The board will discuss the matter at next Wednesday’s meeting, but Superintendent Rick Rogers is confident that since Oakley and the school district are experiencing a rise in growth as the economy rebounds, now is the time to move forward with the opening of the school.
“In 2003, the district was impacted by new students as more families moved to Oakley,” Rogers said. “Gehringer and Laurel schools were particularly overcrowded, so the board placed a school bond on the November, 2004 ballot to fund the construction of two new elementary schools. Iron House Elementary was opened in 2006, but since growth wasn’t continuing as we expected, we decided not to open Almond Grove. The economy didn’t allow for it.”
Rather than leave the school vacant until it was needed, the district leased the property to Mountain View Christian School from 2008 to 2011. The school was unable to keep up with its lease payments, however, and the district shut down its operation. Most recently, the Almond Grove site has been used by the Lynn Center, a program that enhances and enriches the lives of children with special needs and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Rogers expressed optimism that Lynn Center and Almond Grove students could cohabitate on the campus. While the Lynn Center currently uses 15 classrooms plus the main office, Rogers looks forward to continuing the partnership with the Lynn Center and serving the county’s special-needs community.
Over the course of the next year, the district will make improvements to the property, inspecting every inch to ensure it’s ready for more students. The district’s to-do list includes cleaning carpets, reinstalling basketball hoops and buying furniture, computers and textbooks. Rogers estimates that the district will spend $350,000 in preparations to open and maintain the school for the first year. The district will use money from its reserve funds, and Rogers is confident that funds allocated from the recently approved Prop. 30 will help the district open Almond Grove and keep it open.
“We wouldn’t move forward with the opening of the school if we didn’t think it was financially feasible,” Rogers said. “The last thing we want to do is open the school for a year or two and then shut it down. Taking a year to get the school ready will afford us the time to keep an eye on the economy to ensure this is the right decision.”
In the past year, the school district has welcomed more than 150 new students. When Almond Grove opens, Rogers expects the student population to start at about 250 to 300. The district might choose to open the school to only kindergarten through third grade during the first year, then add fourth grade in the 2015-16 school year and fifth grade in the 2016-17 school year. The district will send a survey to families living within the Almond Grove boundaries to gauge how many students would be eligible to attend Almond Grove when it opens.
Families with children in the fourth or fifth grade at Laurel or Gehringer during the 2014-15 school year will have the option to allow younger siblings to stay at their current school so as not to split up families. Families who want to keep their children at Laurel or Gehinger must apply for an intra-district transfer. Those requests will be granted based on space availability.
Rogers said he’s grateful to the community for its patience and understanding regarding the delay of opening Almond Grove. Parents are invited to comment during next week’s discussion at the board meeting, scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 20 at 7 p.m. in the O’Hara Park Middle School library, 1100 O’Hara Ave. To view the meeting agenda, visit www.ouesd.k12.ca.us.