Schools - December 14, 2011

Las Lomitas board to meet on leasing Ladera School site

by Barbara Wood

The Las Lomitas Elementary School District board is scheduled to approve starting the bid process for leasing the Ladera School site this week, with the major question remaining whether the board will honor the neighborhood's request to put a binding limit on the number of students that could be allowed at the site.

The meeting is Wednesday, Dec. 14, starting at 7 p.m. at the La Entrada School Multi-Use Room, 2200 Sharon Road in Menlo Park.

The school has been leased to Woodland School, a private school for kids in pre-kindergarten to eighth-grade, for more than 30 years. The school site was purchased by the district in 1952 and used until Ladera School closed in 1979. Woodland, which has 275 students, now pays $650,000 a year for the site. The lease originally expired in July, but the district has extended it twice, through July 2013.

At the November board meeting, Ladera residents and Woodland School representatives asked the board to put a limit of 325 students into the wording of the resolution the board must pass to start the bid process. That request has since been reiterated in a letter to the board from the Ladera Community Association.

Limiting the number of students is one of the only ways the neighbors can control the number of cars that must negotiate the steep, winding streets of their neighborhood to and from the school site. But the district could probably get a higher bid from a school that believed it had a chance to change the limit in the future and thus have more students to charge tuition.

The district offered to put the limit on students into any lease that is signed as well as in the marketing materials advertising the bid process. But neighbors say they want the promise in the resolution because it can't be changed later.

In a Dec. 9 letter to John Ora, Woodland's head of school, and copied to the Ladera Community Association, Las Lomitas superintendent Eric Hartwig laid out the district's position. "On Wednesday night," he wrote, "the Governing Board must consider whether it is prudent and reasonable for the district to limit a tenant to 325 students for the next 50 years, or whether it is better to provide the School District and the community with the certainly for a 325-student cap for the foreseeable future, but permit flexibility for the community and the tenant to come back to the District and request an increase in students in the future should circumstances change."

A letter from the Ladera Community Association, approved by unanimous vote, says including the cap of 325 students in the board resolution is "the most important request from the Ladera community".

A proposed timetable would have the district signing a lease with a tenant by July 2012. The lease would be for a minimum of 25 years and renewable for up to another 25 years.


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