After further consideration, the Pleasanton school board Tuesday directed district administration not to pursue acquisition of the Evangelical Free Church of Pleasanton property in the Valley Trails neighborhood for a potential elementary school site.
Trustees gave consensus to interim superintendent Micaela Ochoa after discussing the availability of the property at 6900 Valley Trails Ave. and hearing public comment from residents, most of whom said they opposed the idea of PUSD acquiring that parcel -- which is currently being debated for a new housing development.
The board took up the issue after it was first raised at a joint special meeting between trustees and the City Council April 11.
The church-owned property came up at that meeting in relation to the district’s plan to build a new elementary school to replace portables currently in use on campuses. In February, the school board directed administrators to explore placing the school on PUSD’s Neal property at 1689 Vineyard Ave.
Ponderosa Homes has since gotten its proposal to build 36 new single-family homes on the Valley Trails property through the Planning Commission, which on Wednesday approved the application by a 3-2 vote. It will now go to the City Council for a final decision in May, with the specific date yet to be determined.
But upon hearing from city staff a day earlier at the joint meeting that the district could still formally express interest in the property -- regardless of the commission’s action the next night -- trustee Jamie Yee Hintzke said, “I feel it should maybe be discussed," indicating she wasn't previously aware it was an option.
After the joint meeting, however district administration determined PUSD is precluded from pursuing the property based on a mitigation agreement the board approved between the district and Ponderosa Homes in October.
In the agreement, Ponderosa Homes said it would pay PUSD $775,400 in developer fees for the Valley Trails project. Developers of new homes and commercial properties in Pleasanton must pay a school impact fee to the district before a county or city building permit will be issued.
The developer is not obligated to pay the fees until it has received final project approval and closed escrow on the site, according to the agreement.
In exchange for the revenue, the district agreed to cooperate with the developer in processing land use entitlement applications for the project.
That cooperation “is expressly limited to an expression of the district’s affirmative support for the project together with technical assistance and providing necessary information and signatures,” the agreement reads.
By entering into the agreement, PUSD also concurred the proposed fees would adequately address any impacts the housing project could have on schools.
Ochoa pointed to that language in the agreement Tuesday in explaining why administrators were discouraging pursuit of the Valley Trails property. She also cited a section stating the district and developer agreed not to reopen the agreement, legally challenge it or "raise any issue relating to the impact of the project on the district's school facilities, equipment and programs."
Ochoa added the contract does not give either party the option to terminate it.
It also came up during the board's discussion that as recently as Sunday, Ochoa and Ponderosa Homes representatives had been in talks about a last-minute proposal to make time for an analysis of the property as a school site. But the developer notified the district on Tuesday that the idea was off the table, Ochoa said.
"The developer approached the district and proposed an idea in his effort to try and identify a win-win solution," Ochoa said. "But there was not sufficient time or support among the neighborhood group or church."
Jeff Schroeder of Ponderosa Homes was among several speakers Tuesday night who urged the board to go along with the recommendation of district administration.
"The language in our mitigation agreement says you would support the project, so I would urge you to do that," he said. "The reason you signed that is we agreed to pay you a lot more than required by state law. That's going to generate fees for the school district which could be used in some ways, I'm sure."
He added, "At the last minute this issue has come up, but frankly it's too late. The church doesn't have time, the neighbors don't have time -- this project needs to go forward."
Several residents of the Valley Trails neighborhood expressed opposition to the concept of the church property as a school site, saying it would bring more traffic and noise to the area.
Former Pleasanton City Council member Kay Ayala was the only speaker among 10 who said she supported the idea.
Others, including former school board member Kathleen Ruegsegger, questioned the board's approval of the mitigation agreement.
"The board appears to have signed away its option to explore the Valley Trails site, and just weeks prior to the community passing a $270 million bond," Ruegsegger said. "On the advice of staff and the district's law firm and before the land was rezoned, a project was endorsed explicitly...There was no reason to sign this in October."
In siding with the recommendation of PUSD administrators, multiple trustees expressed regret for how things had transpired.
"It's unfortunate the way things happened, but I think we are precluded from doing anything else at this point because the agreement was signed," trustee Valerie Arkin said. "I feel like we let down the kids in our community and future kids, and I wish we could have done things differently."
Arkin and trustee Steve Maher also suggested that district staff reconsider some of the language used in the mitigation agreement in such future contracts.
"The language in the mitigation such as 'the district's affirmative support' -- we're not in the business of affirming or endorsing, that's the city's role," Maher said.
In other business
* The district is planning on more layoffs at the end of the school year.
The board authorized additional classified services to be reduced or eliminated -- four special needs assistants, one special education assistant, one health technician, five behavior technicians (one part-time), and a part-time employment training specialist.
The employees who would be affected are not named.
Assistant superintendent of human resources Dianne Howell said Tuesday that every school year the district considers layoffs to special education staff due to fluctuating student needs.
"There is always a little bit of fluctuation regarding special needs aides because the child's IEP (individualized education plan) says we do or don't need that aide anymore," Howell said.
The move Tuesday follows the board's decision in February to sanction laying off of a full-time lead student information specialist, along with part-time special education account specialists and a part-time computer operations technician.
Three full-time teachers, one part-time Japanese teacher and the district's full-time coordinators of human resources, facilities and transportation, and special projects and program improvement were also notified that their hours would be reduced or eliminated at the end of this school year.
* Trustees also ratified the district's 2016-17 energy expenditure plan Tuesday.
PUSD will receive $1.5 million from the California Energy Commission for that plan, money that will largely go toward new light fixtures across district campuses.
The funding is made available through Proposition 39, which sets aside $550 million annually for five fiscal years toward energy efficiency efforts in K-12 schools.
* At the beginning of Tuesday's meeting, the board recognized two Pleasanton teachers who recently won awards for their work.
Mario Hurtado, a Village High School U.S. history, economics and leadership teacher, was honored for being named PUSD's Teacher of the Year. Hurtado will now advance as the district's representative in Alameda County's Teacher of the Year competition.
PUSD teacher on assignment and instructional technology coach Lisa Highfill was also recognized for being named a "20 to Watch" educational technology leader by the National School Boards Association. Honorees were chosen for their ability to inspire colleagues to explore innovative technologies and ways of teaching.