The new Site Advisory Task Force is intended to be a crucial part of the public outreach and transparency that district officials and school board members promised to include in the process of opening a new school in Mountain View. Work to buy land for a school has gone on for years, but school board members have yet to decide on what kind of school will actually be placed on the site.
In December, the Los Altos district announced plans to buy 8.6 acres of land on the corner of San Antonio Road and California Street, which includes the shuttered Safeway and Old Mill office building. The school could be home to a new neighborhood school serving the district's Mountain View residents living near the San Antonio Shopping Center, or it could be a permanent site for Bullis Charter School, which draws students from throughout the district and beyond. Other options, including a two-campus site with a magnet program, are also up for consideration.
Last week, Mountain View City Council members agreed to shell out $23 million in park funds to help ease the cost of buying land in the hot real estate market, which would also add much-needed public park space to the San Antonio Area. To make it even easier to finance the purchase, the council also permitted the school district to "sell" to developers rights to the unused density that would have been allowed on the Old Mill site. Purchasers would then be able to build more bigger, denser projects than otherwise allowed elsewhere in the city.
The district plans to sell 610,000 square feet of development rights — almost all of it for office projects — to the tune of $79.3 million.
After a lengthy debate, council members ultimately agreed to let the school district decide what kind of school to put on the San Antonio site, but conditioned the handsome financial incentives on the school district creating a transparent, public process for community involvement in determining the "service area" of the school.
A draft description of the district's site advisory task force calls for it to be composed of eight people, including a Mountain View City Council member, a district resident living in the San Antonio area and a Mountain View resident living elsewhere in Mountain View — an acknowledgment that Mountain View residents throughout the city would bear the brunt of the major office projects that come from selling development rights, said board member Steve Taglio at the Monday meeting.
The task force's work will "culminate in a report" to the board outlining "robust data and its analysis of the educational and community benefits" of each type of school that could be built in the San Antonio area, but it falls short of asking for an actual recommendation.
Superintendent Jeff Baier confirmed at the Jan. 22 board meeting that the board would not be receiving a recommendation from its new task force, which is typically the primary role of an advisory committee.
Baier even expressed uneasiness with the idea of the advisory board coming back with pros and cons for each type of school that could be placed on the Mountain View site, and said that data analysis should be the primary focus of the task force.
Board members generally agreed that the task force meetings should be well-publicized, with agendas and video recordings, but some trustees had reservations about the proposed roster. Board member Sangeeth Peruri said there ought to be representation from the district's largest fundraiser, the Los Altos Education Foundation, along with a member of the district's Citizens' Advisory Committee for Finance.
Board president Vladimir Ivanovic said he was uncomfortable with having a parent representative from Bullis Charter School on the task force.
"I don't think Bullis Charter School should be on this task force," he said. "They clearly don't have the long-term interests of the district in mind."
Baier told the Voice in an email that the task force would weigh important data and information about demographics, enrollment, traffic and the district's education programs in the context of the Old Mill site, all of which would help the board make a decision that's "rooted in the community's values that ensures educational equity for all students and long-term stability for the district."
He said the district already gave the community a chance to examine the data up close through the prior Enrollment Priorities Task Force, but that analysis is pretty dated and ought to be looked at again.
"We believe that our decision must be firmly rooted in all of the feedback, data and analysis that we have received since 2012, while (also) honoring our new partnership with the city of Mountain View," Baier said.
Two board members, Ivanovic and Taglio, agreed to pull together a full list of topics that the task force could explore. Baier told trustees that a final document spelling out the roster and goals of the task force would come to the board at the next meeting.
This story contains 922 words.
Stories older than 90 days are available only to subscribing members. Please help sustain quality local journalism by becoming a subscribing member today.
If you are already a subscriber, please log in so you can continue to enjoy unlimited access to stories and archives. Subscriptions start at $5 per month and may be cancelled at any time.