Schools - December 21, 2011

Board sets no binding limit on students at Ladera site

by Barbara Wood

Despite pleas from neighbors to put a binding limit on the number of students that could be allowed at the site, the board of the Las Lomitas Elementary School District voted Dec. 14 to begin the process of leasing the school site in Ladera without such a limit.

"We do need to maintain some flexibility in case we have financial problems down the road," said Maria Doktorczyk, who was elected board president by her fellow board members at the beginning of the meeting. "We may need to increase the number of students at the school."

The district has promised to put a limit of 325 students, which is the number allowed by the conditional use permit now governing the site, into the lease and into the marketing documents seeking bidders for the site. The lease, the terms of which will be negotiated with the top bidder, would be for 25 years with an extension for up to 25 more years, but could be renegotiated at any time.

If the 325 number had been put in the resolution, the district could have a hard time changing it, they were told by their attorney, Eugene Whitlock, at the meeting.

The limit on students is important to the neighborhood and to the district for two very different reasons. The neighbors say limiting students is they only way they can control traffic on the steep, winding streets in their neighborhood, which has only two streets that go in and out.

However, the district could lease the site out for more money to a school that was able to charge tuition to more students.

The vote to adopt a resolution beginning the lease process was unanimous, with board members expressing a similar desire to retain flexibility for the district.

"There's a huge amount of uncertainty in the future. The way you deal with that is flexibility," said board member Jay Siegal. "We need a resolution that has flexibility in it to deal with 50 years in the future."

But speakers from Ladera, and from Woodland School, which has leased the site from the district for the past 30 years, said they wanted stability and certainty, not flexibility.

"I would like to be protected against uncertainty," said Lysanna Anderson, a Ladera resident and a parent at Woodland School.

Others said that traffic from the current school is already too much. Mary Driscoll, who said she lives "directly next door to the school," said "the traffic is deplorable."

Unless students get to school using something other than private cars, "I can't imagine more students than what is already there," she said.

The school has been leased to Woodland School, a private school for students in pre-kindergarten to eighth grade, for more than 30 years. The school site was purchased by the district in 1952 and used by the district 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.

The ultimate control on the number of students on the site actually lies with San Mateo County, which requires a use permit for the site because it is zoned residential. Public schools do not require use permits, but private schools do.

Woodland's use permit has expired and the school district has asked permission to apply for a new permit in its name, not Woodland's. District Superintendent Eric Hartwig says the district will ask for a permit "identical to the current one so that Woodland or a new tenant would operate under the existing conditions."

The district will receive bids on the property in late March 2012.


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