The $150 million bond measure proposed by the Los Altos School District faces sharp criticism as it heads to the November ballot. Opponents of the measure question whether the school district really needs the money to handle student enrollment, and say many campuses still have room to grow.
Measure N would allow the district to expand and upgrade school facilities, and would likely be used to finance a new school campus. District enrollment is the highest it's been since the 1970s, according to the key findings in the ballot language. The difference is that in the 1970s, the school district had two additional school sites.
The ballot argument in favor of Measure N states that the bond will preserve the "small neighborhood school" model in the face of fast-growing enrollment by giving the district the means to build more classrooms and other educational facilities.
Jessica Speiser, co-chair of the Measure N Campaign, said student enrollment has increased by over 25 percent in the last 10 years, and will continue to grow. She said the bond would help the district keep up with the high enrollment levels and continue to provide "excellent education" to students.
John Radford, mayor of Los Altos Hills, co-signed the argument in favor of Measure N, and said the bond addresses the most important issue facing the schools -- overcrowding.
"It is the only issue that stands to negatively impact our students and their success," Radford said.
He called Measure N an integral piece of the five-year agreement between Los Altos School District and Bullis Charter School, which will allow Bullis Charter School to grow to 900 students in the next five years. He said it would be difficult to continue housing the charter school at Egan and Blach Middle Schools when it reaches that size, and that the school district needs flexibility in adjusting for growth.
David Roode, a school district resident who opposes the bond, said the district is not over capacity, and is stretching its enrollment numbers. He said the district changed its "maximum" enrollment numbers from 600 to somewhere between 560 and 580, but almost all the elementary schools are comfortably below 560.
"Their hearts are in the right place, but they're not crowded right now. They're worried they might get crowded in the future," Roode said.
The ballot argument against Measure N states that the district doesn't need to acquire more land for a new school when it could expand existing school sites and use them more efficiently. District schools are "50 percent under-utilized on a student-to-acreage metric" compared with other school districts, according to the ballot argument.
Roode said according to a district architect, a school can get by on 6 to 7 acres of land, yet four of the campuses are well over 10 acres in size and can easily accommodate more growth. He said the district also has the option to open up a second school at Covington Elementary School, for example, which currently has over 15 acres allocated to one campus.
He said the district could also consider opening a new elementary school at Egan, which could even include a new parking lot if the district decides to go with two-story buildings.
"There's a 7-acre plot of land at Egan that could easily house a new school," Roode said.
Mountain View City Council member John Inks co-signed the argument against Measure N due to worries that the school district may try to use eminent domain to seize land for a school site.
In an email, Inks said the bond measure does not specifically rule out eminent domain, which has caused some concern. He said attorneys for the Pear Family Trust wrote to the school district and confirmed that their properties were not available for sale, and that they were strongly opposed to acquisition by eminent domain.
"LASD is interested in acquiring property north of El Camino that is not available and is on extremely expensive acreage important to Mountain View commerce," Inks said.
Other opponents include Mark Hinkle, president of the Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association, who is against additional taxes on property owners who are already paying tens of thousands of dollars annually. He said it may sound reasonable -- $30 per $100,000 of assessed property value -- but it adds up fast.
"The bond measure, on top of every other property tax, is starting to feel like death by a thousand cuts," Hinkle said.