The Cupertino Union School District will build over 200 affordable housing units at a closed school site, the superintendent announced Tuesday, in an effort to keep teachers in the classroom.
"We know that at the end of this project we will be able to stay at the top, and we will be able to recruit and retain the best personnel in the state," said CUSD Superintendent Wendy Gudalewicz.
The district has identified Luther Elementary School, 220 Blake Ave. in Santa Clara, which closed 33 years ago due to declining enrollment, as the planned location for the housing project. A mix of one-bedroom, two-bedroom and three-bedroom apartments will be rented below market value.
"Our employees, at the salaries they have, they can’t compete," Gudalewicz said.
On average, the district says it hires 70 to 80 new teachers each school year. CUSD says teachers receive a salary base level that is the same across California. While CUSD is one of the highest performing districts in the state, it is one of the lowest-funded districts in California, according to CUSD.
Superintendent Gudalewicz named the building of Apple’s Campus Two Headquarters, or "Spaceship" campus, as a reason for the district housing project. When complete, Campus 2 will be home to more than 12,000 employees.
"All of those employees have to live somewhere, which is increasing the value of everything around us," Gudalewicz said.
Beginning in January, the district says it will start provisions for a request for proposal (RFP) from housing developers. The developer would also submit proposals for ways to finance the build.
The district’s preliminary plan is to hire a developer to build units on the district-owned property. The district would then create a non-profit or separate entity to manage the property. Revenue generated from the rental units would then be used to pay back the developer financing.
CUSD says it doesn’t yet know the cost of the project, or the total number of units that will be built, but Superintendent Gudalewicz says she is "confident" the district will get the housing built.
"The plan is to not use any taxpayer dollars," Gudalewicz said. "There are enough units that over time we believe it will actually be revenue generating so that the money that’s coming in from the rental will actually go back to paying the financing."
The district says it is working with state and local teachers unions to determine which educators will qualify for housing and who will receive priority.
"I think it’s great," said Dave Villafana, Cupertino Education Association (CEA) president and 6th grade teacher at CUSD for over 28 years. He says he loses colleagues every year because they cannot afford to live in the area or because a long commute is too difficult to maintain.
Villafana said housing has been a personal struggle for him as well.
"There is no way I can afford to buy a place in this area, so I’m renting and will continue until I retire, and then I’ll move out of the area to where I can afford to live and buy," Villafana said.
The proposed school site is not currently zoned for residential property. The district says it will work with the City of Santa Clara on rezoning.
Luther Elementary School was chosen because it has not been district operated since 1982, and CUSD says a demographer determined there will not be new student growth in the area.
Yet the district currently leases classroom space on the campus to four private schools: Waha Montessori Preschool, Morning Star Chinese School, Sierra Elementary & High School, and Happy Days Child Development Center. All four schools have been notified of the district’s plan to build housing units.
"I never thought the school would close so early," said an administrator at Waha Montessori Preschool. The administrator, who declined to give her name, says the preschool has been leasing the space from the district for 13 years. "There is nothing we can do."
Waha Montessori along with two of the other schools signed five-year leases with the district this year, and one school signed a five-lease in 2013. The district says it can exercise a clause in the contract that allows the property to be taken back if one-year notice is given.
Waha Montessori says the district informed them they can stay for the 2016-2017 school year, but is not sure yet about following school years. Preschool administration says they will probably relocate the 100 students currently on campus to one of its two other school locations.
"But over there we are almost full too," said the administrator.
CUSD is not the only Santa Clara county school district to develop teacher housing. Santa Clara Unified School District has co-operated Casa del Maestro, a 70-unit affordable housing development, since June 2002. Rental Prices range from $880 to $1,405. The unit was developed with Education Housing Partners, Inc in response to high rates of teacher turnover.
The Cupertino Union School District plans to complete this new housing project within the next few years.
CUSD educates nearly 19,000 students a year. In 2018 that number is expected to drop to 18,600 due to families leaving the area because of rising housing prices.