School districts look to trade proposed McKinley Village development land
Does the move make sense for Sacramento city district—or is it just an enrollment grab?
Depending on who shakes the snow globe, a plan to shift nearly 50 acres of development land from one school district to another is either perfectly rational, politically opportunistic—or both.
On August 15, the Sacramento City Unified School District could sign onto a joint petition to annex a 48.75-acre plot near Cal Expo and the American River from its neighbor and rival, the Twin Rivers Unified School District.
The currently uninhabited territory is located where former gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides and his partners plan to erect a controversial 328-home neighborhood known as McKinley Village.
After being approached by Angelides and his Riverview Capital Investments company in June, Twin Rivers agreed to give up its territory on the basis that it’s too broke to school the students the proposed development is expected to attract.
Twin Rivers officials didn’t return SN&R’s requests for comment, but a SCUSD staff report says the former district “does not have sufficient funding to provide classrooms for K-12 students generated by the Project”—not even with a projected $2 million in additional developer impact fees.
But SCUSD wants those developer fees and new students, even with district residents still reeling from the shuttering of seven “underenrolled” elementary schools. A dozen parents and students filed a federal lawsuit in June to reverse closures, saying the district targeted poorer neighborhoods of color.
The controversy was fresh in Darlene Anderson’s mind when the former school-board candidate chided SCUSD Board of Education members as they discussed possible annexation August 1.
“My, what a short time ago I was here with all those parents talking about their neighborhood schools getting closed,” she said. “Now, the district is off to acquiring more land and acquiring more students—just not those targeted students from those higher-poverty neighborhoods … the ones that you’re failing.
“But you’re moving on to higher ground,” she added sarcastically.
Proponents of the district swap argued that it makes sense. The development area sits on the south side of Business 80, and is closer to SCUSD schools than Twin Rivers counterparts, Angelides and several school-board members noted. Parents wanting to take their children to Twin Rivers’ Woodlake Elementary School would need to travel roughly 5 miles by freeway and over the river. SCUSD’s Theodore Judah Elementary School, on the other hand, is a five-block walk.
“It’s virtually impossible to get young people from our site to the schools in Twin Rivers,” Angelides argued.
But questions abound. For instance, does SCUSD covet the real estate because it makes sense, or because it’s hemorrhaged students for more than a decade?
In a word: yes.
Board president Jeff Cuneo listed the territory swap’s enrollment and financial benefits in the same breath he mentioned education. “I am biased,” he said. “I think our school district can give them an infinitely better education [than Twin Rivers].”
“It helps the district in the long run,” added board member Gustavo Arroyo.
Debate rages over why some 6,300 school-age children have left SCUSD schools since 2001. District officials blame the economy, while critics say it’s the disenfranchisement of minority schools to the benefit of private charter operations. If the district doesn’t untangle this mystery, it may take more than a McKinley Village to raise it.
Just how many new students are projected, where they’d fall in priority enrollment, and the criteria for determining capacity at Theodore Judah and other elementary schools are questions that Cuneo directed staff to answer on the district’s website.
One answer that won’t be there concerns affordable housing. Board member Diana Rodriguez raised the issue, stating that many new families can’t afford current housing prices.
Angelides said his project would include some 40 secondary units known as “granny flats”—essentially, studio apartments that are built over garages or contiguous to a home. The vast majority of McKinley Village units would be single-family homes ranging between $300,000 and $700,000 in price, Angelides estimated.
Rodriguez said there was “no guarantee” that parents can afford this.
According to SCUSD’s general counsel, the Sacramento County Office of Education has final say on the territory swap.