It is finally the Laurelwood community’s turn to get the school they have been asking for; however, the project has hit another snag. Additionally, still reeling from the ripples of COVID-19 the Santa Clara Unified School District Special Education Department talks solutions for behavior concerns.
Peterson Laurelwood Master Plan
The promised school made its return to the Board of Trustee’s meeting on Thursday, March 24. This time, to revisit the size of the school. As discussed at many recent meetings, enrollment is down across the Silicon Valley and County.
When Santa Clara Unified decided to build a “larger” school, they went for a bond and agreed to build a new school at the Patrick Henry site. This whole time the community said they were picturing an 800-student school, much larger than their current 450 capacity that has accommodated about 600 students before.
However, staff is saying, based on projections, that a 650-student school would be more appropriate — Laurelwood attendance as of March 2022 is 522.
Director of Facility Development and Planning Michal Healy clarified that the “800” number that’s been mentioned was the projection for the whole attendance boundary pre-COVID, not attendance for Laurelwood School. Not every student in the attendance boundary attends Laurelwood. Through open enrollment, they go elsewhere.
The Laurelwood community flooded public comment, saying they are long overdue for the school they were promised. Board Clerk Bonnie Lieberman, who is from the Laurelwood area and has been very vocal and involved with the project, said, “The level of frustration in this community is more than you can imagine.”
She warned that the community is already starting to lose trust in the District. Public commenters and Lieberman echoed that building the school based on pandemic enrollment numbers is short-sighted.
Healy presented three options for the Board to consider. Option 1 would be to build the 800-student school — for reference, Cabrillo Middle School is this size. Option 2, build the 650-student school. Option 3 would be building classrooms for a 650 capacity, but create plans for future expansion. Meaning support spaces like the multipurpose room and administration would be built to accommodate 800 and they would set aside space for more classrooms.
The Board was split. Some say they should follow through on their promise for a large Laurelwood school, while others said they should be fiscally responsible and realistically consider enrollment in a post-COVID world where many families are leaving the area and very little family-friendly housing is being built. Many on the Board said they’ve always enjoyed their smaller-style neighborhood elementary schools.
Board President Jodi Muirhead was sympathetic to the promise the Board made, however, “things change. We didn’t think we’d have declining enrollment five years ago.”
At the end of the discussion, Board Member Albert Gonzalez, echoed by other Board Members, said he wanted to see the cost difference of 650 versus 800, even if it’s just an estimate. This will come back to a future meeting, perhaps the second meeting in April, said Muirhead.
Special Education Staffing
Vice President Vickie Fairchild asked for a report on Special Education staffing, namely for moderate/severe classes. The Board said they have received many emails and calls with concerns about class sizes and behavior troubles.
Special Education Director Kathy Alaniz said her department expected behavior problems once moderate/severe Special Education students returned to the classroom after the pandemic-induced lapse in education. “But we didn’t anticipate this. Not like this,” she said.
Fairchild wanted to see what an 8 to 1 class size would look like. To achieve that, stated Alaniz, they would need a maximum of 10 more classrooms (cost unknown), a maximum of 10 additional moderate/severe teachers (about $1.7 million annually) and a maximum of 20 additional paraeducators (about $1.1 million annually). Plus, the increased costs for substitute teachers, transportation, nutrition, etc.
Alternatively, Alaniz presented a plan that fits into a larger picture. She’s working towards transitioning moderate Special Education students into general education classes. To support this plan and help with behavior, Alaniz proposed that they need more behavioral staff. They would need two more Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA) to “coordinate services, train and support Behavior Techs (BTs),” plus one additional BT for each moderate/severe program (Braly, Haman, Hughes, Montague, Buchser, Cabrillo, Peterson, Santa Clara High, Wilcox, and Wilson mean adding 10 BTs). BTs will be located on a home base site and support other schools, but their primary focus will be moderate/severe students at their site.
Annually, for two BCBAs it would cost about $325,000 and 10 BTs would be about $700,000. “The costs associated with this increased support would be partially covered by anticipated additional state/federal Special Education funding,” according to the presentation.
Fairchild was not convinced that BTs would be enough and wanted to see smaller class sizes. She made a motion to bring this item back with actual numbers for next year to a meeting in May and asked staff to look at a 3 to 1 ratio in moderate/severe classes (including paras and teachers). This passed unanimously.
Scott Lane Master Plan
Thanks to savings from Deferred Maintenance, the Facilities Department can give Scott Lane Elementary School a bit of TLC.
Healy is starting plans for a new parking lot to help with pedestrian safety as well as traffic and drop-off/pick-up flow. They are coordinating to get a new driveway location with City. Healy moved to create a Master Plan for Scott Lane before they move forward with the parking project to make sure it will work with future improvements.
HY Architects and Healy said they have gathered so much feedback from the Scott Lane community. With the very willing feedback, the Master Plan is constantly changing.
The only funded part of this project is the parking lot and moving two portables to make way for it, called Phase 1. In this phase, they will also connect the school to the storm drain on Cabrillo Avenue and improve fencing.
However, the Master Plan has four phases total so when money comes available, they know where it should go. Phase 2 includes a designated area for the younger grades; Phase 3 includes a 2-story building to house more classrooms, library and administration; and Phase 4 would be improvements to the multipurpose space and kitchen.
The Board was enthusiastic about making upgrades to Scott Lane, starting with the parking lot and they hope more funds come about to work their way through the rest of the Master Plan.
During the COVID-19 update, Board Member Andy Ratermann asked about parent participation schools and vaccination rules. Superintendent Dr. Stella Kemp said they would review County definitions and look at their Safety Plan.
The Board appointed Dr. Damian Huertas Ruiz as the Coordinator of Special Education.
Dr. Kemp shared an update about Cabrillo’s space problems. Santa Clara Unified continues negations for the Youth Activity Center with the City of Santa Clara. At a recent meeting, however, Dr. Kemp said there appeared to be a “mutual interest” between the City and Santa Clara Unified to increase the availability of the YAC to Cabrillo, both during the school day and for extracurriculars, possibly starting with the 2022-2023 school year.
Teachers called into the meeting to talk about teacher reductions at their schools, however, it was during unagendized public comment, so the Board could not respond.
The meeting was running late so the “2022-2023 Budget Reduction Ideas” item will return to a future meeting. The Board meets next on Thursday, April 7 at 6:30 p.m.