Mountain View to contribute $23M for LASD’s 10th site

The Mountain View City Council voted to contribute $23 million to the Los Altos School District’s potential purchase of a 10th site in Mountain View, with certain restrictions.

The city of Mountain View is chipping in the funds in exchange for use of the site – located at California Street and Showers Drive – after school hours. In addition, the city previously granted the district permission to sell the site’s unused density to developers in other parts of Mountain View – which could earn the district up to $79 million.

Enrollment in Los Altos School District
Courtesy of Los Altos School District
There is a higher concentration of students in the north end of Los Altos School District near the site the district is trying to acquire.

The district has been in pursuit of a 10th site for the past six years, and neither the deal nor the details of the use of the site are hammered out, but the acquisition is one step closer to completion.

The council pursued a strict definition of how the site would serve the neighborhood because the city is contributing to the project.

“I want it to have some teeth in it,” said Councilwoman Pat Showalter, regarding the agreement between the city and the school district.

Los Altos School District Trustee Jessica Speiser assured the council that the school on the site would be either a traditional elementary or junior high school, or a site for Bullis Charter School if the charter school included an enrollment preference for students in the neighborhood.

Joe Hurd, chairman of the Bullis Charter School Board of Directors, said that beyond the charter school’s general disinterest in the site, the charter school will not add an enrollment preference for a neighborhood.

In total, the district plans to purchase the 11.5 acre site, but approximately two of those acres will be strictly parkland and will be paid for by Greystar and eventually owned by the city of Mountain View. The remaining 9.65 acres will be dedicated to the school – the district will use funds from Measure N, the $23 million from the city of Mountain View and the up-to-$79 million from the sale of the transferable development rights to fund the purchase and construction. The cost of the site is still private, as the district is in negotiation with the seller, but the district hopes to close on the deal by early 2019. The school would open, at the earliest, in September 2023.

The council voted 6-0 to approve the funding with Councilmember John McAlister recusing himself from the discussion and vote because he co-owns a preschool that leases land from the district.

What kind of school?

In October, the Mountain View council was scheduled to vote on the $23 million contribution but decided to delay the vote until the district had developed a detailed plan for the site.

At that time, district trustees determined that it would be premature to decide which school would go on the site – a task force narrowed the options to Bullis Charter School, a neighborhood school or Egan Junior High School.

Bullis Charter School officials have made it clear that they are not interested in occupying the 10th site because they feel it is too small for their school and not centrally located in the district.

“We don’t want it,” Hurd said. “It makes no sense to put the largest school on the 10th site.”

If the district and the charter school did agree to move the charter school to the 10th site, the school would have to change its enrollment lottery procedure to give preference to families who live in the neighborhood to fulfill the city of Mountain View’s needs. But Hurd said that’s not going to happen.

“It makes absolutely no sense to implement any additional neighborhood preferences that would disadvantage students who are already on the waitlist,” he said.

However, Hurd said that speaking only for himself, not for the board, he would be open to chartering a second school within Los Altos School District for that site. 

If the charter school refuses to move to the 10th site, then the site would need to be a neighborhood school, which could mean closing another school in the district.

At a September board meeting, Trustee Steve Taglio said he wasn’t sure how it would be financially feasible for the district to operate 10 sites as district schools.

“Looking at the finances of how we run the district right now, there’s no way I think we can afford to run 10 sites as district schools, because the overhead of staffing required to manage an additional school would put us at a deficit when we need to spend money in other ways,” he said.

Previously, Trustee Bryan Johnson said the use for the 10th campus could change over the next 30 years, or even the next 10 years, but he’s sure that another piece of land in that area is a necessity, because the district’s enrollment is concentrated in the area near the 10th site.

Marshaling support

At least 117 residents of the neighborhood agree. A petition launched by Alice Lee, president of the district’s English Learners Committee and a volunteer at Santa Rita School, asked neighbors who live within walking distance of the site whether it should be turned into a school.

“Approve the agreement with the Los Altos School District on December 11th,” the petition states. “The neighbors around the San Antonio Shopping Center want any public school and park there.”

A team of volunteers distributed the petition, translated into Spanish and Mandarin, over the course of a week.

“They came from diverse backgrounds and speak different languages, but we have one thing in common: We want a school and a park,” Lee said.

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