ALAMEDA -- The school board has a mighty task ahead -- to determine what the community wants for its 17 public schools that need roughly $92 million in repairs and upgrades, according to a commissioned study by an architectural firm.
There may be more costs added to the tab, if the board approves the district's recommendation to do further studies on a dozen schools estimated at about $300,000.
At its regular meeting Tuesday, the Alameda Unified School District Board of Education trustees heard for the second time a presentation by district business chief Robert Shemwell about a long-range plan to bring schools up to contemporary standards to provide contemporary educational services. Many of the schools "have good bones" he said, but they need upgrades in structure, architecture, compliance with disabled-access laws and technology and communications.
Trustee Barbara Kahn said the future of the schools shouldn't be left entirely to the staff because the community has strong feelings about the schools.
"This is an old community with lots of tradition," she said. "Even new people respond to this feeling. I don't think we can do this plan in weeks or months or a year. We need to look at the big picture. Maybe we should have one high school, for one example. We need a facilitator, someone skilled in community development."
Shemwell noted that community engagement is part of the plan.
"We'll spend as much time on the discussion phase as it needs," he said. "This is an 18-month or longer process to get a tangible, agreed-upon report in the end."
He also said considering whether or not the district's 17-school structure still fills the community's needs is a viable question.
Superintendent Kristen Vital said she has concerns the current report doesn't have the details needed to answer the community's questions. She asked Shemwell to seek more specifics to present to the public and the board.
Trustee Patricia Herrera-Spencer noted the report cost about $300,000.
"What about the group of teachers who need a contract?" she said. "My position will be not to agree to another amount of money for anything until we have a teachers' contract. I don't think this district would have the study money if the parcel tax hadn't passed. It's important to recognize we're spending that money for this work. We need to prioritize our teachers' contract right now."
Representatives from the Alameda Education Association had addressed the board earlier in the meeting, appealing for a contract, for which they have been negotiating for three years.
Trustee Mike McMahon responded to Herrera-Spencer's statement.
"Our responsibility and duty as board members is to attempt to address all issues important to the district," he said. "It would be criminal to wait five or six years to address critical issues and would end up with a bigger price tag for the district and the community."
A possible funding source, depending on the community's response, would be bond measures. Another would be any state funds, particularly for seismic work, that may be available.
The district will launch a "community engagement schedule" in March with school representatives and the community to exchange ideas on what schools need and how to pursue remedies.
Bond discussions will begin this spring, Shemwell said and they may be done in phases as the work proceeds over time. Vital recommended if the board wants a bond to prepare to get it on the November 2014 ballot. Years ending in even numbers require a simple majority voter approval while odd years require a two-thirds vote.
The board will discuss the plan again at its regular Jan. 29 meeting.