Frequently Asked Questions
Over the last several years, one of our regular practices has been to respond to questions we receive from multiple community members and/or groups with written Q&A documents. These written responses have helped to address questions, comments and even rumors that continue to percolate out in our community by providing factual information about the District and its operations. While we have found these Q&A documents to be somewhat successful, we have decided to try out a new strategy that will allow us to share this information more widely and through different channels. In the series of videos posted here, Superintendent Bove responds directly to fourteen questions that the District has heard repeatedly from many members of our community. Some of these questions have surfaced in the last few months, while others are ones we have heard on and off for several years. We hope that by sharing this information directly with our many stakeholders, including parents, staff, students and community members, we can build upon and continue to improve our communication efforts. The questions and answers are also available in written form below.
- Are FUHSD schools overcrowded?
- Have you accounted for possible growth in our student population in the future, particularly as related to new developments like Vallco?
- What is the District doing to mitigate traffic issues?
- What is Measure CC and why do we need another bond?
- What is the difference between a Bond and a Parcel Tax?
- What is the current status of projects at Lynbrook now and for the next bond?
- How much will Measure CC increase my yearly tax bill?
- Why can’t we get the developers to pay for construction that is needed at our sites, since they caused so much of the enrollment growth we saw over the last few years?
- Can the school district, Superintendent or Board of Trustees take a position on a particular development or lobby on behalf of developers?
- If our cities had controlled the growth brought on by recent development, would we even need Measure CC?
- With housing prices rising so rapidly, why isn’t the property tax adequate to cover the costs of construction and modernization?
- Why can’t the district add a sales tax in our community to raise the funds needed for facility improvements? This seems more fair than increasing property taxes.
- What is the time table for when projects would start under Measure CC and how will they be prioritized? Will my student benefit from the construction?
- Why did the District decide not to go out for a parcel tax this year?
We understand that there continues to be a sentiment from some members of the community that some of our campuses are overcrowded. That’s simply not true. When growth is projected, the District must plan far in advance in order to accommodate for the rising student population through the construction of new classrooms. Several construction projects funded by Measure K, have actually added additional capacity to our campuses over the last several years.
Despite the perceptions of overcrowding, each of our schools could actually accommodate substantially more students if the District were to use every available space on campus for classrooms and use every classroom during all 7 periods a day for instruction – strategies which have all been used in the past to accommodate more students than we have at some of our campuses currently. If one were to look at our schools historically, several decades ago, we had schools approach student populations of 3,000 – and we were still able to deliver a high-quality education at each of our campuses.
In some cases, this perception of overcrowding may stem from circumstances where a student did not receive a class that he or she requested. However, the ratio of students to sections is the same across all campuses regardless of school size; so as a school grows the number of staff increases proportionally to keep the student/teacher ratio the same across the District. Students may not get every class they want every year, but all schools have enough classes for students to get all of the classes they want in their four years at the school. Many classes are only offered one, two or three periods per day, so conflicts between classes do arise. Other students request not to have a first or seventh period, which further limits the classes they might get. Lastly, some classes cater to students in grade 11 and 12, so students in Grade 9 or 10 that sign up for that class will get a lower priority.
Additionally, students at all of our five campuses are only guaranteed six classes a year. There have been some claims in the community that students at certain schools are guaranteed seven classes, but this is simply not true. All students sign up for six classes, the master schedule is built and teachers are assigned based on those original sign-ups. After the start of the school year, if there are spaces available in classes, they are offered using a lottery system.
In summary, we have never had a problem with overcrowding at any of our schools.
All of our building plans have accounted for student populations that significantly exceed even the most aggressive student-generation rate that the proposed housing at Vallco would create. As a District, we must plan far in advance to make sure we can accommodate for any growth that is predicted and we have done a lot of thinking about what the optimal size of a high school campus is. This includes a great deal of planning to guarantee that we can accommodate growth that may happen decades from now, while also ensuring that our schools do not get too small. We want to ensure that each of our campuses are built to handle as many as 2,500 students, while keeping enrollment at a minimum of 1,800 so that we do not lose the ability to offer a wide variety of courses to our students.
There is no doubt that the traffic has become a significant issue throughout the Bay Area and particularly here in Silicon Valley. I know that there are a number of groups trying to address this issue in big ways, but it will take time to successfully make the kinds of changes that are needed. The District has conducted several traffic studies over the last several years, installed signage and taken a variety of other measures to improve drop off, pick up and traffic around each of our five schools.
