Just two years ago, the district looked at its slumping enrollment and decided that it could squeeze itself into six elementary schools and give up Slater School, which it signed over to Google for $650,000 a year on a five-year lease.
Today, the district is watching its enrollment shoot upward, reaching near capacity at all elementary campuses. Current enrollment numbers were not expected until 2011.
And now the district faces a new problem: The highly regarded and popular PACT program (Parents, Children, Teachers), with 160 students, is outgrowing its home on the Castro campus. So last month, members of the school board discussed spending nearly $2 million to build a new home for PACT at the district office on San Pierre Way. By doing so, space would open at Castro School and the pressure to accommodate more students would be relieved.
It's an appealing option, but expensive, even after the $2 million. That's because a new PACT campus would be housed in a site now being leased to the YMCA. Counting lost rent and additional expenses, the new campus would cost the district $400,000 a year to maintain.
And as longtime board member Ellen Wheeler immediately pointed out, now is not the time to be spending such a large sum when the outlook for state education funding is so bleak. Wheeler raised the issue of salary increases for teachers, asking rhetorically, "Do we say no teacher raises, but we are going to spend $400,000 a year to move PACT?"
It's a tough question, and one the district will continue to ponder. But it is difficult to ignore the bind the district created when it gave up Slater School, along with the capacity to house more than 300 students, back in 2006.
Equally difficult to ignore is the almost certain loss of about $1.5 million in state revenue that is expected to be announced in the next few months. Couple that with the $2 million price tag for a new PACT building, and the loss of $400,000 a year, and the district is looking at a huge financial burden in its near future.
Meanwhile, the students continue to pour in. As for taking back Slater School, that can't happen until the 2011-12 school year — and, of course, it comes with its own debilitating loss of the $650,000 a year in rent which Google pays the district. That may be the cheaper option, however, compared to the alternative of building a whole new campus.
Given the sour economy and the rotten outlook for state funding, the best course is for the district to shepherd its resources for the benefit of all its students, not just the 160 in the PACT program. Now is not the time to commit to even a minor building project.