Pleasanton Weekly

News - January 31, 2014

School board looks at locations for new elementaries

Members suggest bond measure may be needed

by Glenn Wohltmann

With the need for two new elementary schools and hundreds of millions of dollars in repairs to existing facilities, the Pleasanton School Board is once again talking about a bond measure.

At its meeting Tuesday night, the board heard a demographer's report calling for one new school on the city's north side to accommodate overcrowding in existing schools.

The district wants each elementary school to have between 600 and 700 students. Donlon, Fairlands, Walnut Grove and Valley View elementaries are already above 700 students.

A 10th elementary in north Pleasanton would be filled to capacity by 2018, and future growth on the city's east side means that an 11th elementary will be needed by the early 2020s, according to Davis Demographics and Planning.

Previous estimates from the district put the cost of building a new school at about $37 million, not counting the land and site preparations.

That's in addition to an estimated $92 million needed for immediate repairs to facilities, and other medium- and long-term needs that total nearly $400 million.

"We have many, many projects that have not gone away," Boardmember Joan Laursen said. "I think it's time for us to start talking about a bond."

Of seven scenarios presented, two were the most viable, according to Isaac Jones, project manager at Davis Demographics, although boardmembers added a third scenario to the discussion.

All three call for a new school in north Pleasanton and all three call for an 11th school to be built in east Pleasanton, with one scenario using property on Vineyard Avenue already owned by the district known as the Neal School site.

At their meeting Tuesday night, board members seemed hesitant to commit to any of the three plans deemed most workable.

"In looking at these documents, one thing that becomes abundantly clear is we're looking at adding two new schools," said Boardmember Jeff Bowser. "Regardless of the cost, we have a duty to house those students appropriately."

But boardmembers are still weighing options that include moving the district offices to somewhere in the Hacienda Business Park and selling the land that houses the district's administrative offices, a maintenance facility, Village High School and an adjacent ball field.

Boardmembers also want to consider new uses for the Neal School property, which could also involve a land swap. Laursen questioned whether the district could swap land for other property, something that Deputy Superintendent Luz Cazares said would require hiring a professional for negotiations.

The district has also floated the idea that the developers of homes in the East Pleasanton Specific Plan set aside land, and possibly build a school in the area.

While the board considers the alternatives, Boardmember Chris Grant suggested the district reach out to the city.

"I would see this as a tight collaborative effort," Grant said, pointing out that Pleasanton would need to be involved in infrastructure, such as roads, and the district needs to "impress upon the city that this 10th site is really necessary."

He also called for a discussion on funding.

"I think we would be remiss if we go about planning a new school or two new schools without having a long term funding strategy," he said.

A discussion of the budget brought out about a dozen parents and three speakers to ask again for class-size reductions. Gov. Jerry Brown has pushed for smaller class sizes from transitional kindergarten to third grade, with a goal of 24 students per class by 2021. Parents want the district to move more quickly than that.

"Parents in Pleasanton have suffered through a lot of large class sizes and 30 to one just doesn't work," said parent Delia Cooper. "There's classroom chaos."

Cooper said classes with 30 students are noisy and that "teachers are focusing on crowd control."

Parents successfully lobbied last year for smaller class sizes for first grade, which the district plans to continue at an annual cost of $552,500 a year for a 25-1 ratio.

Each successive class would cost an equal ongoing amount and the district has several options: gradually changing the ratios for all classes, changing the ratio for each grade level over time or reducing class sizes across the board all at once at a cost of $2.2 million for 25-1 or $2.6 million for 24-1.

"We pride ourselves on high quality education, and that does equal lower class sizes so the teacher has the time to concentrate on each student," Cooper said.

Boardmember Valerie Arkin asked Cazares to look into potential state grants to alleviate overcrowding.

The budget discussion also included good news -- an additional $2 million in locally controlled funds. That totals $5 million for the upcoming year, and the money can be used in a variety of ways, everything from building maintenance to reducing class sizes. The district has created an advisory committee to make suggestions about how the money should be spent.

Boardmembers split on a request from Bowser to donate $5,000 a year to Leadership Pleasanton, which teaches local residents and business owners the inner workings of local government. The leadership program has traditionally included two staff members from the school district at no cost.

Joyce Shapiro, program coordinator for Leadership Pleasnton, pointed out that chartering a bus for the yearlong, once-a-month prgram costs $1,000, and lunch runs about $600.

Superintendent Parvin Ahmadi suggested the district back the program.

"For me, as a new member of the community, it was the best thing that I did," Ahmadi told the board.

Bowser said the program could be viewed as an advertisement for the school district and that it has the added benefit of bringing in potential new volunteers and connections in the business community.

But other board members balked at spending $5,000 a year. Board President Jamie Hintzke suggested that the district pay for the day Leadership Pleasanton classes spend touring the district and pay the cost of sending employees to the program in the future.

Grant, Arkin and Laursen were hesitant to commit to a specific. Arkin noted that the board voted down an increase in stipends for itself, and Laursen said the board already faces difficult spending choices.

"I would like to support the program," Laursen said, "but it's just a little bit difficult when we're looking at the budget and we have groups coming to us and asking that we restore their programs and we have people coming to us and looking for a raise."

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