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Pinecrest: Mtn. Oaks loses bid

Mountain Oaks School will not be allowed to use the former Pinecrest School building next year for its new Pinecrest charter school.

Twain Harte-Long Barn Union School District, which owns the vacant building, has rejected a proposal from the Calaveras-based Mountain Oaks School to rent it for $6,000 a year plus operational costs.  

The grounds for the denial are the ambiguity of the building’s value and the fact that the Twain Harte-Long Barn board hasn’t declared it surplus property, said district Superintendent John Keiter. 

Mountain Oaks and Pinecrest parents have had their sights set on the building for months, ever since opening a branch of the charter school in the former Strawberry Ridge Retreat last August. 

The charter program is just down the street from the vacant Pinecrest School, which has stood empty since last school year ended. Twain Harte-Long Barn’s Board of Education voted to shut down the school for financial reasons. 

At about 35 students in grades six through eight, it had been one of the few remaining schools of its size in the state.

Pinecrest parents and community members argued at a December public hearing that they had the right to use the building and that it shouldn’t be left empty. Nevertheless, the Twain Harte-Long Barn Board of Education voted down the request March 20. 

“We are very disappointed,” said Mountain Oaks administrator Jacqueline Dennis. “But we’re going forward and keeping all options on the table to look for another site.” 

Dennis said the charter school has always seen the former Strawberry Ridge Retreat, which it’s renting for about $1,000 a month, as a temporary site. It’s now scouting out possible locations in Pinecrest, Sierra Village, Mi-Wuk Village and Long Barn.

Mountain Oaks bills Twain Harte-Long Barn for the students who attend school in Pinecrest and also live within the district’s boundaries. 

That costs the district about $145,000 a year, according to Keiter. 

But Pinecrest parent Jennifer Lloyd, who is now a teacher at the new Mountain Oaks program, pointed out that Twain Harte-Long Barn takes in several hundred thousand dollars in property tax revenue from the Pinecrest area.  

The total “fair market value” of the Pinecrest School building and property is still up in the air because records about its construction have been scattered, Keiter said. 

The building was part of Columbia Union School District when it was built in 1986 and switched over to Twain Harte-Long Barn, which added a portable on the property. 

Twain Harte-Long Barn is in the process of collecting records on the building from state agencies. 

The school board has asked Mountain Oaks to stop placing its request to use Pinecrest on meeting agendas, “in the interest of time and public resources.” 

However, it’s pledged to reconsider the issue in August. 

“If they wanted to work with us, they could,” Lloyd said. 

In the meantime, Gold Rush Charter School has also expressed interest in the building, Keiter said. 

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