California City, District Forge Pact on Use of Schools

By Deborah L. Cohen — May 03, 1989 4 min read

A novel arrangement between the city of Palo Alto, Calif., and the local school district will offer financial relief to schools, protection from development for neighborhoods, and space in unused school facilities for day-care and arts programs.

A “city-school liaison committee” has been working out details of the arrangement since 1987, but the school board was expected to finalize the plan this week by voting on which schools will be leased to the city.

The agreement will channel about $3 million in utility-tax revenues and $900,000 in lease income to the school district annually. In exchange, the city will receive space for before- and after-school day-care programs, community arts programs and offices, and local nonprofit groups.

In addition, the plan will offer a “covenant not to develop” designated school sites for up to 25 years.

The chief advantage for the school district will be to deter cuts in instructional funds, said Carolyn Tucher, a school-board member who served on the city-school liaison committee.

“The cuts would have been very hard to take because we’ve been trimming our budget year after year,” she said.

The plan funnels money “directly to schools for instructional needs and also meets some community needs,” said Julian Crocker, superintendent of the Palo Alto school system.

Ms. Tucher noted that it would also “resolve a longstanding deadlock” between the district and citizens who feared that leasing or selling unused school sites to developers would alter the character of residenel15ltial neighborhoods.

And by providing space for day care at every elementary school selected for the swap, Ms. Tucher added, the plan also will offer “a tremendous advantage” for local parents and “more stability for kids.”

“Everything we do to help children makes the classroom experience much more positive,” she said.

The district estimates that it will be able to offer extended-day care for about 275 children under the plan. Programs will be operated by groups such as the y.m.c.a. and child-care organizations in school buildings or on-site portable classrooms.

While there is no direct link between the schools and the arts programs that will be housed in part of the leased school space, students may benefit indirectly from a “richer cultural community,” Ms. Tucher noted.

First Plan Opposed

The city-school liaison committee, which has been seeking ways to raise money for schools and resolve the problem of unused school space since the mid-1980’s, won a victory in 1987 when voters narrowly approved a utility-tax measure providing $3 million for “general purposes.”

“It was communicated to voters” that the monies would provide relief to schools while preserving neighborhoods against development and providing funds for street and sidewalk repair, noted John D. Sutorius, a city council member who serves on the liaison committee.

At the same time, however, voters elected two new school-board members who opposed the configuration of school closings proposed by the liaison committee.

An interim agreement has allowed the city to lease portions of unused schools for recreation and arts offices on a short-term basis and renovate school playing fields. But the board’s vote this week will set in motion implementation of the full plan in January 1990.

Under options the board was expected to consider, the sites for three elementary schools, two middle schools, and one high-school will be protected from development, and the city will lease space in one high school or part of a high school and all of a middle school, Ms. Tucher said.

The district, which has 7,500 kindergarten to 12th-grade pupils, has 11 elementary schools, one middle school, and a high school.

Other Agreements Cited

Palo Alto is not the only California school district that has pursued innovative agreements with city governments to help compensate for the state’s “precarious” fiscal climate since the passage of Proposition 13, Ms. Tucher noted.

The winter 1989 issue of the California School Boards Journal details several such arrangements. They range from a land swap that allowed the Brea-Olinda school district to replace a decrepit school building in a new location while turning over the old site for commercial development, to the leasing of school sites in Redondo Beach for commercial development and housing for the elderly.

But the Palo Alto plan is unusual in that “the city and school district had to work out a profitable way not to develop school property,” notes the article by Mary Kinetz. It is also notable for its day-care feature and its “very significant annual monetary value,” Mr. Sutorius said.

The plan has been well received by citizens because they recognize schools’ value to the community, Ms. Tucher suggested. “This is a community that for generations has put a very high priority on education,” she said.

A version of this article appeared in the May 03, 1989 edition of Education Week as California City, District Forge Pact on Use of Schools