School district shifts gears on paying off new school construction | News | Mountain View Online |


School district shifts gears on paying off new school construction

With development fees slowing down, Mountain View Whisman to divert money from general fund

Mountain View Whisman School District officials are switching up how to pay off millions of dollars in construction debt, diverting more money away from the general fund to pay off a $40 million loan used to build a new school and district office.

In a report to the school board Thursday, Aug. 22, the district announced it would no longer be using developer fees to pay off debt incurred by a $40 million "certificate of participation" used to pay for late-stage construction projects after the 2012 Measure G bond ran out of money.

Instead, the district will be "banking" developer fees for future projects, and will pay off the $2.64 million annual bill exclusively with lease revenue. While developer fees are restricted funds largely meant to offset enrollment growth, lease revenue flows into the general fund and can be put toward a wide range of academic uses.

In 2016, Mountain View Whisman school board members faced a conundrum, seeking to create a new school -- the just-opened Jose Antonio Vargas Elementary -- without enough money to pay for it. Trustees voted in October 2016 to supplement the bond fund with a $40 million certificate of participation, or COP, and use it to build Vargas and a new district office. Cost estimates from October 2018 pinned a $25.8 million price tag on Vargas and $8.4 million on the district office.

At the time, district staffers sought to use developer impact fees, which are sent to the district periodically from residential and commercial developers on a per-square-foot basis, since it was a way to pay off the costs while having a limited impact on the district's budget.

The developer fees came pretty close to paying the bill at first -- in the 2016-17 school year, the district received just shy of $2.5 million. The rest was backfilled with revenue generated by leasing land and facilities to private schools and Google's day care center on Gladys Avenue.

But construction appears to be slowing down in Mountain View, or at least fluctuating unpredictably. In the 2017-18 school year, developer fees dropped to $1.7 million, and in 2018-19 they sank to just $638,000.

"One thing that we've learned in years past is that we can't rely on revenue streams that are unpredictable," district spokeswoman Shelly Hausman said in an email. "We're taking a more conservative approach and will use lease revenue in the future to pay the COP."

Unlike developer fees, lease revenue has grown quickly over the same period, and now constitutes a big portion of the district's annual budget. For the 2019-20 year, the district is expected to rake in $5.3 million, making it a far more reliable way to pay off the district's debt obligation, said Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph.

Despite paying off the bills with money bound for the general fund, the budgetary pivot will not affect academic programs and school services, Rudolph said.

With developer fees now freed up, Rudolph told trustees at the Aug. 22 board meeting that the funding could be used to house the hundreds of students projected to enter the district following new housing construction in several areas of Mountain View, including North Bayshore and East Whisman. The district intends to pull together a facilities plan by Nov. 21.

"It's our goal to come back with a 10-year master plan that takes into account the totality of all the future growth that's going to be taking place, as opposed to just project-by-project," Rudolph said. "So we'll have a clear plan of action moving forward as well as a recommendation of which projects we should do first."

All dried up

The 2019-20 school year signals the end of five straight years of construction in the Mountain View Whisman School District, with an ever-evolving scope of projects and a constant effort to control cost overruns.

The original $198 million bond program has ballooned to $262.4 million since 2012, drawing from 12 different sources of funding in order to keep up with escalating construction costs and school board-authorized changes that tacked on tens of millions of dollars over time. As the dust settled and classes began earlier this month, all of the money has officially been exhausted.

Some projects didn't make the cut. When asked by board member Devon Conley about plans to revamp the front office at Mistral Elementary -- which were put out to bid and rejected in May for being too expensive -- Rudolph said it was no longer an option.

"Based off of the cost overruns, we will deplete all the funds before we can do anything else," Rudolph said. "We've actually been taking items off. Solar has come off, Mistral has come off, the kinder(garten) playground expansions have come off, shade structures have come off. We don't have the funds to complete those types of projects at this time."

