Proposition 39 requires California school districts to provide unused district facilities to charter schools that apply for space to educate at least 80 in-district students. The district offers locations based on the charter’s projected enrollment. Once offered and accepted, the charter school enters into a one-year agreement with the district.
Principal of the Magnolia Science Academy’s San Carlos campus, Hakki Karaman, said although the Prop. 39 agreement is year-to-year, Magnolia ideally wants to find a site where it could stay for at least five years. When the charter learned MBHS would start construction on its new stadium, and various portable classrooms were to be removed, it became clear that MBHS was a short-term option for Magnolia, said Karaman.
“When we were assigned facilities at Mission Bay High [by the school district], we felt it was a promising placement as it is a spacious campus,” Karaman said. “Since the possibility of moving only after the first year of operation is not an ideal situation, we decided to withdraw our acceptance of the Prop. 39 assignment at Mission Bay High.”
The news came as relief to some local parents, who felt the charter would draw students away from Pacific Beach Middle School, which has nearly 40 fewer students now than in 2010-11, after recent transportation cuts. In the last five years, enrollment has dropped by more than 160 students.
Mission Bay High School parent Kim Schoettle said while charter schools in general are not bad, the Magnolia Science Academy was not a good fit for the Mission Bay cluster.
“The charter school was another threat to our programs and the students that we draw,” Schoettle said. “We want to build our community schools and make them as successful as they can be and provide all the programs we can. To do that, we need to keep our enrollment high to offer programs and have the funding.”
SDUSD public information officer Jack Brandais said charter schools are not the reason local schools face funding threats, however.
“Charter schools are a part of the landscape in California,” Brandais said. “The constant underfunding of education by the state legislature is what has been the real threat to public schools — both to district schools and charters.”
With a projected enrollment of 107 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders and access to six portable units on the west side of MBHS, it’s unclear if Magnolia would have drawn a significant number of students away from PB Middle.
Mission Bay cluster chairwoman Jennifer Tandy said another concern was that the charter proceeded quickly without regard for the local community, schools and families.
“This is, unfortunately, a situation of a corporate charter which, I think, is taking advantage of the Prop. 39 law,” Tandy said.
The law creates a three-month process for charter schools to establish a location. Preliminary locations are offered in February, and the charter accepts or rejects the location by May.
On Feb. 18, Tandy said the charter began distributing fliers that confirmed MBHS would be its location for 2013-14. She said it was premature. The final offer and agreement were still two months away.
“That was one red flag right off the bat,” Tandy said.
Karaman said Magnolia’s goal was to expand school choices in San Diego, but the MBHS location was chosen by the school district itself.
“The location wasn’t a targeted or specific choice on our part,” Karaman said.
The Magnolia Educational and Research Foundation, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit, is the foundation behind the charter and has 12 schools throughout California. In the 2010 fiscal year ending June 2011, the foundation operated on a $20.9 million budget. Its goal is to prepare students for college with an emphasis in science, technology, engineering and math.
Karaman said the charter also offers free tutoring, athletics and band programs.
Tandy said there is no lack of that in the community. She said both PB Middle and MBHS are able to provide every student access to computers and technology. She said MBHS has great robotics and engineering programs, and PB Middle even has a fully-equipped television studio.
“From the get-go, it was just very unsettling that it was motivated more purely by a business model than by a need of something missing in the community,” Tandy said. “And the community, they knew it would be detrimental to have a charter cohabitate on a high school campus. A sixth-through-eighth charter school on a high school campus, that’s just ludicrous to begin with.”
MBHS Principal Fred Hilgers said the situation would have been difficult. It would have created security, time management and space sharing challenges, all of which would have been amplified as construction on the new stadium begins.
“I wouldn’t want my students down there working in all that construction mess and noise,” Hilgers said.
Hilgers said sharing the campus with a charter is very different than having a sixth-through-12th-grade district school.
“That dynamic is very different than this dynamic with the charter,” Hilgers said. “In the case of a district 6-12 school, the district creates and supports the system to make sure the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders are really participating in a really controlled environment. But having an outside entity rent, basically, your facility, I have no stake in Magnolia.”
Parent Cindy Heffington was looking into Magnolia as another middle-school option for her child. She said there are a lot of schools to choose from, but there aren’t many close to home.
“We were all excited because there was another option,” Heffington said. “Now, there’s not.”
In the future, Karaman said Magnolia does have plans for a second San Diego location.