In 1996, the Cabrillo Unified
School District governing board approved a new Facilities Master
Plan (FMP), a 25-year plan that projects student enrollment, determines
which new schools and other facilities will be required to serve
that enrollment, and specifies how the district will pay for those
projections are the basis of the plan, because they're
the means by which we can predict how many classrooms we'll need
in the future, how big our schools will become, and when we'll
need to build new ones because of enrollment growth.
FMP predicted that total district enrollment would approximately
double over the 25 years from 1995 to 2020. Because of
that growth, we projected a need for enhancing the high school,
building a new, larger, middle school in place of Cunha, building
a new elementary school at the Cunha site (freed up by the new
middle school), and eventually building a second middle school
and one more elementary school.
It's important to recognize
that all these new schools were planned for one main reason: rapid
enrollment growth, doubling in 25 years.
Graph No. 1
The Facilities Master Plan projected
that the district would grow at a rapid rate for the next 25 years.
In fact, our enrollment grew for a
year or so, and has declined every year since 1997.
Overall enrollment has declined
even while high school enrollment has increased (due a lower dropout
rate in grades 11-12).
The Plan arrives at it's growth
rate in part by asserting that the district would grow by 3.49%
a year. The fact that Half Moon Bay
had a 3% growth cap didn't discourage the authors; they suggested
that the growth cap might be "rescinded". Of
course, we know now that the 3% cap was lowered by an overwhelming
vote of the people to 1%.
course, the facilities committee didn't have a crystal ball, and
they had no guarantee that the FMP's enrollment projections were
correct. So the FMP (as adopted by the board) provides
for its own revision and correction:
The success of the FMP will
not only come from the community's ability to see and use the
new facilities implemented through the FMP, but also from the
District's credibility established in the community as a result
of maintaining and accountable implementation program. This
accountability can only come from an objective regular and on-going
audit of the program. [FMP I-7]
The Governing Board should annually schedule and conduct
an open public hearing for the purpose of reviewing each Program
Activity and the status of the implementation of the FMP, the
independent auditor's report, the Audit Review Blue Ribbon Committee
Report, and public comments resulting from the annual FMP public
hearing. [FMP I-14; emphasis mine]
Do the Program Activities remain viable and appropriate
based upon demographic, financial, economic, physical, and/or
political variables affecting the District?
Have conditions, including but not limited to, demographic,
financial, economic, physical, and/or political characteristics,
changed in the State, the City, the County, the District, the
community, and/or individual neighborhoods, which would suggest
that the adopted FMP, or any of its parts, should be reconsidered?
Have the attitudes, needs, and desires of the constituents of
the District, the District's students, and/or the District's
employees changed which would suggest that the adopted FMP,
or any of its parts, should be reconsidered?
These procedures and evaluations
provide a mechanism to ensure that the FMP recommended by the
Facilities Advisory and adopted by the Governing Board maintains
a level of integrity throughout its implementation. [FMP
I-15; emphasis mine]
the FMP's strong emphasis on accountability and public review,
it may come as a surprise to learn that there has never
been such a public hearing, nor to my knowledge has the Blue Ribbon
Audit Committee ever been formed, let alone made a report.
you've followed along this far, you may be wondering what the
point of all this is. Why do we need to review the Facilities
Master Plan, anyway? Why not just go ahead and build the new schools
according to the old FMP?
reason is that the FMP's building plan is expensive. Between
the 1996 bond issue approved through Measure K, state matching
funds, and additional money borrowed by the district through Certificates
of Participation, we've raised some $65,000,000 toward a total
FMP budget of $114,000,000, not allowing for inflation.
money comes from the taxpayers, primarily the taxpayers within
the district. Certainly we should build the schools that
we need, but building schools we aren't going to need is flushing
taxpayer money down the toilet.
Graph No. 2
you may have heard, Santa Cruz's K-5 enrollment has been dropping
for several years, to the point that the district decided this
year to close two of their six elementary schools. As you
might expect, this is a painful process; nobody wants their neighborhood
school closed. But especially in these times of tight budgets,
it's hard to justify spending scarce resources on keeping unneeded
1996, the authors of the Facilities Master Plan weren't planning
on falling enrollment. On the contrary, they projected
rapid growth out to 2020. Here's a graph that compares Santa Cruz
K-5 enrollment with CUSD's enrollment leading up to 1996, and
the FMP's projection of K-5 enrollment up to this year.
Graph No. 3
we see the difference between Santa Cruz, with its falling enrollment
and its need to close down schools, and Cabrillo, with rapidly
rising enrollment, and its need to build more K-5 schools.
