Due diligence failure at San Juan School District?
The San Juan Unified School District is worried about an expected wave of middle school-age children in the western end of the school district, i.e. Arden Arcade. Our community has two discrete middle schools: the recently-remodeled Arden Middle School at Watt and Arden and Arcade Fundamental Middle School (a district-wide school) at Watt and Edison. A third middle school has been embedded within Encina High School for some time, but the District eventually figured out that it did not work to have 6th, 7th and 8th graders at the high school. The School District also has quite a few 7th and 8th graders scattered around in various K-8 schools. To improve this situation, the District recently "established" a new middle school at Encina (with its own Principal) and gave it a name. It intends to relocate that middle school's students to a different location. OK, we get it: lots of new kids, including lots of new immigrants and refugees means you have to make room for them in appropriate elementary, middle and high schools. Fine. Then the next question is about the facilities - where do you put these kids?
That question has turned into something of a rush to judgement that has apparently resulted in fast-tracking a significant new middle school to be built at the site of the former Creekside School. It will serve up to 680 students from Ethan to Eastern and from Marconi to Cottage. To get to that decision, it sure looks like the School District's people created their own narrative without checking with the full range of stakeholders - like parents of children whose kids are supposed to attend the new school, neighborhood associations, owners of property adjacent to the site, and other public agencies with specific jurisdictional responsibilities - that would normally be engaged in reaching some kind of understanding about the best use of tax dollars. It's not really clear that the School District reached out for opinions other than those they wanted to hear. Recently, some neighbors observed preparatory work being done at the site and contacted the School District's staff about it. It was the neighbor's first knowledge of the project. The District's response, essentially, was that the decision had been made and it was pointless to be concerned.
It's important to understand that the School District closed Creekside Elementary School years ago and formally declared that the site was surplus school property. Rather than offer other public jurisdictions the opportunity to take over the property (as required by state law), the School District tried to get a developer to buy the land. When no one stepped up, the School District let private companies rent the school - for a charter school, an autism school, etc. - and most recently placed several portable classrooms on the site for use as an adult school specializing in ESL classes for recent immigrants. It is also worthy of note that, while nearly every one would be happy to see the old school buildings replaced with something fresh and new, no one thinks the School District isn't entitled to do something with the site.
The School District projected its enrollments and chose Creekside during Covid and without much fanfare or consultation. That decision process seems to have been made in a silo, with the conclusion a public-be-damned decision. Though some might be tempted to give it a pass, this is a big deal. It's a very big deal, actually, not something to treat lightly. New middle schools aren't cheap. And they will last for a very long time. Decisions of this scale call for due diligence, something that might have gone missing in this case. What is due diligence, you ask? It's collecting and analyzing information before making a decision or conducting a transaction so the deciding party is not held legally liable for any loss or damage. Due diligence is the reasonable exercise of care taken before doing something. It means taking common-sense steps - like undertaking environmental analyses, evaluating supporting infrastructure, asking affected parties if they share your enthusiasm for the solution - before committing tax dollars to a large new building and tinkering with public roads to serve that building. So it seems like the School District has taken a huge risk, using your tax dollars for what could be a half-baked idea. If anything goes sour, guess who will wind up paying for it - you, the taxpayers.
The land is owned and operated by the School District. At the end of the day, though, it is the public's land. It belongs to the entire community. So should the School District do what its staff wants or what the community wants? And, if what the community wants matters, why not engage the community - the WHOLE community? Our elves tell us that people concerned about the School District's determination to barge ahead with a 680-some student middle school at Creekside, a former 400-person elementary school site that was declared surplus property long ago, are planning to be at the next School Board meeting on February 15th, hoping to get the Board Members' attention. We'll post more information to this page as it comes to us.