Mountain View Voice

Opinion - February 17, 2012

District needs to restudy facilities plan

by Steven Nelson

I'd rather not spend $200 million on this school plan.

After talking and writing to the elementary school board of Mountain View Whisman School District for almost two years over flaws in the facilities improvement process, I'm to the point of opposing a quick bond vote to spend new public money in this particular way. I'd easily support a bond that had adequate citizen input, and was on the November ballot.

The school board has not met the pledge in the adopted facilities improvement plan (SFIP) to get further comments from citizens, residents and taxpayers. They have ignored calls to appoint a community advisory committee to carefully choose priorities and make a timeline. The half-billion dollar plan was developed by a committee dominated by architects (75 percent) and administrators who are not taxpayers in the district. The result, in my opinion, is a "BMW plan for a Chevy city."

For instance, consider the five multi-use room (MUR) replacements (labeled Task No. 8 in the plan, for $12 million). These may need structural reinforcement for the latest earthquake code but many buildings, including nine-story university dorms, have inexpensive exterior steel framing added for this purpose. "Adequate classroom area" and adequate assembly area are very hard to accomplish with more students in every elementary school. Why cram kids into existing congested sites, while keeping both Slater and Whisman public schools closed? What were they thinking would get public support? Why are these last options off the table? That's the Facilities Plan!

Almost $17 million is needed for this plan's demolition and interim housing (Tasks No. 22 and 23). A better plan would not require this much campus disruption — or another $6 million to change around parking and bus zones (yet again).

The multi-decade future of this district depends on tax override votes for facilities and teachers (parcel taxes). The electorate will not support education if it does "brain-dead" things like bulldoze and then rebuild 47 permanent classrooms for a cost in excess of $23 million! All the tasks mentioned above are currently in the plan as priority one, which has a total cost of $240 million.

I believe the district should appoint a "7-11 Committee" made up primarily of district citizens, which is a "best practice" recommended by the state Dept. of Education.

Steven Nelson is a resident of the Cuesta Park neighborhood.

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