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The school board voted Tuesday to take the next step toward placing a charter high school in the planned downtown library. With a 3-2 vote, the board pledged its support for spending $20 million from the San Diego Unified facilities bond to lease space for a charter school in the proposed downtown library for 40 years.

Though the letter is not binding and can be broken off before construction begins, it is widely viewed as a win for the downtown library project, which has struggled to gain funding over the years.

“What better environment to nurture learning than an entire arena devoted to thought and expression?” said Judith Harris, chair of the San Diego Public Library Foundation. She added, “If I were a downtown parent, I would fight to have my children in such a school.”

Board members Richard Barrera, Shelia Jackson and Katherine Nakamura voted enthusiastically in favor of the idea, overruling trustees John de Beck and John Lee Evans. Evans argued that the school district had not genuinely weighed the financial viability of starting another small school while talk of closing under-enrolled elementary schools is still in the air; de Beck has long said that the idea would benefit the city more than the school district. “I’m not there,” he said simply.

The board changed the plans slightly on the advice of the oversight committee, which had voiced concern about the financial risk for San Diego Unified if the library project went under. Barrera added a clause to the agreement that would protect any money paid by the school district if the city defaulted on the library plan, plucking the language from a letter penned by the oversight committee this week.

EMILY ALPERT

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