School bond aims to bring relief to cramped schools | News | Mountain View Online |


School bond aims to bring relief to cramped schools

High school district officials say $295M Measure E is essential

Mountain View is on a fast track for housing growth, with dozens of major developments in the pipeline and ambitious plans to rezone the city's industrial regions and office parks into dense, urban neighborhoods.

But as the city welcomes thousands of new residents, the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District has quietly struggled to accommodate the influx of teens on campuses that were never designed to handle this many students. Increasingly tech-savvy initiatives and creative STEM programs are being housed in old classrooms that predate cellphones, and the district's school board has had honest debates about whether portables would be situated on top of the parking lots or the tennis courts.

And with a whopping 46 housing projects either under construction or in the pipeline -- the vast majority in Mountain View -- it's only going to get more difficult to cram students onto campuses. That's why district officials are asking voters to approve a $295 million bond measure on the June 5 ballot, which they say would go toward projects to support current students and future growth over the next five years.

The big ask to voters is a rare one for Mountain View-Los Altos. The district doesn't levy a parcel tax, and has pursued only relatively small bond measures in the 1990s and again in 2010 -- each with a fairly narrow focus. The upside is that the district's current tax rate on property owners is the smallest of any district in the county, but classrooms and other facilities dating back to the 1970s and even the 1950s are showing the wear and tear of time.

Taken altogether, Mountain View and Los Altos high schools were really only designed to house 3,600 students -- or about 1,800 at each school, according to Superintendent Jeff Harding. By comparison, Los Altos High School currently has 2,240 students, and Mountain View High isn't too far behind at 1,960 students, Harding said.

Recent construction using the $41.3 million Measure A bond, passed by voters in 2010, has only gone toward increasing classroom space, Harding said, meaning libraries, cafeterias, gyms and administrative buildings are serving more students in increasingly cramped spaces. And the district's new focus on student services, particularly mental health services, has forced school staff to work out of tiny spaces never intended for confidential counseling.

"We're in the closets -- what closets can be converted into counseling space -- at this point," Harding said.

Demographic projections show that the school district's total enrollment is also expected to grow from about 4,300 students this year to 5,023 by the 2021-22 school year, and there is simply no place to put that many students, Harding said. He argued that the facilities bond is the only feasible strategy for dealing with this kind of growth, and there is no real alternative to fall back on.

"There is no good 'plan B,' there is no good way to accommodate this many students," he said.

The bond will cost property owners $30 per $100,000 of assessed value, the maximum amount allowed under Proposition 39, which allows measures to pass with 55 percent of the vote if it stays below a certain cost to taxpayers. The bond has a 15-year term, rather than a 30-year term, which Harding said is a prudent move that is going to save district property owners money in the long run.

Master plan guides construction

Earlier this year, the Mountain View-Los Altos school board approved a Facilities Master Plan that would act as the template for how to spend Measure E bond money, complete with new construction, modernization and upgrades at nearly every facility in the district, totaling more than $100 million in upgrades for both Mountain View and Los Altos high schools.

Plans call for a net increase of 28 new classrooms -- fit on the existing campuses using two-story construction -- along with a new gym at both Mountain View and Los Altos high schools. Nearly $70 million is set aside to build new "student services" buildings at the schools, which would be a large multi-use structure combining administrative and student services, a wellness center, a testing center and student union space.

The plan also includes $15 million to build a new two-story facility for Freestyle Academy, a popular alternative program that focuses on art and digital-media projects. Freestyle is currently operating out of five old portables behind the district office, previously occupied by Alta Vista High School, that date back to 1973 and are bent, damaged, rusty and show signs of water damage, according to a 2016 report.

Although other school districts use master plans to prioritize a smaller list of projects, school board members and district officials are asking voters to approve a bond that would pay for nearly every project on the list.

There is no formal campaign against Measure E, but opponents argue that the ballot measure is unnecessarily expensive. Official ballot arguments, signed by Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association president Mark W.A. Hinkle and Jennifer Imhoff, chair of the Libertarian Party of Santa Clara County, encourage voters to reject the measure because of the hefty price tag, and question how much the district actually needs the money.

Measure A was passed just eight years ago to construct new classrooms and science labs -- a similar goal to Measure E -- and yet it was done at one-seventh of the cost, the argument states. The argument also points out that the school district already has deep pockets and spends more money per student, on average, than most districts in the state, and therefore isn't hurting for cash for capital improvements.

