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School Facility Master Plan

Original post made by aw, Old Palo Alto, on Apr 24, 2007

Tuesday School Board meeting will introduce the just-published Facility Master Plan for discussion.

Web Link

Looks like a thoughtful, 350 page document itemizing upgrades for each school in the district. Interesting that it continues use of portable elementary classrooms for the foreseeable future.

Total cost of the plan is $772M. Proposal is to introduce the first bond in June '08. This is an exciting step forward for Palo Alto!

Comments (31)

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 24, 2007 at 8:38 am

Didn't we just go through a Building for Excellence Plan in our schools. What is different this time?

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Posted by what, more?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 24, 2007 at 9:58 am

Anyone have an idea how much more the are planning to charge for this bond, and whether it will once again be a parcel tax? I'm not so interested in supporting an additional tax with all this trust and management stuff still falling out.

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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 24, 2007 at 9:59 am

Well, the rubber is now going to meet the road.

Excuse me, but what's the verdict on the 13th school? And what will be the implication of a charter school on that site? What will the board be able to do to prevent a special interest group from coming in and taking over one of our sites?

What State level political support is this board or this superintendent rallying to make sure that when we spend $1Billion tax payer dollars on prettying up our sites, that outsiders (charter schools and for profit charter school associations) don't swoop in like vultures and snap them all up????

Why don't we see leadership a the district level to show us how we can protect PAUSD from this threat???

I say they get NOTHING, not a dime, until this gets resolved. I'm not about to approve funding that will be funneled straight to charter schools.

The soon to be new superintendent and the soon to be new board better start showing some immediate command of this school district, including sound strategic planning, recognition and problem solving of the school district's needs, gaps and priorities, and resistance to special interest politics/funding. They also better start showing us they know how to protect this school district from squatters.

If the vote were today, I would not give the current board, current superintendent this kind of funding. They have shown they can not manage our district.

The current school board has a critical matter coming before them as early as this May -lets see if they've got their long term thinking caps on.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by Grandma
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 24, 2007 at 12:40 pm

This will be a bond measure for building upgrades only. The parcel tax was for increased spending on operations. The Building for Excellence bond measure was passed in 1996, it will be 12 years since we've had a school building bond.

In June 2008 we will be hit with a huge bond measure for the schools, a bond measure for libraries and a bond measure for a Safety Building (Police Building). I wonder how many of them will pass?

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Posted by Sam
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 24, 2007 at 8:28 pm

Does anyone realize the proposed bond is 3/4 of a Billion dollars??? Our property taxes would be horrendous. If the measure is placed on the June, 2008 ballot, there go the Library and Public Safety Building bond measures down the tubes!!

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Posted by NO
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 25, 2007 at 1:16 am

Resident, you are right. We just finished the Building For Excellence program recently, which took about 9 or 10 years, and was supposed to upgrade our schools.

I am voting NO even though i still have a child in the school district.

All the bond issues/parcel tax proposals... schools, libraries, police headquarters, are too much. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.


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Posted by Pauline
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Apr 25, 2007 at 7:46 am

I went to the Facilities meeting last night. No opinion either way about any of it, but here is what I heard as objectively as I can do. Anyone else there, please correct whatever you think I got wrong.

The Building for Excellence almost, but not quite, completed bringing all the buildings we have up to code. Need to finish that part.

We expect many more kids to come into the district over the next 20 years. Had about 15,000 in the 60s, now have about 11,000, potential return to 15,000 again in the next 10 to 20 years if all goes as assumed. May have to plan for them, at this point we are nearing maxing out the space we have.

Need to either add buildings to the space we have, or take back schools we have leased out, or some combo. Depends on what our Board decides to do.

Every school site affected in one way or another.

Will have to get rid of modulars over next 15-20 years as they become decrepit, and replace with "real" buildings.

Either way, planning ahead means having to spend the money to get up to code and sufficient space for the upcoming kids.

And, finally, bond(s) would include not just facilities, but technology and "stuff" inside buildings, like desks and chairs.

