The San Marino Unified School District’s Facilities Advisory Committee debuted its facilities needs assessment and first draft of its facilities master plan at a recent town hall, where the community was invited to join in help making San Marino school campuses match the district’s quality education.
The facilities needs assessment — which examined all four district campuses, including Carver Elementary, Valentine Elementary, Huntington Middle School and San Marino High School — was developed hand-in-hand with LPA Design Studios, whose team members on the project played a pivotal role in presenting research and recommendations, as well as an overview of their progress.
After compiling initial engagement feedback from district staff and leadership, school site committees made up of principals, teachers, staff and PTSA representatives, the Facilities Advisory Committee crafted the first draft of the facilities master plan, which will incorporate community voices from the town hall.
Designed for the audience to share their feedback, the Oct. 19 town hall had a two-part forum with an interactive presentation that offered time for stakeholders and education partners to express ideas for the district’s consideration. One SMUSD supporter requested that more green landscaping be included on campuses to offset the sometimes hot-to-the-touch blacktop students often encounter on campuses, especially the younger ones.
Others at the meeting inquired about the district’s previous facilities needs assessment conducted in the 2015-16 school year. Superintendent Linda de la Torre, who said she is proud of the district’s transparency throughout this journey, welcomed questions on the topic and explained how the assessment conducted eight years ago, which was done by a different committee, was not as comprehensive as the one being done now with the expertise of architects by their side. This time they are working on a master plan that envisions long-term future improvements.
“I love that parents are involved,” de la Torre told the Tribune. “All the research supports the notion that children are going to be more successful in their academic career when parents are engaged and support their student’s education, and our parents not only volunteer their time and give up their resources, but they really do align themselves with our educational plan. It’s so critical to everything that we do and you can see the difference in how our students perform, so I love their voice, even when what they say is a hard thing to hear. I still value what parents have to say. They are our stakeholders, they are our customers.”
Those unable to attend the town hall in person were not left out of the conversation. They had the opportunity to share their opinions in an online survey.
The second part of the evening involved people roaming around the auditorium to inspect poster boards with maps of school sites printed on them. On colorful Post-It notes, suggestions and feedback were written by individuals ready to contribute to the master plan. No table was left bare or without a group of participants huddled around it for very long. During this activity, community members were also welcome to discuss the presentation data and ask questions.
Since January, the committee has held nine meetings and hosted multiple tours at each campus to adequately gauge the facilities needs of the individual school sites. Through this process, the committee concluded that capital repairs were necessary across the board, finding that the condition of school facilities varied from campus to campus.
In a Powerpoint, LPA representatives — including Planning Director Joy May Liao, Design Director Ozzie Tapia and Project Manager Nicole Mehta — used a color-coded system to show the severity of repair for each school facility. Additionally, each schools’ master plan indicates the various scope of modernization that is proposed and what modifications and renovations would take place within them.
“The school sites might look great and appear well kept and maintained, but just like your house, [they] need updating and sometimes after a certain age, some areas are not band-aidable anymore,” Liao said. “We can’t just roll on some paint and continue on. These are costly items that the district just needs funds to take care of correctly, so that it can last another 20 or 50 years.”
San Marino schools belong to one of the lowest funded districts in the state due to the demographic SMUSD serves, de la Torre said.
“The funding formula for the state of California is designed to provide money and support to those districts that are perceived to be most in need and San Marino is not one of them,” explained de la Torre, who added that SMUSD only gets 70% of funding from the state, with the other 30% coming from local resources, including the San Marino Schools Foundation, PTAs and San Marino’s two parcel taxes. “Without the support from our community, our district would look very different. So we are very grateful for the partnership that we have with our community and our parents. It’s critical to our continued success.”
In March 2020, SMUSD’s $200 million Measure S Bond was rejected by San Marino voters. Whether the district will consider floating a different bond measure in the future is still up in the air, unlike its determination to keep the facilities master plan on the “right” path.
“We went out to bond in 2020, and 2020 wasn’t a good year for many reasons and that was one of them, so we don’t even know yet if we are going to be going out for bond, we are just entertaining and exploring it, but we do want to go through a process that is meaningful,” de la Torre said. “We are following the proper steps to do this the right way, and I’m proud of that.”
Though de la Torre isn’t entirely sure how the district will pay to update its school facilities, she is certain the updates will be done, eventually.
“One way or another, we’ve got to fund these facilities’ needs, whether it’s financing them, passing a bond, trying to save up the money over several years — I don’t know how we’re going to do it, but this is something we absolutely have to do,” de la Torre said.
“As I always say, people do not move to San Marino for the ocean view, they move to San Marino for the schools, and so it is incumbent upon us to make sure these schools are the absolute best they can be for those parents who entrust us with their children. We are educating the future and what is more noble than that?”
The next scheduled Facilities Advisory Committee meeting will be held at the SMUSD district office on Tuesday, Nov. 28, at 7 p.m. Members plan to discuss total program cost, potential funding sources, community engagement survey results and group stakeholder priorities. The committee aims to bring the facilities master plan to the Board of Education for adoption in the new year.
First published in the Nov. 9 issue of the San Marino Tribune