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Saturday, April 28, 2007

Valley Oak Charter Plan Moving Forward Rapidly

On Wednesday evening, around 30 parents gathered at the Valley Oak Elementary School multipurpose room to discuss the future of Valley Oak and the steps needed to take in the formation of Charter School.

The presentation was led by Mike Egan, who is a California Teacher's Association (CTA) representative whose job is to help facilitate the creation of a charter school. For me this represents a vast sea-change over where the teacher's union was in the mid-1990s on the issue of charter schools when they were generally hostile to the notion.

One thing that is clear now is that the formation of a charter school at Valley Oak Elementary School will not be opposed by the Davis Teacher's Association (DTA) and has some strong support from both teacher's at Valley Oak and elsewhere. It also has the personal support of the president of the DTA. That is a very important hurdle in the formation of a charter school--to ensure that you have teacher's willing to take part in the process.

It is important to understand that under the rules of a charter school no teacher can be required to work in a private school. However, a teacher does have the right to request to work in one and the right to return to their district when they are done working in a charter school.

Likewise no student is required to attend a charter school, but students are allowed to return to the district if they so desire.

Part of signature requirement appeared to be from my understanding of the presentation that around 50% of the teacher's who would be proposed to teach at the charter school must sign the petition. Also 50% of the parents who believe there is a reasonable chance that their child will attend the charter school must sign as well. In the application they must specify the number of teachers and students that will comprise the charter school. Something on the order of 70 students is a minimum for viability.

Under the California Charter Schools Act of 1992, the school cannot discriminate against students for any reason, it cannot charge tuition, and it cannot be sectarian.

There are five reasons that can be bases for denial of charter status--otherwise the district must accept a properly chartered school petition. First, a district can deny a charter on the basis of an unsound educational program. Second, if they deem the petitioners unlikely to successfully implement the program described. Third, if the petition does not have the required number of signatures. Fourth, if the petition does not included the required affirmation (see the previous paragraph with respect to what the school cannot do). Fifth, the petition does not include a comprehensive description of 16 required elements.

As one can see from that list however, it gives the school district a good deal of latitude for judgment calls especially on on the first two aspects and probably the fifth aspect as well. What it comes down to is that if a district is dead-set against the formation of a charter school they can make it difficult and throw up roadblocks. As Mr. Egan suggested on Wednesday, there have however been successful charters with hostile districts and boards.

The suggestion was made however that the interim superintendent was at least not dead-set against the formation of the charter school and that in general he had a favorable disposition towards charter schools. However, he would likely need to see the specifics of the proposal before supporting this particular charter school.

California would then pass Proposition 39 in the year 2000 by a 53-47 margin. In addition to lowering the requirements for local votes to 55% from two-thirds, it also requires school districts to provide charter schools with reasonably equivalent facilities to those provided to students in the area where the charter school students reside. This measure took effect on November 8, 2003, generally requiring all California school districts to provide facilities to charter schools that meet the requirements of the regulations. The deadline to apply for facilities for a given school year under Proposition 39 is October 1 of the previous fiscal year for an existing charter school and prior to December 31 of the previous fiscal year for a new charter school.

Basically school district have to make available to charter schools facilities sufficient to accommodate all in district students "reasonably equivalent to schools they otherwise would have attended." It requires a minimum of 80 in district students. It is substantially rent free, however there is an oversight percentage of 1% of 3% (depending on certain factors). The charter pays operations and maintenance costs. The district is not responsible for out of district students--however, any inter-district transfer is additional money for the district. And finally if there is any facilities encroachment on the general fund, the charter may have to pay for that. The district shall make a reasonable effort to accommodate a request for location, size, and the facility being contiguous.

Finally, it requires a very strict timeline.

  1. Charter petition must be submitted before November 15, 2007 (by November 14)
  2. Must submit facilities request before January 1, 2008 (by December 31)
  3. Must be able to demonstrate meaningful interest from 80 in-district ADA at the time the facilities request is submitted to the school district
  4. Charter petition must be approved before March 1, 2008

That timeline basically puts a huge impetus on a contingent of people to help draw up the charter and get this process moving by this summer. As such they created a tentative timeline for charter organization and submission. Please click here to read it.

Finally any community members interested in volunteering should do so by clicking here.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting