Parents split over possible Montessori school move

A five-hour board meeting on the fate of California Montessori Project’s Capitol Campus ended around 10:45 p.m. Monday night with a resolution: If an assessment says the Marshall School building in which the school resides is not compliant with state building codes, the school must move "expeditiously."

If the assessment, which has still not been made public, says the building does meet minimum state codes, the board will reconvene to decide if the school will move or not.

Nearly 100 people – parents, elementary school students and the California Montessori Project’s nine board members, superintendent and a legal advisor – filled a multipurpose room at the Marshall School in Midtown to see if the school would need to move. They voiced a range of concerns, asked questions and offered suggestions to the board and its director.

The public charter grade school opened at its current location, 2700 G St., on Aug. 17, after eight years of being located in the Pioneer Congregational Church, 2700 L St.

California Montessori Project leases the Marshall School building from the Sacramento City Unified School District, which also oversees its charter.

Last week, parents received a letter from CMP superintendent Gary Bowman saying new SCUSD superintendent Jonathan Raymond had recently performed a study, deeming the building unsafe.

"I don’t think (previous) staff did a thorough job, and that was something that I uncovered when I started," Raymond said to KCRA 3 last Tuesday. "(Students) were already in there, and we started to ask questions (like) ‘Why were they in before we did a thorough review?’"

California public schools are required to pass strict earthquake standards designated in the 1933 Field Act, but since the Marshall School was built in 1903, it does not meet them.

"We know we don’t have Field Act compliance, (because) we predated the Act by a number of years," said Bowman.

As a charter school, however, CMP only needs to meet minimum building requirements and not the Field Act. Their previous location, Pioneer Congregational Church, was not Field Act-compliant.

Bowman told those gathered Monday night that Raymond told him last week, "it’s not your mistake, it’s the city’s mistake." He also said Raymond told him that "we will do everything we can to make it whole," and that he wants to meet again next Tuesday.

A CMP facilities team proposed Jefferson Elementary School, in the College Glen neighborhood, as the best fit for the school to lease. Several parents praised Jefferson’s newer facilities, which include a larger grassy area for children to play, a more modern kitchen and a multipurpose room with a stage.

"In terms of the move itself, SCUSD is going to bring in packers, movers, they’re going to go full tilt to support this move," Bowman added.

However, others felt skeptical of SCUSD’s motives, shocked and betrayed at the sudden news.

"We felt that the building was safe enough," said Cécile Downs, the parent of a kindergartner and a second grader. "To my knowledge the school still has not received any written instructions to move."

Many parents voiced their concern that moving would disrupt students’ education and take parent volunteer hours. Others alleged that the district wanted to rent out the Marshall School, which Bowman denied.

A number of parents demanded transportation to the new school it moves. Some said they would not be able to transport their children because it takes too long.

"This building is over a century old, and I don’t believe there have been any problems related to earthquakes in this building," said Rich, a parent of a first grader who did not give his last name. "There is far more risk to our children driving on the freeway for two hours a day to get to a new location."

The Sacramento Press contacted SCUSD’s public relations office manager Maria Lopez and asked if the Marshall School building violates any codes. She said the code is not the issue.

"Our superintendent said that no students should be in any structures not compliant with the Field Act," Lopez said. "There’s a little bit of a grey area on whether independent charters (should) go into non-Field Act-compliant structures. Some think that they can, some think that they cannot."

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October 28, 2009 | 12:16 AM

Wait, the last paragraph raises a question that is key here: does the school need to move under the filed act?

Is this a decision that is required or a choice of the powers that be?

October 28, 2009 | 1:21 PM

Just to clarify the last paragraph, as Mr. Burg has stated below, charter schools don’t have to conform to the Field Act.

As the story states, the school’s previous building for eight years was also not Field Act compliant.

As far as I understand, Lopez seemed to reinforce the Superintendent’s maxim that no students, even charter school students, should be in non-Field Act-compliant buildings. At the same time she acknowledged that parents and others feel charter school students are legal and safe in those buildings. Hence a “grey area” of debate on where students “should” be.

