News

MVLA board set to approve $295M bond measure

Enrollment growth, aging facilities spur construction plans at high schools

Calling it necessary to accommodate a swelling enrollment on already-packed campuses, Mountain View-Los Altos High School District board members are expected to vote this week on a $295 million bond measure. The measure would require 55 percent of the vote to pass and would be placed on the June 5 ballot.

If approved, the bond would help pay for massive construction plans spelled out in the district's Facilities Master Plan, which trustees approved last week on a unanimous vote. The plan includes more than $100 million in upgrades to both Mountain View and Los Altos high schools, a completely new campus for the arts and digital media-focused Freestyle Academy, and sets aside close to $30 million to prepare for rapid housing growth in Mountain View.

The bond represents the district's largest undertaking in several decades to build new classrooms, renovate aging facilities and plan for the future. The bond amount is significantly larger than Measure A ($41.3 million) in 2010 and Measure D ($58 million) in 1995. The dollar amount and language of the proposed bond measure is still subject to change prior to the Feb. 5 board meeting, but is not expected to exceed $30 per $100,000 of assessed value for district property owners, according to district officials.

The focus of the bond is to house an influx of students caused by near-term housing projects throughout Mountain View, which is expected to add 500 students between the 2016-17 and 2020-21 school years. Both schools are slated to get new two-story classroom buildings.

With limited space on both campuses, district officials have little choice but to build up -- most of the proposed projects will be two stories, including classroom wings, administrative offices and food services.

At the Jan. 22 school board meeting, board member Phil Faillace said the master plan should represent the final build-out of both Mountain View and Los Altos high schools, and cautioned against building anything more densely packed. Doing so would risk alienation among teachers and students at sprawling schools, and could cause a "substantial" drop in the quality of education, he said.

"Anybody who wishes for a school bigger than these two are projected to be should be very careful for what they wish for," he said. "People will feel more like they're bricks in a wall instead of part of an individual, caring environment."

The comments come after a long debate over equity between the two high schools, and parent concerns that Los Altos High School may not be getting a fair amount of classroom space. The master plan envisions 103 total classroom at the school, which is slightly below the 106 classrooms that Mountain View High would have. That not only represents an inequity, but also a potential missed opportunity for more educational space that could be built with the bond money, one parent said.

During a special study session last month, parents argued that an earlier version of the plan was a raw deal for Los Altos High in terms of music space, giving Mountain View High School's already-superior performance hall an upgrade while Los Altos struggles to find space to store larger instruments and to host choral and instrumental music practice at the same time.

The final master plan was adjusted to include close to $1 million for a new addition to the music building at Los Altos High School, which would allow for more ensemble rooms and storage. Superintendent Jeff Harding commended parents at the Jan. 22 meeting for getting involved and prompting the district to add 900 square feet of extra space for the music program, and said the last-minute change helps both campuses achieve parity.

"They pointed out the discrepancy (and) the lack of parity between the sites, and the need for additional ensemble space and storage," He said. "There has been quite a bit of parent involvement."

The new proposed campus for Freestyle Academy, which is currently housed in older portables behind the district office, includes a two-story building with larger classrooms, recording studios and photo labs for the alternative program, which combines digital media, art and music for students who choose to participate.

The plan is to house Freestyle Academic north of the Alta Vista continuation high school on a plot of vacant land owned by the city of Mountain View, but the district is still in the midst of negotiations with the city for a possible lease deal.

$30M set aside for uncertainty

Although the bond money lays out a strong vision for housing more students over the next five years, it's unclear what the future holds for enrollment in Mountain View's public schools. New zoning plans by the city are expected to bring nearly 10,000 new homes to the North Bayshore area, and thousands more are expected in the East Whisman region of the city. At the same time, NASA Ames announced plans last year to build 1,930 homes on Moffett Field, which falls within the district's boundaries.

As a cautionary measure to handle the potential for dramatic -- albeit longer term -- housing growth, the master plan sets aside about 10 percent of the total bond money, $30 million, for classrooms to handle future enrollment increases.

Harding told the Voice earlier this month that the money could finance about 20 classrooms, which could help accommodate students from new Mountain View housing. He said the effects of the growth aren't fully known yet, and it's possible that the money won't be needed.

"We're planning long term," he said. "This is a funding stream that, in the event we need to build more classrooms, we can build them."

The city's North Bayshore Precise Plan requires housing developers to create a special compensation package to help the high school district house increasing enrollment, which could total more than 1,000 students according to some estimates. But the district has yet to negotiate any specific plan with Google and Sobrato -- the two major property owners in the region -- for buying land for a new campus or financing construction. There is also no guarantee a similar mitigation requirement will be in included the East Whisman Precise Plan, Harding said.

"We need to be prepared in case the wave of students grows larger," he said.

At the Jan. 22 meeting, Mitchner called the $30 million a "buffer" to deal with the district's needs for more classroom space, with discretion to spend the money "on needs as we see them." Faillace described the money as an important resource, given the "limited knowledge" of what the future holds, and that it may not end up costing taxpayers a dime. The board may choose not to issue the remaining $30 million in bonds if the funds are not needed.

