The plan to build a new high school on a 3.3-acre county-owned site at the corner of Cesar Chavez Avenue and Mednick Street, where students could use the adjacent Belvedere Park for recreation, is all but dead in the water. In a letter dated March 8, L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina said: “the county is vehemently opposed to any joint use of Belvedere Park (for a new high school) and I remain steadfast on this position.”
Molina’s opposition to a high school with joint-use privileges of park space severely diminishes any likelihood that it will happen, given the already strong historical resistance by some local homeowner groups to the plan. In 2000, the Save Belvedere Park Committee organized and helped shoot down the joint-use proposal.
That leaves LAUSD planners, who have for 7 years been searching for a site to build a high school that would relieve severe overcrowding at Garfield High School, with a narrowed-down list of options.
According to LAUSD District Board Member David Tokofsky, who sat down for an hour-long interview with EGP, it is becoming of critical importance that a consensus on new school sites be reached soon, since August is the deadline in order to receive tens of millions of dollars in state matching funds for new school design and construction.
“As we head into April, this timeline is getting tighter and tighter to lose this money from Sacramento,” said Tokofsky, representative of both Roosevelt and Garfield High Schools. “That would be the tragedy, if the politics of Cane and Abel continue to smash each other so that you lose the Sacramento money (and all the money for the new school has to come from an already cash-strapped LAUSD).”
Tokofsky stressed that the recent passing of two education measures on the ballot, Proposition 55 (statewide) and Measure R (L.A. County), have freed up billions of dollars for new schools, which gives planners more options to be creative, like building more than just two smaller-sized schools.
As of now, LAUSD has chosen one site to relieve overcrowding at Roosevelt High School, at the corner of First and Mission streets in Boyle Heights. However, that site is shrinking in scope as planners encounter conflicts with business and residential interests in the area.
According to Tokofsky, two of the options now on the table for new schools closer to Garfield High School seem most attractive.
The first is to build a high school anywhere between 800 and 1200 seats on the site of Superior Market in East Los Angeles. If a school were to built here for only 800 students, then that would translate into less homes being taken and another school, perhaps on the county site near Belvedere Park or near Cal State L.A., to be built for about 400 students.
Another option, unveiled only last week, is to build a new elementary school (which is easier because it takes less acreage than a high school), and repair and transform Hammel Elementary School (9.3 acres) and Belvedere Middle School (11.8 acres) into high schools. This option, said Tokofsky, could conceivably take the shortest amount of time, and could be completed as early as 2008 or 2009 (all other options, he noted, won’t produce a finished high school until 2010-2012).
According to a community source, the LAUSD may soon unveil yet another creative option. That would include turning Belvedere Middle School into a high school for anywhere between 1,000 and 2,000 students. Hammel Elementary School would become a middle school; Eastside Learning Center becomes an elementary school; and the county property adjacent to Belvedere would house the adult student population from the current Eastside Learning Center.
“I will ensure that East Los Angeles and the surrounding areas get the schools they deserve,” said Tokofsky, who also asked people not to forget Jefferson High School, which is also due some Measure R money and is more in need of relief that either Roosevelt and Garfield. “It would be a lot more sensible if the cost of those schools were split between our property tax measures (BB, K and R) and state tax measures.”
In order for that to happen, community members and public officials –including Molina and Tokofsky– need to come to a consensus on a new plan soon.
That’s exactly what Inner City Struggle, which has been organizing students and parents to pressure the LAUSD to make a decision on a new high school, are planning. They announced a march from the front of Gloria Molina’s Supervisor’s office in downtown L.A. to the LAUSD headquarters on March 30, starting at 5 p.m.
“We need Molina’s full support – we need Molina and Tokofsky to work together,” said Luis Sanchez of Inner City. He added that only this way can students in need of better learning environments be given what they deserve.