January 26, 2008

Prop C Part 3: Valley School Gets No Fortuitousness

Valley School Portable Classrooms

 Originally, I had only planned to write 2 posts on Prop C.  But  after I saw the Jan 19th pro-Prop C  opinion piece in the SDUT  I knew I was going to have to respond to the comments about Valley School.
Valley Elementary, with 650 students and 100 preschoolers, is a prime example of "before." Built in 1980, it is languishing without more repair money. Garden Road Elementary is a good example of "after," an aging school with 500 students that was fortuitously high on the priority list because it was built in 1961.
At Valley Elementary, Principal Andrew Johnsen's students see not grass but sand bags in front of some rooms. There is no food preparation area so meal service makes the multipurpose room anything but. Fifteen tired modular buildings lack water (try teaching art class without water for cleanup) or modern heating and cooling systems. Third-grade teacher Marissa Ochoa made the county's top 10 list, despite a classroom where even a modest rain sends water streaming onto the shelving. Counselors are free of distractions when they give guidance -- they should be, they are housed in a windowless shed.

First of all, Valley School was  not built in 1980. It was built  in 1962, the same year as Poway High School, and a  year after Garden Rd.  But that didn't help Valley from being placed unfortuitously low on the district's priority list; at least 12 other schools, many less vintage than Valley, got their makeovers first.  

Second, Valley School did have a food preparation area in 1977. I know that because I was "room mother"  of my son's first grade class and I used Valley's ovens to bake cookies after the kids decorated them.  The ovens may have worked,  but the  heating system was already crapping out. Despite Mrs Parke's valiant efforts to warm her classroom with  space heaters, ever watchful that her young students didn't trip over them, 3 of the little ones succumbed to pneumonia that winter. Even back then, PUSD was notorious for deferring maintenance and letting things go to shit!

I am astonished that after passing a $198 million bond only 5 1/2 yrs ago, the district would have the gall to parade such  stunning examples of misappropriation and neglect in front of the media. I am particularly disgusted that the PUSD  school board would entertain the possibility of leasing Brent Wilkes' shiny blue, high tech building in the industrial park while kids were shivering in cold rooms with leaky roofs. How could they possibly choke down  food  at their  breakfast meetings with the superintendent, knowing that,  as they dined on the taxpayer's dime, counselors were meeting with Valley students in windowless sheds? 

My children were fortuitously in and out of Valley School before the mobile classroom era arrived. That whole  phenomenon started in the early 80s after some industry shill got the California legislature to require that all new school construction contain a hefty percentage of relocatable classrooms. Portables soon started popping up at existing school sites, the perfect, made-for-the-developer-solution to overcrowding.  At the time, the  Valley School community was still blissfully unaware of the changes that were on the horizon, changes that would begin when the Poway Redevelopment Agency, the biggest developer to ever ride  into town, was formed in 1983.

Redevelopment is a state program aimed at eliminating blight in urban areas. Poway's redevelopment area is huge- it's bigger than San Diego's.  Most of the land that Poway selected for their redevelopment area wasn't blighted or even urban, it was undeveloped vacant land.  That's because Poway would get to claim all of the property taxes on anything that got built in the redevelopment area. The only catch was that Poway was required to use 20% of that money for affordable housing.  

As you can imagine, other cities tried to get in on the redevelopment cash cow too. By 1990, redevelopment abuse was so out of control, that the  state passed a reform measure, AB1290. One of the stipulations of AB1290 was that redevelopment agencies had to give back some of the property tax they had siphoned off from other taxing entities like school districts and community college districts.  The money would "pass through" the redevelopment agencies and go directly to the school district- unless the school district and the agency had a pre-existing agreement. Before the new law was implemented, Poway  worked out just such an  agreement with PUSD whereby Poway would pay for the Poway Performing Arts Center, some multipurpose buildings and joint use sports fields and PUSD would forego the "pass-through". 

Instead of having a pot of money they could use  to mend Mrs. Ochoa's roof and fix countless other high priority problems that affect the safety and well being of our children, PUSD opted to let Poway Redevelopment Agency build sports fields and a Performing Arts Center.  

