News: December 4, 2008

A Message from PAUSD Superintendent, Kevin Skelly

An Update on The PAUSD Strong Schools Bond Program

Dear Community Members

As you may know, voters passed Measure A, the Strong Schools Bond, this past June.  This bond authorized the district to extend the current tax levy of $44.50 per $100,000 in assessed value up to $378 million to pay for improvements to the district’s facilities.  Since that election, staff has been hard at work assembling the planning, management, and building team to do this work.  We are entering an important phase of our planning work that requires community input, so it seems like an appropriate time to update you about some of the plans that are in the pipeline and about the construction underway.

Our most pressing need in the district is more classroom space at the elementary level.  Last year kindergarten through fifth grade enrollment grew by 200 students.  Such growth was anticipated in the bond, and a portion of funds will address this priority.  Virtually every elementary school classroom is being used, and we need to get ahead of the “medium” projected need for another 460 students in the next five years.

To do this, plans are underway to modernize and build capacity at the Garland elementary site.  This space is currently being leased to a private school, so it will not be available until before June 2010.  When we do regain possession, we plan to be ready with an ambitious construction program that will give us increased capacity in the heart of the district.  This will allow us to relieve pressure on enrollment in the north and east sections of the district.  Yes, we will have to undertake the difficult work of adjusting elementary school boundaries.  We will work hard with families to ease the transitions associated with boundary changes.  But the end result is that more students will have a shorter walk to their neighborhood schools and more families will be able to register at a school very close to their homes.

Later this month the Board of Education will be hearing the results of an elementary school capacity study by an architecture planning firm.  This work is being done in concert with an update of our enrollment projections.  The next few years are going to be extremely tight at our elementary sites.  However, we are confident we can move ahead of this curve and soon have enough capacity to meet elementary enrollment needs with an appropriate supply of classrooms.  Besides Garland, we are also going to add some enrollment capacity soon at Ohlone Elementary, one of our largest campuses in terms of acreage.

But it is not just growth at the elementary level that poses a challenge.  Our middle and high schools are also anticipating steady enrollment increases in the next decade.  Architects have started working with middle school administrators to see where classrooms and other facilities can be placed or existing space can be used more effectively.  We believe we can make important changes and additions to our middle schools that will add to the experiences and opportunities of our middle school students and staffs.

Perhaps the biggest building buzz is happening at the high schools.  Under the leadership of the principals, both Gunn and Paly are in the throes of master planning their sites.  Both of these schools have fallen far behind neighboring high schools in terms of having facilities worthy of the promise and talents of their students.  Almost half of the building program funds are dedicated to improving the facilities at our high schools, in part because the majority of a prior bond were spent on K-8 facilities.  This master planning work is crucial because the decisions made in this process over the next few months will set in motion construction timelines, the overall layout of these campuses, and how facility improvements will enable the schools to meet the changing needs of students.  Our high schools can also anticipate large increases in enrollment in the coming decade.  Throughout the process, our work to address enrollment growth will be guided by the recently approved changes to Board Policy on School Size that captures the values of parity in terms of educational opportunity and program as well as the importance of personalized learning environments.

It should be mentioned that some construction work is already underway.  The building of the new aquatic center at Gunn began the day after the bond was passed and is on budget and on schedule.  Bids will be received for the Gunn industrial arts building on December 16, and we anticipate work beginning on this facility in January 2009.

Throughout the next three months, the Board of Education is going to be receiving reports and recommendations from staff on the direction of the program.  They will also be analyzing the information received from school administrators and members of their communities who are meeting with architects and other planners to create a roadmap for our education facility improvements.  As our elected officials, they weigh these recommendations in public and make the final decisions regarding this important work.

The best place to see the district wide efforts is to follow the board meetings and study sessions.  Materials for these meetings are available at http://www.pausd.org/community/board/agenda.shtml.  Meetings are currently scheduled for December 9 at 9:00 a.m. (Special Meeting) and later that day at 6:30 p.m. (Regular Meeting).  An additional Special Meeting is scheduled for December 15 at 12:00 p.m.  Our high schools are also disseminating information through their websites.  We invite your interest and voice into the process at whatever level you wish.

Making facility improvements will be our collective legacy to the students and community.  We are planning and building for the education of our students and for what they will need in the next fifty years.  We will work hard to prove worthy of the investment our community is making in this work. Thank you again for enabling progress and supporting the bond measure and our growing school district.
Sincerely

Kevin Skelly, Ph.D.
Superintendent

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