Friday, March 23 , 2018, 8:34 am | Fair 47º


Carpinteria Still Grappling with Main School’s Future

{mosimage}A closed campus opens a spirited public-private debate, but no quick outcome. 

If deciding to close a school is excruciating, figuring out what to do with the empty building isn’t much easier.

That’s what residents and school officials are learning inCarpinteria, months after the hotly contested closure of one of theoldest schools in the city, Main Elementary.

Underlying the debate are the issues of class and ethnicity. Carpinteria Unified School District Superintendent Paul Cordeiro said he would like to fill the school withan agency or center that caters to low-income families whose childrenare at risk of joining gangs. But many of the neighbors favor proposalsfrom private schools that would keep intact the quiet look and feel ofthe neighborhood.

Initially, things seemed to be moving Cordeiro’s way. Last spring,Santa Barbara City College floated a proposal that would have included,among other things, a prep class for passing the general equivalencydegree for those who haven’t completed high school — commonly known asthe GED. It also would have offered a center where people could receive the help they need to become legal citizens.

But over the summer a group of neighbors successfully chased away the college by raising concerns about traffic and parking.

Now, Cordeiro, who openly favored the City College plan, and the neighbors are butting heads again. And both sides believe they are winning. Meanwhile, the elected school board incharge of making the decision seems to be caught in the middle.

At issue is whether to lease out the school to a well-funded privateschool, which would maximize dollars, or set aside the entire buildingfor a coalition of nonprofit and public entities that would providethings like free pre-school and treatment for people with diabetes.

Thus far, two private schools have produced proposals: The Howard andWaldorf. The neighbors, led by electrical contractor Graeme Tuck, said leasing the campus to another school would not only maintain the building’soriginal use — educating children — but also keep their property values intact.

“Since Day One our concerns have been traffic, parking and hours ofoperation,” said Tuck, who added that a real-estate agent told him thatchanging the use of the school could decrease property values by asmuch as 10 percent. Plus, the private schools have offered to reserve half of the building for the nonprofit agencies that have expressed interest. So far they include the Community Action Committee and First 5.

Meanwhile, Cordeiro, in addition to saying he does not believe the 10 percent figure, said he believes the school district has an obligation to do its best to keep the entire school in the public domain, not just half.

"What you have here is a community with a whole bunch of poor people,"he said. "You have to step up and do something. You can’t keepsqueezing families for rent and housing costs and not see some type offallout in terms of kids."

On Oct. 25, a committee that has spent months trying toformulate a recommendation for the school board on what to do with thedeserted school released its suggestion.

But the list of priorities they produced is abstract, and essentially the tough decision will have to be made by school trustees.

{mosimage}On Thursday night board members made clear they were far fromknowing which way to go in the tension between public and private.

“I’m torn,” said board member Leslie Deardorff. “I agree the school wasbuilt with taxpayer dollars and we need to return it to the community,but one reason we closed Main School is financial things are tough (inthe public sector). The idea of having a tenant that would be reliableis appealing, too.”

Tuck said he was pleasantlysurprised by what the board had to say, in light of his belief that thehand of the advisory committee was guided by the superintendent whoappointed many members.

“They just seemed to be very open,” he said, adding, "The school board, instead of being hand-picked, they are elected."

For his part, Cordeiro said he is pleased with the language of therecommendation that the board formally accepted Thursday night.According to it, top priority is given to entities that are“complementary to the Carpinteria Unified School District.” Private schools, he said, do not fit the bill.

“In this period of economic stress — which causes family stress — I need family service agencies,” he said.

"Somebody could just as easily get stabbed to death inCarpinteria as in Santa Barbara. Then everybody would be saying, ‘Whatare you guys doing about it?’"

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