German school to expand on Whisman campus

Trustee advocates for terminating lease, reopening site as district school

With the approval of the board of trustees, the Mountain View Whisman School District has agreed to allow the German International School of Silicon Valley to proceed with the installation of four modular classroom units and one modular bathroom unit on the Whisman Elementary School campus, which the German school has leased from the district for more than a decade.

The trustees approved the construction project in a 3-1 vote at the March 21 board meeting. Chris Chiang, Bill Lambert and Ellen Wheeler voted in favor of the memorandum of understanding between the district and the private German school, while Steven Nelson voted against it. Trustee Phil Palmer was absent.

The GISSV opened in Mountain View in 2000. The school is the "master tenant" of the Whisman site and is required to seek approval before making any improvements to the facility, according to materials handed out at the recent board meeting. "Their goal is to provide sufficient space to allow for a two-track program for grades 1-8, a one-track program for grades 9-12 and three (pre-kindergarten) classrooms," the information sheet said. The work is scheduled to be completed no later than October.

The new portable units would be installed mostly along the top edge of the campus.

The German school will foot the bill for the expansion, MVWSD Superintendent Craig Goldman explained to the board. The school will also be required to return the school to its original condition when its lease ends. At that point, the German school would either have to take down the modular classrooms or negotiate the transfer of those structures to the district.

The memorandum of understanding does not change the terms of the lease in any significant way, Goldman told the board, and the district can still decide to end the lease at any time, so long as it provides the German school 18 months' notice.

Before a vote was taken, Nelson gave a lengthy presentation, during which he seemed to be advocating for the reopening of the Whisman site as a district school. He was cut off before he could clarify his point.

For about 10 minutes, Nelson spoke of the need for a neighborhood school in the northern part of the district. At one point he seemed to suggest that the Whisman site had been closed because it was located in a lower-income area of the city. At another point he showed a picture of fellow trustee Chiang talking to Sev Daudert, a member of the German school's board, which ran in the Voice as part of this paper's election coverage.

Though Nelson noted that he had also spoken to Daudert on the night of the election, he appeared to be suggesting that Daudert was attempting to influence Chiang -- a suggestion that Chiang later refuted before the board.

"We need to be careful of making those kinds of accusations," Chiang said, addressing Nelson.

Wheeler asked Nelson to discontinue his speech -- a request that was initially refused by Nelson, who asked Wheeler if she was "moving to cut off debate."

When it came time to vote on the memorandum of understanding, Nelson told Wheeler, "You're going to have to talk over me," and continued speaking while Wheeler tried to call for a motion. The motion ultimately carried, votes were cast and the construction project was approved.

In an interview with the Voice a few days after the meeting Nelson declined to respond to a comment left on the Voice's website from a reader who was upset at Nelson for interrupting Wheeler and wrote, "Trustee Nelson was arguing for what appeared to be the sake of arguing."

Nelson said that he had apologized to Wheeler for his disruptions, and explained what he was trying to accomplish: The presentation he gave in the lead-up to the vote on the German school's construction plans, he said, was meant to highlight his advocacy for reopening Whisman Elementary School. He said he is concerned that the district administration is leaning toward not reopening Whisman any time soon -- a mistake in his view.

Nelson ran on the promise of pushing for Whisman's reopening, and he said he has no plans to go back on his word. "It may take me four years to fulfill that promise," he said. "I'm going to continue to advocate for (Whisman) and encourage the residents over in Whisman to be more vocal."

In answer to Nelson's concerns, Goldman told the board that the district has plans to conduct a demographic survey that would help determine if it would be appropriate to reopen Whisman. If, in the future, a decision to reopen the school is made, Goldman noted, "we continue to have the right to terminate the agreement with the German school at any time."


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 2, 2013 at 12:16 pm

So the school district wants to spend millions on building new classrooms on current sites while they renew the German school's lease on a site good enough for a private school?

That part of MV deserves a neighborhood public school! Property values remain low without one as Mr. Nelson pointed out.

Give 'em hell Mr. Nelson. That's why I voted for you!