The narrow window of drop off and pick up at each of our campuses does contribute to traffic around our schools, but thankfully it only lasts for two very brief periods of time each day. The District continues to encourage students to bike and walk to school in order to further relieve traffic at these drop off and pick up times. We also have continued our strong partnership with Safe Routes to School in both Sunnyvale and Cupertino.
FUHSD believes that the issue of traffic congestion is a greater challenge than a school district can tackle alone and one which the community needs to come together to try to solve. We, as a District, are very, very willing to participate in any way we can to help reduce this problem.
In July, the Board of Trustees approved placing Measure CC, a $275 million school bond, on the ballot for November. Measure CC would allow FUHSD to continue the work that started under Measures B and K to build classrooms and modernize facilities at all five high school campuses, which are 50 years old or older. Between Measures B and K, we were able to build 127 new classrooms district-wide. The continuation of this modernization process under Measure CC would include necessary upgrades to infrastructure and would touch the remaining 400 classrooms that have not yet been updated at all five schools - Cupertino, Fremont, Homestead, Lynbrook and Monta Vista high schools. That would allow all students and all teachers to have updated and modern classrooms and facilities. All voters in the Fremont Union High School District will be asked to vote on Measure CC on the November 6, 2018 ballot.
Modernization in each classroom would include new Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems, LED lighting replacement and ceiling tiles, fire alarms and sprinklers, a technology refresh, new furniture, painting and patching, roofing and flooring.
Measure CC would provide strict accountability, with all funds audited annually and reviewed by an independent citizens’ oversight committee. The average yearly cost to property owners in the District would be a maximum of $16 per $100,000 of assessed value (not market value). FUHSD is proud to have the highest possible credit rating for a school district from both Standard and Poor’s (Aaa) and Moody’s (AAA). This has allowed the District to refinance bonds at favorable rates and save taxpayers real money.
A local school bond measure generates funds for repair, construction or replacement of school facilities. School bond measures require 55% voter approval to pass and the funds can only be used for school construction, not teacher salaries or other operating costs.
A parcel tax is a flat fee on each parcel of land within the school district boundaries and can be used to supplement insufficient state funding for programs that are important to the community, including salaries for teachers and classified staff. Parcel taxes require 2/3 voter approval to pass.
Both bonds and parcel taxes generate revenue for school districts. However, the revenue from each tax is used differently. For bonds, it’s used for facilities, and for parcel taxes, we have the ability to spend the funds in a broader way.
Full Question: It is understandable that with the previous bond measure, the priority was given to fixing those schools with serious infrastructure issues, and raising capacity at the ones with high enrollment growth. Lynbrook residents cannot help but feel like LHS is the last in line for facility improvements. What is the current status of projects at Lynbrook now and for the next bond?
This question has been asked in an important way. The community clearly understands that the District needed to spend dollars where the needs were the greatest, which meant that our first priority was fixing serious infrastructure problems and building classrooms where enrollment was increasing. While LHS did get a significant portion of the last bond to upgrade fields, build solar panels, overhaul the pool, improve the failing rafter tails throughout Lynbrook’s campus, rebuild the domestic water and fire suppression system, improve entry structures and electronic signage and landscaping, completely upgrade the technology infrastructure and build a significant library upgrade, it is true that this campus has not received new classrooms or a new cafeteria as the other campuses have.
In addition, the District has focused a larger share of District deferred maintenance dollars on Lynbrook in the past seven years to ensure that the classrooms were well maintained with new carpet, paint and technology. However, Lynbrook has been a high priority under the Measure K bond. While the other campuses had little choice in how their bond dollars would be spent given their classroom and infrastructure needs, Lynbrook has been able to make many choices about how the current bond dollars are being allocated. Lynbrook is currently in Phase 2 of a three-phase campus transformation, which began with the construction of a new Field House Addition, and is continuing with the construction of a beautiful new cafeteria, quad space and gym lobby. In the final phase, Lynbrook will have a new, welcoming Guidance and Student Services building at the front of the school and significant upgrades to the current auditorium, including a new lobby.
Future needs at Lynbrook that could be addressed in the next bond include classroom modernization for the remaining classrooms that have not been updated, a STEM/Maker Space and Robotics Center, Science classroom modernization and field upgrades.
The average yearly cost to property owners in the District would be no more than $16 per $100,000 of assessed value (not market value).
FUHSD is proud to have the highest possible credit rating for a school district from both Standard and Poor’s (Aaa) and Moody’s (AAA). This has allowed the District to refinance and sell bonds at favorable rates and save the taxpayers real money.
