A mobile office structure will be set up at White Hill Middle School in Fairfax to accommodate special education classes for the Ross Valley Charter school, under an agreement reached earlier this month between the charter and the Ross Valley School District.
By Kerri Brenner | Marin Independent Journal
The 42-by-12-foot modular unit will be installed before school starts again on Jan. 7. It will be near the charter school’s classrooms that are in a special section inside the district’s middle school, said Rick Bagley, Ross Valley School District superintendent.
The charter school occupies eight classrooms inside White Hill. The extra space for special education is being added to comply with terms of a Dec. 3 order made by a Sonoma County judge in a lawsuit brought by the charter earlier this year against the district.
“We believe we have an agreement with Ross Valley Charter that will enable us to provide them with exclusive use of some interior space, without disrupting any of our classrooms at White Hill,” Bagley said in an email. “We expect the unit to be delivered to White Hill toward the end of this month and, weather permitting, hooked-up to power and outfitted with furniture during the first week of January. It is anticipated the unit will be ready for Ross Valley Charter’s use by the time school reopens on Jan. 7.”
Sharon Sagar, RVC board chair, said she was pleased with the agreement, reached in the wake of almost 10 months of litigation in the long-running dispute between the district and the charter. A Sonoma County judge issued a final order in the lawsuit on Dec. 3, after the charter argued that the district’s offer of special education space at Hidden Valley Elementary School in San Anselmo was unacceptable because of the difficulty in transporting students back and forth from White Hill..
“Ross Valley Charter appreciates the ability to quickly reach a compromise with the Ross Valley School District, upon receipt of the judge’s final order,” she said in an email. “The offer of a modular office building on the White Hill campus for the remainder of the year was a creative solution. It makes the most sense for our local schoolchildren, as we wait for the White Hill enrollment to decline further, as smaller classes move up through the grades.
“We hope that, based upon this quick compromise, we can put the past behind us and work just as quickly to reach future creative solutions on behalf of our collective public school children and our community,” Sagar added. “Ross Valley Charter is actively seeking a long-term campus of its own, and is working to secure financing for renovations should a campus be found in our community.”
Bagley said he was not sure of the cost to lease the modular unit. He said some of the expense would likely be offset by rent payments the charter makes for the space.
Ross Valley School District board of trustees chair Anne Capron said she disagreed with the space calculations for the charter. The charter’s use of the eight White Hill classrooms came about after the charter school invoked state Proposition 39, which mandates “reasonably equivalent” space for charter schools inside public school facilities. Under Prop. 39 guidelines, the space calculations are based on the number of in-district students served by the charter.
“It is frustrating for the Ross Valley community that the space allocation was based on another Ross Valley Charter in-district enrollment over-projection, for the second consecutive year,” Capron said in an email. “So they had already received more than a full classroom’s worth of ‘extra’ space. The court case considered only projected numbers, not actual enrollment.”
Capron also noted that last year, “Ross Valley Charter paid a substantial penalty for their 50 (or so) student over-projection. So there may be additional offset to the cost of providing this ‘extra extra’ space if there is another hefty fine.” She added that the charter, “even before the additional space was awarded, had a classroom for every 13 to 15 in-district students — right around half what the district kids at White Hill receive — yet still more space was demanded.”
Sagar disagreed with Capron’s statements.
“Ms. Capron’s calculations are incorrect,” Sagar said in an email. “Based upon our current enrollment, which continues to grow, we will not be paying over-allocation penalties.”
Further, Sagar added that “for over two years, Ross Valley Charter and the district have each asserted very different sets of facts regarding Prop. 39 allocation requirements. Because the district wouldn’t meet to find common ground, Ross Valley Charter was forced to ask the court to provide the space RVC believes its in-district public school students should receive.”