Board balks at $667,000 plan for school

A proposal to spend $667,000 for temporary classrooms for an overcrowded Twin Peaks school has drawn criticism from some school board members concerned that other underenrolled schools are being closed to save money.

With 574 students, Rooftop Elementary, the No. 1 requested elementary school for incoming kindergarten families for the 2006-07 school year, is over its permanent classroom capacity of 402 by 143 percent.

Last week, school board members were presented with a recommendation from the district’s facilities department to purchase and install seven new portable classrooms and two portable restroom facilities on permanent concrete foundations. According to district spokeswoman Lorna Ho, the existing 40-year-old portable classrooms were “at the end of their life expectancy” and the subject of a safety complaint.

The board split 3-3 over the contract, however, with member Eddie Chin absent, after board Vice President Sarah Lipson and allies Mark Sanchez and Eric Mar raised concerns about the expenditure.

“I don’t want kids to be in a dangerous environment,” Sanchez said, referring to a staff report that said the old portables could sustain structural damage in the event of an earthquake. “But we don’t really have that kind of money to spend on portables during a time when we’re closing and consolidating schools and laying off teachers.”

Lipson agreed, adding that the school board has voted in past years to phase out the use of portable classrooms, due in part to health concerns. Approximately half of the district’s schools use one or more portable classrooms, providing space for nearly 6,000 students, according to district data.

Faced with a budget shortfall due to declining enrollment and less-than-expected state revenue, the board has voted within the last year to close six schools and merge four others into two sites.

With a $19 million deficit projected within the next two school years, the board will likely consider future closures as cost-saving measures. A community advisory committee is being created to help create a long-term enrollment and facilities plan.

“If our long-range plan is to eliminate [portable] bungalows, then we have to stop accepting new bungalows and really address the issue of underenrolled schools,” Lipson said.

The portables will be voted upon again at the school board’s next meeting on May 9.

Rooftop parent Kirsten Crosson said if the district decides not to replace the existing portables, and instead attempts to reduce the enrollment of the school, “there will be some unhappy parents, that’s for sure.”

beslinger@examiner.comBay Area NewseducationLocal

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