The Vanguard has a new home, please update your bookmarks to

Friday, March 07, 2008

County Board of Education Hears Valley Oak Charter Appeal

Yesterday the County Board of Education met up in its Woodland offices to hear the appeal of the Valley Oak Charter School.

Yesterday was arranged to allow community members, parents, and teachers to participate and comment on the school. The board graciously met at 4:45 PM in order to accommodate working people.

The first thirty minutes of the meeting was a presentation by two of the petitioners--Mike Egan who works for CTA and has helped to guide this process and Bill Storm, science teacher at Valley Oak Elementary.

It was a presentation familiar to many who have followed the Valley Oak saga, but for Superintendent Jorge Ayala and the County Board of Education, it was the first time they had a chance to hear in detail about the advantages of Valley Oak and why it needs to stay open.

One of the points that was raised that was somewhat new was a discussion of other teacher directed schools from across the county including the Minnesota New Country Day and Milwaukee Public Schools.

They spoke about how teaching technology can help to bridge the digital divide and how Valley Oak will introduce technology to students and indeed through the students, to their families as a whole. They emphasized that this was not a program about hardware. It was not a program about giving a computer to every student, but rather a program geared around integrating technology into instruction.

They spoke of the organizations that support the development of the charter school including two very key organizations--the Davis Teachers Association (DTA) and the California Teachers Association (CTA). In many ways this is a unique scenario because teacher's associations have often battled with charters in other locations.

One of the big questions is under what collective bargaining agreement teachers would fall under. This is important since the county's payscale is significantly different and lower from that of DJUSD. The petitioners pointed out case law where a county had taken over as the authorizing jurisdiction for the school district and the teachers remained under the auspices of the CBA that was negotiated with their home district rather than the county.

Finally, a point was raised about the criteria for approval and denial. There are very specific criteria that we have discussed in the past at length. Those do not include economic impact on the school district. There is a very important and indeed specific reason for that provision in the ed code and that is because--there is always a fiscal impact on a school district to have a charter school and if they allowed that criteria as a basis for denial, every charter would be denied. It was pointed out that in fact, one of the stated reasons at the meeting on January 24, 2008 was the fiscal impact on the school district. More on that a bit later.

Parents, teachers, and community members attended the meeting and spoke on behalf of the charter school citing the unique place that Valley Oak is a high achieving school for Spanish speakers and other disadvantaged children. They spoke in terms that we have heard many times, of EL students not only succeeding but excelling. Rick Gonzales, Jr. of the Yolo County Concilio talked about the fact that there were EL students who graduated from the EL program and went into the GATE program. Others talked about it having the highest EL scores and performance in the district and the fact that this is the most culturally, ethnically, and economically diverse population in the city of Davis. But unfortunately, also the most vulnerable and that vulnerability remains the reason that they need to have a school to call their own.

County Clerk and Recorder Freddie Oakley talked about a Lt. Gov. John Garamendi Speech from earlier:
"At a time when our state faces more challenges than ever in an increasingly world, an increasingly complex global economy, and an environment threatened by global climate change, California cannot afford to cutback on these investments which have made our state strong and which propel our economy into the future."
She went on to discuss the impact of Valley Oak and the need to take something out of this crisis:
"He was talking about K through 12 education. What a wonderful opportunity has arisen out of this crisis in the Davis schools that was propelling the closure of this extraordinarily valuable community resources. But a tremendous opportunity to do something that will be of real benefit to Yolo County as we go forward into the future. We need learners who are capable and familiar with technology issues. We know that is what children learn and take home to their parents."
Amanda Lopez-Lara, the student representative on the Davis school board came down on her own time to speak to this issue. She said that her family has gone through Valley Oak, although she did not go to school there herself.
"Being on the board, I understand the budget cuts that are going through... I sat through all of the budget meetings and I understand what the achievement gap is. And there is so much talk of closing an achievement gap. Finally I see a where we can focus on the Latino Students, on minority students, and to me it was sad that it was rejected by my own school board. Because here is a chance where I think the achievement gap can truly be closed. Where they can focus on the EL students and those who did not learn English as a first language...

I also understand that for my board it was a sense of monetary worth, because of the budget. I think that sometimes you have to overlook the monetary worth and look at the student value."
County Supervisor Mariko Yamada also spoke in favor of Valley Oak Charter School. She spoke as the parent of two children who went to Valley Oak elementary school.
"We chose to transfer to Valley Oak because of the enriched atmosphere and environment that is truly unique to Valley Oak. It is the oldest, most culturally, linguistically, and economically diverse campus in Davis. I spoke against the closure of the Valley Oak School. I spoke in favor of the charter.

"The Davis school board and others certainly diligently participated in the Best Use of Schools Task Force [argued] that you can take a school and its programs and transfer them elsewhere and they can replicated. That's kind of an intellectual exercise of reviewing school programs.

"I'm here to say that Valley Oak is much more than the sum of its parts. You cannot take the programs and just transfer them to other campuses and achieve the same synergy, the same dynamic, the same sense of commitment that the entire school community has to the school. I think it would be a tragedy to deny the charter."
Throughout the meeting--the presentations, the public comments, the County Board of Education was engaged, respectful and appreciative of the commitment and work of the petitioners and the supports of the Valley Oak Charter Program.

Trustee Davis Campbell who represents a portion of the city of Davis on the Board thanked those in attendance.
"As one board member and particularly from Davis, I want to express my appreciation for all the energy that's gone into this. I know it is a very emotional and important issue for everyone in the room. I can assure you that we're taking that very very seriously."
Board Trustee Stu Greenfield concurred.

Board Trustee Joseph Thomson, who also represents Davis, read some concerns into the record. He wanted direction from legal council about the process followed by DJUSD with regards to the good faith negotiation that went into created the charter amendment which was subsequently denied.
"At the January 24th board meeting the DJUSD board rejected an amended petition. However that decision was apparently based in part on considerations explicitly excluded in the education code. At their February 8th meeting, the DJUSD board chose not to vote on the amended petition, but only voted down the original November petition.

It might be argued that by entering into negotiations, the DJUSD board necessarily obligated itself to treat the amended petition as the operative document, if so, that seems to raise two questions that YCBE counsel needs to answer before we proceed.

One, has DJUSD met its statutory obligations to vote the petition up or down based on acceptable criteria and two if DJUSD has not met its obligation does the YCBE have jurisdiction to hear an appeal of the decision that was never completed."
The implications of that statement could range far and wide. It may force the DJUSD board to take additional action. It may also place the DJUSD board out of compliance, which could itself be grounds for appeal and overturn. That question was directed to be YCBE counsel but also DJUSD counsel, Scott Yarnell who was at the meeting.

How this process proceeds is unclear at this point. The outcome is not clear. However, it seems everyone left that meeting believing that the charter would get a fair and professional hearing. In these times of budget crises and budget cuts, it seems that the Valley Oak Charter school is more and not less important than ever. The students who will be harmed most by declining enrollment and state budget crises are likely to be these kids--kids who are at-risk and disadvantaged to begin with. Valley Oak has been an example of a school that defies the odds and provides children with a strong and solid foundation for their education.

If we lose this tool, it will put these kids education and thus their very quality of life in peril. Right now their hope rests on a body that has not had a vested interest in closing the school for months. It gets a fresh hearing by fresh eyes. And maybe, just maybe, that is what this charter school and this community needs.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting