Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

Nobody Likes Plans to Rebuild Roosevelt Elementary School in Santa Monica

SMMUSD's dog-and-pony show to elicit public comment on their 5 plans to modify Roosevelt Elementary school turned into more than they bargained for

April 27, 2022 - Carey Upton, Chief Operations Officer for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, held a community meeting yesterday afternoon to solicit input regarding proposed designs to modify the Roosevelt Elementary School campus. Difficult questions accosted him as soon as concerned community members arrived on campus for the tour and presentation.

Impetus for the campus revisions come from a desire to improve the learning experience, according to Upton. In addition, the State of California now requires school districts to offer transitional kindergarten classes for four-year-olds, which our district calculates will require three additional classrooms on the Roosevelt campus. Since the campus will need to be altered anyway, the district wants to upgrade all of Roosevelt's classrooms to meet the larger room requirements established at both the state and district level. These larger room requirements do not need to be met unless buildings are renovated. If no changes are made to the buildings that are on campus, the school would continue to meet state code.

After touring Roosevelt, which currently has ten empty classrooms that are now used as "breakout spaces," community members were shown five different options for revising and adding square footage to the present Roosevelt campus. Options ranged from saving most of the buildings, some of which have historical significance, to razing the entire campus and rebuilding everything. Apparently, historical buildings may be demolished for educational purposes.

In each option, the kindergarten yard was moved from its present position along Montana Avenue, shielded from the rest of the school, to a position in the northwest corner abutting the main playground. All options included a large "makerspace" building which will take over the present kindergarten playground. Apparently such a space is necessary for improved learning. Sheets were handed out for the audience to mark their ranked choices of the plans.

None of the sheets were turned in as nobody in the audience, including a representative of the kindergarten teachers, liked any of the options.

Meeting attendees wanted to know why any of this was being done at all, especially if there are ten empty classrooms. Questions were asked about funding. While Upton claimed there remain $98 million in bond money for the renovations, audience members disputed that this money would still be available by the time ground broke. Other district staff admitted more bond measures would need to be passed - and seemed to take it for granted that Santa Monica voters would approve any school bond measure put before them.

Several attendees noted the obvious enthusiasm of district staff for the raze-everything plan and wondered why so much work had gone into researching the historical significance of portions of the campus and why explicit promises about saving such historical buildings had been discarded.

A kindergarten teacher, speaking as a representative for the other kindergarten teachers, vigorously opposed moving the present kindergarten location, which is ideal, in their opinion. Abutting the kindergarten space to the main school playground means constant noise and interference. "You're just moving it for convenience," the teacher accused district staff. Meanwhile, district staff were not considering the permanent harm that would be done to the learning environment for the youngest and most vulnerable students.

Upton admitted that it would take 10 years before even half of the proposed campus overhaul could be completed. That means 20 years of construction affecting 20 years of students - in order to create a campus that will most likely be obsolete by the time it is finished. At a price that no one would discuss.


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