Town Square

Post a New Topic

High school task force proposes $265 million bond measure

Original post made on Feb 26, 2014

The board of the Sequoia Union High School District meets Wednesday, Feb. 26, in Redwood City to discuss a recommendation for a $265 million bond measure to add classroom capacity. The board meets at 5:30 p.m. at 480 James Ave. to decide on a ballot measure for the June or November election.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, February 26, 2014, 8:49 AM

Comments (30)

Posted by Educator
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Heights
on Feb 26, 2014 at 1:58 pm

Educator is a registered user.

Excuse me? The Sequoia HS District Board is going to discuss and eventually vote on when to place a $265 million bond on the ballot, and do so before they have discussed and approved a development and construction plan, held public planning sessions, created a planning/construction/building committee comprised of all components of the community?

It sounds to me that they want a construction slush fund (of $265 million) to build what they want, when they want, and how they want. How about open meeting forums for the public and producing some plans for the taxpayers, neighbors, and community to view and comment on? What about a Superintendent committee comprised of all aspects of the District community that will actually focus and make final recommendations to the Board and Superintendent?

Unless there is a concrete plan in place, Taxpayers should be very wary. I, for one, will vote NO, until I see detailed plans for this enormous bond expenditure.

Posted by Concerned Citizen
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Feb 26, 2014 at 3:34 pm

Totally concur with Educator....specifics need to be identified and spelled out before any voter should be asked to vote....take a look at the District's bonded indebtedness for past 10 years as well as the debt of your elementary school adds up to a great deal of increased taxes.

Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Feb 26, 2014 at 4:14 pm

+1 to educator and concerned citizen's comments. I couldn't have said it better.

1) they need to provide a plan, then taxpayers vote on the plan. A slush fund is exactly what this is would be without extensive details.

2) previous articles have mentioned that the estimated cost for a new full high school would be 200 million. Taxpayers should insist on better long term planning and insist on an additional high school.

Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 26, 2014 at 7:00 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

Corruption in San Mateo County (that's a slush fund)? Surely you jest? The sheeple of San Mateo County keep electing these people. Is it any surprise the corruption continues?

Posted by Clyde D. Burroughs
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Feb 26, 2014 at 7:44 pm

SUHSD administrators have already shown their stripes by wasting tens or even hundreds of millions of taxpayer assessment dollars on extravagant buildings that are totally unnecessary to meeting the core mission of providing students with a sound education -- fancy performing arts centers, Olympic sized pools, new gyms. Now they want more money with no planned way to spend it. I will vote No and I will work to campaign against any bond measure with no plan.

Posted by parent
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 26, 2014 at 8:22 pm

As a district parent, I just received an emailed puff piece about this bond. A lot of hand waving but no substance, and this from a district that hasn't exactly earned my trust with its prior spending antics.

They must think we're all pretty dumb.

Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 26, 2014 at 9:07 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

"They must think we're all pretty dumb."

Based on past voter behavior it's not a stretch for them to believe that.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 26, 2014 at 9:11 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"As a district parent, I just received an emailed puff piece about this bond. "

The district may not use public funds to advocate for a bond issue

Posted by parent
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 26, 2014 at 10:47 pm

Peter, I am sure they call it "communicating with parents" or "educating parents" or some other phrase that passes muster. But the one-page document was full of hyperbolic statements that presented the bond as essential, talked about the advantages ("the state can't seize the bond money!") and did not indicate any downside to the bond.

And it may have taken a while because anything school-related tends to be sacrosanct, but my finger-to-the-wind assessment is that the voting public has wised up. And parents in particular know the score. All you have to do is compare the lavish PAC to the inadequate school classrooms to understand that the district's financial priorities are flawed.

Posted by parent 2
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 27, 2014 at 11:00 pm

I am disappointed but not surprised by the negativity in the comments so far. With three children growing up in the district schools I have a lot of experience regarding the need for expansion. In my opinion the only negative thing to be discussed is why we didn't upgrade the high schools two years ago to be ready for the very predictable growth.
Considering the very tangible need for better educated workers in America - not to mention Silicon Valley - it is astounding that such a large fraction of the populace prefers to fight education instead of trying to work together towards better governance of what they see as shortcomings in the school district.

Posted by stats
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Feb 27, 2014 at 11:22 pm

The PAC is definitely nicer than many of the classrooms today. It also contains several classrooms, as well as the theater. Maybe you can also identify the dilapidated and ungainly city and school facilities the PAC replaced ? Those facilities were in greater disrepair than virtually all the classrooms. But maybe you don't remember the previous facilities ?

BTW - My mid 60's vintage midwest public junior high school for approximately 1,200 students had a central auditorium (800 capacity) and band/choir rooms essentially equivalent to the PAC, so I don't view it, at all, as lavish.

