WATSONVILLE—A charter school that opened in Pajaro Valley Unified School District in 2019 – and which was tentatively slated to move into the former Gottschalk’s building on Main Street for the 2020-21 school year – will remain at E.A. Hall Middle School for at least another year.
That will mean adding more classrooms – likely at the district’s expense – to accommodate the expected increase in students.
The trouble, said PVUSD Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez, is that the district does not have the funds to pay for the expansion.
Navigator Schools, which runs Watsonville Prep School on the middle school’s campus, requested four additional classrooms on Wednesday, which will include a library, two third-grade classrooms and a special education classroom.
Under a state law known as Prop. 39, PVUSD is legally obligated to provide the facilities.
The district already provides seven portable rooms at the school, along with a mobile restroom. Watsonville Prep uses the school’s kitchen, but PVUSD does not provide food.
The work required to ready the existing facilities – which included parking lot upgrades – cost the district about $500,000, Rodriguez said.
Watsonville Prep started with 180 students in kindergarten through second grade, and plans to add one grade per year until it has an eighth grade. The school’s charter calls for a total of 420 students when fully operational in 2023.
The already cash-strapped district will be hard-pressed to find the funds for the new request, Rodriguez said, adding that such hardship has no bearing on districts’ requirement to pay for facilities under Prop. 39.
The PVUSD Board of Trustees approved a plan for Rodriguez and Chief Business Officer Joe Dominguez to negotiate with the charter organization for the work.
Under state law, the district must submit an offer by today. An agreement must be finalized by April 1.
When asked if Navigator is willing to share the cost of the facilities, Navigator CEO Kevin Sved was “open to exploring partnerships with the District.”
“We’ve been open from the beginning,” he said.
Sved said that Navigator paid for a Jan. 23 feasibility study by Watsonville-based architectural firm Spector Corbett Architects Inc. He also said that the organization has not complained about having “inadequate facilities.”
“Most schools have libraries,” he said. “Most schools have playground equipment. We know that the district has stretched itself to be able to provide what they have. So we’re being very grateful for what has been provided.”
Sved said that school districts receive state and federal funds to run their day-to-day operations, and that, as a public school, Watsonville Prep is entitled to a piece of those funds.
“It is within our legal rights to request the facilities,” he said.
Navigator announced in December that it had finalized an agreement with the Hansen Family Trust to occupy the second floor of the Gottschalks building at 407 Main St.
Project developers said the school’s move-in date would be in time for the 2020-21 school year, but Sved said that prediction was premature.
“We hadn’t yet received approval from the city,” he told the board. “So while that is our hope it’s way too early to know whether that vision can be realized.”
The item passed unanimously and without discussion by a board clearly unhappy about the decision.
“I understand our legal obligations, but the reality is that this charter school, while they may be fine people, is hurting our district as a whole,” said Board Vice President Jennifer Holm.