The process by which some folks have come to the conclusion that a charter high school is needed Downtown is nothing if not comical.
First, supporters of a campaign to build a grand main library came up with the idea to put an elementary school in the library as a way of capturing school-construction dollars to augment their flagging fund-raising efforts. When that idea hit a legal roadblock, they replaced the elementary school with a high school. But that hit a snag, too. So, now, they've replaced the public high school with a charter high school, and they're off and running again.
Why does the phrase “Only in San Diego” keep coming to us?
This narrative, which we feel should be scored with up-tempo piano music from the 1920s, should offend the sensibilities of anyone who holds process in high regard. This is no way to plan for public-school growth.
The library people had it right the first time—that is, if you think schools belong in public libraries. Plans are for the next school built Downtown to be an elementary school. That's what's envisioned by the city's Downtown redevelopment agency and the voter-passed bond initiative that generated the money the library people covet. But the state doesn't want little kids on upper floors of high-rises, so that's how the high-school idea was hatched. But the state wants high-schoolers in super-earthquake-safe buildings, and that would cost too much, so that's where the charter school was born.
Apparently, charter-school kids are more expendable than regular public-school students.
Now, for some reason, we see at least one member of the San Diego Unified School District's Board of Education, Richard Barrera, twisting himself into a pretzel coming up with rationalizations for why this is a fabulous idea.
It's easier to figure out why some city officials like the idea—they're facing a ticking clock on a $20-million state grant for library construction, and this gets them closer to being able to grab that cash. But meeting a deadline on state grant money isn't reason enough to rush such an important and expensive decision, especially when A) no one has demonstrated a need for a high school Downtown, B) funneling the money toward a high school would likely result in no money for the elementary school that is needed, C) this is not how charter schools are normally created and D) the plan hasn't undergone sufficient study from the city's standpoint.
Here's a question: If library supporters believed they needed a nine-story library in order to make room for the city's entire collection of books and other materials and leave space for future growth, how is there suddenly room for a high school in there? If there's room for all the books, future growth and a school, why not just reduce the size and, therefore, the cost of the building? Maybe then we wouldn't need the school's money. If there's not room for all that, are library backers reneging on their promise to make the entire collection available to the public? Wasn't that one of the prime justifications for building a new main library in the first place?
Look, we're in favor of a grand public library; we believe that's something that could generate some serious civic pride. Hell, we might even support a library-construction tax. But that ain't gonna happen, and, sadly, this city can't afford a new library. Library backers haven't come up with enough in private donations to finance it, with or without the state's money. Unless the state is willing to grant more extensions, the city might have to let the state money go and write it off as bad timing.
Are we opposed to a new high school Downtown? Not necessarily, but demographers say the need for an elementary school is more urgent, and even if the case can be made that the area also needs a high school, that case can likely be made elsewhere in the city. Is this how we determine our school-construction priorities—by which ones can help leverage pet projects of a handful of well-connected people?
No, that's the worst way to plan for basic civic needs and spend the public's money.
What do you think? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.