Los Banos

Charter School in need of district’s help

The Los Banos Unified School District board of trustees is deciding if it wants to help a local charter school get money to construct a facility to accommodate more students.

The arrangement would require the district to apply for a loan on behalf of Green Valley Charter School, leaving the financial burden to Los Banos Unified if the school defaults.

Green Valley Charter School is on the district’s R.M. Miano Elementary School campus. The public charter school has 115 kindergarten through fourth-grade students and is looking to add fifth grade, which would bring its student body to 145.

Superintendent Steve Tietjen said Green Valley has asked for an additional classroom. Green Valley plans to expand each year until it accommodates kindergarten through eighth-graders. Tietjen said that, eventually, Miano Elementary, which has 960 students on its main campus, will no longer be able to accommodate the charter school.

A possible solution is a $4 million facility that could be built on B Street and Place Road, paid for through $2 million in grant funding and a $2 million loan from the state.

“They’re unable to apply because they have to have two years of financial history. If they want to continue, they have to ask us to be the fiscal agent for them,” Tietjen said, referencing the loan proposal to the school board at its April 10 meeting.

Tietjen said Green Valley wants to build a 10-classroom facility for about 250 students. California will provide a certain amount of grant funding per student, but it will be subtracted from credit for elementary school construction grant funding for the Los Banos Unified School District. Tietjen said the district has enough credit for grant funding for two elementary schools with 750 students each.

In a telephone interview, Tisha Blackwood-Freitas, the founder of Green Valley Charter School, said California has $189 million available in grant funding for charter school construction, but top priority goes to schools with high numbers of students on the free lunch program. She said Green Valley would be in the second tier of charter schools requesting money.

Tietjen said he has proposed Green Valley split its classrooms between the Miano Elementary and Los Banos High School campuses. Blackwood-Frietas said it’s not her first choice, but it’s also not uncommon.

“That’s very typical of a charter school starting out. It’s not ideal,” she said.

School board Trustee John Mueller said if the district applies for a loan on Green Valley’s behalf, he wants the district involved in designing the new school.

“If they were to fail on the loan and we have to take over, it’s a facility we can actually use,” he said.

Blackwood-Freitas said her plans are to ultimately give the district the facility.

“That’s not (going to be) our permanent location,” she said. “We’re still actively looking for space. We are potentially funding a site that will be left to the district’s use.”

The deadline for Green Valley’s loan application is May 30. The school board is expected to vote on the loan application at its May 8 meeting.