The construction budget ran dry at an accelerated rate due to "cumulative overages" during many of the projects, as well as some unexpected costs. Vargas Elementary School has yet to be hooked up to the power grid due to a dispute between PG&E and a nearby homeowners association, forcing the district to spend $35,000 a month on a gas generator. That money is coming out of the bond fund.

Soil conditions at the district office site also added last-minute costs to the construction budget.

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12 people like this
Posted by Dan Waylonis
a resident of Jackson Park
on Sep 2, 2019 at 3:16 pm

Dan Waylonis is a registered user.

I am unsurprised that the Mountain View government and school system was unable to manage the 30% cost overrun. I'm equally unsurprised that the huge increases in developer fees resulted in less development in Mountain View. Add these shortfalls to the incredible growth of public employee pension and health care costs and the city will be insolvent.

I'd urge MV voters to consider electing council members with real business experience who might be able to rein in the costs and poor financial decisions made by the current and past councils..

4 people like this
Posted by James Thurber
a resident of Shoreline West
on Sep 2, 2019 at 4:16 pm

James Thurber is a registered user.

I honestly don't think Mountain View / Whisman has to pay anything to anyone.

The President wouldn't have. He would have simply refused and turned everything over to his army of lawyers to "fix things."

Mountain View / Whisman School District, it's time to take a lesson from our "esteemed" leader and simply . . . don't pay 'em.

21 people like this
Posted by Questioning
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Sep 2, 2019 at 10:46 pm

If so much budget problems, why does C. Ghysel get a big pay raise?

8 people like this
Posted by Developer Fee
a resident of another community
on Sep 3, 2019 at 1:37 am

In California, School districts are completely separate from municipalities. The city can charge fees on construction for various reasons, and encourage or require various features and public benefits on construction, but this is not controlled by the school district. The developer fees referred to here are separate amounts that are defined and limited by state law. They are no where near enough to fund building new schools for large amounts of new residential development. They are a token payment the district can use to supplement its own bond issuing powers.

So this action is a joke or merely symbolic. The figures given in the article are not surprising. Specifically,

"These fees are established by the District and are assessed against residential construction and reconstruction at $2.53 per square foot and against new commercial or industrial construction at $0.41 per square foot. The proposed fees are authorized by Education Code Section 17620 and Government Code Section 65995.

History and background

The initial maximum fee that can be levied is adjusted every two years by the statewide index for Class B construction set by the State Allocation Board (“SAB”). On January 24, 2018, the SAB increased the school fee to $3.79 (“Level I Fee”) per square foot of assessable space for residential construction and $0.61 per square foot of covered and enclosed space for commercial and industrial construction. This fee is shared by Mountain View Whisman School District and the Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District."

Consider building an apartment of 800 sq ft which may on average generate 0.1 students for MVWSD. How far can a onetime fee of $20,000 (the amount for 10 such units) go? Typically the district will need a new classroom for every 25 studnets allowing some overhead for shared classrooms for special education, science, and other special purpose programs. There will need to be multipurpose rooms, offices, gyms for junior high, teacher workroom areas and other extra built out space at each school. $500K won't even fund one basic classroom. Plus, there is the issue of paying for the land!

But in any event, these dollars aren't generated by the city requiring extra contributions from Google or other developers in the area. They are the minimal developer fees allowed in state law for use by school districts.

29 people like this
Posted by Standing Ovation
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 3, 2019 at 7:39 am

Wow! Board members agreed in 2012 to build a new school when they had no money to pay for it?!?! And now they are taking from the general fund? Recall the Board. They are woefully unqualified and 100% responsible for this mess--yet another on top of another mess.

Funny how the new Chief Business Officer Rebecca Westover is no where to be found in reported comments above? Coupled with our esteemed novice superintendent, both who were recently the recipients of fat raises, neither have any corporate-level multi-million dollar financial management experience in the backgrounds. Don't get me started on the new raise Assistant Super Ghysels and Bauers got for basically delivering flat performance in the district. The entire District Office staff need to be fired. Only fresh minds and qualified individuals not corrupted by the current culture of Rudolph-Ghysels pact will get this school district out of the pit it has fallen into.

