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Education Desk: April 29, 2015

Kanavel, Lucia Appointed to Top Spots

At last week's meeting, Santa Clara Unified School District Superintendent Stan Rose announced the appointment of longtime employees Kathie Kanavel and Andrew Lucia to Asst. Superintendent of Instruction and Asst. Superintendent of Human Relations, respectively.

A Marathon Meeting, But No Magnolia Lease Extension

The April 23 SCUSD board meting was a marathon – lasting over five hours. But it wasn't about soccer fields. Instead, it was charter school, Magnolia Science Academy (MSA) that drove the meeting into the next day with its continuing campaign to extend its lease on the Central Park School (Millikin's former home at 2720 Sonoma Place) campus. Trustee Michele Ryan recused herself from the meeting because she's a Magnolia employee.

The Board didn't change its mind, but voted to allow staff to work with Magnolia to see if there was a place the charter school could put portable classrooms – as long as it wasn't Central Park.

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In 2012, the district signed a three–year lease with Magnolia for Central Park Elementary School. However, renovating the Central Park campus and returning it to active use has been in district plans since 2009. Now the school is needed because nearby elementary schools Sutter and Pomeroy are overcrowded, and the overflow could fill about 20 Central Park classrooms.

The lease states explicitly, “There is no option to extend this lease beyond its initial term,” and “the District shall have no obligation to provide facilities and or equipment and furnishings to Charter School regardless of in–District ADA [enrollment] attending the Charter School from the date of this agreement thru June 30, 2018.” However, MSA has been lobbying to extend the lease since last fall – at one point proposing to start a new charter school at the Central Park site.

Its search for a new home only kicked into high gear when Magnolia Public Schools replaced its top management (part of a settlement with Los Angeles Unified School District allowing Magnolia to reopen schools shut down for financial irregularities). Caprice Young, a former LAUSD Board President and leading figure in the charter school industry, took the helm as CEO. Young reported at the meeting that MSA had three possible locations lined up in office parks, but had to wait for a conditional use permit to be issued. “We could be out by spring break” if the district would extend the lease, she said.

Young then offered that MPS had portable classrooms and only needed a place to put them. The company, she said, would cover all the costs. “Was she saying that all she needed was any flat, paved space big enough?” Board member Noelani Sallings asked. This led to the suggestion that the Peterson parking lot might be considered. The final agreement was that district staff would “walk the site” with Young to determine if that was feasible, but no commitment was made.

Major Renovations Needed At Central Park School

Central Park School needs significant renovations that would take altogether a year from getting state approvals to outfitting classrooms. Director of Bond Projects Larry Adams listed some 50 jobs that need to be done at the meeting.

Some are maintenance items – replacing roofs, sidewalks and plumbing. Some are needed to bring the campus up to the state's current ADA accessibility standards – restrooms and sidewalks. Others, such as air conditioning, are needed to put facilities on par with other district schools. And yet others are needed to support current educational requirements – for example, data communications infrastructure to support new computer–based testing. The renovations would be funded by 2014 Measure H bonds.

This plan was gyrated and contorted to see if there was any way that Magnolia's lease, expiring in June, could be extended another year. Could construction be done while students were in class? Could the work start later? Could portables be used? Could it be done in phases over the course of several summers?

The answer to each of these, explained Adams and Asst. Superintendent of Business Services Mark Allgire, is that changing the current plan would significantly increase cost, workload and time–to–completion.

Beyond the obvious problem that children can't go to school if there's no roof on the building, no electricity and no fire alarms, the school has access from only one street, so there is no way to shield students from the construction traffic – 50 to 70 workers plus equipment. Chopping the job into three–month segments would add the task of restoring the campus to a usable condition at the end of each phase. Portable classrooms require the same infrastructure and approvals as fixed ones, even if the district had them available – which it doesn't.

There's another factor that comes into play. Once a district begins a construction project that calls for California Dept. of State Architect (DSA) approval, the district must bring the entire school up to current code. Virtually any remodeling project – including adding portables to the site – would trigger the requirement.

So it's not a simple matter of just working down the laundry list, one thing at a time. The whole plan has to be in place before any work can start. “It used to be you did the work and then got the approval,” said Adams. “Now you have to get the approval before you do the work.” The regulations wouldn't allow work to be done as quickly as it has in the past, he said.

This prompted a proposal by Trustee Christopher Stampolis to leave the school as–is – thus, not triggering the state requirements – extend Magnolia's lease, and begin operating Central Park as a district school in 2016–2017. During summer breaks, he said, renovations could be done in phases. The board voted down this idea.

County Board Member Grace Mah Weighs In on Magnolia

Sallings pointed out that the school wouldn't be on par with the rest of the district's schools, an issue Stampolis has raised repeatedly in what he calls the district's rich–school/poor–school dichotomy.

At 11 p.m., the meeting took another detour when Santa Clara County Board of Education Member Grace Mah showed up to read an editorial she and former County Board Member Joseph DiSalvo were writing on the Magnolia impasse, castigating SCUSD for not being more accommodating to Magnolia and insisting that the district was legally obligated to provide facilities under Prop 39, saying that the contract to the contrary wasn't legal. Allgire responded that two of the district's lawyers had reviewed the contract and never raised that issue.

Trustee Jodi Muirhead asked Mah what she had done as a member of the agency that approved the charter school to help Magnolia find a new home. The County Board doesn't have to help them find space, Mah replied, the County Board had “no authority.” “Just as you're here talking to us … you could do that with other school districts,” Muirhead said. “We haven't done that,” Mah replied. Mah represents Palo Alto, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Mountain View and Sunnyvale.

Trustee Andy Ratermann pointed out that as Magnolia's chartering authority, the County Board in fact does have responsibility. “There's a whole FCMAT [Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team] checklist. In the annual reviews I would think it would have come up … You still say you don't have any responsibility?”

Stampolis asked if any other county–chartered school had received Prop. 39 facilities. “Um, I think [Silicon Valley] Flex Academy in Gilroy,” she answered. Stampolis informed her that Flex leased space in a technology park. At that point, Ma said “Um” again and walked out. Mah was wrong on another count: Flex Academy is in Morgan Hill, not Gilroy.

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