As the newly constituted Ravenswood school board moves toward making what could be one of its most consequential decisions -- closing a neighborhood school to make room for a growing charter school -- trustees and community members alike are asking for more transparency and communication.
The school board held on Saturday morning the first of six public meetings to provide information about KIPP Valiant Community Prep's expansion request and hear from the community.
KIPP, which is currently housed in 18 classrooms at the contiguous Brentwood and Los Robles/McNair sites, is seeking a long-term, single campus starting this fall, which would likely displace an existing school. Ravenswood is required under state Proposition 39 to provide the public charter school with "reasonably equivalent" facilities to the district's, including classrooms, libraries, administrative offices, playground space and the like. What's more, districts cannot move charter schools "unnecessarily," the proposition states.
Parents and staff expressed frustration Saturday that they were given short notice about the public meetings, with flyers sent home and posted on the district's website and Facebook page on Thursday. The district has been aware of KIPP's desire to expand since Nov. 1, when the charter school met a mandated deadline to file an annual facilities request. The school board briefly discussed the issue in December and faced a Feb. 1 deadline for submitting a preliminary facilities proposal to KIPP — which KIPP has agreed to extend to Feb. 15 to give the district more time.
"I just hope we can have a more open and fluid conversation about all the issues," Ronda White, president of the Ravenswood Teachers Association, told the board on Saturday. "When we get rushed we make mistakes that don't need to happen that cause more anxiety and frustration."
Board Vice President Stephanie Fitch, who was elected in November, said she asked that information be provided to the community sooner.
"I share your disappointment in it not getting out sooner," she said.
Maria Krauter, communications director for KIPP Bay Area Public Schools, told the Weekly that the charter's "No. 1 preference" is for a long-term, single site where elementary and middle school students, many of them siblings, can attend school together.
"As the district agrees, KIPP kids are Ravenswood City School District kids," she said. "We are trying to do what we can with the district to make sure that we find a good site that works for them as well."
While the school board is considering Belle Haven, Brentwood, Costaño and Willow Oaks schools as options for KIPP's future home, a statement from a district lawyer in December characterizing Belle Haven as the "likely site scenario" for the charter school has stirred up concern and confusion in the community.
Attorney Elizabeth Mori of Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost said Saturday that her comment was "simply an indication of the site that looked like it was an appropriate site based on the numbers. It wasn't saying that other sites were not also appropriate."
Several trustees emphasized that no decisions have been made and that they are looking at all options, including whether the district could propose housing KIPP at more than one school site. Some Bay Area school districts, including Redwood City and Oakland Unified, do split charter schools across multiple facilities Mori said.
Under California Education Code, however, districts must provide charters with "contiguous" facilities if it's impossible to accommodate them at a single school.
While parents had sharp words for the district regarding the lack of communication to date, they had mostly questions rather than specific opinions at this point about the expansion options. Trustees had questions, too.
In response to an inquiry from board President Tamara Sobomehin about whether the district can provide enough space for KIPP at its existing location, Superintendent Gloria Hernandez-Goff said that the district would have to provide between seven and nine additional classrooms. There's no available space at McNair so Brentwood would become the "de facto" choice for closure in that potential scenario, Hernandez-Goff said.
Starting this fall, KIPP plans to enroll 558 students. The school plans to eventually grow to include eighth grade by 2021, with a maximum enrollment of 610 students.
Belle Haven teacher Bronwyn Alexander suggested KIPP move its middle school students to the new Ravenswood Middle School campus. Hernandez-Goff replied that she proposed that previously and the charter was "not interested" because it wants a consolidated location.
District staff are in the midst of gathering more specific data on enrollment, capacity and other facilities information for each school to present at a future meeting, Hernandez-Goff said.
The district is required to make a final facilities offer to KIPP on or before April 1.
Looming over this decision is a larger question about Ravenswood's future, as the district's enrollment continues to decline as does the funding that's attached to those lost students. The board held two budget study sessions in January and scheduled a third for Feb. 25 to discuss the district's financial state.
"As a district can we continue to operate with this many sites with the number of decreased students?" White asked Saturday. "At some point that question is going to have to be answered."
Below is the schedule of remaining community meetings on KIPP's facilities request:
• Feb. 4: Costaño School gymnasium, 2695 Fordham St., East Palo Alto; 6-7:30 p.m.
• Feb. 5: Belle Haven Elementary School multipurpose room, 415 Ivy Drive, Menlo Park; 6-7:30 p.m.
• Feb. 6: Willow Oaks Elementary multipurpose room, 620 Willow Road, Menlo Park; 5:45-7:15 p.m.
• Feb. 7: Brentwood Academy multipurpose room, 2086 Clarke St., East Palo Alto; 6-7:30 p.m.
• Feb. 9: District board room, 2120 Euclid Ave., East Palo Alto; 1-2:30 p.m.