The bond would probably be a type of Prop 39 Bond, meaning 55% to pass, oversight committe reports back on how it is spent, and specifically set up to do what the community thinks is priority.

It would probably be divided into 2-3 different bond measures, each one happening every 6-8 years, depending on how it is split up. Would allow community to see results of each amount spent before voting on "next phase", so there would be accountability built in to process ( along with the community oversight committee).

Great support expressed on Board for making sure the community is "part of" the process of planning the priorities for "phasing".

Initial supposition, or maybe a better word is hope, is to bring it forward in about a year for a vote.

That's all I can think of right now.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 25, 2007 at 8:54 am

It seems to me that most of this work needs to be done. After B for E it is pretty clear that our schools are still in a really bad way talking about the facilities. However, it is going to cost a lot. I don't know all the fiscal ins and outs of such things, but I don't think a Bond will muster this time. Already there is talk of a Bond for a library and and police building. Property taxes are already sky high and many of us are maxed out. Also, with all the fund raising at the schools, we are getting enough of it already.

We must look for other ways to get the money. How about some of the big PA companies giving back to the community by naming a new science building or a new arts block after them. I feel sure that since these companies employ the parents of some of our students, they will want to continue the idea of excellence of PA schools and the facilities must come up to scratch. These companies want their employess to live locally and if they can attract employees to stay near them in PA it must help them in the long run.

Can't we actively look for sponsoring from local businesses. I know that a new Bank opened recently and gave a nice big check to the district. Good for them, but how about others.

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Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 25, 2007 at 9:26 am

Is there an infrasructure pattern here in Palo Alto?

--Worn out streets, 30 years or older
--Tired, obsolete library and community center at Mitchell--30 years or older
--Police station out of code and capacity--built in the early 1970's
--Schools constructed a generation ago, approaching code requirements (B4E,) but still facilities that are not fully configured for their expected usage in the next 20 to 30 years

Shall we celebrate that we all have saved thousands of dollars in property taxes and other fees because State law has kept such taxes under control for about 30 years? Sure, let's celebrate that, the money was put to other uses.

But let's be realistic here. Infrastructure and assets, whether they are in the public or private sector, have a useful life and eventually wear out. Sometimes that means they go away, other times it means that need to be significantly upgraded or replaced.

Since our policy makers and those of us who elected them here in town and in the State government as well chose to not put money aside to pay for infrastructure requirements when the inevitable time came when existing infrastructure needed major work, we now are faced with making some decisions about how we will pay for such projects.

We should not kid ourselves. These are serious infrastructure problems and needs we now face. One can dispute the fine points around any one of the infrastrucutre matters the community has in front of it, but it is no coincidence that so much in so many different mainfestations is presenting itself right now.

I suggest we all need to recognize and accept this reality before we go any further in the discussion. These issues are going to be with us for some time to come. If the present suggested approaches are rejected, the problems will not go away, other approaches will have to be identifed. We have crossed the chasm into a new era, an era where a community built out over 30 years ago must now determine its future infrastructure.

Other places in the country have been through this, and we are not the only city in the State facing this problem. It can get solved, but we have to be level headed about what we face.

I just turned 53, so 30 actually seems young to me in certain respects. But not for the things we are discussing here.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 25, 2007 at 10:26 am


What you say makes perfect sense to me. But, how is this to be paid for. I think you have some idea of how things work and how they have worked elsewhere in similar situations. How do you see this being paid for? Does it have to come out of our pockets? If it is down to the city not putting money aside to pay for these things then it sounds to me like bad management on their side? How can we put this right by our residents without having to pay an arm and a leg. Many people living in this town are not able to afford any increases is taxes. They may not be seniors and can get exempted, but there are many people here who do earn salaries that are not in the six figure range. Are property taxes going to rise so much that we will be forcing some of our teachers, etc. who are living here at present, out of the area. And what if there is an economic situation equivalent of the dot com bust, what will happen?

I think this is a very worrying situation and it doesn't take a crystal ball to see all the potential problems coming up in the next 20 years.

