The San Ramon Valley school board endorsed a lease agreement with Verizon Wireless on Tuesday to allow the telecommunications company to install a cell antenna on a California High School light pole, but the board added a caveat to the contract proposal that could send the deal back to the negotiating table.
Board members supported the idea of allowing Verizon to replace an existing football stadium pole with a new one containing wireless communication equipment -- a first in the district. But, at the urging of board member Denise Jennison, they incorporated a contract provision asking the company to pay for annual radio-frequency tests around the site.
"I just think as a reassurance to our community, for those who may not have complete faith or might be skeptical in any way," Jennison said in support of her proposal Tuesday night in Danville. "I understand (Verizon) has to comply with federal regulations, and I think that's great. I think we trust, but verify; that's what we do."
District staff is now set to meet with Verizon representatives to see if they would agree to pay for the testing and sign off on the amended agreement, or instead present a counterproposal.
The idea of leasing light pole space to cell companies has been discussed by district officials for a couple years, and in March 2014, the board signed a non-binding letter of intent with Verizon for the project at San Ramon's Cal High, according to Gary Black, assistant superintendent of facilities and maintenance.
It would be the first cell-tower project for the district.
The Verizon project received minor use permit approval from the city's planning department in November 2014 and was endorsed by the Division of the State Architect last September, Black said.
The lease agreement with the school district calls for the wireless company to cover the costs of the new pole, plus $25,000 to replace or upgrade the light fixtures on the pole, located on the northeast side of the football field. The company would then lease the space from the district for $26,400 per year, with a 2% annual increase available.
The lease would begin with a five-year term and could be extended up to four additional five-year terms. Verizon would have to comply with all current and future radio-frequency regulations during its lease, Black noted.
Jennison said she also wanted Verizon to pay for annual emission testing to assure residents that safety standards were being met.
She said she was initially opposed to placing cell equipment at Cal High when the concept was introduced in 2013 but changed her mind after conducting research on radio-frequency emissions.
"And when you actually find out the truth, you realize that there are no detrimental effects for our students, for our staff, for our neighbors surrounding this area," she added. "I think there's a lot of bogus science out there that is misleading people."
Bill Hammett, the district's consultant, told the board that when his firm calculated emission projections, the highest reading at any point near the Cal High cell equipment would be 50 times below federal standards.
He said his firm would charge about $1,200 per test for the type of annual review Jennison advocated, but he noted it would be up to Verizon to choose a firm if it were footing the bill.
The board voted 4-0 to approve the lease agreement with Jennison's testing provision and direct staff to discuss the amendment with Verizon.
Board member Ken Mintz recused himself from the board's discussion and decision because he works for AT&T. No citizens attended the meeting to discuss the Cal High project.
In other business Tuesday
* Gregory Duran, district math coordinator, led a presentation on high school mathematics instructional materials.
Next year, the district plans to use materials from the company "Big Ideas" for algebra 1, algebra 2 and geometry, with a combination of hard-copy textbooks and web-based instructional texts. Duran said students in district focus groups preferred having hard-copy books available for math classes, as opposed to online-only.
District officials support using the newest editions of current board-adopted materials for precalculus, calculus and statistics, but Duran noted they may need to look into new instructional platforms for personal finance and regular statistics courses.
The proposed math materials are currently available at the district office for mandatory public review before adoption, Duran said.
* Board members approved a recommendation from the Parcel Tax Oversight Committee to change the accounting coding method by which expenditures are charged to Measure C parcel tax revenue.
The new method is less complex and more direct, allowing financial reports to clearly show revenues and expenditures related to the $144 annual parcel tax, according to Scott Anderson, the district's chief business officer.
Later, the board received an update on the selection process for Parcel Tax Oversight Committee members. Four committee seats are set to expire March 1 and each incumbent is eligible to reapply.
District officials said they put out a public call for candidates this week and set an application deadline of Feb. 12. The board is expected to consider making appointments at its March 22 meeting.
* Board members endorsed an expenditure plan for nearly $2.4 million given to the district through the state's educator effectiveness grant program, which awards districts $1,466 per certificated employee full-time equivalent position.
The one-time funds, which must be spent by June 2018, aim to provide support for beginning teachers, professional development for current teachers and administrators, and efforts to encourage educator quality and effectiveness, according to Toni Taylor, assistant superintendent of educational services.
The spending plan includes $1.1 million for Common Core professional development coaches, $440,000 for employee benefits, $250,000 to school sites for professional development and $147,000 for three days for new teacher orientation between 2016-18.
* Board members passed a resolution designating Feb. 1-5 as Words Matter Week in support of the district's ongoing effort to make its schools safe for students and free from bullying behavior.
The resolution states that during the week, "district schools, classrooms, teachers, students, parents and the broader community be encouraged to engage in a variety of awareness and prevention activities and curriculum designed to make our community safer for all children and adolescents."
Nationally, 30% of elementary students report being bullied or called names at school and 26% report witnessing name-calling, according to the board resolution. County data show more than 70% of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender middle and high schoolers heard homophobic remarks, 80% were verbally harassed and 55% experienced electronic harassment, the resolution stated.
* They also adopted a resolution declaring February as African American History Month in the district and urging "all schools to commemorate this time with appropriate instructional activities." This year's history month theme is "Hallowed Grounds: Sites of African American Memories."
* Ann Dodson, principal of Tassajara Hills Elementary School, gave a 25-minute presentation on the education methodology and recent programs and activities at her campus, which is located on Camino Tassajara near Blackhawk.
* The board also approved the district's 2015-16 library plan update.
* More than 100 San Ramon Valley teachers attended the meeting -- most donning red clothing or accents and some holding signs -- to show support for their union negotiators amid bargaining talks with the district.
The teachers union has asked for a 6% ongoing salary increase, plus a one-time payment of 4% of members' annual salary this year, but the district bargaining team thinks those figures would leave the district fiscally vulnerable and have countered with an offer of a 4% salary raise and 2% one-time payment, plus other incentives.
It's the second straight board meeting with dozens of teachers wearing red, but this time board members heard from seven teachers who shared their personal stories and insights about why the 6% raise is needed.