And is it me, or does the Voice always try to slant opinion away from Mr. Nelson?

Like this comment
Posted by NW Resident
a resident of North Whisman
on Apr 2, 2013 at 2:35 pm

The article mentions that the German school has leased this site for more than a decade and they must return the school to its original condition when their lease ends. Does the lease have a term or end date that the German school can opt to renew or not? I see no info on how long the new buildings might be used.

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Posted by James
a resident of Whisman Station
on Apr 2, 2013 at 2:36 pm

It's my understanding that leasing these sites provides financial support the rest of the district.

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Posted by @Observer
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Apr 2, 2013 at 2:55 pm

That part of Mtn View does deserve a school. Many fought like crazy to stop Slater from being closed.

However, unless the enrollment numbers are there, it is good money against bad. The money being spent to add new classroom and repair plumbing on current site is money well spent. It needs to happen.

Adding new classrooms does not require a Principal, added maintenance people, and it does not take away good money that the District is getting from a site.

Mr. Nelson did run on that platform. But, he needs to look at the facts first! I am not interested in throwing money away from all the kids in the District just because ONE Board Member wants it.

The facts! Not mumbo jumbo from either that Board Member nor the District...The facts!

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Posted by AJ
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 2, 2013 at 3:23 pm

@Observer: The district can issue bonds to pay for upgrading & expanding the other schools but it cannot issue bonds to pay for day to day operation of any schools. If they rent out Whisman then they get money to pay for the other schools and they can issue bonds to pay for more classrooms to make up for having less space. If they reopen Whisman then they don't get the rental income, and they have a budget crunch.

I ain't saying this is ideal but that seems to be what is happening. Measure G pays indirectly for normal day to day expenses in the same way that the high school bond to pay for solar panels was a way to pay day to day expenses by reducing the power bill.

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Posted by Rossta
a resident of Waverly Park
on Apr 3, 2013 at 10:14 am

Rossta is a registered user.

I agree that that part of Mountain View needs to get back a school. But my understanding of the state of the Whisman Campus is that in order for it to be used again by MVWSD, it would practically need to be torn down and rebuilt - it is so far behind on the various required upgrades. So, practically speaking, Slater might be the better choice, even though it isn't located quite as centrally to these neighborhoods.

Let's see the results of the demographic survey and let the numbers speak to the need. Measure G funds are for things like upgrading either of these facilities, though those were just allocated without this need being accommodated.

One more thought... Whisman is housing a school full of students, many of whom are from Mountain View. Slater is housing a day-care for one of the biggest companies on the planet. Which seems like a better use of a school facility? Of course some would decide based upon "who can pay the most?", but the job of MVWSD is not to make money but to house and educate our children.

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Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Whisman Station
on Apr 4, 2013 at 6:53 pm

That area has had it's share of " house flippers " until the recent real estate bust. Not too many LEGAL residents have children in the area.
The other side of Middlefield Road may be different. I've never seen many children in the area, only grown up yuppies using the tennis courts near the school.

Like this comment
Posted by Kinder
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Apr 5, 2013 at 9:03 pm

There is an article on The Almanac about another German school that is facing closure because its lease is up. I don't know much about it but someone should get these schools together and see if they can find a way to merge and pool their resources.

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Posted by Curious
a resident of another community
on Apr 6, 2013 at 10:32 am

How much money is MVWSD getting from the German school lease?

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Posted by Steven Nelson
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 10, 2013 at 9:36 am

Whisman permanent buildings are all "class 1" structures.
Rossta - the best information on the buildings at Whisman is from the Conditions & Needs Analysis done by structural engineering firms in '09-'10. These buildings are all Class 1 (first class) structures that can stand earthquakes with no problem.
At $100,000 per permanent classroom - remodeling this campus seems (IMO) the least expensive way to bring permanent classroom capacity 'back on-line". (new buildings cost at least $500,000 per new classroom). It also relieves the various pressures moving Whisman students into other schools causes (traffic, overcrowdings etc.).

The demographics from the '08 survery and the 2010 US Census all show Whisman neighborhood is already full of school age kids.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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