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Posted by Shocked
a resident of Meadow Park
on Apr 25, 2007 at 9:33 pm

Over 3/4s of a BILLION dollars ? This seems unreal. I cannot believe it. It almost seems like pork for some construction lobby. Personally I cannot afford all the existing bond measure taxes and parcel taxes, and all the proposed ones (library, police station, and now schools) on top of them.

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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 25, 2007 at 11:49 pm

There is another way to pay for infrastructure needs. It’s called prioritizing. Businesses do it every day. Simply make a list of what is ESSENTIAL for running the city. Anything that doesn’t make the list doesn’t get funded.

What would you be willing to give up to avoid bond issues? The art center? The Junior Museum and Zoo? Branch libraries? If you say, “No, those things are too important,” then you’re asking for bonds and various new taxes. You – like the city council – want to have it all.

Palo Alto has 1070 employees. Mountain View has 555. Our city officials keep telling us the reason for the extra employees is because we offer many more services, but no one is willing to list the services of the two cities side-by-side to prove their point. I’d say Mountain View has a lot more – and better – than we have. How do they do it?

What if we could reduce the city’s headcount by just 100 employees. Let’s assume an average salary of $70,000. There’s $7,000,000 – plus all the additional savings from benefits.

I would love to have one new library/community center. I believe we probably do need a new police station. I don’t doubt our school buildings need upgrades. But until I can trust our city government to wisely spend the money it has, I’m not planning to give them any more.

Consider how the city manages our money:

- $21 million dollars paid to Enron to avoid a law suit, even though Enron defaulted on its contract and never delivered anything -- while other cities held their ground and are now being paid by Enron.

- $225,000 for a consultant to study garbage services

- $70 – 80 K for a marketing program to convince us to vote YES on bond issues

- $444,000 for playground equipment

- School food services facing $600,000 annual deficit

- 2005 storm drain bond won’t cover all the necessary fixes

Our city council is like an irresponsible parent. Johnny comes home from school and says, “I NEED a new cell phone/car/iPod/computer/whatever.” Mom and Dad know that money is tight. The house needs a new roof, there’s no money in their retirement account, health and car insurance is due, they need to save for Johnny’s college fund. The wise parent will explain the realities of life to Johnny and explain why he can’t have what he wants. The irresponsible parent will give in to Johnny and go into debt.

We need some wise parents to run our city.

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Posted by Mad Dad
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 26, 2007 at 12:03 am

It looks to me like not much more than

a) New Air Conditioning in some buildings in most schools
b) New play fields (not turf, just regraded grass except for turf at Gunn football field - no net new field area except possibly one new soccer field at Gunn)
c) New parking lots and sidewalks everywhere
d) New computers every 6 years
d2) New desks and chairs every 10 years
e) New floors and bleachers in the gyms
f) New windows everywhere
g) A couple of minor new buildings in selected campuses, and a new pool at Gunn, and improved auditoriums at Gunn and Paly
h) Storm drains everywhere - since the City can't seem to afford it

We are basically sticking with the lousy facilities that we have, and putting yet another another bandaid on 20-50 year old buildings that are well past their useful life. These improvements do not measurably improve the quality of education.

$2.5M to 'fix' the fields at Jordan? What is that other than regrading, reseeding, new sprinklers and a water meter? I want that contract - it is 75% margin for the lucky contractor!

$772M to continue to make the existing facilities 'barely usable'? Imagine how much square footage we could build commercially with $772M! Just do a simple analysis - we could probably rebuild from scratch every school in the district for that amount of money, plus buy a laptop computer for every student in the district. And every new school could have a cafeteria, an auditorium, a music room, an athletic facility - a real school.

I was stunned in reading the document.

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Posted by aw
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 26, 2007 at 7:00 am

Mad Dad,

Your points are right. I'm trying hard not to critique specific line items in the report.

I'm with you on your main point - why not replace the buildings? Statewide school construction averaged $210 per foot in 2005. Recent experience in LA and San Jose is closer to $400 per foot. At $400 per foot we can build 40,000 square foot elementary schools for $16M - compared to $12M for new windows, HVAC and drains and a new multipurpose room.

