By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
It seems to me like we're on the verge of coming up with a very good 30-year plan for building schools. But that won't solve the immediate problem of the next five years. So, what's the five-year plan while we're waiting for the 30-year plan to take effect?
In the last 17 years, they built 2,000 seats per year on the average. In the next five or six years, we're going to build 12,000 seats per year. And even with that, we're going to be further behind five years from now than we are now, because having built 65 schools, we're going to have 80,000 new students. So the numbers don't work. Therefore our strategy is, build new, but also rent existing space.
I've been working out a deal with the DWP on the Anthony building. We've bought the building, but we'll lease back two-thirds of it to the company and use the remaining third to create a 1,200-seat academy right across the street from Polytechnic. I'd like to do that at the Port Authority and LAX. We also ought to do it with 10 to 15 private companies. We need to say to them, "We need space for a thousand high school youngsters." We'd get high school space and also develop strong relationships for kids with the world of work. We also need to use charter schools and virtual schools.
Now that it takes just 55 percent of the voters to pass school bonds, do you have plans to get some school bonds out there?
I will have plans, but I don't have them now. First we need to produce. We need to prove to this community that we can build these buildings correctly, on time, without environmental hazards.
Does Belmont have a role in easing the space crunch?
Within a week of arriving here, I began looking at Belmont. It would provide 4,000, 5,000 seats. And I think it's almost a moral problem not to allow these kids to have space to learn. We've got a real crunch. We've got 65,000 seats being built, but we'll be further behind at the end of that five years' time. It's kind of like, if you're rescuing somebody out of the swimming pool, and you bring them up within two feet of the surface, that feels like progress, because they were on the bottom. You feel good about it, but they're still going to drown.
So how would you propose going forward with Belmont?
The first week I was here, I made the point that we should at least finish the environmental investigation. We need all the facts in order to make a reasoned decision. Then you can make a disposition of this property, either as a school or something else. I decided not to press the issue until after the election.
Did you get an appeal from Governor Gray Davis to keep Belmont out of the news until voters could pass Proposition 39 [which lowers the voter-approval threshold on school bonds from 66 percent to 55 percent]?
I got communication from his office that raising the issue during the elections was not helpful. Now it's after, and I mean to go back and finish my conversation with the board. My approach is, finish the environmental investigation, get the facts on the table, and let the facts drive the solution. We might dispose of the property. We might turn it into a charter school. I know there's a lot of history that preceded me, and I need to be respectful of this board. But I also have an obligation to problem-solve.
A minute ago, you mentioned the notion of virtual learning. Can you elaborate?
I'm absolutely convinced there's more learning available through virtual learning, online learning, than we are utilizing, and I think that can be translated into a space alternative, if we're smart enough.
Do you mean not bringing kids together in the classroom?
Let me give you a wild one. We now close a high school down at 3 in the afternoon. What if you had another crew of kids out there who had been studying online, in the morning and early afternoon? Then you bring them on campus from 3 to 6 for that social interaction. I'm not proposing that yet, but I think it's worth studying. We're in such shape, we've got to think of every idea; we've got to think outside the box.
Can we afford to build the number of schools we need?
That's the huge question: Where do you get the money? When you put kids in a sardine can the way we've been doing in this district, there is an economy of scale. If you put kids into something livable, you've got to pay for it, and it's more than just the cost of the building. This district has been saving money by packing people like sardines. You put another 100 schools out there, you've got another 100 principals to pay, and office staff and janitors. That issue is not on the table clearly enough in the union negotiations. I'm trying to get it there. Can you see the argument? Everything I've ever heard from the union is, "You've got the money; spend it." Nobody has ever calculated what it will cost to provide adequate space for kids. That's not in anybody's budget.