Julie Testa: Still badgering the educators for more schools
Julie Testa was back at a familiar place last week--standing at the lectern in the Pleasanton school board meeting room talking about overcrowded conditions in our schools and what could be done about them. A frequent speaker in years gone by, Testa is probably the last of the once-active ROCA group, Reduce Overcrowded Campus Alliance, but she's still not ready to forgive or forget those who kept turning down ROCA's bid for a third comprehensive high school. Last week, she called again for enrollment relief, particularly at Amador Valley high School which she claimed is at 151 percent of capacity, but urged that smaller steps be taken to alleviate the crowds even without building a third high school. Still there was an "I told you so" hint in her voice as she described several new state grants and funding programs she said the district had missed. Needless to say, School Superintendent John Casey and his staff, who are regularly in touch with school administrators in Sacramento, weren't pleased to hear their competence being questioned, especially at a public, televised school board meeting. A phone call or sit-down discussion in advance might have smoothed the waters, which got somewhat steamy as Casey responded to Testa's points.
A bright mother of three, Testa is a household name to a generation of Pleasanton school politicians, district staff and hundreds of parents who have worked with or against her in a number of school board elections. Always a campaigner, but never a candidate, Testa started studying up on local school issues after the district announced it was selling its Del Prado neighborhood school site in the late 1980s. She started attending school board meetings and then, late one night after all but the board and staff had left, was astonished to hear that the district also planned to sell a site on Sycamore Road where a third high school was planned. The board determined the site at the far southwest corner of the city near where Callippe Golf Course now is now located, was too far and that Pleasanton didn't need another high school anyhow.
That was in late 1992, a time she remembers because she was pregnant with her third son Kendall who is now a freshman at Foothill High. That was also a time before the meetings were broadcast on community television, so Testa carried word of the sale to others. Already concerned about rising enrollments at the city's elementary, middle and high schools in a town where houses were being built, ROCA was formed to place caps on enrollment, particularly at the two high schools, and to lobby for more.
At the school board meeting, Testa's statistics raised eyebrows. She's seen at these meetings carrying a huge stack of expanding files filled with current data and usually does her research homework. So when she said our schools are 150-175 percent overcrowded, everyone took notice, particularly parents. It's true that most of our schools have more students than they should under school board guidelines, but they're hardly off by that much. Enrollment guidelines call for 600 students in elementary schools, with acceptable fluctuations up to 10 percent more. Middle schools are set at 1,000, again plus 10 percent, with Amador at 2,000, plus another 200 acceptable for fluctuations. Foothill is slightly lower. Even with 2,500 kids at Amador today, the district considers that a bubble due to a large number of new homes being built in the late 1980s and early 1990s. As those "extra" students move toward graduation, high school enrollment should drop. Testa's figures, however, were based on state guidelines that measure school size by campus acreage. Landlocked among office centers and homes, Amador's 2,500 students are in a school on just under 40 acres, whereas the new state guidelines call for at least 60 acres. Foothill, with about 2,300 students, is a bit better off on 43 acres, but still under suggested--but not mandated--guidelines. Build up another story or two as schools in central city locations do, and the student-to-acre ratio improves. Still, Testa's public airing of enrollment concerns and new state funding opportunities, even in a mini-confrontational presentation, is good. I'm glad she's back in her public watchdog role.