 pm

Anne F., it would be nice if you would identify yourself as the leader of the "YES ON Z" movement.

The CMS campus was updated 15 years ago, including the plantings and several buildings (new lighting, which is on the list for Z, was done as well). Remember the fiasco with the solar panels and embezzlement by the then Superintendent? (500K+, of which only 100K could be accounted for--and 2.6 million from Woodside, of which he was also Superintendent--for those of you who are new to PV, with which he renovated his home with the same architect. Just Google Tim Hanretty + Embezzlement) Yeah, it was then. Meanwhile, rain gutters were never installed, and it escaped attention in the midst of all of the forensic accounting and feelings of betrayal. The rain gutter issue seems to be the cause of the mold situation.

"Buildings of this age" do NOT just fall apart. Look anywhere else in the country---buildings are older and have withstood much harsher weather than ever occurs in this area. The current problems are the result of years of neglect and mismanagement by the Administration, who never even fixed the bathrooms in the time that my children were there. Administrators who preferred to try to "plant an English garden" (Gonzales) or "install solar panels" (Hanretty) "renovate the playgrounds" (previous Board with our current Superintendent), who installed strangely unexciting plastic rocks that get hot in the sun and mostly go unused, or items that cannot be used due to danger to the children at CMS (that heavy swinging log thing).

Best of all, in doing so, they went over budget by forgetting to calculate (or miscalculating---depends on who you talk to) the expense of the squishy footing beneath it all. They then reallocated or diverted money from the MAINTENANCE fund (this is legal in CA) into the budget for the playgrounds, to cover this expense. They did this with a vote in June---just before everyone went on vacation, and also so that the work on the playgrounds (again, not on maintenance) would be done over the Summer. This vote (which actually was problematic, since a PVSD Board member had left the meeting prior to the vote, but was recorded at the meeting and in the minutes as having voted for this action) had to be redone in the Fall---after which the money had already been used. When one of the PVSD Board members called this fact out at the end of the meeting---that the vote was not valid---they were pooh-poohed. This Board member then found out later that the minutes reflected the vote incorrectly, and had asked that an addendum be added to the minutes, and posted online with the minutes as well. When it was not, until repeatedly requested, it raised some eyebrows.

It's this recent history of mismanagement of funds and property, plus the lack of response to basic questions: where do these numbers come from? What would simple renovation and repair cost? that make those of us who have been here a while, cringe. While this is a new PVSD School Board, it does not seem that enough research has been conducted regarding actual building expenses---no responses regarding how many bids will be solicited, no responses regarding how those contractors will be chosen, and the choice of a very high end, very expensive architectural firm. Speaking of which:

Who chose the architect, CAW? The previous PVSD Board with our current Superintendent. Among this architectural firm's many other clients---including many schools--are La Entrada and Las Lomitas schools in Menlo Park. Who was the Superintendent there at the time? Our current Superintendent.

It's quite possible that this firm is the best choice, and perhaps they were extremely easy to work with. This firm has done beautiful things with their projects, and clearly have the experience to do so for PV. However, it is uncomfortable that we, the taxpayers, aren't getting any information on the other choices available to us: Rather than simply renovating our admittedly boring-looking schools, this bond measure is being driven by the desire (not necessity) to create an architectural gem with gorgeous walls of glass and numerous other pluses. It's a "Keeping Up With The Joneses" mentality--Menlo Park has gorgeous new schools, so why don't we? The problem is this: PV CANNOT AFFORD TO DO THIS RIGHT NOW. We are still paying off previous bonds. We have falling enrollment at both Ormondale and CMS. We are a little town.

I think we can all agree that the schools need repair and renovation. Why haven't we, the town, been shown numbers to address this? You are able to come up with numbers for the very expensive, very fancy complete rebuild. You've got a firm on contract who has helped you push this bond issue through (how much do they cost?) We want to see our other options for the schools. And we want to know where you are getting these numbers. Exactly where you are getting these numbers from. We are tired of vagueness. Please.

5 people like this
Posted by No on Measure Z
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Oct 25, 2018 at 3:41 pm

Unfortunately, for the residents of Portola Valley, this will pass, because even though we have had no guarantees of oversight, no real indication of plans or builds, the school district is essentially saying 'how could you be so unkind to our kids by not voting for this?' We're all for safe, healthy buildings for kids to study in, but time spent 'master planning' should have been time spent on maintenance issues. Leaky gutters and roofs, broken tiles in bathrooms, unsealed, unpainted windows as examples, if maintained, could have enabled the buildings to last longer. As another poster pointed out, property taxes will no longer qualify for a tax deduction. Does the school district consider any of the seniors in this area who may now find this extra property tax insurmountable? Consider any people who just can't afford another tax? Consider any people who think that donating money to a school district with a majority of already privileged children, might be better spent helping kids in Ravenswood or EPA? Or even bringing up the education standards nationwide in math and sciences, not just for a tiny town on the Peninsula filled with overachievers? The kids have a wealth of outdoor environments to work in and learn from, but PVSD wants to put them behind glass and contain them in new ivory towers. They're teaching the wrong lessons to these kids who will, one day, have to live in a real world of disappointments and mediocrity. Wrong message, wrong ask. Not enough people with a backbone in this area to say enough is enough. No on Measure Z.

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