A recent article in the San Diego Union-Tribune provoked more questions than it answered regarding the status of Bayfront Charter High School and Mueller-- our K-8 charter from which Bayfront grew.
In “Mueller Charter School Warned on Pricey Lease,” published in the U-T on March 2, the article states that “district officials do not recommend entering into the Marina Gateway proposal that was reviewed.” But no such recommendation has ever been issued.
On the contrary, Chula Vista Elementary School District leaders remain as supportive of our high school as they have ever been and have never recommended that we cease negotiations for the lease—expected to be a $10 million commitment spread out over 15 years.
As authorizers of our charter, the school district has a statutory obligation to provide oversight on significant financial transactions. However, this lease poses no risk or financial obligation to the district, whatsoever. Not only are they not required to co-sign on the lease, the language clearly states that if Mueller were ever to lose their charter by way of revocation-- the lease would be terminated.
While some are alarmed about the potential risk of a long-term lease for our high school—we see the promise of great opportunity. There are at least three compelling reasons why the deal with Carleton Management makes perfect sense for Mueller: it’s the right investment for our students, our parents have great faith in the programs we deliver, and Mueller has the resources to make it all work.
In 2014, Mueller Charter School was unanimously authorized by the Governing Board of CVESD to open a high school in partnership with United States University (USU), a tenant in the building owned by Carleton Management at 830 Bay Boulevard.
A few months later we opened our doors for 100 incoming 9th grade students with a plan to grow one grade level per year over the next four years. Presently, in year two, we serve 198 students spanning 9th and 10th grade. Our students are thriving in this building while USU has found an alternative campus they wish to move to.
We intentionally sought out this facility for our students because: it is within walking distance of Mueller; it is a safe, newly remodeled and vibrant learning space; and it is literally on the edge of the Chula Vista Bayfront Master Plan. Thus, the name Bayfront Charter High School. Once underway, we will witness one of the largest urban development projects on the west coast. We see endless opportunities for our students, as we connect them to the many vocations and career professionals who will be transforming western Chula Vista’s bayfront region just outside our door. And Bayfront will be the only school in or near the development.
Then there is our proximity to the bay itself. Our Career Technical Education (CTE) plan literally runs through San Diego Bay and the Pacific Ocean, as we have been diligently weaving curricula around the “blue economy”. Championed by the Maritime Alliance, the “blue economy” represents career pathways and industries directly related to our waterfront: biomedical research, maritime engineering, underwater robotics, environmental science, desalination—to name a few.
The Maritime Alliance estimates that thousands of jobs, associated with the blue economy, will be created over the next few decades. These are jobs that will either be filled by individuals who move to San Diego for employment—or by our own children, educated and prepared to seize a vibrant future. Our school mantra is that our students will change the world—and they will, if they are given the opportunity and vision to do so.
Over the past two decades, Mueller and now Bayfront, have earned the trust of our parent community.
Mueller is not only one of California’s original charter schools (we were first authorized in 1994) we are also one of the most innovative and accomplished. We were the first elementary charter in the South Bay to expand into middle school in 2007. And from 2000 to 2009, during the years of the California Standards Test, our Academic Performance Index rose over 330 points, from 520 to 850. Mueller has received the National Urban School Transformation Award, been named a Title I Academic Achievement School, and been honored with the prestigious California Golden Bell.
Whereas many charters are managed by outside corporations, Mueller is an independent, non-profit that is lead solely by staff employed by the charter school. Not surprisingly, given our expertise and history of service to the Mueller community, our parents have passionately supported the development of an alternative high school option in western Chula Vista. In fact, Bayfront exists today as a direct result of multiple parent requests over many years.
And we have delivered on all promises: in just over a year and a half, Bayfront has become fully WASC-accredited and every course has been submitted and approved by the University of California A-G system. We have multiple athletic teams competing in the Frontier League of CIF. We have theater and dance groups, AP and honors classes, a competitive cheer team and an active ASB. And by March 1, we had already received nearly 150 9th grade applications for the 2016-17 school year.
Finally, this lease would be executed on the strength of Mueller’s financials and the ability of Bayfront to operate within its means.
The article states that “the charter school was cautioned about the amount of taxpayer money on the line.” But here are some important budget facts that were ignored:
• Mueller and Bayfront serve a population of students who receive the highest level of funding and prioritized services in the state: More than 85% qualify for free and reduced lunch, and 60% are English language learners.
• The combined Mueller/Bayfront budget for 2016-17 is projected to be more than $16 million dollars. These are indeed local, state and federal tax dollars—because we are a public school—funded, like all public schools in California, in proportion to our enrollment. We welcome all students, have no special entrance requirements, and do not charge tuition.
• The school district’s own budget office has produced three and five year projections indicating that Mueller/Bayfront, even after taking on operating costs associated with the high school building, will continue to generate a surplus of resources. Even this year, Bayfront is on pace to finish with a small reserve.
• Bayfront qualifies for (and is currently receiving) additional funding from the state to off-set the costs of leasing property for our school. These funds, guaranteed under Senate Bill 740, reimburse charter schools that serve low income populations in non-district facilities, for up to 75% of their lease costs.
• During the next 15 years of the proposed lease, Bayfront would pay $10 million. By comparison, over the same time period, Mueller (who does not pay rent for district facilities) will generate more than $240 million in revenues and pay some $30 million dollars back to the school district for operational costs!
• Bayfront actually has an option to “opt out” of the lease any time after 10 years. This feature allows us room to grow our high school and plan for the future—knowing there is an escape plan if needed.
• Perhaps most significantly, Mueller Charter School has nearly $5 million in reserve—funds that are intended for the purpose of serving children in our community in innovative programs like Bayfront Charter High School.
We have the resources. We have the programs and the momentum. We have the community support. We have an opportunity to provide an extraordinary learning experience for generations of high school students to come.
What we don’t have is a surplus of facility options--much less high school options-- in western Chula Vista. Bayfront Charter High School, in this building, at least levels the playing field again.
And regardless of who is warning whom about the wisdom of this deal, the decision will be made by the Chula Vista Elementary School District Governing Board which gave birth to the high school in the first place. While there are those who argue that the deal for the Bayfront High School building is too “pricey” and that we can not afford the risks of entering into a long term lease-- I look into the eyes of our students every day and conclude that we can’t afford NOT to.
We think our students are worth the investment.