Board okays full middle school for Bay Farm

Board okays full middle school for Bay Farm

Michele Ellson

Alameda’s Board of Education signed off on a proposal to expand Bay Farm Elementary School to include seventh and eighth grade students on Tuesday despite some concerns about the amount of money doing so will cost.

The board voted 4-1 to approve the expansion, with newly sworn in trustee Barbara Kahn casting the sole no vote.

“We have to spread money equitably across the district,” Kahn said.

Bay Farm is home to one of four magnet and innovative school programs the school board approved in 2011. The board okayed a sixth grade there last year but held off on deciding whether to add seventh and eighth grades until now.

On Tuesday the board also signed off on a staff recommendation to wait on adding middle school grades at the new Maya Lin magnet school, in order to give the new, arts-themed program there time to take root.

Adding a seventh grade at Bay Farm will cost up to $129,775 and eighth grade, up to $664,275, with much of the money going toward portables and other facilities changes that would be needed to accommodate the new grades. All told, Bay Farm would have space for two full classes each of seventh and eighth graders, or 128 students.

Seventh grade would be added next year, while eighth grade would start in 2014.

Trustee Margie Sherratt, who voted for the additional grades, said board members didn’t know they would be incurring the additional costs presented Tuesday when the middle school grades were contemplated last year.

“The facility one is pretty mind-boggling,” she said.

District administrators said the placement of portables and an additional bathroom would make up much of the cost; if the district chose to use existing portables instead of buying new ones, the cost to add eighth grade would be closer to $398,000.

In addition to the facilities expenses, the estimated cost to add the seventh and eighth grades at Bay Farm include money for a half-time foreign language teacher and Rosetta Stone, which is a foreign language computer program.

Kahn asked whether the board could consider approving seventh grade at Bay Farm and waiting on eighth grade until district leaders gain a more comprehensive sense of the district’s facilities needs. But Bay Farm principal Babs Freitas said her families would leave the district for private schools if they weren’t assured the eighth grade would be approved.

“If we can’t give them a program that gives them an eighth grade they will go with their feet. They will walk out the door,” Freitas said. She and others said that retaining students could help pay the cost of the additional grades.

The decision capped a broader discussion about middle school choices in Alameda, including decisions about the future of Wood Middle School, which could be forced to undergo radical changes or close unless students’ test scores rise. Wood parents told the board the school’s leaders had effected a “complete turnaround” from what one parent called the “wild West” days of Wood, and they urged the board to keep the school open.

“What I do hear is that parents want a traditional middle school, a traditional, neighborhood middle school. And I know we can’t all fit at Lincoln,” said Jane Grimaldi, a parent with a seventh grader at Wood.

The board wasn’t slated to make a decision about Wood on Tuesday, though Superintendent Kirsten Vital said one is coming. If the test scores don’t improve, the board will face choices that include replacing the school’s staff, changing its curriculum, bringing in outside management, chartering it or shutting it down. Vital said the board may need to make that decision next December.

Vital said the district has put a number of supports in place in an effort to help the school boost its test scores, though Kahn questioned whether the district has done enough. She asked where Wood’s current students would go if the school closes.

“We need to just be creative and just do what we can to improve that school,” Kahn said, adding that she believed approving the money for Bay Farm while Wood is struggling raised a question of equity.

Trustee Trish Herrera Spencer asked why the board didn’t approve a magnet proposal brought forward for Wood last year.

Trustee Mike McMahon said the board had the same frustrations when Chipman Middle School – which became the Academy of Alameda charter – was facing the same test score issues. But he said federal law, which requires radical changes if schools don’t meet test score targets, limits the board’s options.

“I don’t believe the federal government is going to change their law in the next 12 months,” McMahon said. “If this board is going to provide alternatives, we have to wrap it in a budget proposal prepared by June.”

District administrators project that in two years, Wood’s population will drop to a little more than half the 503 students who attend now. As it is, they said they’re struggling to maintain a comprehensive program for students at the school’s current size.

The district reduced the number of students in each classroom as part of its effort to help Wood improve and reduced the number of class periods in each day in order to add instruction in math and English, the subjects being tested. But the school’s foreign language program has been eliminated, district officials said.

The district will spend $378,000 this year for the magnet program at Maya Lin and $352,000 in 2013-2014, a PowerPoint presentation showed, with most of the money paying for additional teachers and staff.

In other business, the board swore in its newest member, Kahn, and returning members Spencer and Niel Tam. The board selected Tam to be its president this year and Spencer as vice president.

The board also received a half-page report from the Measure A oversight committee that said the district spent the parcel tax funds in accordance with funding priorities voters approved and that a staff report the board received on Measure A properly reflected those expenditures. In its report, the committee wrote that district staff had adopted its recommendations for making information on Measure A spending easier for the public to understand and for handling any funds left over at the end of the year.

It also heard a report on the status of Measure C, a $63 million bond voters approved in 2004, from Richard Bartalini, who heads an oversight committee for those funds. The district had about $90 million in combined bond funds, state matching dollars, developer fees and interest that it is using for paint, roofing, windows and other projects at all the district’s schools, and about $3.5 million of that remains.


Al Wright's picture
Submitted by Al Wright on Wed, Dec 12, 2012

Um, I'm confused. The Board signed off on the Bay Farm proposal to install portables for 7th and 8th grades? Why are portables okay for our kids, but not for the district office staff? Remember that conversation from just very recently regarding the need to move district staff into posh digs in Marina Village because portables were a bad investment? Don't get me wrong, I certainly have no problem with middle school grades at Bay Farm, I'm just wondering why paid staff get the fancy space and the kids get temporary housing (that will in all probability remain temporary housing til they fall down). And they even considered (or are considering) re-using portables from another site? Really? Boy, I'll bet those will be really nice once they've been moved. When Bay Farm was built, the plans called for one additional pod of classrooms that was never built. The land is there. The plans are there. If you build it, they will come.

Submitted by Michele Ellson on Wed, Dec 12, 2012

Hey Al,

It sounds like what they would do is either purchase new portables or "repurpose" existing ones on site, though it sounds like the ones they have aren't in particularly good shape. They talked about the placement of the portables too and while it wasn't in the written presentation, it sounds like they could potentially put them somewhere else on campus (eg the playground instead of the back of campus) and maybe save some $$$ that way. And I didn't know that Bay Farm's original plans called for another pod of classrooms, so thanks for sharing that.

Jon Spangler's picture
Submitted by Jon Spangler on Fri, Dec 14, 2012

Al, I would bet that the capital and installation cost of portables is far lower than building new permanent buildings at Bay Farm and that finances dictate that choice. It would of course provide a far better educational environment to construct the pod of classrooms that was originally envisioned, but AUSD is cash-strappped on the capital side of things as well as in its operations. (I agree with your point about the administrative facilities for that reason.)