Facility Search for 2013 and Beyond

Posted by on Apr 1, 2012 | 0 comments

 

Even though a final decision hasn’t been made yet about our site for fall 2012 (decision to come between staying at Shoong or potentially an OUSD site), we have  started to define criteria for a mid-term site that will serve us starting in fall 2013 for the following two to four years.

Parents will have the opportunity to provide input on a which facility criteria and features are most important to them through the parent survey that is being conducted this week. Please be sure to look for and complete this survey!

Here is some background on charter school facilities as well as the focus and criteria for Yu Ming’s mid-term site.

 

Finding a charter school facility

Finding a facility is a significant challenge for nearly every charter school, and in almost all cases requires some trade-offs.  Good school facilities with adequate space and typical school features at a reasonable cost are in scarce supply.  And building or renovating a commercial space can require rezoning, substantial cash, and time. In addition, many charters – including Yu Ming – start at a small size with just a few grades, and need ever-bigger facilities as the school matures, but don’t have the revenues to cover a permanent site until they are close or at their full enrollment capacity.

As we start looking for our “mid-term” site – to carry us through to our fifth or sixth year – a few of the major considerations at hand, in addition to specific criteria that we hope to find in a site, include:

  • identifying a facility that will be accessible for the most families (present and future) possible;
  • finding a site that enables us to add to our current program and grow towards our vision of a world-class academic institution that develops well-rounded, globally minded and socially responsible students;
  • finding a site is financially viable, with the right balance between investing in a mid-term site that we will eventually grow out of vs. using those funds for our educational program or to start a fund for securing our permanent home.

 

Likely Candidates: Renovating commercial sites or finding existing school sites

Unless a site has already been converted for another school, commercial sites that are both suitable and affordable can be hard to find.  Few have adjacent access to open play space, and many require expensive build outs and improvements to make suitable for classrooms and meet the stricter codes for educational use.  In most cases, for a commercial site to work in the mid-term, significant funds must be raised or borrowed.  To help us determine our options for commercial space, our facility team is going to bring in experts with school facility finance and real estate expertise to talk to the Board about possible financing solutions.

The other alternative – finding existing schools sites – includes potentially district schools as well as parochial or other charter schools.

District school facilities are most often awarded to charter schools under Proposition 39, which serves to ensure “that public school facilities should be shared fairly among all public school pupils, including those in charter schools.”  To be eligible for Prop 39 in any district, a charter school must have minimum of 80 students from that district.  Our county wide authorization and broad geographic distribution of families makes Oakland the only district where we qualify, and we are continuing discussions with OUSD for a site for this upcoming 2012-13 year.  (Learn more about Prop 39 here: http://www.calcharters.org/2010/09/about-proposition-39.html )

Another option is to find a parochial or other charter school of our size that is moving or closing.  As other schools are often growing, we are strengthening our relationships with other schools and experts in school facilities to be “in the know” if any facility changes are happening.

 

Yu Ming Site Criteria for 2013 and Beyond

We know that the location and features of our mid-term home may impact our families and staff, both important stakeholders in this process.

We are thrilled that so many families have indicated they plan to stay with Yu Ming, and we know that a location that is accessible via multiple transportation options and within a reasonable commute distance is extremely important.

We also know that safety, an outdoor play space (adjacent to the school), exclusive use of classrooms (preferably naturally-lit spacious classrooms), a separate reception area, convenient  drop-off, pick-up and parking are among the many features that are important to families and staff.

Parents will have the opportunity to provide input on a which facility criteria and features are most important to them through the parent survey that is being conducted this week. Please be sure to look for and complete this survey!

As the Board provides direction to our facility search team, we have focused on minimum site criteria so that only sites that are truly not workable are filtered out.   These criteria have been informed by our past two facility searches as well as input from parents and staff we received this past fall. As potential sites come into view, then additional trade-offs and amenities are considered.    At their retreat on March 25, the Board identified the following minimum site criteria and preferences:

  • Financially viable
  • Available July 15, 2013 for a minimum of two years (with a preference for at least 3 years to provide stability)
  • Located in Oakland (north of High St.), Emeryville or Berkeley (south of Gilman St) in an area zoned for educational use, and preference for a site that is eligible for SB-740 funding (which provides state funds to reimburse rent expense by locating in lower-income neighborhoods)
  • An on-site outdoor space (with a preference for a large, outdoor play yard)
  • A play area that is either a large attached gymnasium,  or play space with exclusive or low use within a two block radius
  • At least 12 classrooms with exclusive use during daytime hours, and a preference for 15 classrooms to enable 3 years of occupancy
  • A reception area, a separate administrative office and a storage space, with a preference for two separate offices
  • Approximately 12,000 total square feet of interior space
  • A preference for a secured (fenced) site, on-site parking for staff and off-street pick-up and drop-off

 

There are obviously many more amenities that we would like in our mid-term hope and we hope that we can find a site that includes them all!

 

Communicating about our progress

As we get the mid-term facility search into gear, there are likely to be lots and lots of sites that will be evaluated in a lot of different locations.  Some may be discarded before entering into any serious negotiations, and others we may begin negotiations before realizing a site may not work.  We may consider converting a site in a neighborhood where no school has existed, and need to carefully manage impacts on the local community.  We could even end up “competing” in negotiations with other charter or private schools for the same site.

 

To keep us in a strong negotiating position, and to minimize rumors and misinformation about what sites are or are not under consideration, the Board has agreed to keep the specific locations of any sites confidential among the Board and facility team until the site reaches an appropriate stage in the process. By managing information consistently, we will be able to give families  correct and timely information.  We will continue to keep families and staff as up-to-date as possible on the progress of our search.

 

 

 

Moving Ahead

We are excited to kick-off this search for a 2013-14 site with over a year to identify a mid-term home. Thank you to Ener Chiu (team lead) and the whole facilities team for all of their efforts so far, and if you are willing to help on our next facility search, please email Melissa Lee at mlee@yumingschool.org.

 

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