I'm also concerned about tranching the bonds. Could be a recipe to do a couple schools, then abandon the rest of the project.

That said, I'm impressed with the level of detail in the report and pleased that we're even having a discussion about catching up on $772M of infrastructure.

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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 26, 2007 at 2:02 pm

I would like to see PAUSD at least get a bid for the cost of rebuilding ONE of the schools - just to test aw's $16M per school theory above. If we could rebuild an elementary school for even $20M, that would be $260M to rebuild all 13 elementary schools!

So what's the other $515M for?

Ok, then there would be $ needed for the high schools and middle schools, and then the furniture and technology. But It seems sort of odd that the total for another round of refurbishing would be this high, if its true that we should be able to rebuild all elementary schools for $200-300M?

I think that efficient use of land/space at the sites, energy efficiency, traffic and safety, technology capabilities, play space, beauty and comfort of most of our elementary schools could be vastly improved by rebuilding. These schools are mostly over 50 years old, its time to start rebuilding to lower operating costs for the long run.

I'd rather see a 15-20 year serial process of rebuilding than a 20 year serial process of band-aiding that will only result in another 20 year band-aid process starting all over again in 20 years.

How can we vote for a $1B bond when we don't understand the options or the costs of the alternatives?

Also, It seems like they haven't really even defined their middle school/high school needs yet, how can they make 20 year facilities plans for those? 3rd high school? Perhaps they should cut the bond up into high school, middle school and elementary schools.

Strategic planning??? Where is it? Cart before horse?

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Posted by Confused
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 26, 2007 at 2:03 pm

I don't doubt that we need a new public safety building, that our libraries need renovations, and that the schools are also in dire need of upgrades. I only moved here a month ago (so please excuse my ignorance), but why, why is the city council approving more residential building if schools are at capacity and in need of money? Have they actually sat down and analyzed how much more money the city will have to spend to serve all of these new homes (which seem geared towards families, and therefore will increase enrollment) vs. how much they'll actually gain in property taxes from these homes? If the public safety building is at capacity/maxed out, is increasing the city population the logical answer? Again, I'm new here, so I may be missing something, but it just doesn't add up. And if I am correct in questioning this, how are we holding the city accountable for their lack of judgment and planning?

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 26, 2007 at 2:20 pm


Well done. You have worked out in a month what many of us have been trying to explain to the city, the school and district and many residents for months.

We don't need more housing. We do have overcrowded schools. We do need to get more sales tax dollars and we do need money to pay for a whole lot of stuff without asking for Bonds.

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Posted by Mad Dad
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 26, 2007 at 2:56 pm

One of the most obvious and glaring mistakes in planning here relates to athletic fields, and the choice to continue with grass fields at basically every site except the Gunn Football field.

The problem with grass fields is simple - they get used and abused, and because of the rainy season, require 'recovery time' every year (1-4 months of no use). They also require lots of water to keep them green, as well as upkeep and maintainance.

By converting to artificial turf at the middle school and high school sites, the available base of fields will expand dramatically in the City. I also believe the 10 year cost for turf versus grass will show no difference at all. The quality of these fields is far higher as well. Anyone who has ever played on the grass on the Gunn football field and compared it to the new artificial turf field at Mayfield will tell you.

I think you could, as an example, take the entire Jordan grass area and convert it to artificial turf for less than the $2.5M projected for a grass field, and, in addition, your annual operating cost savings would be very significant. You could use it year round, instead of 8 months a year.

Seems like a fairly smart investment - one that increases field availability, lowers operating costs, and does not increase the proposed capital budget.

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Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 26, 2007 at 3:50 pm

To illustrate how difficult the revenue challenges are which the City and School District currently face, I offer a couple of mainly factual observations:

1. When a community is getting built out, adding industrial, commercial and residential improvements, a great deal of funding/fees are available to develop city and school infrastructure. When such infrastructure has reached the end of its useful life after 30 or more years, a built out community typically is not able to add more and new industrial, commercial and residential improvement fees commensurate with the capital requirements needed to pay for obsolete city and school infrsatructure. The original source is not a recurring source of funding/fees.