Most people do not understand that developer fees are woefully inadequate to provide the funding needed to support additional students or mitigate the other impacts that new construction can bring. And while we are able to engage and negotiate with developers to try and come to an agreement on community benefits and other mitigations, we cannot demand that builders provide us with all the classrooms and facilities we need. To provide some perspective on the current cost of construction, it costs about a million dollars to build a single classroom, and developers are not going to give us the dollars to make that happen.
School districts, Superintendents and board members are not allowed to advocate for or endorse specific development projects. However, California Education Code requires that school districts work with developers to negotiate mitigations and community benefits that are in the best interest of their students and the communities they serve.
Developer fees are woefully inadequate to provide the funding needed to support additional students or mitigate the other impacts that new construction can bring. As new developments are being proposed and discussed it is prudent for a superintendent to make recommendations that ensure the needs of the District are addressed by developers as their projects are constructed. One mitigation request that our district began making in the last few years was for all developers to step up and make the parcel taxes levied on homeowners more fair. We asked that they develop a strategy to pay the various parcel taxes on the rental units proposed in their projects, and Vallco was the first to step up and offer this as a viable option.
We, as a District, have absolutely no control over the growth and development that has occurred in the cities that we serve. We certainly have built classrooms to respond to growth over the last few years, however there hasn’t been any one specific development that has created issues for us that were not addressed the careful planning that we have always done with the aid of our demographer to accommodate all students in our attendance boundaries. We have done a great deal of planning over the years to ensure that our campuses can comfortably serve more than 2500 students.
While housing prices are indeed rising rapidly, the property tax currently paid by homeowners only rises by a small amount each year and is based on the assessed value of the home, not the market value. Thus, we only see significant gains in property tax from a home when it is sold and the new owners are taxed on what is likely a much higher assessed value. We also get additional property tax when there is new development.
With a large portion of Measure CC dedicated to the modernization of current classrooms, our plan would be to tackle one wing of classrooms at each site every summer for the next several years. This would help us to minimize or avoid the costs associated with bringing temporary portables onto our campuses as older classrooms are modernized, and would also minimize the disruption to students and staff during the school year.
In terms of our large-scale construction projects, certainly some students will end up having more use of these facilities than others. We do our best to keep construction moving as quickly and efficiently as possible, particularly to reign in the constantly escalating costs of construction in the Bay Area. However, we do recognize that not all students currently in our schools will get to make use of all the facilities underway and on our future project lists. All construction projects must be approved by the Division of the State Architect, or DSA, and the timeline for approval can be anywhere from six to 18 months.
We do hope though that these projects, once completed, will be a point of great pride for our alumni as they come back to visit or possibly return to live in this community.
Over the course of the last year, the Board of Trustees explored all of our options for raising revenue – this included a parcel tax. As part of the Board’s discussions on this issue, Trustee Roy Rocklin did a great deal of research on a type of parcel tax that has been passed in just a few cities across the state – a square foot parcel tax. The way the majority of parcel taxes work is that every parcel is taxed at the same flat rate. So, if you are a homeowner with a 1,700 square foot home, you currently pay $98 in our community. And if you own a business that is more than 120,000 square feet, you still pay that same $98. The idea behind a square foot parcel tax is to create more equity based on the size of the parcel and to have businesses pay a more equitable share of the parcel tax. For instance, if we had a square foot parcel tax of just over 5 cents per square foot, the average homeowner would continue to pay about $98 or even a little less, but a 120,000 square foot business would now pay more than $6,000.
We tested the idea of a square foot parcel tax with the community in a poll, but unfortunately, we did not receive the polling results we were hoping for. A parcel tax requires a 2/3 majority vote to pass, and our polling showed that only 58% of likely voters would support a square foot parcel tax. We then went out again to the community to see if we could get the support we needed for raising the current parcel tax. We tested the idea of raising the tax to both $198 and $298 in two separate polls. Unfortunately, once again we found that support in the community was only slightly more than in the previous poll, rising to just 61% - still far short of the 66.7% needed to pass.
We are not sure exactly why we fell short of the community support needed to raise or change our parcel tax, though we do have some guesses. Not every homeowner knows the exact square footage of their home and thus may have been confused about the amount they would have been paying under this proposal. This indicates there may be a need for an in-depth education campaign in our community if we wanted to consider this idea in the future. Additionally, we do know from the results of the survey that tax sensitivity remains fairly high in California at this moment because of the uncertainty about how federal tax law will affect individuals and families this year.
We also know that residents of our community pay not only our parcel tax of $98, but also a parcel tax of either $250 if they reside in the Cupertino Union School District or $59 if they reside in the Sunnyvale Elementary School District. This may further contribute to some of the tax sensitivity that we are seeing in the community.
What we also know from our polling results is that the high quality of education that we provide to students is evident to and valued by our community.