Buena Vista Horace Mann K-8 will receive at least $40 million to repair its aging and decrepit facilities, following an unanimous vote by the school board on Tuesday.
“I’m grateful to the Buena Vista Horace Mann community for their incredible organizing work to advocate for justice,” board member Matthew Alexander told Mission Local in an email. “Not just for their own children, but also by setting a clear standard that all students in SFUSD deserve safe and healthy schools.”
Parents and staff at the school have long awaited this money, especially after enduring chronic habitability issues for years. Just in the past year, an electrical outlet shocked a student, a gas leak prompted hundreds of students to evacuate, and a crack in the blacktop caused a student to trip, requiring 12 stitches.
The district initially chalked up the gas odor to decaying rats — a scenario staff found to be highly plausible. This, on top of other issues Mission Local reported on, eventually galvanized officials like District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen and school board members to visit, hold hearings, and make demands.
In addition to the funds, the board agreed to come up with a design plan before the end of the school year and hold on to $7 million in schoolyard funds as a renovation funding reserve.
But the $40 million didn’t come without controversy. At an Oct. 12 school board meeting, the district offered to reallocate $15 million in leftover 2016 bond money so Buena Vista could begin a renovation design. Alexander, however, said repairs needed to happen now, and requested an additional $40 million be reallocated from the Mission Bay School and a district arts center on 135 Van Ness Ave., known as 135 Arts Center, for a total of $55 million.
Students, parents and staff at Buena Vista felt this was fair, given the severity of health hazards and how long it’s gone on.
“Cockroaches. Cockroaches. Came. Out. Of. A. Table. The whole class panicked,” said Buena Vista student Astrea, at Tuesday’s board meeting, while expressing her frustration at the conditions and lack of action. “I was really decepcionado … sad, when you said, ‘oh really?’”
Todd Albert, a science teacher at Buena Vista, recalled a ceiling tile that fell just days after a recent hearing on school conditions. Another teacher said her sink filled up with sewage water more than once, and the “putrid, disgusting smell” relegated the lesson to the hallway.
Reallocating this money didn’t go over well with supporters of other projects, who too felt that promises had been broken. After lengthy public debate on Oct. 12, Alexander convened with the school district’s chief facilities officer, Dawn Kamalanathan, and hatched out the new $40 million proposal that he presented Tuesday, which this time excluded Mission Bay School as a source of reallocated funding.
“The only reason I proposed using those funds was because I believe ensuring our existing schools meet health and safety standards must be a higher priority than building new ones,” Alexander said. “But I heard my colleagues’ concerns — and again, I fully support the Mission Bay project — so I looked for other options.”
This refers to the $25 million in reallocated arts center money, and $7 million in schoolyard funds. The yard funds won’t be reallocated, but are committed to being reserved until a full analysis of Buena Vista renovations becomes complete. If these were to be reallocated, a new vote would be needed. (A motion by board member Jenny Lam to remove the $7 million component was voted down.)
Ultimately, Alexander and other members deemed Buena Vista’s needs a higher priority, especially since the majority of families — who are low-income and Latinx — were ignored by the district.