2. When Palo Alto/Stanford Shopping Center and San Francisco were the primary shopping destinations for residents up and down the Peninsula, Palo Alto had a disproportionate "market share" of sales tax revenues. Without regard to what Palo Alto's retail strategy has been or currently is, it is fair to state that its "market share" of sales tax revenue is much more in line with other communities nearby which now offer retail options to their residents and others in the region who previously were relatively captive customers of Palo Alto/Stanford Shopping Center in the not so distant past.

Part of our community's decisions about what to do about our infrastructure challenges and how to pay them must account for the larger context of funding options available in light of the circumstances Palo Alto now is part of, compared to what those options were in previous circumstances.

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Posted by John
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 26, 2007 at 4:01 pm


You seem to completely ignore the supply/demand curve in our schools. One way to decrease demand for more classrooms is CUT demand for them. If PAUSD were to go back to previous standards (under which my kids were educated in thsi city), there would be more than 20 kids per class, grades 1-3. It is a feel good approach, but it is completely unnecessay.

Until a serious look at reality is taken by our city and schools, why should I agree to spend more money on various turkeys?

Paul, you need to get specific. You are always talking about models and comparisons. Where's the beef?

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Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 26, 2007 at 5:39 pm


With all due respect, I have a hard time understanding what your comments have to do with my observations. My comments in this thread are intended to point out some differences that exist today compared to the environment in which much of our infrastructure was built and partially how it was paid for then. I am sorry if you don't find such information useful, I hope that others do.

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Posted by John
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 26, 2007 at 5:49 pm

" requirements needed to pay for obsolete city and school infrsatructure."

Paul, those are your words...

If we can diminish demand for classrooms, perhaps our schools will not be so obsolete. If we can consolidate our library structure, perhaps we will not need to buy new land to build a new police building.

Paul, please, just tell us, for once, what you are willing to cut or diminish or consolidate. Be specific. That would be the beef.

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Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 26, 2007 at 6:23 pm


Thanks for the clarification.

I have stated in other strings that we will need to find some money from our existing City of Palo Alto operating budget to help fund our infrastructure requirements. A place to start there is the way we structure retirement plans for our employees, as the way they currently are structured is acutarily unsustainable. The federal government did this during the Clinton Administration, so there is at least one example out there of doing something that helped with the federal government's employee benefits obligations and still helped employees with the health care and retirement. Properly done, those savings could be put into helping with the infrastructure needs we have in the City, but I suspect other funding mechanisms still will be needed.

I think we need to put a freeze on additional housing. We have many issues digesting what already is in the pipeline, and the consequences are still not fully known. Such a freeze would mean that growth projections for school sites would likely be lower, but my understanding is that there will be an increase over where we are today by virtue of housing already approved and other factors which you probably are as familiar with as I am.

If you read the school package, the public safety building report, and the proposal for the new Mitchell Library Community Center, I think you will find that even with the approaches that you allude to about land purchase and student counts, we still have old worn out obsolete assets that will require substantial infusions of money in order to have them provide the services that are demanded of them. There are differences of opinion on how to solve those challenges and how to pay for them, but it is important that the community buy into this going in premise as a starting point to the discussion.

I hope that constitutes beef for you John. Thanks for asking.

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Posted by John
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 26, 2007 at 6:46 pm


OK, now you have provided ONE bite of beef. You are calling for a moritorium on forced housing. I assume you are talking about Council mandated stuff, not private lots. Correct?

Then you dodge...of course facilities get obsolete. That was one of the big arguments AGAINST 20 minimum class size - it would require a substantially bigger maintenance budget down the road. Very few parents cared about that, they just wanted what they wanted. Chicken have now come home to roost. Yet you seem to just go with the demands.

The library group simply cannot say no to anything, not even a modest reduction in the number of branch libraries. Yet you seem to just go with the demands.

