OK, it's been a while since my last post in this series on Measure W, but I finally got the numbers I've been looking for. And a big thanks to Jack Hickey and RCSD's Raul Parangao for helping dig it all out. Now to the point.
Jack Hickey believes that there is a lot of wasted space in the RCSD. He thinks the district could consolidate students into empty classrooms elsewhere in the district and sell off surplus property, ending their financial issues. Sounds like a simple idea. Over the past few weeks, he sent me some information that might even back up what he had to say.
One piece of information showed that throughout the district in 2010-11 there were 90 rooms not being used for classrooms. "Wow," I thought, "That's about as big as one school. Maybe Jack has a point."
He followed up quickly with a news article about a bidding war for a piece of property in the Portola Valley area between the private German-American International School (GAIS) and Woodland School showing that there was interest for surplus property, and suggesting that Selby Lane School be put on the block.
So I decided to check it out sending a request to Raul regarding the current inventory of empty rooms in the district and he and his staff went to work (doing that and everything else they have to do). The answer (drumroll)....
Yes, six empty classrooms throughout the district. How did we go from 90 unused classrooms to six? Couple of answers. Number 1, the inventory Jack provided for 2010-11 was at the beginning of the year, not once the year got underway.
When you expand class sizes to 30+ you tend to run out of room for all the stuff that must be done to educate students as the state and feds require. So you need resource rooms for the entire program. That inventory of 90 rooms quickly gets whittled down as the year goes on. Students transfer in, stuff accumulates, empty classrooms get turned into storage, etc.
Number 2, enrollment in the district doesn't go down. Between the 2010-11 year and now, several hundred more students are in the district classrooms. It's a fair certainty that by the time the 2012-13 year rolls around, that surplus of 6 rooms is going to be gone. The district is racking, stacking and packing students right now and is at the limit of its facilities.
That is going to become even more problematic in the 2014-15 year when districts statewide will be required to reduce classroom size to 20 students maximum or risk losing funding.
But let's put that reality aside for a moment and consider Jack's other idea: leasing out, long-term, a facility to a private school. Let's say we clean out all the storage rooms in the schools, ignore the class size mandates and free up Selby Lane for the GAIS. Let's get on that right away before the new school year hits, as Jack suggests.
Hold your horses, Jack.
I called up the school headmaster, Hans-Peter Metzger, and asked him directly what it would take to set up such a deal. Keep in mind that, as I mentioned in a previous post, that the district is required by law to do a search for and offer surplus facilities to other public agencies when a long-term lease is involved, which takes about a year.
First, Mr. Metzger wanted to know if the district was actually interested in the idea because, on their side, it wasn't even considered. I told him it wasn't, that this was just Jack's idea. He said, first, there would have to be some discussion among the GAIS board and then negotiations would have to begin. "Optimistically, it would be two years before we could come to an effective agreement," he surmised.
That's just from their side. Imagine what would happen in Redwood City if the idea was even proposed by the school board. Imagine angry parents at board meetings. Imagine lawsuits. Imagine a spinoff of Occupy Redwood City (Occupy RCSD?) railing about educating the 1 percent. Imagine a 10-year process. Then imagine mandatory classroom reductions in 2014 and the need to build new facilities.
Imagine a parcel tax 5 times the amount of Measure W to pay for it all.
The financial need of the school district is in our laps right now. The cuts have already been done. We educate students cheaper than any other district on the Peninsula. We've sold and leased everything out that wasn't nailed down. We can come up with all kinds of scenarios that might save money or generate income, but all of it is theory and cotton candy, not present reality.
I'm almost done with this series. My next, and possibly last post will be about the political and financial benefit of the parcel tax.