February 1, 2012 | Back to: News

Hennessy to become Grass Valley Charter School

In a decision that prompted tears from attending parents, Grass Valley School District's board of trustees voted unanimously to hand Hennessy Elementary campus over to the district's own public charter school.

The decision represented the culmination of a month - preceded by months of committee work - of public meetings regarding district consolidation in light of dwindling enrollment and continued state funding slashes.

"We sat here for two long evenings and listened to the public - teachers, parents, some kids - and listened to their priorities," said board member Jeanne Mitchell. "After all the moving and shuffling is done, I think there will be some improvements that I think will be obvious."

Handing the Hennessy campus over to the district's growing public charter school was the third of three proposals before the board to alleviate some of its fiscal challenges.

The move will house all of Grass Valley Charter School programs, including the charter preschool, at Hennessy, located at 225 South Auburn Street on the cusp of downtown Grass Valley.

All the board members respect the desire of charter advocates to have all their programs on one campus, said board member Frank Bennallack.

"We have K-8 system here that seems to be doing rather well," said board member Bonnie Taylor. "Adding kids to an already prospering and growing system seems to me a good idea."

As part of the reconfiguration, regular public students in grades K-4 will be housed at Margaret G. Scotten campus on Squirrel Creek Road and grades 5-8 at Lyman Gilmore School on Gilmore Way.

This proposal also puts an estimated 200 students enrolled in a small innovative K-4 program and a dual immersion program at the Bell Hill campus on South School Street, where the charter school currently resides.

This option is estimated to save the district approximately $49,000 a year in facility costs and could generate revenue if the open space at Bell Hill is leased. Originally, reconfiguration talks considered leasing space to a proposed public charter high school, but Fredrickson has said that Bell Hill might not meet that school's needs.

"Our kids are going to key off of how we react to this situation," said Mark Johnson, a father of two daughters at the district charter school. "If we're thinking of the kids, let's make sure we are acting in a way that will help them succeed."

The first rejected reconfiguration proposal would have relocated charter students to the Scotten campus, with grades 5-8 attending Gilmore and grades K-4 at Hennessy, leaving the Bell Hill campus available for lease. This option would have saved the district approximately $68,000 in utility costs.

The second rejected proposal drew the most backlash from the district's public charter proponents because it would locate most of its students at the Hennessy campus, but called for nearly 100 students (comprised of Grass Valley Charter's preschool and Discovery Studies) at Bell Hill, with some leftover space to rent.

At the previous meeting, Fredrickson noted that these two programs could be possibly be squeezed in at Hennessy.

This proposal also called for grades k-4 at Scotten and grades 5-8 at Gilmore. In total, it is estimated that this proposal would have saved $64,000 in facility costs.

A main concern with the proposals was leaving a campus open to be petitioned or snatched up by a nondistrict charter school residing within the district boundaries, which the district would be legally bound to comply with.

Board president Paula Roediger said she was uncomfortable leaving the campus up for grabs.

With a decision made, Superintendent Eric Fredrickson said the real work of implementing the transition will begin. After that, he said he will start to tackle the next round of anticipated budget cuts.

"This is round one of what we are doing," Fredrickson said. "We have a budget proposal coming up with a $1 million cut to our transportation funds ... We have some serious challenges beyond reconfiguration."

To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, e-mail crosacker@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4236.

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The Union Updated Feb 1, 2012 01:34AM Published Feb 1, 2012 01:33AM Copyright 2012 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.