“Don’t take away opportunity!”
That was the resounding cry of half a dozen attendees at the Santa Clara Unified School District’s board meeting on April 26. The board was considering an agenda item on changes to the support structure for 2018-2019 school year, which included eliminating the existing Opportunity classroom at Peterson Middle School.
“The decision to shut down Opportunity was done without proper and thorough investigation,” one attendee asked. “There has been no data or evidence that it is not working or been successful. Conversely, there has been no indication to suggest that these proposed changes will work. Once Opportunity is gone, there is no turning back. How is that possibly worth the risk?”
Opportunity Education schools provide supportive environments with specialized curriculum, instruction, guidance and counseling to students who are habitually truant, irregular in attendance, insubordinate, disorderly during school or unsuccessful academically. But in 2004, the State repealed the authority for school districts to establish new Opportunity programs. Those already established were grandfathered in and could continue to operate.
According to the California Department of Education, Opportunity programs were meant to “provide comprehensive academic programs that facilitate positive self-esteem, confidence, resilience and personal growth with the goal of helping students return to traditional classes and programs.” However, the district administration felt that this resulted in too much isolation from their peers.
Instead, the district has added wellness coordinators and wellness centers, counseling interns and academic counselors at all school sites. It expects this will fulfill the same functions as Opportunity. It has also added a Community Day school that it expects to serve the same group of students currently in Opportunity. Community Day are schools for students who have been expelled or who have had problems in attendance or behavior.
Board Member Mark Richardson said he sympathized with the wish to keep Opportunity for at least one more year to assess whether the other support systems would be an adequate replacement for Opportunity, but he was also hesitant about allowing the program to continue.
“I do understand the fear: that we won’t be ready, that it won’t fly, that four months isn’t enough,” he said. “But when do you ever start something? When do you ever try to improve? There is never a perfect time, in my opinion.”
In the end, the Board agreed on a hybrid of both the enhanced support systems currently in place and the Opportunity program but moved it to a different site than its current one at Peterson.
“My biggest concern is if we do away with Opportunity, that if we don’t do it right as we transition is we won’t be able to go back,” Board Member Noelani Pearl Hunt said. “So I want to make sure that we don’t pigeonhole ourselves,”
District Could Receive $8.5 Million in Land Deal
The unwinding of California’s redevelopment agencies will bring SCUSD another cash infusion this year with the sale of redevelopment agency property in the north San José part of the district.
The property is near the Diridon train station in San José—at one time intended for a sports stadium—where Google, Inc. is planning to develop a new campus. SCUSD’s Chief Business Official Mark Allgire said that Google is involved in this process. The “fair market price” for the sale of the entire land is estimated to bring in $69 million. The district’s share would be $8.5 million.
When California legislature dissolved the state’s redevelopment agencies in 2012, it provided that “successor agencies” would wrap-up the affairs of the former redevelopment agencies including the disposition of property held by those agencies. Proceeds from any property sales are distributed to taxing entities within the former agency’s boundaries, including school districts. These properties were, in many cases, acquired and developed with property tax money that was diverted from normal distribution.
Fate of New High School at Former Agnews Site Still Undecided
Work commenced April 23, to remove toxic soil from the former Agnews site but the Board is still undecided on whether to develop a 400-student high school, which it currently has the funds for, or to wait on a bond that will bring in funds to develop a comprehensive 1,600-student high school.
Three options were presented at the April 26 board meeting: To design a comprehensive high school, to hold off on the design until November when a general bond would possibly go for a vote or to proceed on designing a 400-student high school.
Holding off on design until November delay in the high school’s opening for a year later than promised. However, designing both a 400-student school and a 1600-student school would lose no time and the high school would open when promised. If a bond is not presented in November or does not pass, the financial impact would be the cost of the designs. But no time or momentum would be lost.
Board embers said they wanted to see a comprehensive high school, not a smaller 400-person school. No action was taken since this was a planning item on the agenda. The Board requested that it come back as an action item in a subsequent school board meeting.