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Charter schools seek cheaper rents

Two western Nevada County charter schools are looking for cheaper buildings where they can educate their students.

Leases for the Yuba River Charter School and Nevada City School of the Arts, run by the Nevada City-based Twin Ridges Elementary School District, are due to expire after the 2004-05 school year, and district administrators say the $400,000 cost to pay rent for both facilities is forcing them to cut programs unique to each school.

The two schools occupy roughly 40,000 square feet at the old Grass Valley Group site on Bitney Springs Road.



Their one-year lease on the buildings, which is owned by an East Bay limited-liability corporation, ends in July 2005.

Stan Miller, superintendent for the Twin Ridges district, said Tuesday the Nevada City School of the Arts, depending on how the state budget plays out, could be facing as much as a $60,000 operating deficit for the coming year.




Yuba River Charter School’s situation isn’t much better, Miller said. This year, the school cut three arts specialists, and the school’s teachers, already paid lower than their counterparts in the rest of Nevada County, have received no pay increases in the past three years.

Parents raised $100,000 last year for instructional materials, operating expenses and field trips, Miller said, to make up the difference in the money the state gives charter schools.

Yuba River Charter School is a Waldorf-based 240-student K-8 school where the curriculum is based on “developmental readiness” for students, with a strong emphasis in the arts, Miller said.

Students at the school, which has been in operation for 10 years, don’t use computers in the classroom until the eighth grade and are asked to sign a pledge that they be exposed to media only in limited doses, Miller said.

The Nevada City School of the Arts, with approximately 220 K-8 students, was first established under the Nevada City School District in the early 1990s. Its primary focus is on environmental studies and arts curriculum.

The school is known for outdoor field trips, including an annual trip the sixth-grade class takes to the Mount Shasta area in May. The school got statewide attention this year when two students were lost hiking through a cave at the Lava Beds National Monument and were found after an ordeal that lasted more than 24 hours.

The state of California hasn’t generally provided buildings for charter schools, although there is proposed legislation in California to help them gain some money for buildings. As such, many charter schools must take money that would normally be used for instruction or salaries to pay for rent for facilities. Miller and Nevada City School of the Arts parent Charlie McKenzie, who is on a school committee to look for available property or buildings, said they’re simply looking to save money and keep the schools’ programs intact.

“The schools have done an outstanding job in fund-raising, but as a public school, you can only ask for so much from the parents,” Miller said.

Miller is asking parents and the community to help the district find available space to be leased or purchased for either school or money for those purposes.

Miller described the charter schools’ desire for land and buildings as an uneven playing field when compared to conventional schools that receive millions of dollars annually from state and locally approved construction bonds.

Approximately 20 percent of both the Yuba River Charter School and Nevada City School of the Arts budgets goes to rent.

The search for a new building for a school in the Twin Ridges district has been an almost-annual occurrence for the past several years. Bitney Springs High School has had at least three locations since being established five years ago. It began as a school at the former Grass Valley Group site before moving to the Sierra Friends Center and finally to the former Silver Springs High School site on McCourtney Road for the 2003-04 school year.

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AT A GLANCE

A look at two schools currently housed at the old Grass Valley Group headquarters on Bitney Springs Road that are looking for new homes:

Yuba River Charter School

K-8 school, students: 240

Waldorf-based school; focuses on concept of “developmental readiness.”

Founded 10 years ago.

Occupies 22,000 square feet.

Rent: $188,000 annually

Nevada City School of the Arts

K-8 school, students: 220

Focus is on environmental studies and arts curriculum.

Originally founded as part of the Nevada City School District, joined Twin Ridges Elementary School District a few years ago.

Occupies 19,000 square feet.

Rent: $217,000 annually

Source: Twin Ridges Elementary School District


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