School may have to say ‘No thanks’ to $9M

A San Francisco charter high school may have to reject $9.1 million in state facility funds — provided for campus renovations for an Excelsior district site the school hoped to occupy — because the school district says it doesn’t have enough money to cover the remaining renovation costs.

Leadership High School, founded in 1997, vacated its home at 300 Seneca St. in 2006 and is sharing space with Wilson High School in the Portola district. The school applied for state Proposition 1D grant funding to make the Seneca campus seismically safe — and was counting on matching funds from San Francisco Unified School District bonds, according to Leadership Principal Elizabeth Rood. Last week, Leadership learned that they were awarded $9.1 million from state bonds for the site renovations. District officials, however, say they may not be able to accept the money.

“Since [applying for the grant] … the district has determined 300 Seneca is not a feasible site, as it would require significantly more funding than what is available to bring the school up to code,” district spokeswoman Gentle Blythe said. “The money is tied to the site, so the district cannot accept the funding.”

Although the funds, with matching money from San Francisco school bonds, could pay for renovations to provide access for disabled students and a portion of required seismic renovations, it would take close to $30 million to make the elementary school campus suitable for a high school, district facilities director David Golden said.

Leadership will move in with James Denman Middle School in Balboa Park this summer.

Prop. 1D, approved by California voters in November 2006, raised $10.4 billion in bond funds to repair and build campuses for state public schools, according to Beth Mills, spokeswoman for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Of that, $500 million was set aside for charter schools.

Charter schools are taxpayer-funded public schools that are run independently and do not have some of the same requirementsas district schools. Charter schools, for example, do not have to hire union teachers.

Although Leadership’s application was originally tied to the Seneca property, schools have two years to submit revised site plans and applications before they lose their rights to the bond money, Mills said.

“There are instances where plans change, and we look at them case by case to make sure we’re serving the schools,” Mills said.

Leadership officials are hoping to prove that they can use the Seneca campus, which they used for many years, according to Rood.

“In light of the budget crisis, this grant is a unique opportunity for our city that we cannot simply pass up,” Rood said.

bwinegarner@sfexaminer.com

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