According to the Santa Cruz Sentinel, PCS now has a big decision to make. They have an offer from the district to stay at Natural Bridges, or they can pursue their application under Proposition 39 to move half of the students to a district secondary school.
If the two sides can’t reach a deal, PCS will be forced to accept the district’s Prop. 39 offer to provide about a dozen secondary classrooms or reject it, and find another home to lease.
“It is our intention to give them an option to keep their school together as they continue to do their long-term planning,” the district’s board President, Cynthia Hawthorne, said after Wednesday’s closed-session meeting.
PCS officials said they are planning for several possibilities, but said it’s not true that the charter school can afford to pay what the district is asking or rent another, similarly-sized facility at market rate.
Critics have pointed to the $1.5 million reserve. The reserve equals about half of the school’s annual operating budget – whereas many school districts carry the minimum required reserve of 3 percent or slightly higher.
Actually, the current reserve is $1.8 million dollars and will rise to $2.2 million at the end of the next school year as PCS, a non-profit, public school, banks another $750,000 in profit. If they refuse to apply those reserves to house their students, perhaps they’d like to share with the public the intent of those funds. They certainly need to explain to their students why they would refuse to pay rent to stay intact while they continue to accumulate reserves at ten times the state requirements. Collecting interest is not putting the money to work for the kids.
PCS is engaged in a full-court disinformation campaign on the details of Prop 39. Board members and members of the negotiating team are holding coordinated meetings with community members to build support for their (mis)interpretation of the law. They’ve taken the message to the press, too.
Cole told trustees PCS will waive its rights to facilities under Proposition 39 for the term of any new lease. But he warned the board that PCS expected the deal to take into account an in-lieu monetary value of the district’s Prop. 39 responsibility to provide space and equipment to PCS students who live within the district’s boundaries.”We can’t remove Prop. 39 from any discussion on price,” Cole said. “For us, that’s inextricably linked.”
Cole made it abundantly clear at the October 21st Town Hall that PCS understands the Natural Bridges campus is not applicable under Proposition 39. Nor is Prop 39 an “allowance” that follows students wherever the charter chooses to locate. If the law were written that way, then it would also extend to every school district in the county sending students to the charter. So why is Cole changing his tune? Because attaching Prop 39 to Natural Bridges Elementary School would make it very difficult to relocate PCS in the future; they would in effect, homestead the campus. And the little children on the district’s four other elementary sites? They would watch their playgrounds drown in a sea of toxic trailer houses while PCS, half of their students from outside our district, enjoy the spacious 9.4 acre, 47,000 sf campus-by-the-sea, subsidized.
The district is now responding to PCS’ first ever Prop 39 facilities request and will make space available on a secondary campus as required by the law. To borrow from the PCS vernacular, it is a “collaboration”: the district offers facilities for its students and PCS accepts the shared facilities, annual re-negotiation, district class size ratios and the need to provide additional facilities accommodate the students living outside the district. Together, they work out how to schedule the shared use of labs, libraries, etc. Once the district responds to PCS’ request for facilities, PCS then either accepts and collaborates, or they decline the offer. That is the law. PCS cannot rescind or turn down the Prop 39 offer, then turn around and demand the equivalent as an allowance against rent. The offer is not an “in-lieu” monetary donation that follows PCS as they seek alternative facilities. It’s either/or.
From the Education Code/Proposition 39
“Each school district shall make available, to each charter school operating in the school district, facilities sufficient for the charter school to accommodate all of the charter school’s in-district students in conditions reasonably equivalent to those in which the students would be accommodated if they were attending other public schools of the district.”
Source: Education Code 47614 (b)
Should they waive their rights, they, well, waive their rights. Just as they would release themselves from the more onerous aspects of the arrangement, so must they relent on their drive to cherry pick “free rent” from the full application of Prop 39. Should PCS waive their rights as Cole suggests they might, they would then enter into an open market lease agreement with the district or another landlord entirely independent of Proposition 39.
In this case, this year – while PCS sorts out its long-term facility plans, begins the search for a principal and manages their accreditation review – a temporary stay at Natural Bridges would be best for the kids.