Article Author
October 28, 2009 | 8:55 AM

Put simply, charter schools don’t have to conform to the Field Act. There’s no gray area about it.

The district is applying non-charter rules to a charter school. The district has an ongoing policy of trying to make money off some of their “under-utilized” properties, including exploring the possibility of selling off their historic buildings like the old administration building on 16th & N, the Fremont School, and the current site of the Met at 8th & V. I wonder if they have plans to sell off or lease off the property in return for a more “rewarding” project on the site, like condos or retail?

Moving the school to College Glen puts it well outside the central city, an area that has been losing students. But is the neighborhood losing students because of a lack of kids, or because central city schools are underperforming? Losing a Montessori charter school with a good track record seems like it would make things worse, not better.

Educational code allows community schools to be non Field Act compliant if they do not pose a significant structural hazard; if the school poses such a hazard, what is the hazard and can steps be taken to remedy it?

Historic buildings have an option to follow the California Historic Building Code, which grants exemptions to some regulations regarding earthquake safety and current building codes. I wonder if using the Historic Building Code would allow exemption from Field Act requirements? Keeping a positive amentiy like a school in the neighborhood (especially one named for the school) and keeping a historic building active and occupied seems like a worthwhile goal.

October 28, 2009 | 9:55 AM

Using policy to stop independent thought and education.. Him havent seen this before.

I hope they stand their ground.

October 28, 2009 | 10:20 AM

This whole mess is what SCUSD and other school districts are famous for and why they don’t manage their money efficiently–repeated poor and costly moves and decisions as as result of ignorance and infighting. SCUD’s justification smacks of internal fighting and politics, which the taxpayer pays for and its school board members seem to do no research on their own but act like bobble heads. Where are THEY on this issue?

Burg makes key points, which the Supt and SCUSD board should be looking at! It is also obvious that Marshall School is not the only elementary school in the district that does not meet all “required” standards. So why focus on Marshall, the original quality materials and construction, as well as upgrades, of which is far superior to any of the cheaply built recent ones?

Again where are SCUSD BOARD MEMBERS on this issue? Or am I asking too much that they would have the ability to comprehend the complexities of the matter? After all, they are products of our public educational system.

October 28, 2009 | 2:51 PM

I spent the past year looking for a school for my kindergartner in the SCUSD. I went to lots of meetings with staff and administrators from various standard public, magnet, and charter schools, and I even went to a few school board meetings. My impression, and this is just MY impression, is that the traditional SCUSD hierarchy is the 300 lb gorilla in the room, with everyone else afraid of making it upset. The charters and magnet schools, while being quite excellent, are sometimes seen by the larger SCUSD as drawing away students from the standard school system. It was a refrain I heard at several charter and magnet campuses that made me realize just how threatened the larger bureaucracy feels, “…we are not here to replace the existing system. We don’t want to make waves. We are here to offer an educational option for committed parents.”

October 29, 2009 | 11:23 AM

Reading the last 2 paragraphs of your article I am now very confused. There is no grey-area, it is very white (or black): charter schools don’t have to comply to the field act… I can’t believe that someone at the District would tell you that “the code” is not the issue… What is the issue then????

October 29, 2009 | 2:30 PM

She said, “The Field act is our primary concern, the superintendent wants the children in buildings meeting the higher standard.”

Article Author
October 29, 2009 | 12:05 PM

According to what we have been told, the issue is not the Field Act (which Charter schools do not have to conform to), it is the California Building Standards Code which the school allegedly failed.
As a natural born cynic, I’m wondering whether the report included the ‘Annex’ to Marshall School – a building that is not used, is marked as unsafe and should probably be torn down. Nothing like extending the frame of reference when the results don’t match what you want.
But we will only find out for sure when THE BLOODY REPORT IS MADE PUBLIC!!!!

November 2, 2009 | 12:48 PM

several documents have been made available to the public on the CMP website.

October 29, 2009 | 12:18 PM

Why is the report not public? One would think that the report about the safety of the building is now at the heart of the matter. Is there a formal process that makes public reporting of building assessments difficult?