Hinkle did not respond to an interview request by the Voice

School board member Fiona Walter argued that Measure E, despite its broad scope and lengthy project list, is fiscally responsible. She said the district could have sought up to $425 million and included additional and more expensive projects, but she and other board members opted for a more conservative approach by asking $295 million. Board members including Walter had earlier sought to put a smaller bond measure on the ballot last year, but ultimately agreed to $295 million in order to avoid going back to voters to ask for more money in the foreseeable future.

Not a solution to North Bayshore

One of the big unknowns is what kind of school facilities the district will need to build -- and where -- to accommodate thousands of students projected to live in the newly zoned North Bayshore Precise Plan area, home to Google's headquarters. Measure E and the district's Facilities Master Plan do not include planning for growth in the city's tech park.

Last year, the Mountain View City Council approved residential zoning for North Bayshore that would permit up to 9,850 homes in the area. Mountain View-Los Altos High School District originally estimated that the housing would generate 1,108 additional high school students, a number that was later refined down to 785 students.

In order to mitigate the huge increase in students, the city staffers added language to the North Bayshore Precise Plan stating that any major residential developers in the area -- which implicitly means Sobrato and Google -- will have to submit a mitigation plan which could include money, facilities, land or some type of help to accommodate the additional students.

Harding and school board members are banking on that promise, and say that future growth will be taken care of outside of the Measure E bond. The East Whisman Precise Plan, also in the works, is expected to include up to 5,000 homes, and is also outside the scope of the bond. District officials have yet to tally how many new students East Whisman is expected to generate.

As a precaution, the Facilities Master Plan includes $30 million set aside for unanticipated enrollment growth above and beyond the district's own projections, which could be used for a total of 20 more classrooms. Harding said the money is discretionary, and won't cost district taxpayers a dime if it's not needed.

"If it doesn't happen, we don't have to sell those bonds," Harding said.

Despite the uncertainty, Walter said that Measure E will still be a useful strategy for reducing the immediate effects on North Bayshore housing. Those students won't come all at once, she said, and Mountain View and Los Altos high schools are going to need additional space to act as a sort of staging area until new school facilities designated for North Bayshore students are built.

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42 people like this
Posted by Otto_Maddox
a resident of Monta Loma
on May 22, 2018 at 2:24 pm

Otto_Maddox is a registered user.

Sorry.. the growth in housing does equate to similar growth in school attendance.

People just aren't haven't as many kids as before.

11 people like this
Posted by Waldo
a resident of Waverly Park
on May 22, 2018 at 6:31 pm

Waldo is a registered user.

This bond measure lacks vision. Instead of cramming more students into the current two sites, a third site is needed, closer to new housing growth. Vote "no" on this bond measure, and pressure the MVLA High School District to build where the growth is taking place. Otherwise, high school students will have to commute as much as six miles to school, adding to the already chronic traffic snarls in our city. The MVHS site has vacant land, which could be sold to build homes, with the proceeds used to buy land closer to the new student growth area.

16 people like this
Posted by Les
a resident of Cuernavaca
on May 22, 2018 at 9:31 pm

I will vote no. I don't trust Fiona Walter and her political allies like Jose Gutierrez and Margaret Abe-Koga. They all support each other and are attempting to force their distorted visions on us. They should each stay in their own lane and manage only the entities the have a mandate for. I'm really not interested in their broader politics.

9 people like this
Posted by Cleave Frink
a resident of Willowgate
on May 22, 2018 at 10:43 pm

Cleave Frink is a registered user.

@ Les,

I'm confused by your comment. You don't trust Fiona, a resident of this area for decades, mother to a couple of kids raised in MV public schools? She's running a campaign to raise money to renovate our schools. These plans have public could actually sit on that committee. You could even sit on the committee that decides how to spend the money. All she's doing is raising it. It's a weird thing to be distrustful about.

8 people like this
Posted by 2B-LAHS parent
a resident of Rex Manor
on May 23, 2018 at 3:10 am

2B-LAHS parent is a registered user.

@Waldo and @Les and all

I have spent the past 5 years dealing with the political nightmare caused by the voters not giving the MVWSD the full amount of money that was needed to fully update our 11 schools and remove all temporary structures and replace any structures past their useful life and make the best use of our land. All these goals were dashed by the voters.