"There's no guarantee we're going to spend it, and if we don't spend it, then it's never going to cost you anything," Faillace said. "On the other hand, if we need it, it's very important that we have (the money), otherwise the quality of the education we offer will go downhill."

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Comments

4 people like this
Posted by Larry
a resident of Gemello
on Feb 5, 2018 at 9:39 am

As part of the negotiations to sell the land near Alta Vista to MVLA, the city needs to pay attention to one of its priority items from the 2014 Parks and Open Space Plan: "Explore the possibility of developing an agreement with the Mountain View Los Altos High School District for joint use of open space for public use at Mountain View High School."


17 people like this
Posted by John
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Feb 5, 2018 at 2:33 pm

John is a registered user.

The district's campaign mailer reports that enrollent has increased only about 100 students per year for the last six years. Soaring enrollment is always a good story. A good one - but not true. Maybe when Mountain View finishes adding 10,000 more housing units in the Whisman side of town, enrollment will increase (at least in private schools)!


8 people like this
Posted by Robyn
a resident of another community
on Feb 5, 2018 at 5:30 pm

Rather than saddling all home owners with this additional entry on our tax bills, assess the builders for the construction. Then it is baked into the price of the new house.
Have previous school bond issues been paid off?


11 people like this
Posted by Meg
a resident of Shoreline West
on Feb 5, 2018 at 8:56 pm

No more taxes! The so called tax cut is ripping off homeowners in our State already. I will not support paying any more taxes!!


3 people like this
Posted by Steven Nelson
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Feb 6, 2018 at 4:02 pm

@Robyn - Existing school bond taxes (K-12) in the Mountain View Whisman School District area are already higher than in the Palo Alto UNIFIED School District, according to a recent article in the Los Altos Town Crier. This happens when you add the current MVWSD + MVLA property taxes together. It is also 'even higher' in the area of the old Whisman School District, where their bonds, guaranteed by their properties, must pay off a higher rate than the old Mountain View District. [ there was MVWSD Bond wording to pay that debt down, but the 2013-17 MVWSD board majority was always more interested in 'new large' buildings at the two middle school sites than tax equalization between the two parts of the elementary district ]. These taxes phase out, in stages, over the next 30 years.

$30 per thousand of assessed valuation is just the legal maximum that a 55% bond super-majority vote can tax. Any higher rate, a 66 2/3% super-majority vote is needed to pass the tax.

I don't know what the facilities bond total tax rates currently are for Los Altos SD + MVLA high school district (I guess the Town Crier article has those components also)

[remember PAUSD = K-12, MVLA is only 9-12, 4 grades]


3 people like this
Posted by Steven Nelson
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Feb 6, 2018 at 4:19 pm

@ Robyn The MVLA existing bond property tax obligation (Measure A 2010) will be paid off sometime in the next 20 years.

There was an extremely interesting Calif. school facilities bond / residential property value micro-economics study done in the last decade. Although there was absolutely no statistically significant ACADEMIC effect seen in districts that barely passed a bond tax, there was a statistically significant jump in residential property VALUES compared to similar districts that did NOT pass a bond tax. The authors attributed it to "a signaling variable" effect - This Community Really Values their schools! !!

In this case - more property tax = more residential property value. (I know, counterintuitive - but that's what Real Data sometimes shows)


8 people like this
Posted by Jphn
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Feb 6, 2018 at 10:07 pm

Jphn is a registered user.

Such an appropriate picture to go along with the story. The school board scrutinized the proposal like choir members question the words of a song: not at all. Why not another $295 million for the November ballot? Call that one: "second verse, same as the first."


14 people like this
Posted by No More Taxes
a resident of Shoreline West
on Feb 7, 2018 at 7:34 am

No more taxes.

And especially until the city puts an end to the swelling RV problem.

I don't care if they are separate entities.


7 people like this
Posted by More Taxes
a resident of another community
on Feb 7, 2018 at 1:49 pm

Keep in mind that the elementary school districts are both talking about extra bond measures of their own. I don't see smart planning on the part of the high school district to make the cost reasonable. The population growth is not happening NOW, but in the future.

The worst example of this is in LASD. There is an actual reduction in student population going on there, which will impact the high school district too. They are proposing to waste $150 Million of bond money that they have sat on for 3 years. They would spend this to buy more land and add an 8th elementary school. This is absurd, because of how much land they already have. They are talking about added students, but in reality they have seen a shrinkage over time. Families with kids aren't moving into LASD territory as much as they once did. All of their elementary schools are seeing enrollment declines. To make it worst, they need to move 6th grade to their middle school sites like most school districts. When they do this, it will reduce the enrollment at the existing 7 elementary schools still further. Some are 300 or 400 now, and they will become 250 or 330. That's just too small to be affordable. They don't need another site. They don't have enough kids to fill up and operate the sites they already have!

All these taxes hit the property tax bills. LASD's is going to have to float the new bond measure because the last one will only pay for the land, and not cover all the needed construction. The taxpayers will start paying off the first $150 Million around the time MVLA bond will hit the bills too. Then LASD is going to float yet another bond. This all needs to be coordinated!


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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