The Mountain View City Council decided to postpone approval of a plan that would pave the way for a new school in the San Antonio region of Mountain View, after Los Altos School District trustees declined to make a concrete decision on who would attend the school.
District board members argued at a meeting Monday night that the future is far too hazy to decide whether the new 10th campus should serve students residing in the Mountain View portion of the district, or Bullis Charter School -- or even an unknown third option. Nothing was taken off the table at the Oct. 8 board meeting, with board members instead calling for construction of a school with maximum "flexibility" that could fit a multitude of uses.
Mountain View City Council members, in response, agreed on Tuesday, Oct. 9, to postpone taking up the item until the district provides more clarity on the site use.
Board members have met in closed session six times in the last few weeks to work out the final details of a land purchase for a new school, which would be located at the corner of Showers Drive and California Street. It's unclear how much the district will pay for the roughly 9.6 acres of property, but cost of land in the area has been estimated in the past to be between $10-15 million per acre.
In order to offset the cost, the school district has sought help from the city of Mountain View. Barring a decision to reverse course, council members are expected to authorize contributing $23 million in park fees in exchange for use of field space, and permit the district to "sell" any unused allowable density on the site to developers to defray the costs. The so-called TDRs (transfer of development rights) are expected to generate $79.3 million, essentially pushing dense developments into other parts of Mountain View.
Some council members have expressed uneasiness signing off on the financial help until they know what kind of school will go on the San Antonio site. This ultimately led to the decision to postpone approval of a funding agreement for the park fees and joint use agreement spelling out how recreational facilities planned for the school site will be shared.
School board members maintain that decision would be premature in such a volatile situation. It's unclear what facilities Bullis Charter School will require, as the charter school prepares to grow by more than 30 percent. Negotiations for buying the land are also still ongoing, and it wouldn't be a good idea to "spin everyone up" about the use of the site if the land hasn't even been secured, said board member Steve Taglio.
"I don't think it's a slam dunk that it's going to happen," Taglio said.
Board member Bryan Johnson said he understands the city wants a clear plan for the school by the Oct. 16 council meeting, but he said it's difficult to conjure up a specific plan when there are so many unknowns with regard to enrollment changes and what the Bullis Charter School community wants. Putting a flag in the ground now when the situation could radically change in the next two or three years would be a mistake, he said.
After the meeting, Johnson told the Voice that he agrees a neighborhood school would be a huge benefit to the San Antonio neighborhood, but it's unclear if an elementary school is going to be the best use of the site for "education purposes" in the near term.
"This neighborhood deserves a neighborhood school as much as other neighborhoods, in the abstract," he said. "But in the specific, we're going to use it to improve the educational program for those kids, and we can't really tell you what that looks like four years from now, eight years from now."
Board members also pointed out that the community -- both at the Monday night meeting and in the past -- has been sharply divided about the district's plans, and called it proof that more discussion and community feedback needs to take place.
Some public speakers at the meeting encouraged the board to buy the 10th site, while others called it a terrible idea and claimed it was the wrong fit for a retail center fraught with crime. Several speakers said putting a neighborhood school there makes sense and fulfills the district's vision for small, neighborhood-oriented schools, while others warned that redrawing boundaries to accommodate such a school would tear the community apart. No one at the meeting advocated for relocating Bullis to the San Antonio site.
District parent Laura Teksler said the school board has reaffirmed time and again that small neighborhood schools are an important part of the district's education model, yet it hasn't extended the same opportunity to students living in the San Antonio area. The latest count shows there are nearly 700 district students living in the northernmost portion of the district that extends into Mountain View -- and with new housing construction, hundreds more are expected to move in -- and yet the neighborhood's students are split between three campuses in Los Altos.
"I see no reason why the north of El Camino area should not have that same opportunity," she said. "It makes no sense to me to have hundreds of children who are already there ... crossing El Camino Real and coming to Covington and Almond and Santa Rita (schools)."
Oak Elementary PTA president Tara Williamson, speaking on her own behalf, said she supported buying the 10th site regardless of what kind of school ends up there, but said she was uneasy with the idea that it could force the district to redraw attendance boundaries. She argues it wouldn't be "fair or right" to break up the communities of seven or nine schools for the sake of drawing boundaries for a new campus.
"We're a community," she said. "And uprooting or redrawing boundaries will be a devastating effect on all of these schools."
Running with the noncommittal theme at the Monday night meeting, Bullis Charter School officials in attendance did not definitively state whether the Bullis community would be willing to be relocated onto the San Antonio site. Bullis board chair Joe Hurd told district trustees at the meeting that, in general, the charter school has sought to operate on a single site in a central location in the district. He also questioned any decision that proposes cramming the largest school in the district onto what would be one of the smallest campuses.
Bullis Charter School's plans call for increasing enrollment from 915 this year to about 1,200 in the near future, and it's unclear if, and how, that many students would fit on the proposed San Antonio site. District administrators stated in an August meeting that putting 1,200 students at the 10th site is not an option, and that even a 900 students could require a dense campus with three-story structures.
Although the majority of the board did not weigh in on a preferred use for the Mountain View school, board President Vladimir Ivanovic said his personal preference was a neighborhood school. All five board members reaffirmed that buying the property is the right choice, and that the district needs a 10th site for future enrollment growth.