A decade of opportunities squandered
Pleasanton Unified School District has squandered a decade of opportunities. They now want the community to fund a parcel tax and are hinting at another bond measure as well.
In 1999 the parent community stepped forward and proved both the need for another high school and the district's ability to fund it. Pleasanton city leaders and planners strongly supported the need. PUSD had recently sold land intended for Pleasanton's final high school so city leaders suggested a gift of 40 acres plus assistance maintaining gyms and fields. PUSD was unwilling to commit to build the high school and so lost that opportunity. The city then required a developer to set aside land for a school site. Last month, PUSD sold its option on that site without any public discussion.
Many Pleasanton parents are under the illusion that our school standards are higher than the state requires. The truth is that PUSD allows enrollments to exceed State of California maximum enrollments; by state standards our high schools are seriously overcrowded. Each of our campuses is less than 40 acres and by state standards should not exceed 1,400 students. Amador now holds more than 2,500 and there will be 2,772 or more by 2009. The state recommends 60 acres for such "very large schools."
The State of California Department of Education clearly opposes large schools (www.cde.ca.gov The State Guide to School Site Analysis supports their recommendations with research:
"Educators have learned that very large schools have disadvantages. The impersonal character makes it difficult for students and staff to know one another well enough to create a sense of belonging. In very large schools many students find it difficult to participate in student government, sports, and other activities. In smaller schools more students participate in activities, and close relationships between students and staff can be more easily achieved. Very large schools may cost more per student to operate. Student's circulation patterns and congestion in areas such as libraries, cafeterias, and hallways are a problem in very large schools."
Don't be misled by the "bubble of enrollment theory" which would have us believe we might need to close schools soon. If the demographer's projections are accurate, high school enrollments could drop by several hundred students after peak. There will still be enough high school students to sustain three, large high schools or the two, very large, overcrowded schools we now have.
In 1999 the cost to build a new high school was $32 million. Since then, PUSD has spent millions of state and local tax dollars on additions and renovations to our crowded high schools. Last month they brought forward a new plan to spend another $51 million to squeeze more construction onto our already crowded campuses.
How can our school board support $51 million to pay for a plan that actually increases congestion at our campuses? Since 1988, Pleasanton taxpayers have paid for two capital improvement bonds totaling $155 million and our developer mitigation fees are three times the state mandate.
I challenge our new board to show better stewardship and leadership than past boards. After so many opportunities squandered, it is time for the district to consider solutions without coming to the community for more money.
Julie Testa has been on a number of PUSD committees and is a founder of ROCA (Reduce Overcrowded Campuses Alliance). She has lived in Pleasanton since 1989 with her husband Nick and their three sons, Amador graduates of 2003, 2006 and a freshman at Foothill.