Posted by stats
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Feb 27, 2014 at 11:40 pm

@parent 2,
Don't be put off in expressing your logic and positive view. Many of these Almanac articles on bond issues, etc., rapidly become watering holes for the 15-25 local, vocal tea baggers who view any new investments in our kids as squandery, based on loose, revisionist stories of previous misdeeds.

Their usual modus operandi is to demand complete, accurate, detailed plans of exactly what is going to be built and reams of community input on the plans. Very similar to the way radical environmentalists deal death to projects though EIR details delay.

Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 28, 2014 at 6:57 am

Personally, I'm not asking for "complete, accurate, detailed plans of exactly what is going to be built." I'd like to hear SOME specifics as to what that much money is going to be used for. So far all I've heard and seen is a bunch of hand waiving and vague descriptions. If you went to the bank for a construction loan do you think they'd loan it to you with that little information? Not a chance. So, why should the voters loan the district money based on no or very little information?

Posted by parent
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 28, 2014 at 9:03 am

Anyone who comes on here and starts flinging around gross stereotypes about those of us who dare to ask questions is reflecting an unfortunate naivete and narrow-mindedness.

I'm a parent. It's in my best interest for the rest of you to invest in facilities that my kids will enjoy. But I don't believe in tooth fairies, or that everything will come out right if you just close your eyes and wish real hard. Our kids take a required high school course in economics in which they learn that the importance of collecting data and understanding the bigger picture. Some of the adults in this community would be well-served by studying that subject themselves.

If my kid comes to me and asks for $100 for "something," I don't reach in my pocket and pull out a bill. Even though I love my kid a lot and trust his judgment. Why on earth should I write the district a blank check unless they demonstrate both the need and the fact that they will be good stewards of the funds they receive?

Posted by Parent
a resident of another community
on Feb 28, 2014 at 4:57 pm

Some of that money will go to tearing down existing structures at Menlo-Atherton to build two-story buildings to help accommodate the 600+ additional students they expect to have in the coming years.

If I were a neighboring resident of the school -- I would have concerns not only about the construction mess but the longterm impact of adding this many students to an already bursting campus. 600 more students means longer/staggered school days, more sports events, more cars, more traffic and more noise.

Meanwhile, Woodside has room. Hmm, rethinking the boundaries is one easy way to cut some of the costs.

Posted by stats
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Mar 1, 2014 at 11:08 am

@Menlo Voter. Parent,
Fair enough - if you are just looking for some specifics on attendance projections and what generally will be built from the funds (2 new smaller schools, capacity increases at 3), that's very reasonable and is happening. In fact, you would have seen the following in the 7 community input sessions over the past 2 weeks. It doesn't answer all the questions, but explains how unknowns will be answered over the next few months.

Web Link

I do take exception to the presumption of "lavishness" and waste in previous bond issues. Previous SUSHD projects are far less lavish than the relatively modest midwest public school facilities I grew up with in the 70's. The biggest source of financial waste in the previous string of projects is their incremental nature - tearing down parts of recently upgraded structures or force-fitting less-efficient new construction onto space-constrained campuses to avoid disruption. When my kid asks for 98$ for something I know he needs (like tennis shoes or increased school capacity), I do ask a couple questions (will they cover your needs for the full tennis season ?), but trust him to pick the right thing for his needs.

Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 1, 2014 at 12:10 pm


it's a nice start. It's still much too vague for me to vote for that much bond. They're going to have to come to the table with more than that. It doesn't need to be highly detailed, but it needs to be more than what you linked to.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 1, 2014 at 12:58 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

When it comes to paying property taxes we are all obligated to pay our fair share, however a bond issue is, by definition, a discretionary purchase and therefore a much higher standard of proof/neccessity applies.

Why aren't property tax funds sufficient to cover capital improvement expenditures?

Why has the district not been setting aside funds from property taxes for capital improvements - it certainly has seen revenue increases as the property tax roles have grown?

What is the long term capital improvement plan for the entire district and when and where do new school sites fit into that plan? How many more bond issues will be needed over the next 10-20 years to cover those requirements?

What is the current bond indebtedness and when will it be paid off?

What will be the impact on the capital improvement plan of the growth of the competition - Charter Schools?

I do not know of a single business that simply asks for more money to do the very things that it should be doing with its primary revenue source. And there are many public agencies that run a balanced budget solely from their property tax revenues and which have reserves for the replacement of equipment and for new facilities - why are school district so different.?

