Teachers describe woes at Rucker Elementary

Over the course of a study session that ran twice as long as
expected, about two dozen teachers showed up to inform trustees of
a litany of problems at one of the district’s oldest school, Rucker
Over the course of a study session that ran twice as long as expected, about two dozen teachers showed up to inform trustees of a litany of problems at one of the district’s oldest school, Rucker Elementary.

Facing a dwindling supply of construction funds, trustees discussed Thursday night the district’s top facilities needs – the completion of Christopher High School, modernization at Rucker and Rod Kelley elementary schools, and improvements to the campus of the Dr. T.J. Owens Gilroy Early College Academy.

“We don’t have enough money to do everything we want,” Superintendent Deborah Flores said.

In Nov. 2008, voters approved a $150 million school facilities bond. However, the bond was structured in such a way that it would be sold in three series, spread over a 10 year period. The first $50 million has already been spent, mostly on CHS, and the district recently took out a short-term loan to access the next $45 million earlier than it expected. The final $55 million won’t be available for several more years, which forces trustees to prioritize the district’s facilities needs, Flores said.

At a May board meeting, trustees considered replacing the $20-million permanent classroom wing designed to complete the campus of CHS with portables. More than 100 parents, students and teachers from that school, several of whom publicly denounced the option, attended the meeting. Thursday evening, about two dozen Rucker teachers spoke on behalf of their school, which – like CHS – claims the cougar as its mascot.

School board members listened to a 30-minute presentation from staff and parents at Rucker Elementary – a school that’s stood at 325 Santa Clara Ave. in north Gilroy for more than a century. Though the original building is no longer standing, parts of the current campus are several decades old and in need of immediate attention, teachers said. Nine speakers showed 26 pictures of the campus and described leaky ceilings, cramped quarters, flooded parking areas, loose wiring, cracked and uneven pavement, and various other safety hazards that pose “challenges” to students’ learning experiences at the school.

“It’s very clear to me that (Rucker) is an extremely special campus in so many ways,” Rucker Principal Jan Boehme said. “My teachers tell me it’s the best kept secret in Gilroy.”

However, Rucker is its own “unique” challenges, she said.

A construction timeline distributed at the board meeting showed that construction at Rucker wouldn’t begin until 2012.

“The facilities are sadly lacking and I’m very, very concerned about the dates that we heard tonight,” she said.

Trustee Denise Apuzzo also expressed her desire to get moving on modernizing the aging school, pointing out how construction on an additional classroom wing at the district’s newest elementary school, Las Animas, moved quite quickly and is almost complete.

“The community sentiment that I’ve gotten is that when it’s a new, bright, shiny school, you move quickly to make it brighter and shinier. And that’s the perception,” Apuzzo said. “And it’s the perception because that is what they see. Las Animas was a brand new school, and while Rucker was wallowing, we somehow found $4 million to immediately put a new wing over at (Las Animas).”

Rucker teachers urged the board to accelerate the construction at their school.

“Due to these safety issues … Rucker must be a top priority,” Danielle Sassano, a fifth grade teacher at Rucker with the school’s gifted program, told trustees. “In regards to Christopher High, I know what it feels like to begin a project and the uneasiness that comes with putting off its completion. However, if you build a house and find out the wood is rotten or a pipe bursts, you’ll need to repair the damages before finishing the house. As always, we invite you to come out and see us, especially when the rain comes.”

After Rucker’s presentation and with little debate, trustees transitioned into their regular meeting and awarded a $20-million contract to Swinerton Builders to construct a parking lot, an aquatics center and a wing of classrooms at Christopher High School. The classroom wing is scheduled to be complete by August 2011.

Trustees will discuss future plans for Rucker at a July 22 board meeting.

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