By all reasonable assessments, the MVWSD needed $421million to bring all 11 schools up to meeting the 21st century standards for all of our kids and have good solid facilities that would last 50-60 years.

If the voters had been willing to give the MVWSD the $421million, then we would have had all the construction done 3 years sooner and all 11 schools would have equity for all MVWSD students at all 11 schools. All facilities could be built without cutting massive corners. All facilities would have 50-60 year lifetimes. But.....NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO....

What happened is that the voters only gave the MVWSD $93million.
This meant that right at the start, every project would turn into a political war between different sets of parents. The Board was a hot mess and dysfunctional to the core. The Measure G money could never be stretched far enough to give every school what it wanted and worse, it was not enough money to give all schools what they actually needed. Some schools would get much more than other schools and some schools got much less.

If all that was not bad enough, all these political arguments and created wars between parent groups, all these mass meetings with hundreds of parents, all .....

What happened was that we LOST THREE YEARS of time and lost millions in spending power for the schools. Every week these projects got delayed cost the MVWSD about $220,000 in "opportunity costs" for each week of delay.

If not for the dysfunctional Board and the endless practice pitting of various parent groups against one another as they each try to save their school from the next group of parents, etc...

If not for the totally avoidable politics, we could have gotten the 11 reduced schools completed as much as 3 years ago, or at least by last year.

If the $295million Measure E bond fails, they will go back to try to get something less and then the MVLAHSD will also face the same nearly endless nightmare that we in the MVWSD have been forced to suffer since 2012 and the nightmare is still on-going for some unknown number of years.

If you don't support Measure E, then you only have yourself to blame for FAILING to LEARN from the HISTORY of your neighbor MVWSD experience that is not yet over.

Those who will not learn from the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat those same mistakes.

3 people like this
Posted by 2B-LAHS parent
a resident of Rex Manor
on May 23, 2018 at 3:13 am

2B-LAHS parent is a registered user.

OoOps, typo above.
The voters gave the MVWSD $193million, NOT $93 as my typo said above.
$193million was Measure G.

Sorry for the typo.

3 people like this
Posted by 2B-LAHS parent
a resident of Rex Manor
on May 23, 2018 at 3:17 am

2B-LAHS parent is a registered user.


Hi Otto, could you please take another look and post a more clear statement of what you were trying to indicate. Perhaps expand on your short sentences? I think I want to agree with you, but I can't tell as things are.

"Sorry.. the growth in housing does equate to similar growth in school attendance.

People just aren't haven't as many kids as before."

13 people like this
Posted by Les
a resident of Cuernavaca
on May 23, 2018 at 5:58 am

@2B-LAHS parent

"If not for the dysfunctional Board and the endless practice pitting of various parent groups against one another as they each try to save their school from the next group of parents, etc... "

You are 100% correct IMO on this point. And this is what Jose Gutierrez has proven to be all about.

I will add that we need better candidates. Nelson and Gutierrez have brought nothing but division and problems and have put progress back six years now. But we also need fresher perspectives. Fiona Walter and Margaret Abe-Koga represent entrenched thinking given their long tenures. We need new ideas and a break from the old paradigms. And I agree that the first place to start might be to combine the districts into a unified school district.

7 people like this
Posted by 2B-LAHS parent
a resident of Rex Manor
on May 23, 2018 at 10:30 am

2B-LAHS parent is a registered user.

@Les of Cuernavaca

"""@2B-LAHS parent
"If not for the dysfunctional Board and the endless practice pitting of various parent groups against one another...""

"And this is what Jose Gutierrez has proven to be all about."

I was there when Jose was chosen and I have been to many Board meetings with him, I have spoken privately with him several times and I have not seen Jose inciting fights between groups of parents or between schools. Others, yes.

On Jose, my only problem is with what he has many times harped on, "diversity".
But, Jose has not once offered any sort of proposal as to how to achieve "diversity".
That's the problem, politicians claim they want "diversity", but wont define it and wont propose any actual method to achieve it. They take some token action and then pat themselves on the back and ignore the fact they did nothing that actually helped the totality of all the students. In fact, the attempts to attain "diversity" in a city like Mountain View can only do harm to all the students of the district.