Posted by parent
a resident of Atherton: other
on Mar 1, 2014 at 1:07 pm

Have you been IN the PAC, stats? Have you been IN the newer gym? My midwestern public schools offered all the amenities too, including indoor swimming pools, but we didn't have the contrast between shabby, inadequate classroom and luxurious non-academic facilities (like the gym and PAC) that you see at M-A. For over a decade, the district has spent inordinate amounts of money for auxiliary purposes while neglecting the core academic needs. We keep hearing about the importance of STEM, but science labs don't seem to have been updated since the school was built!

I looked at the breakdown of expenses too. It's a start, though there are inconsistencies. They need to go a level beyond that and show how they decided what was needed and how they came up with the costs.

I've helped nonprofits apply for grants, and you have to supply all kinds of financial information and projections just to be in the running to get a $10,000 grant. The district shouldn't expect us to trust them to do the right thing without giving us reason to believe they will do so. Especially given their track record over the last decade.

Posted by parent
a resident of Atherton: other
on Mar 1, 2014 at 1:09 pm

All good questions, Peter. Accountability is key.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 1, 2014 at 1:47 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

If you want budget info , historical finances etc for SUHSD it is not easy to find.

Here are the quick links on the SUHSD Home Page:
Quick Links
2013-14 School Calendar Employee FAQs Program Planning Handbks
2014-15 School Calendar Graduation Requirements SARCs/Accountability
Address Verification Incoming Grade 9 Info School Site Maps
Board Materials Email IS/MND Seasonal Flu Info 2014
Board Policies Las Lomitas Powerpoint Special Education
Boundary Search Measure J Information Staff Directory
Boundary Maps - Proposed New Teacher Institute Summer School
Common Core Standards Open Enrollment Info Superintendent's Message
Compass Parent Education Series Work Permits
Developer's Fees Performance Data CHS Teacher Featured!

Notable absent is any financial material;perhaps someone can point me to it??

In contrast the Fire District has these links:

Web Link

which include:

Adopted Budget FY 13/14
Budget in Brief 2013 / 2014
Staff report Appropriations Limit 2013-2014
2013/2014 Budget

Single Audit FY 2009-10
Gann 2012 Staff Report
OPEB Trust Fund 4th Quarter 2011 Report

Older Budget and Reports

Proposed Budget Staff Report FY 12/13
Budget in Brief 2006-2008
General Fund (revenue)
General Fund (expenditure)
Internal Service Funds

Capital Improvment Project

MPFD 2011-2012 Single Audit Report
Memorandum on Internal Control & Required Communications
MPFPD ISO Insurance Report
Budget Document FY 12-13
2011/2012 Budget in Brief
Municipal Sphere of Influence Review
2011/2012 Budget

Single Audit FY 2010-11
Single Audit FY 2009-10
2010/2011 Budget in Brief
2010/2011 Revenue Salary & Benefits Calendar Year 2011
2010/2011 Expenditure Unrepresented Support Staff
2010/2011 Internal Service Fund W2 Wages 2011
Debt Service and Capital Improvement Project Salary & Benefits Calendar Year 2010
2010/2011 Budget Transmittal Letter
2010/2011 USAR
MPFD 2009 Single Audit Report
2009/2010 District Budget
2008/2009 Budget in Brief
SOC 2 Final Report(Appendices)
2008/2009 District Budget (10 Mb)
Overview (.7 Mb)
General Fund Expenditure (3.0 Mb) Preamble Compensation
Internal Service Fund (2.0 Mb) Payrate Tables
USAR Overview (1.9 Mb) W2 Wages
Appendix (2.8 Mb)
2007 Financial Statement (Sept 30) Annual Reports
2007/2008 Fiscal Year Budget 2011 Annual Report
2007/2008 USAR Budget
General Fund Revenue (1.2 Mb) Facilities
Facilities Condition Assessment
OPEB Report Q2
OPEB Report Q1
GANN 2010 Staff Report
Menlo Park Fire District Third Quarter 2010
Menlo Park Fire District Fourth Quarter 2010
Why does the SUHSD not post the same type of information? Or if it does, where is it hidden?

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 1, 2014 at 2:31 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

To provide a concrete example of how a competent public agency should fund capital improvements from its property tax revenues look at the manner in which the Fire District, which serves almost 100,000 citizens, has funded the replacement and expansion of its East Palo Alto Station 2 and replacement of its downtown Menlo Park Station 6. In both cases additional land had to be acquired and the entire land and construction costs, totaling over $15M, was met entirely by funding from long established reserves and from its property tax revenues.

Note that the Fire District did not just throw up its hands and say fire services are essential so therefore the taxpayers must pay more to meet the expanding needs of the communities which they serve. The taxpayers had already paid for these capital improvements and their property tax payments were not simply allocated to current operating expenses. with the hope that "new" money would be forthcoming for these essential capital projects.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 1, 2014 at 4:03 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Here is some financial info on the District - not found on their web site:

Web Link

Note that the outstanding General Obligation Bond debt of the District as of June 30, 2013, is already $336,340,000.

