Survey results show need for staff housing efforts

Amy Lin and

County Supervisor Joe Simitian is investigating an option for 60 units of housing at 231 Grant Ave., which would be shared between five districts. With the survey results in mind, PAUSD Supt. Don Austin estimates that each unit may be 1500 square feet or less. Photo: Amy Lin

The Palo Alto Unified School District Board of Education is likely to delve deeper into staff housing options in response to the results of a school district staff survey regarding housing and commute times, which indicated a clear desire for local housing.

Over 600 PAUSD staff members replied to the survey, the results of which were presented by Supt. Don Austin at the Tuesday board meeting, which provided information about their current housing situation, their commute times and more. The survey was distributed through email, and all responses were voluntary.

According to the survey, the average round trip commute time among PAUSD staff was 75 minutes, with a maximum of 300 minutes. Fifty-nine percent of the staff respondents said they are considering leaving PAUSD within the next five years due to housing-related issues.

“Doing the survey was really important,” Austin said at the meeting. “It gets rid of our guessing, and in light of our recent articles we can see that other districts around us are going in the direction of staff housing.”

According to Austin, competition with other school districts is a significant reason for investing in staff housing. The Mountain View Whisman School District recently agreed to proceed with a $56 million commitment to a 144-unit apartment building.

“People [other districts] are doing this and it may be time for us to go from the exploring stage … to actually looking at specific proposals to see whether they fit our needs,” board Vice President Todd Collins said.

“If 59 percent is considering leaving the district in the next five years then obviously it makes this a very time-sensitive issue,” said Arjun Prabhakar, the Gunn High School student board representative. “I think this makes the demand that we were talking about for staff housing a lot more clear.”

Other board members pointed out caveats with the survey.

“There are some eye-popping facts here … but what we really need to be understanding is: ‘What is the experience [of staff members] in more detail than that?’” board member Ken Dauber said. “We don’t want to make policy based on extremes.”

“This is a top-line summary of an imperfect survey and I think we all need to be mindful of that,” Collins said. “It could significantly understate our problem, in that this is asking people who already work here.”

County Supervisor Joe Simitian has been investigating an option for 60 home units at 231 Grant Ave. This proposal would be funded by four other partner districts: the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, the Mountain View Whisman School District, the Los Altos School District and the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District. Each district would contribute $600,000 and receive 12 units; each unit would cost the district $50,000, which is “dirt cheap,” according to Austin.

The district has been looking into other locations for teacher housing, including the sites of Cubberley Community Center, the Athena Academy and even the district office itself.