Tonight’s Special Meeting of the Board was supposed to be a short, routine affair — adopting the already-approved budget in SACS code format (don’t ask – it’s required by the state before we submit our approved 2010-11 budget document) and a few stray consent calendar items. But it was not to be — not after an angry group of staff and community members at Horace Mann Academic Middle School came to the Board meeting last week to protest the planned co-location of Metro Arts & Tech, a charter High School, at their location. Because the co-location was not on the agenda for the June 22 meeting, Board members agreed to hear a staff presentation and discussion of the plan at tonight’s Special Meeting.
Several dozen members of the public were on hand, with 10-12 Horace Mann staff members and parents speaking against the plan, and a handful of Metro staff and parents (including one student) speaking about their desire to be collaborative partners with the folks at their new school site.
Mary Richards, our Executive Director in charge of K-8 and charter schools, was on hand to give Board members an overview of the sequence of events in the decision to issue a final offer of space at Horace Mann to Metro; David Goldin, our director of facilities, spoke to the facilities issues raised around Metro’s current space at Burton High School, as well as its proposed space at Horace Mann.
Members of the Board expressed extreme frustration at being back here again – fielding complaints from parents and teachers about the district’s failure to make the outcome of the cumbersome annual Prop. 39 process fully transparent and timely. Of course, no one is ever happy about sharing a school facility with another institution — it presents big logistical headaches on top of the already significant day-to-day challenges at a school site. Still, Horace Mann’s principal, former Board of Education member Mark Sanchez, had engaged in informal discussions with Metro over the fall and winter, thinking that a partnership with the charter school could be a good opportunity for his students — who attend a school that is among the lowest-achieving in the district. After Metro turned down the district’s preliminary offer to remain at Burton for another year, discussions began in earnest. The picture gets very fuzzy here, according to the timelines the Board was given tonight, but several things are clear:
- The district issued a final offer to Metro on April 1, offering space at Horace Mann;
- In early April, a meeting was held with Ms. Richards, Mr. Sanchez, Metro staff and Horace Mann staff about the co-location. Mr. Sanchez and Horace Mann staff say they were under the strong impression that the offer issued by the district was preliminary, not final, but Ms. Richards says she notified all appropriate district staff that a final offer had been issued. At that April 5 meeting, teachers say they rejected the idea of allowing a charter school to co-locate at Horace Mann; they also say that Metro staff members stated that they would not locate at Horace Mann if the staff did not agree. In addition, Horace Mann teachers say that the principal of Metro estimated his space needs as seven to nine classrooms.
- District staff in late April/early May issued a revised offer to Metro offering “enhanced” space at Burton (the charter school has several objections to the Burton location, including the lack of windows and natural light in many of the classrooms, the location of the main entrance near the garbage dumpsters at the school, and behavior of Burton students, including alleged incidents of throwing food at classroom windows).
- After several meetings and other communications with Metro’s legal counsel, on May 28 the district sent a “re-instatement” of the April 1 final offer for Metro to co-locate with Horace Mann for 2010-11 — an offer that listed 12 classrooms plus several administrative spaces for a grand total of 13 classrooms.
- The Horace Mann staff learned of the re-instatement of the offer through a memo from the district’s legal counsel dated June 14.
- Board members were not formally or uniformly notified of any of this until it came up organically at our June 22 meeting.
I’m sure anyone reading this account can spot a few holes and unanswered questions. Regrettably, I have to leave some of the questions unanswered because the public record pretty much ends here. I can say that there is ample blame to spread around. For the district’s part, the left hand obviously did not pay attention to what the right hand was doing, and vice versa. Board policy was not followed, and the Board was left out of the loop on a matter that could potentially have resulted in litigation between the district and Envision Schools (the group that operates Metro and another SFUSD charter high school, City Arts and Technology, known as “CAT” – which is relatively harmoniously co-located with June Jordan HS at the old Luther Burbank MS campus in the Excelsior district). Worst of all, the families, staff and students of Horace Mann are left feeling like they were lied to and disrespected, when that is the opposite of the Board’s or administration’s intentions.
And what about Metro? I don’t really blame them for pressing their advantage — Envision’s founder, Bob Lenz, has made no secret in recent years that from his perspective, the Burton site is not working. Prop 39, the law that governs the sharing of facilities between charters and traditional public schools, offers charter schools many rights to space in the facilities of districts that house them, and Metro asserted those rights. I think the only objection I have is the “beckon with one hand, hammer with the other” posture that Metro has taken — on the one hand, having their staff assert that they would only seek co-location if all parties agreed, while on the other hiring attorneys to push the co-location as Metro’s legal right. Again, their actions are legal and they are probably understandable from Metro’s perspective. But the effect on the Horace Mann community — the parents and the teachers — has been detrimental.
Finally, Board members explored what, if anything, could be done to “fix” the situation from either Metro’s or Horace Mann’s perspective. According to Mr. Goldin, two alternate sites that were mentioned — 700 Font St. and 1350 7th Ave., both need extensive work in order to be ADA-compliant and habitable by students. Metro has already rejected the district’s “enhanced” offer of Burton, so the ball is really in their court as far as moving to Horace Mann or accepting yet another location. I think it is unlikely that Metro will give up Horace Mann now — sources at the school tell me they have already installed Internet connections and Mr. Lenz said the staff has “packed their boxes.” Mr. Lenz also said that he understands that the Horace Mann offer is for the 2010-11 year only; the Board’s clear expectation is that Metro will move to yet another location after the 2010-11 school year.