Sequoia funding won’t be enough for charter school

The Sequoia High School District is poised to spend $1.65 million on property for a local charter high school, but building a campus on the site will require new bond money.

The district’s board will be asked tonight to approve the purchase of the land on Myrtle Street in East Palo Alto, across the street from East Side Prep. If approved, the move would cap nearly five years of searching for a home for East Palo Alto Charter High School, district Finance Director Ed LaVigne said.

East Palo Alto Charter High School is part of a K-12 charter school operated by the Ravenswood School District. Because its high school students live within the Sequoia district boundaries, Sequoia is required under state law to provide a campus for those students, Sequoia Superintendent Pat Gemma said.

Providing space for another charter school, Summit Preparatory High School, has proved “hugely expensive,” Gemma said. “On Summit alone, we spent about $11 million. It gets up there.”

The district also recently spent $2.4 million to purchase the Redwood Baptist Church property on Fifth Avenue, where it will eventually build a campus for its adult and trade school, Gemma said.

While the district has the money to buy the Myrtle Street property, it doesn’t have the funds to build a new campus — and is weighing a new bond measure that would pay for that and other district-wide upgrades, said Don Gibson, a district trustee. The construction cost for a bare-bones school is roughly $500 per square foot, and the school might need as much as 20,000 square feet of space, LaVigne said.

Officials with East Palo Alto Charter High School did not return calls for comment Tuesday. The school is using space in one of Ravenswood’s campuses, at 1286 Runnymede St.

The school’s leaders are hoping to grow to a size of 400 students, but trustees may want to see it go as high as 500, Gibson said.

“There may be a need for a larger school, and if they’re willing to do that, it’ll be better for the community,” Gibson said.

Meanwhile, the board may decide before the end of this monthwhether to go out for another bond, one that would cost homeowners roughly $10 per year per $100,000 of assessed value. If approved, the bond could go before voters in February, Gemma said.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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