District explores sites for charter school’s possible relocation from Millbrae campus

The controversial placement of a charter school on the Mills High School campus in Millbrae could come to an end with the school’s possible relocation, but even that move has stirred debate among some parents, students and community members.

When the San Mateo Union High School District announced last year that the newly formed Design Tech High School, also known as d.tech, would be located on part of the Mills campus, the addition was met with resistance from members of Mills’ parent-teacher organization who claimed the district should have consulted them before making such a decision. Charter schools are institutions that receive public funding but operate independently of the respective district.

But d.tech and district officials say they agree that the small charter school is outgrowing its space at Mills and needs a new location more suitable to its mission. Some options under consideration include the former Crestmoor  High School campus in San Bruno and two county-owned properties.

At a public meeting last month, district officials heard testimony from Mills students and parents who claimed d.tech’s presence deprived the school of needed classroom space. But while district board of trustees President Marc Friedman agrees that relocating the charter school should be a priority, he noted that Mills’ 1,200 students only fill 75 percent of its capacity.

The charter school currently has about 140 students and is expected to grow one class size per year.

Charter schools in general have been criticized by some, who claim the organizations take resources away from public schools. But those concerns don’t apply to d.tech, according to Friedman, because the public schools in his district are all performing well and are adequately funded.

“We’re not talking about a ‘Waiting for Superman’ situation,” Friedman said, referring to the 2010 documentary that portrayed parents of children at failing urban schools desperately trying to get them into charter schools.

Friedman added that because d.tech is partly supported by grants from donors such as Oracle Corp., sending a student to the charter school costs the district less than educating that same student in a traditional classroom.

While the district is not ready to disclose the names or locations of the county-owned sites it’s considering, Friedman said that information will be released within the next few weeks. The board president did note, however, that because the county sites are not in residential areas, he does not anticipate resistance from neighbors or homeowners who might have concerns about parking or traffic impacts.

Although the Crestmoor campus is in a residential area, its neighbors have in recent years worried that the district might sell the underutilized campus to developers, who could build new housing at the site. Compared to the potentially greater impacts of a housing development, area residents might prefer that Crestmoor remain in district hands, according to d.tech Executive Director Ken Montgomery.

While some d.tech parents might not welcome news of the school potentially moving out of Millbrae, Montgomery said his organization has not taken a position on which site should be chosen.

Once a favored option is identified, he said he will meet with parents to discuss the matter.

Montgomery said he is sympathetic to those who feel d.tech’s current campus site is problematic, and he supports the proposed move.

“We’ve said all along co-locating at Mills wasn’t our goal,” Montgomery noted. “We want a place where we can establish our identity and go to full enrollment.”

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