Community members at the Los Altos School District board meeting got to see their feedback in action last night, as board members made one last adjustment to the wording of a $150 million bond measure before voting 4-0 to approve it.
The proposed bond would help finance new school facilities -- including a new school site -- to deal with increasing enrollment within the district.
After one final round of public comments, district Superintendent Jeff Baier did some real-time bond drafting at the Aug. 4 meeting, adding another "whereas" statement that prevented the school district from using city-owned land at Rosita and McKenzie parks for new school facilities.
The addition to the bond language comes in large part from the public outcry over the possibility that the school district might use one of the two city parks for a new school site through the bond measure.
Residents in Los Altos worried they might lose their local parks started a campaign called Save Los Altos Parks, or SLAP, and have aggressively advocated that the bond contain language that prevents the school district from using Rosita or McKenzie park. The campaign website says that both parks are not viable options for a school due to traffic congestion, expenses and the the loss of a valuable community resource.
Board member Pablo Luther was reluctant to accept bond language where both park sites were completely off the table because people want to keep the parks.
"Where do we draw the line where we have enough flexibility, but we keep peoples' lifestyles in mind?" Luther said. "I'd be willing to change language to accommodate people's opinions, but to a limited extent."
After the park exemption was added to the bond, Luther said he can deal with the change if it means voters will approve the bond measure come November.
"I don't like it. It's a tough pill for me to swallow," Luther said. "But if it's necessary to provide better education, I can deal with it."
Board member Mark Goines said there's definitely a trade-off when the two park sites are off the table, and voters advocating for the parks understand that.
"What I've heard in virtually every email exchange with voters is that they're willing to spend more to protect parks," Goines said. "It's hard to get everything you want, and I think this is a reasonable alternative."
The language of the bond all comes down to what voters are willing to accept if they decide to tax themselves, according to board member Doug Smith. He said that the board needs to take into account what the public will support in order to get the required 55 percent of the vote this November, and for that reason Smith said he would be willing to add language to the measure that says they will not build school facilities at either park.
Board member Steve Taglio did not vote to approve the bond measure because he felt he had a conflict of interest due to where he lives. He was not present during the discussion or the vote to approve the bond measure at the Aug. 4 meeting.
Vladimir Ivanovic, a Gardner Bullis parent and candidate for the school district board this November, said it's important that the board slowed down and didn't try to get too specific with bond language, which could lock the board into making unfavorable decisions down the road. This is in contrast with some of the public comments at the July 28 and Aug. 4 meetings calling for more specific language so voters know what exactly their money will be spent on.
In the coming months, the Los Altos School District will continue to look for a location for a new school -- only now with fewer options. District board members say the best location for a school is still in Mountain View, in the San Antonio area north of El Camino Real, where enrollment growth is highest and students have to be transported across El Camino Real and into Los Altos to get to school.
District board members declined to discuss any potential Mountain View sites that could house a school for the district.
Lenny Siegel, a Mountain View City Council candidate, made an appearance at the Aug. 4 board meeting, and told the board that it's clear the San Antonio area needs a neighborhood school even with the current housing. He said the school district needs to collaborate with the city of Mountain View to find affordable space in the area for a new school.
In a letter to Mountain View City Council and the Los Altos School District board, Siegel said the San Antonio area "presents an opportunity for a unique, more urban style school," and that window of opportunity may not last.