Despite what seemed like a locked-in agreement to Sycamore Academy of Science and Cultural Arts Principal Richard Shepler, the Lake Elsinore Unified School District has rescinded its offer to lease the vacant Jean Hayman Elementary School site to the Wildomar-based charter school.
“All communication indicated this was going forward,” Shepler said. “It’s obviously a mess.”
A March 25 letter to Shepler from LEUSD Assistant Superintendent Greg Bowers stated, “… circumstances beyond the District’s control have made the Hayman Site unavailable for use as a charter school campus.”
In the letter, Bowers stated that a recent case involving a “similarly situated school district” found that, due to earthquake faults, a district “could forgo” housing students at the site.
The Jean Hayman Elementary School site in Wildomar has been vacant for three years. It shut down in April 2008 due to district budget woes.
The district had planned to renovate the school and reopen it in 2010, but earthquake faults were discovered on the site after the closure. District officials have maintained that per state guidelines the school could be reopened without retrofitting, but any improvements to the campus would require costly retrofit upgrades under California law.
In the March 25 letter, Bowers said the State Allocation Board “will likely find” that the Hayman Site, with its similar earthquake issues, would “be problematic for school use.”
“While the Hayman Site itself has not been declared unusable for students, the District feels that it must consider this latest information …,” Bowers continued.
Shepler reported that, as part of a Prop. 39 request, the LEUSD had agreed to lease 10 classrooms at the Jean Hayman site on Lemon Street to the charter-based K-6 Sycamore Academy for the 2011-12 school year.
Under Prop. 39, the district is required to provide facilities to charter schools that meet certain requirements.
Shepler said that during the 2011-12 school year, Sycamore school officials had planned to hold classes at the Hayman site in conjunction with classes at the Clinton Keith Road facility.
“Our lease (on the Clinton Keith site) is up June of 2012,” Shepler said on Feb. 28. “At that point, we will decide what to do (with the Clinton Keith site).”
Bowers conceded in the March 25 letter that a “preliminary” lease offer was made in good faith to Sycamore. In lieu of the Hayman site, in the letter Bowers outlined two alternative options for Sycamore: a payment of $51,601.33 to the charter school from the district, based on a calculation of the difference between a 1 percent oversight fee to the district and a 3 percent oversight fee the district could have charged for a facility. The second option would be to place portables on an existing school site to accomodate Sycamore students.
But the March 25 letter from Bowers contends that Sycamore officials did not clearly seek the district’s approval for two separate sites.
“The district had no reason to think that SASCA was planning on operating two schools,” the letter stated, noting that district officials believed Sycamore’s lease at Clinton Keith Road would be terminated if the Hayman lease became available for the 2011-12 school year.
Shepler disagreed. “My approach going forward is going to be to get much greater clarification from the district,” he said.
While Sycamore continues its open enrollment for the upcoming school year, it’s unclear where all students will be housed. Currently, the school has approximately 325 enrolled students, and Shepler doesn’t have a count yet for the upcoming school year.
“We have to see,” he said, noting that there is the possibility that all students will remain at the Clinton Keith Road facility for the 2011-12 school year.