No BASIS of comparison

By: - March 6, 2007 10:27 pm

Rob Schofield wrote an excellent critique of a misleading John Locke Foundation report at the Radical Right Reality Check of NC Policy Watch entitled Ideologues Push the Education Factory Model regarding comparisons with a BASIS charter school in Tuscon, Arizona.  Something still didn’t sit right with me regarding the John Locke numbers so I took a closer look.

According to the “data” in the John Locke report the Tuscon BASIS school building costs were $154 per square foot while the North Carolina costs averaged $139 per square foot or, $15 lower.  Bear in mind that (in addition to cafeteria, athletic, vocational and other program spaces,) North Carolina costs include the costs of sitework including athletic fields, making the actual building costs even lower than Tuscon.

The John Locke report claims that the BASIS school building cost $9,242 per high school student, of which there were 62.  This would make the cost of the building $573,004.  If the square feet per student is 60sf as stated the total area is 3,720 square feet.  It doesn’t sound right.

The John Locke report states that the BASIS middle school was housed in the same building for a total of 298 students but does not state the area per middle school student.  If 298 students were housed in 3,720 square feet the area per student would be 12 square feet.  As this represents a condition somewhere between standing and sitting in a packed assembly space it is clearly untenable and a violation of building codes.

It is more likely that the 60sf per high school student is based on high school students occupying a proportionally small area of a building accommodating 298 students. A rate of 60sf  per student would put the building area at 17,880sf minimum.  A rate of 60sf per high school student and 69sf per middle school student would put the building area at 20,004sf

The BASIS school site was 3825 E. 2nd St, Tuscon.  Pima County records show that the area of this site is 40,132sf and satellite photography indicates that the building occupies approximately 50% of the site, or +/- 20,068sf.  This would point to the 17,880sf number as more accurate than 3,720 but still not entirely accurate.  The evidence suggests that the area per middle school student was higher than the area per high school student in the same building.

Pima County tax records also value the property at $1,100,000 which would be lower than actual sale price (see below). Based on 298 students the cost of purchase and renovations should be $2,754,116 minimum.

The John Locke report does not reveal that BASIS purchased another property in Tuscon May 10 2006 comprised of two lots and one building on E Broadway Blvd, Tuscon.  This property currently houses the High School, known as the BASIS Upper School and opened Fall 2006.  Satellite photography suggests that this building is approximately 10,000sf in area.  The value of these lots combined is listed as $829,647 while the sale price is listed as $2,025,000.  (The ratio of sale price to listed net value suggests that the $2.75 million number for E 2nd St is more accurate for purchase price but not including renovations.)

Whatever way you slice it, something is wrong with the numbers and math would not appear to be a strong skill set at BASIS. Perhaps the source provides a clue:

4. E-mail to the author from Michael Block, Chairman, BASIS School Board, Jan. 24, 2007.

No other data is provided to substantiate any of the assertions by the John Locke foundation with repect to building size or costs.

In February 2006 BASIS issued a notice to parents that included these statements:

BASIS TUSCON is expanding! As you may have noticed, the BASIS Tucson site is busting at the seams. In fact, we had to abolish our 5th grade program this past year in order to make more space for our growing high school. Even after making this difficult decision, however, we find that we still lack enough space to accomodate our growing middle and high school programs. To resolve this problem, we have decided to move the 8th grade and high school grades out of the current site, thereby making enough space to reinstate the 5th grade while also providing our growing high school with its own space and identity.
It will also allow us to build a fully equipped science lab, use the furniture and other equipment sized to older students and create an overall environment that better corresponds to our older students' level of social and emotional maturity.

Clearly the building which was the basis of the John Locke report was inadequate by BASIS’ own admission and, during the time period selected by the John Locke report, 2004-05, was straining to accommodate students, to the detriment of the 5th grade program.  In addition, both High School and Middle school have basketball programs which are conducted at off-site facilities not included in square footage totals. This belies the John Locke report statement that there were "no outside sports or physical education facilities".  Taking the additional BASIS Upper School building into consideration, the area per student  would appear to be close to 100sf spread over two buildings.

For North Carolina the Catawba High School is listed by the John Locke report as 250sf in area per student, the highest listed for NC (the lowest was 130sf).  This is based on a projected 1000 student enrollment in the near future.  The core capacity of the Catawba school is actually 1200.  This lowers the area to 208sf per student for Catawba and would lower the NC average to 164sf from 168sf.  Eliminating highest and lowest numbers would lower that to 163sf.

Catawba has not built a high school in 40 years and, the facility contains functions intended for community use. The school also has numerous vocational education programs such as automotive shop and furniture making which have relatively large space needs.  The building is intended to meet the District’s high school needs for the next 40 years. Just today Republican legislators were advocating for vocational training in lieu of college preparation for some students.

Clearly there is no BASIS of comparison.

Updated March 7, 2007, 4:04am 

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