A Pittsburg junior high school that serves more than 1,100 students is at risk of losing $900 per student in annual funding, though there may be a way to protect it.

Rancho Medanos Junior High is one of about 500 schools statewide, four of them in the Pittsburg Unified School District, receiving from $500 to $1,000 per student every year from the Quality Education Investment Act, the result of a 2006 lawsuit settlement demanding better state funding for struggling schools.

The money is a significant chunk of Rancho Medanos' budget -- the state gives the school about $5,200 per student in average daily attendance funds, so the additional $900 amounts to about a 17 percent boost, according to district officials.

But Rancho Medanos is violating the terms of the investment act and will have to get special permission from the state to keep getting that money.

The deal works like this: The schools participating in QEIA tend to be among the state's lowest-ranking in academic performance and "have high percentages of low-income, minority and English learners" as students, according to the act's website. Such schools are in need of some extra support, and by agreeing to a number of conditions, they can get it.

Among those conditions is a reduced students-to-teacher ratio. Ranked by its sixth-graders, Rancho Medanos is carrying about 24.4 students per teacher, higher than its target ratio of 22.8 to 1.


Advertisement

The school district has been growing, with about 600 new students joining its pool of about 10,000 in the past two years, and Rancho Medanos has been especially burdened because it's taken in half the students from Central Junior High, which was closed in 2008 amid concerns about a natural gas pipeline that runs under the building. A similar gas line exploded in downtown Walnut Creek in 2004, killing five workers and injuring four others.

Assistant Superintendent Abe Doctolero said he's confident the unusual circumstance will be enough to protect the funding.

"The process is more than a formality, as we're talking about quite a bit of money," he said. "You need a real reason. And we have a real reason. I'm more than hopeful; I'm confident."

The state Board of Education has gotten more than 60 waiver requests already, and the standing expectation is that if schools or districts fail to meet the criteria, they will lose the funding, said Mark Calonico, director of QEIA's Northern California office. He added that the 2010-11 school year was the strictest so far in terms of holding schools to the deal's standards.

However, Calonico said, a school in Sacramento County facing similar circumstances -- a risky gas pipeline forcing the closure of another school -- was indeed granted a waiver.

"The challenge is going to be, with our ever-increasing enrollment, getting our numbers down in time for the end of the waiver," Doctolero said. "We're only asking for a year."

That effort could be buoyed by the anticipated opening of Martin Luther King Jr. Junior High School for the 2012-13 school year, Doctolero said.

The issue will be the subject of a public hearing at Wednesday's school board hearing.

Contact Sean Maher at 925-779-7189.

IF YOU GO
What: Pittsburg school district board meeting
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
Where: 2000 Railroad Ave.