The total requirements to amortize through 2044 these General Obligation Bonds outstanding as of June 30, 2013 is $558,520,819.

On June 11, 2013, the District issued $10,000,000 in Tax and Revenue Anticipation Notes (TRAN) maturing on July 2, 2014, with an interest rate of 1.50%.
The TRAN are a general obligation of the District, and are payable from revenues and cash receipts to be generated by the District.

The District has only about$8.5 M in reserves for facilities project, capital projects and site repairs - and this with current capital assets of $319,556,255.

Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 2, 2014 at 10:52 am

If it's not one school district it's another asking for additional funding all for the sake of "improvements". While I'm a proponent of education, I'm also an strong advocate for sound financial management. In this case the school district should have been setting aside funds in a strategic manner for future improvements (much like the fire district did) rather than going to the voters asking for $256MM. It is also disappointing that there isn't a more definitive plan for the money's use.

Of course the school district will use phrases like "investing in your children's future" to sell the measure and some people will be duped into voting yes. At this point I plan to vote NO!

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 2, 2014 at 12:27 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

It is a bit perplexing.

The SUHSD has capital assets of $320M and current bond indebtedness of $336M so they owe more than their current assets are worth.

And now that want to borrow $265M more to increase their capital assets to $485M - a 80% increase in their capital assets.

Three questions:
1 - How can they justify a a 80% increase in their capital assets vs a much lower increase in population served?

2 - How can they justify not funding capital improvements, or at least a significant portion of them, from their property tax revenues?

3 - At what point will the voters decide that the SUHSD simply is carrying too much debt?

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 2, 2014 at 1:18 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Another question comes to mind:
- What will be the increase in operating expenses, which must be paid for by property taxes and not by bond proceeds, when the capital assets increase by 80% and will the property tax revenues be sufficient? If not then the district will be building buildings that it cannot afford to operate.

To be clear, I am a great proponent of education and our son went through grade school at Encinal and high school at MA. But I am also a strong proponent of good management, fiscal discipline, public agency transparency and careful stewardship of taxpayers' dollars.

Posted by VoteNo
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 3, 2014 at 7:50 am

Okay folks, so when these bond measures show up on our ballots, VOTE NO!!!!

Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Mar 3, 2014 at 1:36 pm

@ Peter Carpenter :

Thank you sir for the research and financial information.

You bring up excellent points, and I was particularly struck by your last one; based on the financials, I'm concerned that the district cannot not even afford to maintain the very buildings they hope the taxpayers pay to have built.

Is there a 'no on measure [x]' in place yet? I'd like to contribute to it. I fear that the voting public will be kept intentionally uninformed enough about the current state of SUHSD's finances that they'll rubberstamp it. The public needs to know that SUHSD owes more in debt than it has in assets; it is effectively financially underwater.

And, just for the record, I am also a proponent of education and am willing to provide additional funding for critical educational needs. But districts need to prove they have the financial discipline and long-term planning to use funds wisely.

Clearly SUHSD is a poor steward of taxpayer dollars, and should not be rewarded for that mismanagement by having MORE money handed to it.

Those numbers look so poor, it makes me wonder if it makes more sense for the District to just declare bankruptcy. Can they do that? I'm not familiar with how viable an option that is for a school district.

Posted by Dave Boyce
Almanac staff writer
on Mar 3, 2014 at 2:33 pm

Dave Boyce is a registered user.

It's worth pointing out that Sequoia district budgets are essentially opaque to all the uninitiated. In my experience as a reporter, I had to be in the presence of the district's finance officer to have the budget items explained. It took at least an hour and even then it was unsatisfying because the language and concepts used to explain tended toward the arcane.

I have complained and asked for a readable budget, as have others including some district board members. I've been told that the district is compelled to use admittedly unfriendly software because it can talk to the software used by the county office of education. I do not know whether this situation has changed.

If a budget using that software were to be posted, I suspect that it would not be of much help.

Posted by Dave Boyce
Almanac staff writer
on Mar 3, 2014 at 2:40 pm

Dave Boyce is a registered user.

I meant to say "... essentially opaque to all but the uninitiated."

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Post a comment

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

Stay informed.

Get the day's top headlines from Almanac Online sent to your inbox in the Express newsletter.

Analysis/paralysis: The infamous ‘Palo Alto Process’ must go
By Diana Diamond | 11 comments | 2,618 views

Common Ground
By Sherry Listgarten | 3 comments | 2,272 views

The Time and Cost Savings of Avoiding a Long Commute
By Steve Levy | 6 comments | 1,896 views

Planting a Fall Garden?
By Laura Stec | 5 comments | 1,277 views