Proposed charter school moves stir frustrations in Alameda
Paul Bentz had planned to expand enrollment at the Nea Community Learning Center in its existing K-11 configuration next year. But now, he’s offering to split the school in two.
Proposals to split Nea for a year stem from a facilities offer from Alameda Unified that demonstrates the difficulty the school district is having in accommodating the rapid growth of its charters, and the popular Nea in particular. And the charter shuffle is having ripple effects across the Island’s West End.
The school district is legally required to offer space to public charters equivalent to what the district’s traditional school students get, and in March they offered Nea and The Academy of Alameda Middle School shared space at the former Chipman Middle School, a move Bentz characterized as an effort to keep Nea in one piece but one that won’t properly accommodate their students. Representatives for both schools said they have rejected the offer, and Nea has put forward a trio of counteroffers that would split the school in half next year (the Academy’s is pending, a spokesperson for the school said).
“We’re not particularly happy about splitting our school,” Bentz said. (Bentz also rejected an offer for Nea’s sister school, the Alameda Community Learning Center, to get the same space it got this year; he had asked for more room to expand.)
One of Nea’s counteroffers would have the school’s K-5 students at Washington Elementary School next year, a move the head of that school’s PTA said would cause unwanted disruption for students there. Washington PTA president Lorrie Murray said a Nea move could also infringe on the school’s efforts to turn the school into a magnet, and that even with the school’s existing programs, Washington doesn’t have the space to give.
She said that some families at Nea are getting the message that they’ll be coming to Washington next year, even though the district and school officials have not yet discussed the offer. This week, she sent a letter to local newspapers touting the school’s successes and its magnet plan.
“This year has been a really positive year for us, and we’re on firmer ground with a great leader,” Murray said of the school’s current principal, Judy Goodwin. “We just want continue on the path we’re on without the disruptions.”
Late last year, school district officials moved the Woodstock Child Development Center to the Longfellow campus, a move that put Nea on a “collision course” with the district over space, Bentz said. The school, which listed 341 students when it applied for space in October and plans to expand to 500 by 2012, would need the entire Longfellow site to accommodate its growth, the application said, “and even then it will be crowded.” Nea boasts a waiting list of more than 350 prospective students, the application says.
“If a larger site were to become available, Nea would consider it. If AUSD closes any schools in 2011-12, Nea would like to be consider (sp) for relocation to a larger campus,” the application reads.
School district leaders had planned to close Washington, Franklin and Otis in 2012 if the Measure A parcel tax didn’t pass.
Christine Strena, an Academy of Alameda parent who is active on school issues and serves as a spokesperson for the school, said she asked why the district hasn’t moved other programs housed at Longfellow to Washington or even the Academy instead of moving around schools “and there was no real answer to that.” The district official who handles charters couldn’t be reached for comment on Thursday.
Strena said she’s learning these facilities negotiations go on every year, and she’s hopeful the process will lead to a less disruptive result for all the schools’ students.
“You put a charter, a school, on a campus, and parent bodies get vested in that facility,” Strena said. “You can’t split schools needlessly, (and you have to) treat charters like regular public schools.”