Long-awaited funding to fix dilapidated Mission District school remains in flux

The renewed attention to the longstanding state of Buena Vista Horace Mann — a bilingual Mission District school in critical disrepair — has galvanized San Francisco’s residents.

Families and staff at the predominantly Latinx and low-income school have long complained about the deteriorating conditions: a delayed response to a gas leak, a fourth-grader shocked by an electrical outlet, recurring rat infestations, falling ceiling tiles and other hazards.

But fixing those problems might not be so easy. A vote to allocate funding to the dilapidated school was postponed during a school board meeting Tuesday night, leaving renovation plans for BVHM in flux — and its community waiting for action.

“It has been years and you have not listened to us,” Carmen Rodriguez, a parent of two BVHM students, said in Spanish through tears during the meeting. “As a mom, I ask you to listen; don’t wait for a tragedy to happen. You’ve seen pictures, you’ve seen videos. What else do you need to see? What does it take?”

In response to the escalating despair over conditions, school board member Matt Alexander had proposed dedicating $55 million of remaining funds from a 2016 bond measure to ensure a full renovation of BVHM as promised. That number now seems likely to be reduced to $40 million.

San Francisco Unified School District staff pointed to the importance of funding other urgent projects, such as school security to protect against active shooters, air purifiers, a new Mission Bay elementary school and expanded outdoor learning.

Under the staff proposal, BVHM would receive $15 million, half to develop the design needed to know the full extent of renovation needed, and the other half to make immediate repairs worsened by deferred maintenance. The proposed amendment by Alexander to boost BVHM’s allocation to $55 million would have removed $25 million remaining for an arts center and $15 million for the Mission Bay school.

“It’s absolutely upsetting and frustrating to hear loud and clear, from the promises to lack of fulfillment to the BVHM community, but also to many of our other schools,” said school board member Jenny Lam. “It is my view (Mission Bay) has to remain whole. We’re almost at the finish line.”

Others conveyed a sense of betrayal over delays to long-awaited relocation plans for a district arts center. The project has seen little progress and costs are now estimated to be close $400 million — a hefty price tag given SFUSD’s $116 million structural deficit. The district also must contend with a 6.4% decline in enrollment since the pandemic started, a dip that will cut an estimated additional $35 million in state funds.

In spite of SFUSD’s myriad struggles, BVHM families and staff have expressed anger and frustration over a lack of urgency and broken promises. The community demands a fully-funded renovation of the school.

And yet, due to confusion over the bond language, little progress was made Tuesday. After two and a half hours of discussion, district lawyers recommended postponing the vote over allocating bond measure funds in order to give more time to review amendment language and ensure compliance. Board members will now vote on a revised amendment later this month.

“It’s unfortunate that we are here,” said Board President Gabriela Lopez. “Right now, safety is the ultimate priority. It is an opportunity for this board to make that decision and make that choice for people we’re finally advocating for.”

imojadad@sfexaminer.com

Ida Mojadad

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