Our newsletter will bring you news, policy developments, and best practices as we discuss facilities, real estate, and design.
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With this unprecedented—and hopefully never repeated—school year nearing completion, it’s not too soon to think about the fall, what school districts will do, what charter schools will do, and what reopening schools will look like.
Welcome to this edition of FRED (facilities, real estate and design) News, as we continue to follow developments in the charter school facility space, including a changing real estate market and a good policy decision out of Los Angeles.
Kudos to the Los Angeles Unified School District School Board
We are all grateful to the thousands of teachers who went above and beyond to provide distance learning to millions of students this spring—and we are grateful to the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) School Board for standing firm against the teachers union (UTLA), which used the pandemic to once again attack public charter schools.
Even as LAUSD, and the charter schools within its boundaries, scrambled to scale up remote teaching and learning, UTLA members were picketing charter schools co-located in district-run schools. UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl sent a letterto Superintendent Austin Beutner, demanding that the district halt first-time charter school co-locations slated to begin in this fall. (Since 2000, the state lawknown as Prop. 39 requires California school districts to make unused district facilities available to public charter schools serving students who reside in the district.)
However, in the board’s first remote session open to the public since the shutdown, the five attending board members unanimously shot down Caputo-Pearl’s demand. They approved renovations at 68 facilities so that charter schools can co-locate there.
The board’s action makes good sense for a number of reasons, and not just equity. In proposed economic-downturn forced budget cuts, which will be felt across the nation, LAUSD’s general revenue fund stands to lose $500 million. The recession will require school districts everywhere to explore any and all avenues to generate revenue and avoid layoffs. Now would be a good time for school districts everywhere to swallow their ideology and sell or lease unused facilities to charter schools, before they begin taking advantage of cheap, vacant commercial space, of which there is likely to be a surplus. It would also be a good time for charter schools in need of a facility to investigate whether there is space capacity in their district, and initiate the conversation.
Don’t miss these webinars!
With the weather warming up and COVID-19 stay-at-home restrictions easing, it’s time to get (safely) outside and let go of the binge watching that kept us semi-sane these many months. But before you go outside, we have a few webinars that you may have missed.
Education Board Partners (EBP) provides strategies for charter school boards dealing with a facilities project during this time of insecurity in its webinar, Facilities Projects in a Time of Risk and Uncertainty: Advice for Charter School Boards. EBP convened national experts Rich Billings, a partner at Charter School Growth Fund, and David Umansky, CEO of Civic Builders to share advice, resources, and guidance. In one of the bright spots in the enriching, hour-long discussion, Rich points out that a softening labor market is usually good for education, while David observes that while charter schools are certainly challenged, in the eyes of lenders they may stack up much stronger than other nonprofits, like theaters and arts associations. The webinar also makes it a point to address the facilities question for single-site schools as well as larger networks.
Earlier this month, the Facility Center produced, Charter Schools and COVID-19: What Does it Mean for Financial Planning, Access to Capital, Credit Ratings and Stakeholder Communications. Our presentation offered guidance to charter school leaders and financial managers who are, like schools everywhere, facing unprecedented challenges as they navigate their organization’s response to COVID-19 and plans for the next school year.
Last month, we highlighted a webinar on construction amidst the pandemic. One school, Acadiana Renaissance Charter Academy, in Youngsville, La., is showing how this can be done with plans to open a high school branchin August, undeterred by uncertainty surrounding the structure of the new school year amid the pandemic. The charter school group broke ground on an $8.7 million addition in January and have continued construction all spring. The 40,000-square-foot building, the first phase of an eventual 6-12 campus, will have 14 classrooms, a multipurpose space, office spaces and a small gym and recreational space. The school will later add a 600-seat high school building. The charter program will launch its high school with a ninth-grade class in August, which will be housed in the new building while the high school quarters are under construction.
A new resource for answers to your burning facility questions
Some schools need more than a webinar. With that in mind, we invite all of our subscribers to join our new Charter School Facility Users Group. This is the place to ask any facility-related questions, propose new ideas or policies, or share facility-related news. We hope it provides school personnel, especially new school staff, a place to learn and find information. We will moderate this to try to maintain the balance between offering solutions and becoming a self-promotion forum. Click here to subscribe.
The Schoolhouse Network: a resource for rural communities
Most charter schools face facilities challenges, including those in rural communities. Another new free resource has just launched to connect current or prospective rural charter schools to the organizations that work to support them, including government agencies, authorizers/districts, and nonprofits. It’s called The Schoolhouse Network. There, you’ll find guidance on the USDA Rural Development’s Community Facilities Direct Loan and Grant Program and the Guaranteed Loan Program and technical assistance for rural charter schools. The USDA has loaned or awarded more than $600 in financing to 100 rural charter schools since 2008. We also hope the website will foster active collaboration among project participants. Check out The Schoolhouse Network, ask for help, and join the rural charter community!
One example of the USDA rural charter school loan program in action is the Pagosa Peak Open School (PPOS) Building Corporation in rural southern Colorado. Itreceived a direct loan from the USDA to buy the building in which it had been renting space since 2017. The $2.9 million loan is at 2.375 percent for 40 years. PPOS bought the building for $4.4 million. It paid the balance with a $600,000 Community Development Block Grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, $1 million donation and some cash reserves. It hopes to complete renovations within 12 months.
Until next month, stay safe and—in the words of Stephen Dubner of Freakanomics—take care of yourself and, if you can, someone else, too.
The Charter School Facility Center is an initiative of the National Alliance of Public Charter Schoolsto create a more equitable landscape for charter school facilities through innovative solutions, improved policies, and building local capacity by training charter school operators. We thank the U.S. Department of Education for initial funding for this effort. For more information, please visit our website or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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