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The Sacramento City Unified School District board is considering a potential campus “swap” for two central city schools – a move that has stirred up a storm of criticism from parents, students and education advocates in the city.
The proposed swap would move the West Campus High School program from its current 58th Street location to the old Sacramento High School facility and replace it with the Sacramento Charter High School program, which is currently at the old Sac High campus.
Proponents of the swap say the move will allow the popular West Campus program to expand and will create an opportunity to establish a non-college preparatory high school program for students in central city neighborhoods.
Opponents of the swap say the current programs are doing just fine as they are – and where they are – and they have the high graduation rates to prove it.
Ultimately, the final decision rests with the seven-member SCUSD board.
A comprehensive high school is one that offers both general academic courses and specialized trade, and technical subjects but does not necessarily have a college prep emphasis.
If a comprehensive program is established on the Sac High campus along with the West Campus program, the two schools would be independent of each other, yet share the same campus facility.
Proponents of the swap say if the West Campus program – which is currently at capacity and has a long waiting list – is moved to a larger facility, the program will be able to expand. That will give more students an opportunity to take advantage of amenities at the Sac High campus, such as a newly refurbished swimming pool, athletic fields and state-of-the-art science labs.
The current West Campus High facility has 863 ninth-12th grade students enrolled, according to Gabe Ross, spokesman for SCUSD.
The Sac High facility has capacity for more than 2,000 students, Ross said Friday, and currently the charter school has just over 900 students – not quite half full.
“Everyone says (the central city neighborhoods) need a high school,” said Phil Pluckebaum, a project manager for the Public Health Institute and a member of the Sacramento Comprehensive High School Coalition.
“The dilemma has always been, where do you put the school?” Pluckebaum said.
The Sacramento Comprehensive High School Coalition, founded in January, is a group dedicated to establishing a high school to serve the central city area.
The proposal of a campus swap is not a new one – the College Glen Neighborhood Association brought it up in 2003 – but, with recent recommendations from the SCUSD Facilities Reuse and Consolidation Committee, the swap idea was revived and has since been getting a lot of attention.
“The question has been persistent for years,” Pluckebaum said. “It just wasn’t fully vetted before.”
The Committee’s recommendation was not initially a “swap,” board member Patrick Kennedy said Friday, because the district doesn’t have jurisdiction over the charter school program – the board is not responsible for how the charter program expands or if it has a waiting list.
The district does have a legal responsibility through Prop. 39 to provide an “equivalent” facility for the charter school as it would make available for a district school of the same enrollment size.
The West Campus facility appears to satisfy this requirement, Ross said, and that is why it is under consideration as a replacement facility for Sacramento Charter High School, if the SCUSD board decides to move the expanding West Campus program onto the Sac High site.
Pluckebaum said Thursday that the coalition’s focus is on providing a “pedestrian-friendly,” neighborhood comprehensive high school.
“We want a high school fed by neighborhood middle schools to be a place where people can walk and ride their bikes to,” Pluckebaum said.
Mayor Kevin Johnson, who was involved in starting the St. Hope Public Schools at the old Sacramento High School facility in 2003, said at a press conference in November that a campus swap would be a mistake by the school board.
“I don’t think any community wants it to happen,” Johnson said. “The West Campus community doesn’t want to move. Obviously, (the) Sac High campus doesn’t want to move – this is just politics.”
For those who oppose a campus swap, the limited number of neighborhood schools is not the issue – a disruption of two successful education programs is the greater problem.
Keiona Williamson, 17, a senior at Sacramento Charter High, appealed to the City Council Nov. 22 to oppose a campus swap.
“(Sacramento Charter High) has cultivated me and my peers into successful young adults,” Williamson said. “Switching the campuses is not only unnecessary, it disturbs the culture that we have worked so hard to build up. Please don’t mess with success.”
Parents of students told the City Council that they are happy with the schools as they are – and where they are.
“My family purchased a home in Sacramento specifically for the schools we would access,” said Debra Larson, a social worker and parent of a West Campus student.
“I am told that West Campus needs to be relocated to the Sac High campus because West is too old and lacks modern amenities,” Larson, 50, said. “We urge you not to believe that our children want a better school. They love their campus.”
Larson said the idea of swapping campuses because one may be inferior in some way would send the wrong message to students and their families.
“I’m horrified that one group of kids would be forced to move into a space vacated because it isn’t good enough for another group of kids,” Larson said. “I am concerned about the message we are sending to both groups of kids and their families if this happens. It is just wrong.”
Members of the SCUSD board have been working on this and other proposals for increasing efficiency within the district for months, Kennedy said Friday – and the work is far from ended.
“I understand the anxiety these things cause,” Kennedy said. “It’s hard on the schools, and on the community at large. But these are conversations that have to take place to make sure we are doing the right things for our students.”
Still, there is no need to rush to any conclusion about what action the board may take, Kennedy said.
“We are just at the data gathering point,” Kennedy said. “There is a lot of work to be done before we can make a decision.”
Ross said that “design teams” – appointed by the principals of each school and comprised of staff, parents, students and neighbors – are studying the potential benefits and drawbacks of a campus swap.
“The superintendent felt the most prudent effort was to get input from all kinds of affected communities about the prospect (of a swap),” Ross said.
When the design teams send their findings to the school board, Ross said, the board will take a closer look at all options.
“I’m not in favor of moving schools and programs just for the sake of moving them,” Kennedy said. “If you can’t prove to me that we are improving things, then I wouldn’t be in support of it.”
Kennedy said that, whatever decision is made, isn’t going to be made in the next month – but he couldn’t estimate a time frame for a decision.
When the SCUSD board meets Thursday, it will hear an update from staff on all the consolidations under consideration, but the board will not vote on anything.
Ross said that, because there is no specific time frame, the soonest the board could be in a position to vote on the situation is Dec. 14.
“Ultimately it’s an advisory recommendation for the board,” Ross said. “Ultimately it’s the board’s decision.”
Melissa Corker is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow her on twitter @MelisaCorker.
Editorial Note: A spelling correction has been made to this story after it was published.