Tonight’s Committee of the Whole meeting focused on several facilities issues, the most interesting of which was a presentation on the possible options for a school site in the Mission Bay neighborhood. As part of a deal with the developer and UCSF (which has already built incredible biotechnology and science research facilities at the site), the school district has been given the option of building a school on a 1.5 2.2-acre corner lot. (A land use plan is here; the proposed school district lot is #14).
The research conducted by the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency seems to bear out what anyone can witness with casual observation: there are a large number of very young children in the area. There also is not a school nearby: the closest schools are Bessie Carmichael in the South of Market neighborhood, and Daniel Webster Elementary in Potrero Hill (a school to watch!).
So the possibilities are very intriguing – we have a prime plot of land in the middle of a world-class research facility and a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood with a lot of young families; and a plot that is not far from some of the least-served (education-wise) neighborhoods in San Francisco. Originally, the idea from City Hall was a science and technology high school, but based on the preliminary analysis we’ve done as part of our student assignment redesign, it looks like what we really need is an elementary (K-5 or K-8) school. In addition, it would be smart to take advantage of the incredible intellectual capital at Mission Bay, and use it to establish a prestigious teacher-training institute that would grow sorely-needed math and science teachers right in our own backyard.
What will the site support? According to our Facilities Director, we could build a multistory building that would house a 500-student school and a teacher training institute without much trouble. But because a K-8 school would require more facilities (e.g., a gymnasium), his recommendation is that the site would more easily accommodate a K-5 school. On the other hand, in early conversations, UCSF has expressed deep interest in a middle school, with the idea that middle school students would really benefit from the exposure to the incredible science going on around the school.
Finally, what can we afford? We have existing bond authority to spend $30 million on a new school, which is good, but the Mission Bay site (because it is situated on landfill) is an expensive place to build. In addition, the Board has increasingly focused on the Bayview neighborhood as an area that needs better attention and resources. The Bayview and its surrounding neighborhoods are the areas where most of the public school children in San Francisco already live; schools in those neighborhoods do not currently have capacity for all the students who live there, and in addition they are generally our lowest-achieving schools. If, as it appears, the Board reverts to an assignment system that puts more weight on where children live in deciding school assignments, there are both practical and equity reasons to make sure that there are ample high-quality school choices for children in every neighborhood. So might it make more sense to construct a state-of-the-art school at one of our Bayview sites?
Unfortunately, my gut sense is that the Mission Bay AND the Bayview scenarios both make compelling sense, but there is not going to be bond money to do both, at least, not without going back to the voters. That is a risky proposition in today’s environment, and one that takes time and careful planning.
Anyway, deciding between the two options is not something the Board can do all at once, but it was important that we finally began the discussion at tonight’s meeting. Here’s how we left it:
- The City is willing to commit funds to a study of the best uses of the site, but that study can’t move forward until the school district gives a clear indication of whether it’s interested in proceeding.
- The new student assignment policy is a key “domino,” so getting this plan done on time (drop dead is March 2010) will be essential to moving the Mission Bay/Bayview discussion forward.
- After the Board commits to a new student assignment policy, the Superintendent will formulate a recommendation on Mission Bay – the Board needs to either commit to moving forward or decide to put off the project for now.
- The district has until 2027 to exercise its option to build a school at the site; after that, the land will revert to the developer.