Los Altos School District board members cautiously endorsed a plan to build a San Antonio school serving children in the area, hoping to push ahead with a complex land deal for a new campus.
With barely a quorum and using ambiguous language, the three trustees agreed at a special meeting Monday night that, if the school district succeeds in building a school at the corner of California Street and Showers Drive, it ought to serve neighborhood kids. It remains unclear whether it would serve Mountain View kids from day one, or if it would be a traditional elementary school. Trustees did not take formal action at the meeting.
Since the spring, Los Altos School District officials have been negotiating with Federal Realty to buy roughly 9.5 acres of land on the northeast corner of the San Antonio shopping center, currently home to several businesses. The school board has held a dozen closed session meetings over the last two months about the acquisition, which would allow the district to redevelop the existing businesses as a new school site.
In order to offset the high cost of buying real estate, the district has sought significant financial support from the city of Mountain View, including $23 million in park fees and permission to sell to developers any "unused" density for building projects elsewhere in the city. But Mountain View City Council members were reluctant to sign off on the support last month until they had more clarity on what kind of school would be put there.
The decision to postpone any action came abruptly at the end of the Oct. 9 City Council meeting, just after midnight, after hearing that the school board made no definitive call on the 10th site usage at a school board meeting the night before.
But clarifying the plan has been difficult for the school district, with the leadership uneasy about making a concrete decision before buying the property and trustees receiving mixed messages from the community. On the one hand, the Mountain View City Council expressed its support for a school serving children in the San Antonio area, where the district's boundaries extend into Mountain View. At the same time, the majority of a Los Altos district task force concluded in August that relocating Bullis Charter School out of Los Altos to the new site would be the right call.
Other groups in the community, notably Bullis families, have advocated for killing the deal entirely, arguing that the land is too expensive and ill-advised at a time when the district's enrollment is dropping.
At the Nov. 26 meeting, school board member Jessica Speiser said she believes the school district needs to plan for the residential boom in the San Antonio area, both now and in the future, and part of that means building a school that would serve the area.
"I want to make sure that we have a school that will serve the neighborhood," she said. "That's how I feel it should be used -- that it is something that serves the neighborhood."
Board member Bryan Johnson spoke broadly about the site usage and said he "agreed" with what Speiser said, but did not respond to requests for clarity on his position. Board president Vladimir Ivanovic doubled down on his prior position, which was that a school serving neighborhood students would be the best option.
"This is a school that ought to serve the neighborhood. It's the one area that we don't have a school, so it seems like a no-brainer," he said.
Trustees Steve Taglio and Sangeeth Peruri were both absent.
District administrators will be crafting a letter to the city of Mountain View expressing the board's opinion, in hopes of getting the financial support deal back in front of the City Council. Ivanovic told the Voice that the language of the letter, while still in flux, gives the district some flexibility. Serving neighborhood students doesn't necessarily lock the district into building an elementary school or a junior high school for kids in the area, nor does it preclude the "temporary or permanent siting" of students outside the neighborhood, he said.
A minority of the current council members, Margaret Abe-Koga and Pat Showalter, have argued that the city shouldn't be ponying up so much money without a guarantee in writing that the district will create a neighborhood school serving the nearly 700 Mountain View children living near the shopping center. It's unclear how the new council members elected in November -- Ellen Kamei, Lucas Ramirez and likely Alison Hicks -- might upset the majority that has granted the district flexibility in the future school's use.
The best guess for when the school would be finished and open to enroll kids is 2023, Ivanovic said. Assuming that estimate holds, a child attending kindergarten when the district's Measure N bond passed will be in high school when the school is finally built.