I appreciate your "no" response to new housing, but I need quite a bit more, before I agree to new taxes.

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Posted by aw
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 26, 2007 at 8:44 pm


To be fair class size reduction is only driving 15% additional facility space. If it's one extra strand per elementary school and school classrooms average 1000 square feet, then it's 6000 extra feet per school. Elementary schools average around 40,000 feet. Additional strand does not change playground, library or other space requirements.

So this is a valid point, but the main driver here is just facility obsolescence.

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Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 26, 2007 at 10:20 pm


I am expressing my thoughts about what I think are relevant matters around the issues of our obsolete infrastructure.

You have certain specific opinions about what should or should not be done around class size and libraries in Palo Alto, and what you tee up is an approach that could partially deal with infrastructure in a way that is different than the ideas proposed by city and school personnel.

I am concerned that you are like many people who feel they need more information before they can make their own judgments about our situation, the suggested solutions now being considered, and the implications of how they are paid for. To me, it is more important to get facts out and as clear an understanding of the situation as possible than for me to get into my opinions on the specifics as you seem to prefer. So if you want to suggest I am "dodging," go ahead. I don't think I am, I do have my own opinions, any I will express them as I see fit and when I see fit. I will be courteous to you and others, whatever your opinions may be, but what I express in this forum are what I choose to express, which means I may not reply to your particular set of specifics. I will try to bring out facts and analysis as I see it that can help others formulate opinions, as you already have started to do.

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Posted by steve levy
a resident of University South
on Apr 27, 2007 at 2:40 pm

I don't know what the right answers are here but I have an observation and a question.

When I moved to this area 40 years ago the PA schools were building to an enrollment of more than 16,000 as I remember with a smaller revenue base. Now we have close to 5,000 fewer students and a much larger revenue base and some very old facilities. I am pondering on why building the facilities in earlier times did not seem to have the same conflict that we see today.

My question is has anyone done a fiscal analysis on projects like 800 High now that it is open? How many school-age children are in 800 High and do these mostly $1 million units pay for themselves for the schools?

People in this discussion imply that adding housing costs the schools but I have not seen the evidence for the types of units being considered today as opposed to when PA was building large single-family homes.

My guess is that most of the enrollment gains have come from more children in existing homes as older childless couples move out and are replaced. Should the City ban residents from selling their homes to families with children?

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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 27, 2007 at 5:45 pm

What is the construction plan for East Palo Alto schools? Or do we carry the education burden for them for another quarter century?
As long as we heve space to spare for silly social experiments we need nothing new. One more coat of paint might do as much for the buildings as it has done for the noblesse oblige.

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Posted by aw
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 29, 2007 at 6:04 pm

Walking into this very gingerly...

In the current year the Voluntary Transfer Program is 4.95% of district enrollment. In elementary it's 321 kids across 12 schools and six grades. Works out to about one classroom per elementary school.

I wouldn't be surprised if Mitchell Park has more than 5% non-resident use on a typical Sunday afternoon. But we still cut the grass.

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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 29, 2007 at 9:32 pm

Steve Levy: Thanks for raising some interesting questions.
The ARB tells us that they want more homes on the Elks Club property than have been proposed.

Web Link

A member of the ARB told me, “If there are fewer units, they will be bigger, and each will therefore house more people than smaller units. The total number of people will be about the same regardless of how the units are divided up. Larger units are more likely to have children.”

This certainly seems logical, but can we assume a smaller unit will attract singles or couples vs. families with kids? In order to take advantage of Palo Alto schools, people would buy a smaller affordable house. Your question about 800 High is relevant and deserves an answer.

Ditto your question about childless couples (retired?) moving out and selling to young families. Many large homes have just one or two kids living in them -- or no kids. So I don't know that there's a constant correlation between square footage and number of kids. Big houses are built for prestige, not always necessity.

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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 29, 2007 at 9:41 pm

East Palo Alto can build their own schools. We owe them nothing. My daughter graduated from Ravenswood, it was a major blunder to cloese it. Take away the crutch and let EPA stand like adults.

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