The Los Altos School District is seeking broad public input for how to handle growing enrollment with $150 million in bond money on the table, marking a change after six months of meetings with the 30-person Facilities Master Plan Committee.
The school district recently shifted gears with an open-to-all public meeting at the Los Altos Youth Center where more than 100 people were able to pitch in their ideas, thoughts and concerns on how to handle growing enrollment. The meeting marks the beginning of several planned discussions, both online and in-person, on what strategies would work best.
Up until March, the district has relied on feedback from the facilities committee, made up of PTA members, parents and school principals on how to spend Measure N bond money to increase student capacity. The group has since been put on hold by the district.
Working with Mountain View-based company Conteneo, district staff had groups of seven work together on giant printouts of boats on the walls. Each "engine" that groups pinned on the ship would represent a solution to solving enrollment growth, like buying new land for a school, and each engine was connected to associated drawbacks, or "anchors," such as high land acquisition costs or congested traffic.
It may look a little silly at first, but Laura Richardson, vice president of sales at Conteneo, said it's an effective way solicit new ideas from people who might not normally give feedback at these kinds of meetings. By framing problems in a limited way and sticking to group work, Richardson said, there's real discussion going on and people no longer feel intimidated when they make suggestions or raise concerns.
"Normally meetings feel like open mic night, which can sometimes be difficult to get information from everyone," she said. "Those people that talk are an incredibly small percentage of the community."
Board member Sangeeth Peruri said they will continue to work with the company to pick up where last week's discussion left off with online, virtual group discussions and real-time updates. The district has not announced when the online forums will go live.
As of April 15, the district has paid $33,000 in consulting fees to Conteneo, according to district records.
Did the boat strategy work? Katie Kinnaman, principal at Gardner Bullis Elementary and co-leader of the Facilities Master Plan Committee, said she the format was very successful as members of each group threw ideas out there and slapped hundreds of post-it notes onto the boats with their own concerns and suggestions. She said once the group she facilitated got into the swing of things, all she had to do was step back and watch.
"I did almost nothing that night," Kinnaman said. "Our group really owned what they were creating."
Before the meeting broke out into groups, some friction bubbled up from attendees over the district pushing the direction of discussion toward land acquisition. One person insisted he didn't know much about the possible uses of district-owned land for the meeting, while another questioned why the district hadn't considered the roughly 3 acres of district-owned land leased to the Waldorf School of the Peninsula.
At the same time, a two-page document was distributed around the room by an unnamed person encouraging people to support no new land acquisition, and instead consider options for using existing district land to build a new school. The suggestion conflicts with the district-preferred enrollment growth "option" which is to buy new land for a new school site, preferably in Mountain View north of El Camino Real, on which to house a new school.
Jill Jene, a Bullis Charter School parent and member of the facilities committee, said an alternative to the district's plan could be two schools sharing the large 16-acre Covington site, which borders the city-owned Rosita Park. She said there was a consensus among the committee members that it was worth seriously analyzing the possibility of using Covington for a new school instead, but the idea was not included in the official report by the Facilities Master Plan Committee to the board in March.
Jene helped write what she called the committee's draft minority report listing a number of grievances on the way the committee was run, but no other committee members have surfaced as co-authors or signatories.