Charter school loses $7 million grant for facility improvements

A popular Western Addition charter school planning to upgrade and expand its facilities lost a $7 million state grant after the San Francisco Board of Education declined to take a crucial vote on the proposed project Tuesday.

Issuance of the grant, as well as a $4.8 million low-interest loan would have required the board’s approval by Tuesday to meet the state’s Feb. 14 deadline and a $2.2 million investment from the district. However, on Tuesday the request was only agendized as an informational item, which does not require a board vote.

Fernando Aguilar, director of the Creative Arts Charter School, said that the school had been asking the board to vote on the item for months.

In a memo addressed to the school board, Aguilar pitched the project as a future investment for the district.

“If the District elects to sell the property, considering the staggering real estate values in the City of San Francisco, this presents a very low-risk scenario for the District, which would be gaining a new, $14 million facility in exchange for only a $2.2 million project contribution,” he wrote.

But school board Commissioner Shamann Walton said that improvements to the school would “solely benefit Creative Arts and if they vacate [the building] it would be under control of another charter school.”

“Basically they were asking SFUSD to pay for their future growth, without benefit to SFUSD,” he said, adding that “[voters] have provided millions of dollars through bonds for those improvements that do benefit SFUSD and its schools and students.”

Housed in a school-district owned property at 1601 Turk St., the charter school has seen its population nearly double — from 250 students to 440 this year– over the past five years, according to Aguilar.

“We were hoping to add classrooms, add a multi purpose room as we are an arts integrated school, we were considering a makerspace,” said Aguilar.

Aguilar said the learning center that serves students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPS) have been housed in the school’s library due to lack of space. The school also shares a “large portion of its allocated space with Gateway Middle School,” according to board documents.

The school’s goal was to build a tower building on it’s property where a playground is currently located, and infrastructure to connect the tower to existing facilities.

The school’s leadership was also discussing adding another level and an elevator to its existing building to better accommodate the 23-year-old school’s student body, teachers and staff.

“It would have alleviated some of the growth issues we have had,” he said, adding that the project was estimated to cost some $14 million.

Under Proposition 51, a $9 billion bond measure for the construction and modernization of K-12 public school facilities approved by California voters in 2016, $500 million was provided for new construction and rehabilitation funds for charter schools, according to board documents.

Laura Waxmann

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