School board member Matthew Alexander said at a hearing on Buena Vista Horace Mann’s building maintenance Friday that he would propose spending $55 million to address issues that have been responsible for a litany of safety issues this year including a gas leak, a student getting an electrical shock and another tripping on a crack and sustaining an injury that needed 12 stitches.
Supervisor Hillary Ronen called Friday’s hearing in front of the the Board of Supervisors committee on Youth, Young Adults and Families to investigate the safety and conditions at this Mission District K-8 school.
“This school means everything to everyone, but all the things that have been happening lately … It’s like we’re risking our lives for a war we can’t win,” said one fourth grader during the hearing. “We want funds because part of our school is falling apart. It just doesn’t feel safe anymore.”
Alexander said he will ask the school board to approve a transfer of $55 million in bond money from other allocated projects to Buena Vista’s renovations. This will amend the board’s recommendation, which supposedly promises $15 million, and will officially be released Friday, he said.
“For me it’s phasing and priorities,” Alexander told Mission Local, whose reporter visited the school following the gas leak on Aug. 27. “We need to make sure that our existing schools are safe and healthy before we start building new schools.”
Alexander said he would propose the $55 million transfer at Tuesday’s meeting of the Board of Education. He called Buena Vista’s conditions “critical.”
For years, frustrated teachers and parents have asked the district to use school bonds for a complete renovation of the aging school. On Friday, staff again made that demand and also asked for independent inspections of Buena Vista Horace Mann, as well as monthly reports to update parents and staff on the school’s rehabilitation.
read the original investigation:
If there was any doubt about the building’s condition, those were put to rest on Friday as Allison Matamoros, a fourth grade teacher, presented the conditions at Buena Vista Horace Mann with her entire fourth grade class.
Matamoros showed pictures of exposed pipes and wiring; the blackened outlet after the May, 2021, incident in which a student was shocked; a room that required four fans to cool it off, and a copy machine plugged into a staff bathroom.
“The main times we’ve seen [the] facilities [department] fix our buildings is when we’ve gone to Mission Local or we’ve complained at school board meetings,” Matamoros said at the hearing. Several people claimed that only after Mission Local first documented the dire conditions did the school receive toilet paper and soap.
Students testified as well. One elementary student said her classroom was “very cold.”
“How do I know that?” the student continued. “Because two students brought blankets.”
Viva Mogi, Director of Policy and Planning for the San Francisco Unified School District, emphasized that the school is safe, and does not need to be shut down. Mogi said the district is committed to addressing the school’s needs, and will use some bond money to address that.
Following fall community meetings in response to these incidents, Dawn Kamalanathan, the district’s chief facilities officer, estimated that a full renovation of the school could cost anywhere between $50 to $80 million.
To parents and staff, there’s an easy solution: The Proposition A bond, which voters approved in 2016 to help construct new buildings and schools, as well as modernize old ones.
In previous district documents, Buena Vista Horace Mann K-8 was listed as one of the possible choices, but ultimately wasn’t picked.
Staff and parents made it clear on Friday that they now want to be chosen.
The three supervisors on the committee — Ronen, Myrna Melgar, and Ahsha Safaí — agreed the time was right.
“It’s horrendous,” Safaí said. “I think of my kids. My son would be the first to touch a hot pipe.”
Last month, a student was riding a scooter on the blacktop, and hit a large crack. He flew off and was taken to the hospital, and required several stitches, parents and teachers said. Matamoros added that the blacktop had many cracks.
And these problems have been addressed with “band-aid” solutions for years, students and staff say. Parents said that up until more recent incidents, the district’s building and grounds committee has been generally unresponsive to parent and staff requests about building upkeep.
Aaron Zuzga, a seventh-grader at Buena Vista Horace Mann who will turn 13 in two days, said he’s used to the school’s problems. The art classroom is always hot for example, which is “annoying. It makes it harder to do projects with glue.”
He recalled hearing about when the ceiling tile fell on that teacher’s desk, and when another student got shocked by a faulty outlet. (Those were fixed after the incidents.) He saw the hundreds of elementary students file out of the building this semester in fear of a gas leak. Zuzga remembered smelling something weird in the auditorium one day.
“Some people said it was a gas leak, some said it was a dead rat, so we had class outside,” Zuzga told Mission Local. (Originally, the district attributed the smell to a dead rat.) “Then a week or two later, everybody had to evacuate the building. I was just thinking, ‘I told you so.’”
“After a while, you start to think it’s gone too far,” said Aaron’s mother, Marisa Zuzga, who has been a mother of Buena Vista Horace Mann students for 13 years. “People are starting to reach their breaking point in terms of just not getting a response and being told, ‘we’ll get to you eventually.’”
“I know the school is really old,” said Veronica Nieto, mother to elementary student Gael, in Spanish. “Parents don’t know if their kids are safe in this building. What if it’s not gas, but an earthquake, or other emergency in the school?”
Ronen also pointed to repeated safety violations that apparently went unchecked. A group of parents, one of whom is Bernice Casey, has been sending multiple safety violation complaints to the school district and the California Department of Education for several years. The letters point out how Buena Vista Horace Mann constantly gets rated in “good” condition despite these safety concerns.
“If you think this is in good enough repair, then perhaps you’re not doing a good enough job,” Ronen said.
She plans to propose the approximately $130,000 earmarked for potential affordable housing at Alemany Farmers Market be allocated instead to a full Public Works inspection of the school grounds. If passed, the inspection would begin immediately.
Matamoros hopes that is the case. She and others said they felt it was unjust that a school with majority Latinx, English-learner and low-income students must deal with these issues. For this reason, too, there will be a protest at the school at 4 p.m.
“It’s unfair that our students had to actually experience getting hurt for us for them to receive the attention they needed,” Matamoros told Mission Local. “No one should’ve gotten electrical shocked. No one should have had to hit a crack and flied off the crack.”