Friday, September 18, 2009

SCUSD Staff Opposes Proposed Boundary Change to Include City Residents South of Pruneridge

Note: In the interests of full disclosure, I live in the south-of-Pruneridge neighborhood. I have no school-age children.

On Sept. 22, the Santa Clara Unified School District Board is holding a special meeting to take up a request by Santa Clara residents in the south of Pruneridge neighborhood to move from the CUSD and CUHSD districts to SCUSD. The question was tabled at the Sept. 10 meeting based on the fact that although SCUSD staff opposed the change on financial grounds, they couldn't provide any analysis to support this.

In August, a petition signed by 276 voters -- out of 593 tax parcels -- in the neighborhood was submitted to the Santa Clara County Office of Education, which ultimately decides on the request. The proposed change would potentially add about 150 students to SCUSD.

Campbell Union School District has gone on record opposing the change, claiming that proponents of the change were motivated by residents' desire to increase their property values. (Someone in the audience observed that if this were the case, the neighborhood would be trying to join Cupertino school district.)

Santa Clara Unified staff opposes the change on the grounds that it would hurt SCUSD financially and, because there are no schools in the parcel, would over-tax the district's facilities. "We're in trouble facilities-wise in the near future," said SCUSD Business Administrator Roger Barnes. "It would be a significant impact on facilities. The amount per student we'd get from this area is less than we're getting from other property."

But despite this assertion SCUSD did not, in fact, have information about the area's property values to back this up. "You're really not sure what that would bring us in terms of educating students," observed Board Trustee Ina Bendis. "So it could be that, as we're sitting here now, we could be passing up a windfall. We don't know."

If the parcel joined the SCUSD, property owners would be accountable for general obligation bonds and the proposed parcel tax. "What would the average debt per parcel that this section of town would assume if they come onboard?" asked trustee Andy Ratermann. "Who knows? They may end up paying for the majority of it."

Further, Bendis said, "The proponents of this [change] point out 140 students. Fairfield [Gallery on Central Park], the impact was 130 to 180 students and we didn't kvetch about it. I would like to know why we're kvetching about this – we don't even know if that's going to hurt us."

"We have negotiated with the developer [Fairfield] for $6,000 in developer fees per student," replied Barnes.

"So it sounds like everything would be equalized if they were willing to pay us $6,000 per unit," Bendis shot back. "The problem is the developer fees for those units went to someone else and we can't get it. So we're not talking apples to apples."

Noting that he'd never heard from this neighborhood before, trustee Don Bordenave observed that, "Those houses are 40 years old. The facilities issue is a big issue and the reason we should turn it down."

Other unknowns come into play as well. "If we did end up with that parcel, would it affect relations [with the teachers union]?" asked Trustee Pat Flot. "Basically we have to make this decision without information."

Other board members saw the question as going beyond dollars and cents.

"This is not a territorial issue," said trustee Andy Ratermann. "I don't see it that way. I don't see it as an issue about money. I don't buy the argument that it's going to be a big loss to Campbell and it's going to be a big cost to us. It's a small area with a high amount of retail on Stevens Creek and the property values are fairly high.

"[The issue is,] What is the effect on the kids?" he continued. [Students in the CUSD] go a long way to school, it's somewhat disenfranchising for those kids, they feel like they're not part of Santa Clara. What I don't want to see us doing is making a very short-term decision. What is the right thing long term for the kids? And if it turns out that the right thing to have them in our district, then that's what we should do and figure out the details."

Trustee Albert Gonzalez reminded the Board that the students in questions were Santa Clara residents. "A month ago we were talking about Adult Ed," which serves people outside the City of Santa Clara. "These people are in Santa Clara. They want to be part of Santa Clara. I can't see how we could vote against allowing them in the district."

Because the Board's vote on the question isn't binding on the county Office of Education, trustee Jim Canova suggested avoiding needless contention. Suppose, he said, the county approves the change. Being on record opposing it "is an awkward way to go forward. It seems like the neutral option is something worthy of consideration."

While hours of deliberation are needed to consider whether Santa Clara's residential neighborhoods should be part of the SCUSD, it takes no time, it seems, to decide whether areas without residents should be annexed. The next item on the September 20 agenda was an agreement with San Jose to transfer a parcel of North 1st Street in Alviso into the SCUSD.

"There are no residences here and absolutely no chance of residences here. [But] we would get the property tax from those buildings," explained Business Administrator Barnes. The Board voted unanimously to approve the change.

The SCUSD Board is holding a special meeting on this question, on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2009 at 4:30 p.m. at the Santa Clara High School Theater, 3000 Benton St. For more information visit or call (408) 423-2000.

California School District Boundaries – Legacies of a Land Grab Era

Today's Santa Clara County school district maps are byproducts of the Bay Area's post-WWII municipal land grab era – a time when population was growing quickly and cities were swallowing up smaller towns and unincorporated areas. As San Jose annexed property, those rural districts didn't want to be part of San Jose Unified.

Leaving annexed property in the original school districts sweetened the deal and reduced potential opposition according to former City Council Member Frank Barcells, because districts retained their tax base.

"State law was changed to say that school districts didn't have to be contiguous," says County Supervisor Ken Yeager. "There was no connection where the cities grew and where the school districts were."

While the much of the south-of-Pruneridge neighborhood is within a short walk of Westwood elementary school, there are no CUSD or CUHSD schools within walking distance or on a safe biking route. Students must travel across Kiely, Stevens Creek and Highway 280 – and, for some high school students, Winchester, Bascom and Highway 880 as well.

In addition, Santa Clara students in Campbell schools won't benefit from tax revenues generated by the proposed 49ers stadium.

Carolyn Schuk can be reached at

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