Charter School Facility Issues Inflame San Jose

Hundreds turn out at San Jose Unified Board meeting to protest Charter School Facility Moves, replicating similar protests one year ago.

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Bachrodt parents at the SJUSD board meeting protesting the proposed ACE middle school on their campus, with signs reading “Bachrodt deserves a voice too” and “DCP is not the only voice”

In February of 2013, the San Jose Unified School board quietly approved a charter petition for ACE middle school, on a 5-0 vote.  In September of 2013, the board repeated, approving another middle school charter petition for Downtown College Prep on a vote of 4-0-1.  Facilities were not decided upon during those discussions.  That fact came into clear focus for the families of San Jose’s Bachrodt Elementary school last Thursday.

2014 Surprise facility announcement roils Washington Community

One year ago, in February of 2014, district officials made a surprise board meeting announcement that the new DCP middle school would be placed at Washington Elementary.  Parents and school staff testified at that board meeting that the district had never informed them that they planned to place DCP at Washington Elementary.  Teachers expressed anger and frustration at the district’s lWashingtonProtestack of communication.  The district had held a prior community meeting on the subject of the need for a middle school option at Washington, but failed to mention that an independent charter school, like DCP, was in the plans.  After the outrage expressed at the February board meeting, the district held another community meeting at Washington Elementary in March of 2014

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Washington Elementary parents protest a proposed DCP at their school at a community meeting in March of 2014

moderated by trustee Teresa Castellanos.  An overwhelming five out of six community members at the meeting rejected the idea of a DCP at Washington Elementary.  District staff then rescinded their plan to place a DCP at Washington at the March 20th, 2014 board meeting, much to the pleasure of the Washington Community who had come out in large numbers wearing their signature green shirts.

2015 Repeat performance

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Washington Elementary parents at the March 20th, 2014 board, where district staff announced that Washington Elementary would not be considered as a site for the DCP middle school.

Last week, a near exact replica of that story unfolded, as the district made a surprise announcement that ACE middle school would be placed on the downtown San Jose Bachrodt Elementary School campus.  Pro-charter mayor Sam Liccardo brokered a closed door deal with no Bachrodt community member present.  Liccardo’s wife was a charter school executive before he launched his mayoral campaign.  Just after launching his campaign, Liccardo set education as a priority in a Mercury News op-ed piece, referencing charter school’s learning lab model, and advocating for easier city permits for new charter schools.  Bachrodt parents criticized DCP and ACE for using its powerful political connections to the mayor’s office to broker a deal unsuitable for Bachrodt, a statement that DCP’s Jennifer Andaluz disagreed with.  While it’s unclear why Liccardo failed to include Bachrodt in the conversation, the mayor’s strong pro-charter stance probably guided the conversation in the direction of a plan primarily structured for the charters, at the expense of an established and successful dependent charter at Bachrodt.

Should an independent charter share a campus with an elementary school?

For some time, Washington area families have been advocating for a K-8 elementary school.  So one may fairly ask, “why would an independent middle school charter on the same campus be any different?”  The answer lies in the student body and continuity.  Independent charters pull students from all over the city; K-8 schools pull immediate neighbors and kids tend stay in the schools from kinder through the eight grade.  It is a difficult situation when a struggling child from an enemy territory gang enters a middle school in a classroom next to a kindergartner.  It’s an entirely different situation when an 8th grade student who has attended his or her neighborhood school for the past 9 years enters a classroom next to a kindergartner.

The suspension rate of the Alum Rock ACE middle school is higher than any San Jose Unified middle school, with 15% of students being suspended yearly.  According to data provided by the California Department of Education, the 460 student Alum Rock ACE Empower Academy middle school experienced 14 suspensions for weapons possession, and 37 violence related suspensions.  The school reported 56 cases of caused, attempted, or threatened physical injury, two sexual assaults, two possession of firearms and one possession of an explosive.  It is no wonder that Bachrodt parents of 5 and 6 year old children objected to the placement of an ACE middle school on their campus.

The real fight?  Measure H bond dollars

The San Jose Unified facility musical chairs drill is likely motivated by Measure H money.  Measure H was approved by voters in November of 2012.  The $290 million bond seems sizable, except that the majority of the bonds were used to refinance older bonds due to the historically low interest rates, creating sizable savings that went back to the general fund.  The remaining $100 million dollars is to be spread out amongst San Jose Unified’s 33,000 students and nearly 50 schools.  San Jose Unified district officials told the Mercury News that “they may be liable if they don’t provide DCP with a campus comparable to other high schools”.  That liability is related to proposition 39, which requires that districts provide charters space that is equivalent to standard district schools.  DCP’s Hester campus lacks amenities like a pool and track that are available at San Jose High School.  Insiders have been speculating that DCP was positioning to demand measure H money through litigation in order to build athletic facilities on the Hester campus.  San Jose Unified officials preempted that move by requiring that DCP’s high school campus move to San Jose High School next year, where they would be able to share a pool, gym and track.  That move required that DCP’s middle school, currently at San Jose High, move across the street to take over Sunrise Middle’s campus, a Santa Clara County charter school.  Sunrise would move to Allen at Steinbeck, and ACE was to go to Burnett or Bachrodt.  It’s quite possible that similar Measure H and proposition 39 litigation contingencies were in play for the ACE and DCP middle school facilities as well.

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