Why would a parent accept moving if there are no reasons to move made public? I guess I don’t get it.

November 2, 2009 | 12:47 PM

It is on the CMP website.

October 29, 2009 | 5:30 PM

Ben I. – We parents have been desperately emailing & sending letters to the SCUSD board & of course our own governing board for the past 10 days or so (when we found out about this move). We have been asking (demanding) the report and for many of our other questions to be answered. We each are getting rubber stamped general messages that are really long & wordy but literally DO NOT ADDRESS the questions at all. The have not denied us the report and they have not given us the report. They just do not address the issue and continue to say the same one liner- “I will continue to work with the Director and Principal to assist in
the pending transition. The District and CMP are planning a meeting to listen to your concerns”
The “pending transition” means that no matter if they show the report or not…we ARE MOVING.
The meeting is next Tuesday AT THE JEFFERSON SCHOOL preceded by an “Open House”….so it appears that they will not allow this “public document” to be public, even though it is the alleged evidence that is causing the move?

William Burg is exactly right. Before they moved us there over the summer…….there were rumors that there were other interested parties….but we were moved there anyways. Then BAM…we need to leave. I’m sure that there is something more financially advantageous in store for the Old Marshall.

It does seem completely out of our hands now though. The move is happening on the 11th…packing begins Monday the 2nd! SAD SAD SAD.

October 29, 2009 | 6:14 PM

Um, I think that this behavior by the district toward your charter appears possibly persecutory to me. First, they move you over the summer. Then they break your agreement to use that property, and move you in the middle of the year to a location that had a school that they….*drum roll*…. closed down last summer?!

Moreover, the location is exactly the *worst* choice for parents from midtown to commute their kids to. It is in the middle of a neighborhood that is far from transit and freeway access, along THE most congested freeway corridor in Sacramento. It seems clear to me that someone wants to make it difficult to send CMP’s existing kids to school.

Let me add that the parents around this school were also dropkicked by the District- their school was shut down last spring, after the district handed down a report that stated the District would work to improve the school in a School-Based Coordinated Program (SCCP) found here:

More information on the school can be found at google maps:

This raises questions about how the District is spending its money, because it had expended funding on coming up with this plan, allocated further tens of thousands of dollars to this school in the plan, and then shut it down with no notice. I don’t know what else to make of this, because I would need a lawyer to work out all of the bureaucratic chicanery and shell games that I have seen so far.

November 3, 2009 | 11:47 AM

Rather than blame SCUSD why not put blame where it truly belongs first and foremost: on to the Superintendent of CMP, Gary Bowman.

If any of the parents remember attending the July 200 town hall mtg (re: another location issue for this charter school) they would all remember Mr. Bowman emphatically stating that he could not and would not, at that time, select the Old Marshall school site because he was not 100% sure that the building was appropriate and could not morally place all the children in harm’s way. Why was the builidng suddenly appropriate one year later, when the previous summer it was not?

I believe CMP and SCUSD may have had a private negotiation in that it was ackknowledged CMP had to leave the pioner church due to immediate location adequacy issues and the old marshall school was a close option. After due time, SCUSD may have planned to announce the lack of compliance for the charter school at the new site, and then the program would have to move to the thomas jefferson elementary school, while SCUSD takes full responsibility for the “oversight”. You can’t tell me negotiations like that don’t ever happen!

For goodness sake, place blame appropriately: on to the the Superintendent of CMP who has proven to be a non-advocate (especially in his 5 years of oversight for the Mid-town location). He continues to lack repsonsible and reasonable oversight for the program on many other levels, proven by doing a poor job finding suitable accommodations for the mid-towm program to grow at, while providing a smoke screen by hiring a deputy director this last academic school year to do all future site evalautions for him. Please place blame where blame should be.

And then please, parents, just drive 6 more miles east and be grateful for new and larger accommodations so the Montessori program can accommodate more elementary students and also extend to junior high.

like it or leave it, I believe Bowman has used adopted that perspective before –specifically at the July 2008 town hall meeting.

…just more food for thought

October 28, 2009 | 2:00 PM

No, I don’t know what you mean…care to go into detail?

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