Mountain View Voice

News - March 29, 2013

German school to expand on Whisman campus

Trustee advocates for terminating lease, reopening site as district school

by Nick Veronin

With the approval of the board of trustees, the Mountain View Whisman School District has agreed to allow the German International School of Silicon Valley to proceed with the installation of four modular classroom units and one modular bathroom unit on the Whisman Elementary School campus, which the German school has leased from the district for more than a decade.

The trustees approved the construction project in a 3-1 vote at the March 21 board meeting. Chris Chiang, Bill Lambert and Ellen Wheeler voted in favor of the memorandum of understanding between the district and the private German school, while Steven Nelson voted against it. Trustee Phil Palmer was absent.

The GISSV opened in Mountain View in 2000. The school is the "master tenant" of the Whisman site and is required to seek approval before making any improvements to the facility, according to materials handed out at the recent board meeting. "Their goal is to provide sufficient space to allow for a two-track program for grades 1-8, a one-track program for grades 9-12 and three (pre-kindergarten) classrooms," the information sheet said. The work is scheduled to be completed no later than October.

The new portable units would be installed mostly along the top edge of the campus.

The German school will foot the bill for the expansion, MVWSD Superintendent Craig Goldman explained to the board. The school will also be required to return the school to its original condition when its lease ends. At that point, the German school would either have to take down the modular classrooms or negotiate the transfer of those structures to the district.

The memorandum of understanding does not change the terms of the lease in any significant way, Goldman told the board, and the district can still decide to end the lease at any time, so long as it provides the German school 18 months' notice.

Before a vote was taken, Nelson gave a lengthy presentation, during which he seemed to be advocating for the reopening of the Whisman site as a district school. He was cut off before he could clarify his point.

For about 10 minutes, Nelson spoke of the need for a neighborhood school in the northern part of the district. At one point he seemed to suggest that the Whisman site had been closed because it was located in a lower-income area of the city. At another point he showed a picture of fellow trustee Chiang talking to Sev Daudert, a member of the German school's board, which ran in the Voice as part of this paper's election coverage.

Though Nelson noted that he had also spoken to Daudert on the night of the election, he appeared to be suggesting that Daudert was attempting to influence Chiang — a suggestion that Chiang later refuted before the board.

"We need to be careful of making those kinds of accusations," Chiang said, addressing Nelson.

Wheeler asked Nelson to discontinue his speech — a request that was initially refused by Nelson, who asked Wheeler if she was "moving to cut off debate."

When it came time to vote on the memorandum of understanding, Nelson told Wheeler, "You're going to have to talk over me," and continued speaking while Wheeler tried to call for a motion. The motion ultimately carried, votes were cast and the construction project was approved.

In an interview with the Voice a few days after the meeting Nelson declined to respond to a comment left on the Voice's website from a reader who was upset at Nelson for interrupting Wheeler and wrote, "Trustee Nelson was arguing for what appeared to be the sake of arguing."

Nelson said that he had apologized to Wheeler for his disruptions, and explained what he was trying to accomplish: The presentation he gave in the lead-up to the vote on the German school's construction plans, he said, was meant to highlight his advocacy for reopening Whisman Elementary School. He said he is concerned that the district administration is leaning toward not reopening Whisman any time soon — a mistake in his view.

Nelson ran on the promise of pushing for Whisman's reopening, and he said he has no plans to go back on his word. "It may take me four years to fulfill that promise," he said. "I'm going to continue to advocate for (Whisman) and encourage the residents over in Whisman to be more vocal."

In answer to Nelson's concerns, Goldman told the board that the district has plans to conduct a demographic survey that would help determine if it would be appropriate to reopen Whisman. If, in the future, a decision to reopen the school is made, Goldman noted, "we continue to have the right to terminate the agreement with the German school at any time."

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