MAYOR MADRID BREAKS WITH COUNCIL OVER EXPANSION OF CHARTER SCHOOL

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Story by Nadin Abbott
Photos by Tom Abbott
 
June 28, 2012 (La Mesa)--A contentious issue facing the City of La Mesa has been whether to allow the College Preparatory Middle School, located in the La Mesa Church of Christ, to expand its student body from 180 pupils to 259.
 
The key issue is noise concerns of neighbors near the school. The property, located at the southwest corner of Jackson Drive and Grossmont Boulevard is not new. But the use of it as a Charter school has raised controversy.

When the Planning Commission approved 180 students, upheld by the Council last year near the beginning of the school year, it was done as a temporary basis to allow the school to keep its enrollment.
 
Councilmember Dave Allan repeatedly asked how the school could accommodate the limitations already in place with the expansion of another grade.
 
Principal Mitchell Miller pointed out that the school plans to do this by staggering students, with fifth grade on a separate schedule from the rest of the grades. The School currently serves sixth, seventh and eighth grade.
Nate, a student,  testified about his positive experience at the school. His mother added that Nate went from struggling with homework at a prior school to loving school now.
 
Mitigation done by the school, such as the installation of a sound wall, has reduced noise issues; only one noise complaint was made throughout the year. Councilmember Ruth Sterling did state that while this was one complaint too many, the school was acting in good faith.
 
In the end the City Council voted to allow the increased enrollment, overturning the Planning Commission findings.
 
Sterling said that she “likes the idea that the school will work with the neighbors.” She also pointed out that we need to think about priorities, since the school has very high standards, and in an age with so many problems in the public school system, this school should be encouraged.
 
Mayor Art Madrid emphasized that at no time the quality of education at the school was in question. “This is not the issue… the issue is rules and standards that apply to everybody.” The school was originally “allowed 100 students, the Council was forced to 180.” He also pointed out that while they were allowed 20 students in the playground, they had 40. They have been granted all kinds of exceptions.
 
He also said that according to residents, “The Church has the Council under their thumb.” He also pointed out that residents no longer feel they have a reason to appeal, since the Council would not listen to them.  He added, “No way I can support this,” adding that he would have upheld the Planning Commission recommendation. 
 
Council voted to allow the expansion, with the Mayor dissenting.