A few weeks ago, the administration brought board members’ attention to problems with the School 16 building, as well as admitted the inappropriateness of the prior decision – already being implemented – to “grow out” 7th and 8th grades. Information did not add up, and as a board member interested in hearing from School 16 families and staff, it was a battle to break down what seemed to be efforts to manage and control the information-giving to families, as well as the simple scheduling of a public board hearing on the issue. By the time there was a public forum at the school, essentially all stakeholders and decision-makers seemed convinced that students should not return to the building this fall because conditions were unacceptable.
While the school community seems willing and ready, for the most part, to move as an intact School 16 into borrowed space within the Dr. Freddie Thomas building, the unwillingness of Dr. Vargas to be explicit about return home plans for School 16 was disconcerting. It became clear to many of us that there was a very strong likelihood that the administration was laying the ground for a permanent closure after the school had been vacated “temporarily.” The superintendent argued that it was in the district’s best interest to leave future plans open-ended until after the community and board receives a comprehensive district-wide facilities report and recommendations, due September 15, 2012.
The process of determining the truth about the building condition as School 16 is still ongoing — clearly there are immediate, significant needs, but how extensive and expensive the work needed to bring the school to acceptable standards for return of students is not clear. It is not clear because there are contradictory documents – the 2010 Building Condition Survey states that the building is in good condition with many years of useful life remaining. The building has passed various required inspections, and yet recent reports raise significant concerns. The board was given an estimate of $6 million and 2 years of work to get the building in shape – and yet some of the listed required repairs don’t sync with other recent reports or needs.
There were additional details that caused concern among board members. The call to close School 16 raised questions and contradictions that required further examination (eg inaccuracies were reported to the board regarding the proportion of students from the 19th Ward who attend School 16. Further, there was an apparent lack of attention to the actual capacity of other South Zone elementary schools to absorb School 16 students — it is practically nonexistent under grade 5).
In reviewing the School 16 situation, it’s important to know that during preliminary faciltities modernization planning, beginning in 2005, School 16 was identified for demolition and new school constrution on the same, expanded, site. Since then, new building construction is completely disallowed from facilities modernization funding.
My position on School 16 based on an intensive review of multiple sources of information and extensive conversations with members of the school and neighborhood communities is this:
- Since FMP “rules” have changed in terms of the potential for new buildings (School 16 was slated for phase II as a NEW BUILDING); and
- It is not reasonable to expend routine district capital improvement resources on the scale ($6 million) identified in the estimates submitted in July 2012; and
- Even if there were community agreement regarding the use of some other school building in the 19th Ward as a neighborhood school, the available buildings are either in similarly poor condition/small capacity (School 10) or intensively invested with specialized space and use (School 29).
- The right conclusion, given the outcome of a past community process (in 2005), given the current unfortunate events sprung on the school community and given current available school and neighborhood community input, is that School 16 deserves explicit priority in phase II of the FMP. In the mean time, it is my position that capital improvement resources should be used to repair the building to meet standards acceptable for educating neighborhood children aged K-6.
The unanimous board support for the School 16 amendment, which ran counter to the superintendent’s strongly stated recommendation, was a very significant victory, in my opinion, for community support of neighborhood schools. As I said during discussion of the amended resolution, the success in exerting the board’s support for the School 16 amendment should be viewed as a contribution to much-needed dialogue about the value of neighborhood schools for our students’ education and our communities.
An important new effort to plan, establish support and to dialogue on expectations for School 16’s return is under way. Some of the discussions are on Location19 at http://www.location19.org/group/sw-education-forum/forum/topic/show?id=2047650%3ATopic%3A57487&xg_source=msg