(Enrollment numbers have been normalized to 1996=1,000 to make
what if our enrollment doesn't follow the Master Plan?
Then how do we compare with Santa Cruz?
answer isn't pretty. As you can see, the FMP was badly
mistaken in its projections. In fact, our enrollment trend after
1996 is almost identical to that of Santa Cruz.
look at Graph 3 again. Santa Cruz, in blue, recognizes
that its enrollment is falling so far that it needs to close two
elementary schools. Cabrillo, in green, is currently on a path
to build two new elementary schools.
What's more, the California
Department of Finance projects that public school enrollment in
San Mateo County overall will continue to drop, for the foreseeable
district is behaving like someone who's been driving, and getting
more and more lost, for seven years, and still refuses to stop
and ask for directions. Board member Dwight Wilson tells
us that we need to first build new schools, and only then review
the Facilities Master Plan.
a formula for disaster. We need to reconstitute the facilities
committee now, and perform a thorough review and revision of the
Master Plan, complete with public hearings and input, before we
build another square foot of space.
of urgency by the board are disingenuous at best. They've
been content to sit on Measure K bond funds since 1996; we need
to take the time now to make sure that those funds are spent responsibly.
Granting that enrollment projections
are an uncertain business in the best of cases, we might still
ask: how did the Facilities Master
Plan do such a bad job, and can we hope to do better?
course we can do better, if for no other reason than that
we have seven more years of actual data, instead of projections,
that weren't available in 1995-96. But it's also apparent, looking
at the FMP, that the authors had a distinct bias toward high growth.
facilities committee began by looking at historical enrollment
growth and projecting it forward for five years. There's
no single best method to choose for doing this, so the committee
considered eight different statistical projection methods. The
results are shown in the Graph
Graph No. 4
that most of the methods gave results in the 2-2.5% range, with
the expectation of "last historical", which was
a little low, and "cohort survival progression", which
projected much higher growth than the others.
See Graph No. 5
person might be inclined to throw out the extreme projections,
both at the high and low ends, and use some middle value in the
2-2.5% range. But that's not what the
facilities committee did.
(and inexplicably), they projected even higher enrollment growth
than the highest growth rate predicted by even the most extravagant
statistical model, as shown to the right.
is, the committee decided that future growth would be higher than
any rate that could be justified by historical means, and
used that rate to drive the entire Facilities Master Plan.
instructive to look at the actual enrollment growth in the district
over the same period. Not only does it not achieve the
high rate projected in the FMP, it's far lower than even the lowest
of the statistical methods.
See Graph No. 6
that growth rate is misleading, because what actually happened
was that the district experienced one more year or two of enrollment
growth, and from 1997 on enrollment has dropped every single year.
In section IV-7, the FMP says,
"...these projections assume the City's [HMB's] 3.0% growth
management policy." A late draft (dated 12/95) had an additional
sentence: "If the City rescinds this policy and the sewer
and water capacity issues are addressed, the number of residential
units that would be permitted under the City's Land Use Plan and
existing zoning would be substantially higher as previously discussed."
As we know now, in November 1999 Half
Moon Bay voters overwhelmingly approved a 1% cap on growth.
The district's enrollment drop
would have been difficult to predict back in 1995-96; that's why
it's critically important to review and revise the Facilities
Master Plan annually, and the Plan itself mandates. But,
had the FMP's authors been less biased toward high growth, the
plan would have been much closer to reality.
press coverage of this subject has been pretty good. Here
are some of the articles and letters that have appeared recently.
school figures, Emily Wilson, Half
Moon Bay Review, 26 March 2003.
Lundell is a man with a mission. And that mission may
become an important component in the ongoing discussion about
the location of the middle school.
issue is a document called the Facilities Master Plan, which
is supposed to be updated every year by the Cabrillo
Unified School District (CUSD) Board of Trustees, but has not
been revised since it was created in 1996. ...
plan is prudent, Jonathan Lundell (letter), Half Moon Bay
Review, 2 April 2003.
like to respond to the points made last week by Ken Jones in
Emily Wilson's useful article on the overdue revision of our
school district's facilities master plan. ...
else can new middle school go?, Jim Welte, Half Moon Bay Review,
9 April 2003.
school activists suggest that if the district's enrollment numbers
increase in the next several years, the board might want to
consider building a smaller middle school to serve the northern
section of the Coastside, a move that could bring much-needed
relief to the Coastside's traffic congestion problems by limiting
the amount of north-south traffic. ...