Print this Article

SBE Approves Several New Charter Schools, Waivers

By Jeff Hudson - March 13, 2009

The State Board of Education dealt with several charter school issues and waiver issues during its meeting on Wednesday and Thursday in Sacramento. The board:

— Held a lengthy discussion, but took no formal action on a request by the Los Angeles Unified School District to waive Ed Code regarding class size reduction requirements under the Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA), allowing funds from seven QEIA schools to follow students to nine newly constructed schools. CDE staff had recommended denial. In the absence of action by the SBE, the waiver will automatically be granted for one year.

— Granted a statewide benefit charter to Pacific Technology Charter School (to be operated by Magnolia Educational and Research Foundation), which plans to open campuses in the Santa Ana Unified in Southern California and the San Juan Unified School District in Northern California. Representatives of both those school districts spoke against the charter, who said that the charter advocates had not communicated with them, and the loss of 200 students to a charter school could impact their already strained finances after the March 13 deadline for notifying teachers of possible layoffs. Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) also spoke, asking for a delay in the SBE’s decision. SBE member James Aschwanden said that while the charter advocates had “met the letter of the law,” they had not “met the spirit of the law” by failing to communicate with local school districts. However, the SBE approved the charter on a 7-1 vote, with Aschwanden dissenting.

— Granted a charter to the High Tech High Statewide Benefit Charter on another 7-1 vote.

— Granted a charter to the Everest Public High School in the Atherton/Menlo Park/Silicon Valley area, reversing earlier decisions to deny a charter by the Sequoia Union High School District and the San Mateo County Board of Education. Numerous speakers addressed the issue, speaking for and against the charter, including Sequoia Union superintendent Patrick Gemma, who suggested that the Everest charter would concentrate on serving “students of privilege . . .It takes away from 8,200 students for the benefit of 100 students,” Gemma said. But the SBE sided with chief petitioner Diane Tavenner of Everest, who promised that the school would be “ethnically diverse” and serve a representative percentage of students from East Palo Alto (which is the less affluent portion of the otherwise toney Sequoia Union district). The SBE approved the Everest charter on a 7-0 vote.

— Approved a charter for the Western Sierra Collegiate Academy in Rocklin. The Rocklin Unified school board had rejected the charter, and the Placer County Board of Education had failed to approve the charter on a split vote. Todd Lowell, a Rocklin school board trustee, spoke against the charter, as did Rocklin superintendent Kevin Brown, saying that an existing charter program in Rocklin organized by the same advocates served few students who are English Learners. One Latino parent from Rocklin described the existing charter as “more like a country club.” Charter director David Patterson roundly disputed those arguments, as did others. Wednesday’s SBE discussion ended with an inconclusive vote, resulting in no formal action. On Thursday, Western Sierra came forward with new charter language committing the school to “serving all students, including those who are English Language Learners, special needs, low achieving, and socio-economically disadvantaged” and pledging the school’s enrollment will “reflect the demographics of the district.” Western Sierra also pointed out that if the charter is not approved by March 15, Western Sierra would not qualify for facilities funding under Prop. 39. The SBE then approved the Western Sierra charter on a 7-1 vote, with Aschwanden dissenting. Charter advocates celebrated in the lobby outside the SBE meeting room. Rocklin Unified administrators were not at the SBE meeting on Thursday, because they were meeting with over 100 Rocklin teachers who were getting pink slips as a result of budget cuts to the district.

— Heard from Sen. Gloria Romero (D-East Los Angeles) who spoke of her newly introduced bill SB 471, which calls on education officials to collaborate with the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (the state stem cell agency) to advance education initiatives at public high schools and universities. The SBE voted 8-0 to add language to the science curriculum framework about stem cell research. Romero also praised President Barack Obama for his decision last week to lift federal restrictions on stem cell research. Romero is a candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction in next year’s election.

— Sent out for comment a set of proposed charter school regulations prepared by the Advisory Commission on Charter Schools (ACCS), rather than picking an alternative set of modified regulations prepared by California Department of Education (CDE) staff. Several speakers told the board that the ACCS version spoke to more points than the CDE version, and the SBE picked the ACCS version for public comment on a 7-1 vote.

— Heard several times from Ken Burt of the California Teachers Association, who asked new SBE member Rae Belisle to recuse herself on several votes relating to charter schools. In recent years, Belisle was a member of the Advisory Commission on Charter Schools, which Burt suggested created a conflict in her new role as an SBE member. Belisle did not follow Burt’s suggestion that she recuse herself and voted on several charter school related issues on Wednesday. But on Thursday, Belisle did abstain from a vote on testing, saying she had been involved with testing issues during her employment prior to joining being appointed to the SBE.

Editor's Note: Jeff Hudson is the editor of EdBrief and an award-winning education reporter and writer in print, radio and television media.