Mountain View Whisman school board members showed interest at a Thursday, Sept. 21, meeting in reaching a new agreement with the city for the joint operation of school fields, potentially keeping the chance for a deal alive after it appeared on the brink of collapse.
While some trustees raised questions and suggestions about the specifics of an agreement, the board generally said it wanted to prioritize getting a deal signed.
Earlier this month, Mountain View city staff recommended that the City Council terminate the current joint use agreement, which is slated to run through June 30, 2025, and described trying to continue negotiations on a new agreement as untenable. The agreement has been a longstanding partnership between the two agencies over managing public green space.
The district and city had been in multi-year negotiations to reach a successor agreement, but the district announced earlier this year that it was pausing the talks.
The City Council council ultimately agreed with staff, voting to terminate the agreement while also directing city officials to lay out terms for a new "take it or leave it" offer that the district would have until the end of the year to accept. Council members described it as a final offer not subject to further negotiations.
The original joint use agreement dates back to 1959 and created a system under which the city pays for the maintenance and improvements of school fields. In return, the school district lets the public use its open space after school hours. The city has also managed renting fields for youth sports and other uses during these times.
After substantial public tension between the city and school district in recent weeks, Superintendent Ayindé Rudolph and board members took a generally more conciliatory tone at Thursday's meeting.
"This joint use agreement is incredibly significant to our community and I look forward to working in partnership with the city," board President Laura Ramirez Berman said.
"I want to recognize that the city has been a great partner," board member Chris Chiang said. "They do a great job maintaining our fields; they take on the expenses of it. I appreciate them."
Rudolph told the board that the two main legal issues under dispute are now largely resolved.
The first is the district's interest in both parties providing broader indemnification for one another. According to Rudolph, the district is amenable to indemnification language that City Attorney Jennifer Logue said was in the most recent draft.
The second issue is whether the city's field rental process follows the Civic Center Act. District officials have previously said it doesn't believe the city is in compliance with the law, which the city disputes. On Thursday, Rudolph described the Civic Center Act as the final hurdle, but noted that the council and city staff have said they will follow the act.
According to Rudolph, the district and city appear to currently have different versions of the most recent draft of the agreement. Rudolph said that he supports the two parties reconciling their drafts and then moving ahead without additional changes.
He also proposed recommending that the city update its policies on field rentals in a way that the district believes will be in compliance with the Civic Center Act. Chiang said that he wants the district's proposed changes to city policy to be given as advice, not demands.
Vice Mayor Pat Showalter addressed the board at Thursday's meeting, urging it to move ahead with signing a new joint use agreement with the city.
"We think that the people of Mountain View expect us to work together and provide them with open space," Showalter said. "We feel that that is a very important value in our community and I think you feel that way too."
City spokesperson Lenka Wright told the Voice that the city plans to send the district its final terms or conditions "in the near future," and that the district will have until Dec. 31 to accept or reject them.
"The City appreciates 60-plus years of partnership with MVWSD on joint use of school fields and the benefits this has brought to our students and community," Wright said. "We look forward to continuing this partnership if we are able to reach agreement by the end of this year."
According to Wright, the city's terms will include the district agreeing to involve the city in a "meaningful way" on changes to its fields and publicly recognizing the city as a partner, including on field signs. The district recently changed the signs on its fields to only include the district's name, not the city.
At Thursday's meeting, Rudolph said that he believes the most important thing is reaching an agreement to ensure community access, and that amendments could be made in the future to address items like collaboration and signage.
Chiang supported changing the signage, while Berman and fellow board member Laura Blakely both said that they were in favor of waiting to see what language is in the city's proposal.
Board member Bill Lambert said that he felt more clear language was needed in the agreement to ensure that the public would retain access for the full term of the deal. In the coming decades, Lambert said that there will be growing pressure for the district to expand its facilities, and that he believes the city should bear some of the cost of building in a way that doesn't infringe on open space.
At the same time, Lambert said that he hadn't come up with language that would accomplish this goal and appeared to support going ahead with an agreement.
"I'm ready to move on, but I do see a day where this agreement will go forward and it will cause problems for some certain community," Lambert said.
Board member Devon Conley said that she supported moving ahead with getting an agreement signed, noting that it's in the community's interest to have the city and district working together.
"I don't want to rock the boat," Conley said. "We are not in a negotiation setting right now, so I don't think now is the time to try to change things based on the draft that we already have. I think that we could always be open to further collaboration or amendments in the future."