Almanac

Schools - April 3, 2013

Will German-American school get reprieve for one year?

by Renee Batti

As the decision nears for the Menlo Park City School District board to let the German-American International School know whether it's being evicted from a former district school site, GAIS officials are stepping up the effort to get the district to take a closer look at options that would grant a reprieve for the private school.

In a March 27 letter to Superintendent Maurice Ghysels, copied to school board members, GAIS managing director Dominic Liechti urged the district to examine options, particularly that of accommodating additional students enrolled in the district in the 2014-15 school year on the new Hillview Middle School campus, and allow the private school to remain on the former O'Connor School site for one more year.

The GAIS, which took over the O'Connor site at 275 Elliot Drive in Menlo Park in 1991, has a lease agreement with the district that expires June 2016. But a clause in the lease allows the district to terminate the agreement early — an option it may exercise when the board meets on Tuesday, April 9. The district has until April 10 to notify GAIS if it wants to end the lease in June 2014.

District officials have said the district might open a fifth campus at the O'Connor site to accommodate burgeoning enrollment; earlier, they said the district could open the new school by the 2014-15 school year, but later said the 2015-16 school year may be a more feasible option.

In a letter sent this week to the board, GAIS board President Tom Siegel formally offered "to amend (GAIS's) existing lease with MPCSD to reflect that it will vacate the O'Connor site in June of 2015 rather than June 2016 — one year rather than two years early. This compromise clearly is the most equitable solution, and one that allows the district as well as GAIS to meet our respective needs."

GAIS officials say they have been urgently looking for a new site, but 15 months is not enough time to find a suitable property in the highly competitive Peninsula real estate market, jump through all the permitting hoops, and prepare the site to house a student body of more than 300 students. Evicting the private school in June 2014 could force it to shut its doors, they say.

Allowing the school to stay until June 2015 shouldn't impede the district's renovation of the O'Connor campus for its own use for the 2015-16 school year, they say, noting that district staff has said construction wouldn't begin until summer 2015.

In his March 27 letter, Mr. Liechti cited figures in the district's latest demographic study indicating that enrollment at Hillview Middle School is "under capacity and has room for accommodating the projected elementary school growth. Why not move some 5th grade classes to Hillview at least temporarily?"

Under that scenario, Mr. Liechti wrote, the district would save money housing the students in existing classrooms, and collect an additional year of GAIS lease — $360,000.

Meanwhile, the private school has hired an attorney who has filed a Public Records Act request asking the district for a range of documents relating to the O'Connor site and the district's examination of options to open a new district school.

Andrew Gregg, a GAIS consultant, said the school is asking for the documents "to have timely information about the district's plan for O'Connor." Asked whether an attorney's involvement in the matter is a sign that GAIS may be preparing to take legal action to remain at the O'Connor site, Mr. Gregg said: "We don't envision any legal action. We're just trying to find a fair solution."

The school board meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 9, in the district board room, 181 Encinal Ave. in Atherton.

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