And NOBODY else on the Board now or in the past, nor any of our Supt, nor even Nelson, in fact, nobody has EVER offered an actual proposal which even MIGHT make all or even a few of our schools reflect the over all diversity of Mountain View. Nothing has even been proposed that would in fact balance any of our schools by any criteria.

Of all our schools, NONE of them come close to reflecting the diversity of our city. Huff, Bubb and Stevenson all have 10% or less "free and reduced lunch students". And yet, the ONLY school ever discussed as a target for manipulation by the Board to achieve "diversity" is Stevenson. They give Huff/Bubb a pass. And no matter what punitive measures they take against Stevenson, it still will not balance the lop-sided demographics of Stevenosn, Theuerkauf, Castro, Monta Loma, Huff, Bubb or Landels and probably wont get "diversity" in the new N. Whisman school either.

But, hey, why not punish Stevenson for being so popular with the families of our district? It's an easy target for sucker-punches.
Wont make any real difference, but at least the politicians can claim they "did something" about "diversity".
They picked Stevenson as the designated "whipping boy" many years ago and just keep on whipping when ever they need an easy target for a distraction to the public.

I do find the clear and certain benefits to all our students by carefully crafting a set of boundaries for each of our 11 schools to achieve real goals that people will benefit from directly and openly and objectively. Like safe routes to school for example. Like eliminating the need for most of our busing of kids. Like reducing the excess traffic of parents driving their kids back and forth across each other. Like creating strong communities that are based on BOTH their local school AND based on their proximity to each other's homes. Like saving money which could be used to support all our students. etc...

For Stevenson and Mistral, the community for those schools revolves around the schools themselves and the entire city of Mountain View.

When politicians really want to make a big score, they take the easy route of "closing the achievement gap" by stomping down on and punishing the higher achievers so the "Gap" appears smaller, but in fact, they just damaged one set of kids so another set wont look so bad by comparison.

"Diversity" in relation to Mountain View is simply a divisive tool used by politicians and people who want to use it to justify doing something that wont produce the supposed goals or even measurable "progress" towards the supposed goal.

I certainly accept that other school districts have such obvious and clearly deliberate policies and practices designed to segregate students illegally. HOWEVER this is NOT the case here in MVWSD.

8 people like this
Posted by Citizen84
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 23, 2018 at 3:59 pm

Citizen84 is a registered user.

Let's see:

The Mountain View City Council is bringing in tens of thousands new residents through "dozens of major developments" and "ambitious plans to rezone the city's industrial regions and office parks into dense, urban neighborhoods" to accommodate the need of Googles and Microsofts to house their employees.

Regardless whether I agree with it or not (I do not!), the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District has decided that the CURRENT residents should pay thousands dollars a year to build school accommodations for the NEW comers.

Smart. Why don't you try that. The voters are dumb and will never notice under which cup you are hiding the ball in your shuffle.

3 people like this
Posted by Oleg
a resident of another community
on May 24, 2018 at 11:41 am

What's the harm of those interested putting their strongest argument against a ballot measure? How does it benefit voters to hear one side of the story, from people who want the money. Maybe the bond is $295 million rather than $425 million because they are afraid people would then be convinced by stronger against arguments and vote it down?

3 people like this
Posted by school construction politics
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on May 29, 2018 at 7:58 am

LASD is not an example of wise school bond decision making. If that were the example = this MVLA high school bond would surely fail.

The MVLA building program can afford a NO. This happened before, about two decades ago. A big Bond did not pass.

They 'trimed their sails' and came back and passed a smaller spending plan. Now, they are simply asking for the maximum amount of $$$ per $100,000 of assessed valuation that they can in a 55% approval election. And the same old construction/management companies throwing money to the same political consultants and into the hats of the same local politicians.

that's how public school construction business works

3 people like this
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on May 29, 2018 at 10:10 am


Because those residents wouldn't have come otherwise, right?

1 person likes this
Posted by Ummmmm
a resident of Waverly Park
on Jun 3, 2018 at 3:55 pm

@Citizen84 Unless I am very mistaken the NEWCOMERS will also pay. Once they buy their house, their property tax bill will include this bond payment too, at least til 2039 or whenever the bond is paid off. And their yearly payment will most likely be more than mine, because I've owned my home for over 25 years and under prop 13, any new home in MV has a tax basis a lot higher than mine.

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