That's not the only bad decision PUSD and the Poway Redevelopment Agency colluded on. Every time the Poway Redevelopment Agency wanted to approve an affordable housing project, like Hillside Village or Parkview Terrace, they were required to ask PUSD if the project would have a negative impact on the schools. If PUSD found that there was a negative impact, the Poway Redevelopment Agency would have been required to mitigate that impact. 

Each and every time Poway asked, PUSD responded that there would be no negative impact; they gave Poway the green light to proceed.   Although I (and others) warned the city and PUSD about the impact to Valley School, our voices were ignored.

No school in Poway was more impacted by affordable housing construction than Valley. All of the first family housing projects were clustered near Valley School. As each project was finished, the ratio of Valley 's students who were poor increased. Today, almost half the Valley population receives free or reduced price lunches.  Yet Poway and PUSD worked out a strategy so that they could deny  that the overcrowding was  caused by affordable housing projects. 

Before Hillside was built, Poway hired a consultant, "Southwest Strategies" to try to make affordable housing more palatible to the community. In a Dec 15, 2004 memo,  Deborah Johnson (Poway Redevelopment Director) summarized a joint Poway-PUSD meeting that discussed a pamphlet that would eventually be produced by Southwest Strategies. 
POWAY UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT- Staff met with the superintendent, deputy superintendent and the director of planning for Poway Unified. The group agreed to jointly author and publish a pamphlet with information about local elementary schools and affordable housing developments. The pamphlet will conclude that affordable housing developments do not negatively impact local schools.
In April, 2005,  John Collins (PUSD Deputy Superintendent) responded to Ed Carboneau's CPRA request for information about that meeting.
Please be advised that Poway Unified School District is unaware of the matter to which you are referring.

While we have discussed the proposed affordable housing developments with staff from the City, our only discussion regarding the potential impact on district schools was related to the number of students generated from these various developments.
A second memo (Dec 15, 2004) by Ingrid Alverde, Poway's manager of housing programs also claims that the joint meeting was held and that PUSD had agreed to co-operate on a brochure claiming that affordable housing developments do not negatively impact schools.
The group agreed to collabratively develop an informational flyer/brochure presenting information about the affordable housing developments and the neighboring schools, concluding that affordable housing developments do not negatively impact schools. The piece could be jointly published and shared as information to interested community groups and parents associations.
Poway and PUSD decided to bamboozle us with a little propaganda.  We were supposed to believe that those 15 substandard trailers at Valley were filled with kids who did NOT come from the affordable housing projects.  Ah...right. At this meeting, Poway and PUSD went one step further.   They  settled on a  new "student generation" figure of 0.3 students from each MFA (multiple family apartment). 

Get it? PUSD would allow Poway to figure the impact on the schools was only 0.3 student per MFA. That is less than 1/3 of a student from every 3 or 4 bedroom apartment.  By comparison, in 1992 PUSD had actually counted the number of students living in various apartment complexes. The pupil yield in the Garden Apartments in Los Penasquitos was 0.813 students per unit; in Poway Villas, it was 0.617 students per unit.  The overall average (which also included the Leisure Life and Village Apartment complex in PQ) was 0.505. 

Just like that, the student generation figure dropped from 0.505 students per MFA to 0.3 per MFA. PUSD officials have told me that they do not even have a way to verify if their current number (0.3) is accurate. So, just like that, 15 substandard trailers are now the taxpayers' problem and not the Poway Redevelopment Agency's problem.

I am voting  NO on Prop C.  I care about kids. I want PUSD to start telling the Poway Redevelopment Agency that the voters aren't going to put up with this anymore. If the redevelopment agency wants to build more shopping centers and affordable housing projects, then they are going to have to pay for the impact on our schools. The kids deserve it. 


archshrk said...

I hope you've had a chance to see what has been done at Valley Elementary School this past year. Quite frankly one of the best makeovers of any of the Poway schools and something to be proud of.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, that was extremely valuable and interesting...I will be back again to read more on this topic.

Anonymous said...

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