The Ravenswood school board unanimously agreed Thursday to preliminarily offer the growing KIPP Community Valiant Prep shared space at the district's new comprehensive middle school in East Palo Alto next fall, a proposal opposed by both the charter school and teachers and students at the district school.
The board is mandated under state Proposition 39, which requires school districts to make equitable facilities available to charter schools, to present a preliminary facilities proposal to KIPP by Friday, Feb. 15. The proposal is not binding and will prompt negotiations between the district and charter before the board must make a final offer next month.
The board approved a resolution that states the district determined it could not accommodate KIPP's enrollment — set to grow by 150 students in the next school year to a total of 550 — on a single site and that doing so "would neither be feasible nor in the best interest of all students, both district and charter school students alike."
KIPP is currently housed in 18 rooms at the adjacent Brentwood Academy and Los Robles/Ronald McNair Academy sites. The district is preliminarily offering KIPP 11 classrooms at Brentwood and 11 at Ravenwood Middle School for the 2019-20 school year. The schools are about 2 miles apart.
Kate Belden, the principal of KIPP, told the board Thursday that the offer is "not fair nor equitable nor will we have the space that's needed to serve our students."
In a letter sent to the superintendent and trustees this week, KIPP leadership argued that there is enough room to accommodate the school at the Brentwood and Los Robles/McNair campuses, "especially" with the addition of several portables. The charter organization has developed a plan "to accommodate our entire school on these campuses next year with little to no additional impact to district-run activity," the letter reads.
"Just as you don't want to disrupt and displace students in the district ... we ask that you don't disrupt or displace our students as well," Belden told the Ravenswood school board.
Several KIPP parents echoed this sentiment, urging the board to consider their children, who are still considered district students, equally. Juan Garcia, the parent of first- and seventh-graders at KIPP, said splitting the elementary and middle school students would pose transportation challenges for families like his.
The district disagrees that there is sufficient space at Brentwood and Los Robles/McNair and argues that providing it would inequitably impact district students.
According to the resolution, making enough space available at Brentwood would require the "forcible displacement" of students attending their neighborhood school by either redrawing attendance boundaries or eliminating grade levels. To make room at Los Robles/McNair, which houses Ravenswood's only Spanish dual immersion program, the district would have to move its students to another location, according to the resolution.
The district argues that housing KIPP at a single location next year could negatively impact students' safety, social-emotional health and access to neighborhood schools.
The leadership team at Ravenswood Middle School (RMS) penned their own letter calling the preliminary facilities proposal "unfair and shortsighted." The district's first-ever comprehensive middle school opened in 2017 and is still growing itself as Ravenswood transitions its other campuses into elementary-only sites.
"RMS is arguably the district's most fragile and vulnerable site," the letter states. "Despite the fact that the RMS staff is working exceptionally hard and giving their all to this monumental task, the fact is that the school is still in its infancy and just trying to get its footing."
The middle school also lost its principal and vice principal last summer. In their letter, the leadership team voiced concern that an "extensive and detailed plan" for the middle school is not being fully implemented, including the lack of a vice principal for each grade level and needing more yard duties to provide supervision at lunch and recess.
Only two board members briefly commented on the facilities proposal before voting. Vice President Stephanie Fitch emphasized that "tonight is not a vote of what will for sure happen" and Trustee Ana Maria Pulido queried a district attorney about how much flexibility Ravenswood will have in negotiating with KIPP after making its preliminary offer.
"There is a specific consideration or an acknowledgment and encouragement in the law that charter schools and school districts engage in conversations to come up with solutions that are going to be win-win situations or at least mutually agreeable," said attorney Elizabeth Mori of Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost, who oversees the district's charter school work. "There's no restriction on the ability to have conversations and negotiate."
If approved, Pulido noted that the multisite proposal is "only a one-year solution" given KIPP's plan to grow through eighth grade by 2021, with a maximum total enrollment of 610 students. She asked staff to provide more information about how the middle school and KIPP would share facilities — the logistics of which was a point of concern for Ravenswood Middle School teachers and students at the board meeting, as well as the impact on transportation and parking.
The debate over KIPP's expansion request has brought to the surface several hot-button issues, including a bitter division between the district and its charter school; criticisms of district leadership, in particular, Superintendent Gloria Hernandez-Goff; and unanswered questions about the future of a school district with shrinking enrollment and funding. Just under 2,400 students are currently enrolled in the district, down by more than 1,000 from seven years ago.
Hernandez-Goff sought to separate those issues on Thursday, stating that the KIPP decision is unrelated to the district's financial health.
Ravenswood must make its final facilities offer to KIPP on or before April 1.