San Lorenzo Express News

Anger over High School Expansion Plan

OCTOBER 12, 2009

Neighbors of the King Collegiate High School in San Lorenzo are angry over the charter school's plan for a new campus. After residents' fury erupted at a community meeting September 15, the school created an "expansion working committee" to better manage community discussion of the proposed expansion.

King Collegiate High School is a charter school operated within the San Lorenzo Unified School District by KIPP Bay Area Schools. Jason Singer is the principal. The school is located at the former Barrett Middle School on via Barrett in San Lorenzo Village. Under state law, public school districts must provide charter schools with facilities when available.

Charter schools were authorized by the state legislature in 1992. The state law relieves charter schools from most state and school district education laws, regulations, and policies. (See Center for Education Reform: California.)

The San Lorenzo School District board of trustees first authorized a charter middle school (grades 5 - 8) at the unused 12 acre Barrett School site in 2002. That school now has about 400 students. In 2006 the school district board approved the high school at the same site. Both schools are operated by KIPP.

The plans for a new high school campus at the Barrett site include classroom buildings, a library, a gymnasium, and administrative offices. The high school presently shares the former Barrett Middle School facilities with the KIPP middle school. Once expanded, the high school would serve about 400 students.

A report on the environmental impacts of the campus plan was released September 10. Accompanying the report was a notice of the school district's intent to adopt a "mitigated negative declaration" (MND). An MND means that the project will not produce significant impacts on the environment if certain mitigation measures are implemented. Those mitigation measures are described in the environmental impact report, which is available at the San Lorenzo Library and at the King Collegiate High School office (2005 via Barrett).

Under state law, the public was given 30 days -- until October 9 -- to submit written comments on the report to which the school district must respond in writing. Written comments may be submitted after Oct. 9, but the school district is not obligated to respond in writing. In addition, anyone can comment on the environmental impact report, as well as the expansion project itself, at public hearings.

At the September 15 public meeting residents living adjacent to or near the school complained of having to put up with construction of temporary facilities throughout the summer. Residents complained that work was done 12 hours a day, Monday through Sunday, without regard for their daily lives.

They also complained that automobile traffic to and from the school has made it literally impossible for them at times to reach their own house or to allow emergency vehicles access to the neighborhood.

Anger was also expressed over KIPP's closure of a public pathway along the school site. The walkway was created by the San Lorenzo School District many years ago, and extends across San Lorenzo Creek on a footbridge. It has provided a convenient walkway for students in the Washington Manor district of San Leandro who attend Arroyo High School. (Washington Manor is part of the San Lorenzo School District; it was annexed by the City of San Leandro in 1964.)

Mr. Singer characterized the walkway in cinematic terms as a "getaway" for criminals eluding county sheriff deputies in San Lorenzo, claiming that the deputies were prevented from pursuing suspects once they reached the San Leandro side of the creek. He provided no statistics.

Part of the cost of the new facilities would come from Measure O bonds, approved by San Lorenzo School District voters in November 2008. The school district board has allocated $3 million from Measure O funds for the high school project. Although the KIPP charter schools were listed in Measure O as schools within the district, the preliminary project list for Measure O funding did not include the two KIPP schools.

State funds would pay for most of the costs of construction, but some funds are also expected from private donors.

The San Lorenzo School District board must approve the expansion plan after a hearing at a regular meeting, perhaps as early as November 17. (See school board meetings.) In addition, KIPP Bay Area Schools must approve the project in an open meeting.

The school district board adopted a resolution at its August 4 meeting that renders the county zoning ordinances inapplicable to the expansion project. School districts have this right under state law, but the waiver applies only to facilities that are specifically related to instruction.

For more information on the expansion plans contact Emily Rummo, Chief Operating Officer, KIPP Bay Area Schools, 426 - 17th St., Oakland 94612 (510.465.5477).