4 people like this
Posted by Steven Nelson
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Sep 3, 2019 at 9:52 am

As a former Trustee who ran on 'fair neighborhood schools for all neighborhoods' and made that point in officially opposing the SFIP part of the Measure C Bond" let me remind you all (@Standing Ovation & reporter)
The old Whisman District property tax payers were paying somewhere near 1/5th more for their school bond taxes that the rest of the district - and yet the NE Quadrant had 2 closed elementary schools. There now is a neighborhood elementary, serving the area, same as Huff & Bubb areas are served! Fair public Policy!
Unless you were in the middle, or followed, the many political and public policy tradeoffs that happened over that 6-7 year period, you might not realize that LEASE REVENUE for the 2 CLOSED ELEMENTARY SITES was intended to pay for 'the mortgages' (COP) for the replacement elementary (Vargas)
I did not vote, and would not have voted for using COP to pay for a new District Office. That is the current Board's responsibility! The decision to switch, to using Developer Fees, seems to have been made as a temporary adjustment, and perhaps to pay for the millions they wanted for a new Sitarist Office.
Trustee Chris Chang and I had an informal personnel pact - to never vote for a new District Office, until all the school kids sites were taken care of.

Thank you @Developer Fee for the well informed explanation of how developer fees (per sq ft) tie into new school space financing. In general - I'd agree with the move back / it makes it clearer that LEASE REVENUE from that closed schools are used for construction of a new (replacement) school / and developers are paying into a Fund dedicated to new school capacity.

6 people like this
Posted by Old Steve
a resident of Rex Manor
on Sep 3, 2019 at 10:33 am

Old Steve is a registered user.

Given that the former MVWSD District Office was a converted Elementary Campus from the 1960's, eventually it would need to be replaced anyway, if only on seismic safety and electrical capacity. Since the needs of elementary schools are everchanging with demographics and new teaching techniques, the statement by Nelson above would have meant ever more challenges in operating a modern school district from an antique (more than 50 yrs old) headquarters. As neighbors we are looking forward to an open house the the modern (modular) district office. Too bad in won't be a polling place anymore.

20 people like this
Posted by Don Keedick
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Sep 5, 2019 at 1:22 pm

Don Keedick is a registered user.

MVWSD has serious operational issues.

12 people like this
Posted by a community member
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Sep 6, 2019 at 7:07 pm

saddens me to see that the district can afford a state of the art board room, yet funds for student facing options are lessened Web Link

3 people like this
Posted by MVWSD parent
a resident of Rex Manor
on Sep 8, 2019 at 12:23 am

@a community member
"saddens me to see that the district can afford a state of the art board room, yet funds for student facing options are lessened"

Clearly, you have not actually seen the new MVWSD Board room.
The whole District Office is a prefab modular building and looks like it.

I was rather disappointed and they certainly had nothing "state of the art", in fact, they were still using the same audio/video system they have been using for the past 6 years. Actually, they were down 2 screens from before. I'm pretty sure the space is less than the old Board Room too.

The multi-purpose room at Graham is way better in every respect.

The new Board room does have a new Board member desk with 7 seats.
It's not what I would have chosen, it's not well designed to the space it's in and I don't think it's any more functional than a plain table.

Basically, it does not look like they splurged at all for the District Office or Board room.

1 person likes this
Posted by thank you
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Sep 8, 2019 at 6:31 am

@MVWSD parent thank you for the extra info.
Respectfully, as modest as the new board office may be, I wish we had new playgrounds (see article) over that space.

2 people like this
Posted by Old Enough to Know Better
a resident of Rex Manor
on Sep 9, 2019 at 12:39 am

@thank you

"Respectfully, as modest as the new board office may be, I wish we had new playgrounds (see article) over that space."

I don't think you are getting the point(s).

First, the prior Board Room building had the Board Room, meeting rooms, the "closed sessions" room and a large room used to run the IT department that supports all the schools in the district.

That entire building was originally built in 1965 as the library building for the Stevenson school. When Stevenson was rebuilt last year, that building was returned to Stevenson to be it's library once again.

So, without building a new Board Room and extra meeting rooms and a space for the IT department, the district was severely handicapped in doing it's job.

Second, the prior hexagon-shaped District Office building, from 1965, was decades beyond it's useful life and was never designed to be an office building in the first place. It was a terrible building and too small.

It had rot problems.
The electrical was long obsolete and insufficient for the D.O. needs.
The building was not fit to survive serious Earthquakes.

Third, the old D.O. hexagon building was badly inefficient in energy use for heating/cooling. The 1965 building leaked like a sieve.

The fact is, the D.O. had to be replaced soon, and the absolutely cheapest time to build a new D.O. was NOW while all the other construction was going on. If it was delayed until later, it would have been much more costly.

Does that help you understand the wisdom and fiscal responsibility of building a new D.O. with Board Room this year?

6 people like this
Posted by J
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Sep 9, 2019 at 5:25 am

@ old enough to know better

Maybe the district should be saving up for....
A) all the lawsuits (see voice articles for any questions) they’re in and are coming their way
B) everything that Carmen touches which seemed to lead to more lawsuits
C) any projects Rudolph decides to begin
D) finishing Vargas and getting permanent (24/7) electricity to the school
E) huge raises for everyone at the top (don’t worry about the teachers)
Etc etc etc

I’m not the person you replied to but I think you’re missing the point- the district doesn’t have an extra penny at this point.

3 people like this
Posted by Old Enough to Know Better
a resident of Rex Manor
on Sep 11, 2019 at 8:57 am

@ J

You want to know what really wasted many millions of tax-payer dollars?
Political in-fighting over HOW to spend Measure G.

We lost many millions by a pointless argument from certain people wanting to close one school to pay for opening another in a different location. Once Tod Lee did the math and proved to the District that it was impossible to go ahead with this original plan, AND those people who were pushing to close one school to open another backed off that idea, ONLY then did the wasteful argument end. But by then, we had lost 3 years and many millions of tax-payer dollars.

The tax-payers will be paying for that 3yr-long futile political in-fighting for decades!

Way more costly than all these lawsuits put together.

"@ old enough to know better
Maybe the district should be saving up for...."

All those things are part of what the "reserve fund" is about.
The MVWSD now has something like 20%-ish reserve.

The original question was about if it was wise to spend money on a new D.O. building and I think I clearly showed it was the right decision for saving the tax-payers lots of money.

As far as the issue :
"D) finishing Vargas and getting permanent (24/7) electricity to the school"

The issue between PG&E and the HOA, that's not the sort of thing you would expect the D.O. to be in the middle of. PG&E screwed that one up. Maybe they were distracted by their own big problems, but it certainly was no fault of the District.

On the:
"E) huge raises for everyone at the top (don’t worry about the teachers)"

While I agree that it does not look good and it makes for an easy target for cheap shots, but the fact is the raises are barely a drop in the bucket compared to raises for teachers.

If all the top staff were independently wealthy and took just a $1/year salary, even that money would barely be noticed when it comes to teachers pay.

2 people like this
Posted by Seeking more $?
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Nov 16, 2019 at 9:53 am

Seeking more $? is a registered user.

Is the MV-Whisman district going to seek more money in the March or November elections?

2 people like this
Posted by Seeking more $?
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Nov 17, 2019 at 9:08 pm

Seeking more $? is a registered user.

Yes. Thursday November 21 the District (obedient trustees) will place on the March 3 ballot a $256 million bond measure.

4 people like this
Posted by Another bond measure
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Nov 19, 2019 at 6:08 am

Another bond measure is a registered user.

On the November 21 agenda of the board of this school district is another bond measure - this one $256 million. It will be on the March ballot.

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