SAN JOSE -- It seemed like a rational alternative to the pitched battles that erupt over charter school openings. For years, the downtown neighborhood near Washington Elementary has wanted a middle school. Downtown College Prep, the oldest high school charter in the county, planned to open one next fall.

So why not locate it on the Washington campus, which would have spare classrooms by 2015?

But despite interest and compromises by San Jose Unified School District, the charter school and residents, the effort fell victim to volatile charter-school politics. The agreement to create Downtown College Prep Middle was cemented in September, but the school remains homeless for 2014-15.

It appears the district fell short in reaching out to teachers, parents and the broader community. Although residents pleaded last fall for a middle school, seeds of doubt in some segments grew into vocal opposition. Last month, San Jose Unified staff withdrew its recommendation to place the charter at Washington.

"I feel disappointed. It was going to benefit all the students," said Patzy Cervantes, mother of a fifth- grader who has signed up to attend DCP middle next year.

She and others in the largely Latino community had long advocated for a neighborhood school for children who now travel 2 to 3 miles, many walking, to middle school.

"I'm feeling sad, because the district listened only to the other side," said a Washington parent who doesn't want her name used, because she received threats for speaking in favor of the charter school. "People didn't really understand the work of DCP," she said. Instead, she said, they succumbed to rumors.

They feared, for example, that allowing DCP to operate the middle school -- which would be just sixth grade in the first year -- would lead to it taking over Washington Elementary.

In November, downtown residents at a packed San Jose City Council meeting asked for a middle school in their neighborhood. Council members asked the district about its plans.

"My constituents would like to have a middle school," said Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio. "I thought by pushing the subject in public, (the school district) would be on the hook."

The message got through. "We came back and said, if they're publicly saying that, we've got to address that need," said Stephen McMahon, the district's chief budget officer.

Washington seemed like a perfect solution. It has three vacant rooms and in 2015 when it loses special state funding for small class sizes, it will have 12 surplus rooms, McMahon said.

But the district didn't get Washington teachers on board, and charter-school opponents began organizing parent opposition. They didn't like DCP's use of computers for remediation, and they feared clashes if "outsider" middle schoolers came onto campus.

"There would be problems commingling students from eighth grade to pre-kinder," said Brett Bymaster, a former Washington parent who successfully led opposition to placing a Rocketship charter school nearby, adjacent to the Tamien Light Rail station.

"It wasn't the right fit for our school."

Teachers, who had thought Washington would expand to a K-8, were surprised by the proposal. "We always have concerns when a charter school becomes part of a traditional school campus," said teachers association President Jennifer Thomas. She said partnership details weren't clear. "Who will oversee it, who can ensure the staffs can co-habitate?"

Other parents have responded with frustration.

"I'm pretty upset," said Liliana Muñoz, 28, who noted that her fifth-grader's school, Galarza, also has Hammer Montessori on the same campus. "We get along fine." She plans to send her son to DCP next year to a site yet unknown.

Downtown College Prep was founded in 2000, taking struggling students and accelerating them toward college. It has grown from one campus on The Alameda and added another high school and a middle school in Alum Rock. In last year's graduating class, 54 of 58 students enrolled in college. Of its graduates, one-third have completed a four-year college, four times the national rate for low-income students.

DCP co-founder and executive director Jennifer Andaluz said 150 sixth-graders have signed up for 140 spots in the school, wherever it is placed. An agreement the district signed obligates it to find a location for the school for next fall. But it might not be near Washington.

"The district has the opportunity to serve as a unifying force in the placement of DCP in that neighborhood. They've backed down," she said. She is disappointed.

"I don't like to feel I'm on the same team with somebody and then all of a sudden they've changed shirts."

Contact Sharon Noguchi at 408-271-3775. Follow her at Twitter.com/NoguchiOnK12.