CARLSBAD — After less than two months of review and a three-hour public meeting on Dec. 4, the CUSD (Carlsbad Unified School District) Board of Trustees unanimously denied the Oxford Preparatory Academy’s petition to open a charter school this fall. [amt_override]
The public meeting was the first opportunity the board had to discuss the petition and take directive from CUSD’s review team. The board was required to make a decision that same evening.
OPA Charter Petition
OPA submitted a petition to CUSD in mid-October to open a kindergarten through eighth grade charter school commencing with the 2013-14 school year. The charter proposed to operate with 800 to 1,000 students.
The school would be public and would receive some district funds. But instead of being run by the district, the charter school would be operated and governed by OPA’s Board of Trustees.
Dr. Eric Beam, OPA’s director of special services, who has been leading the petition efforts in Carlsbad, said that OPA began to pursue opening a charter school in North County due to parent requests.
“Charter schools don’t move into a neighborhood unless the parents want them to,” Beam said. He added that an OPA charter school would offer a different option for students from the current CUSD elementary and middle schools.
OPA currently operates two charter schools: one in Chino Valley which was opened in 2010 and one in south Orange County, which was opened in 2011.
OPA also petitioned to open schools in Pomona and Rowland Heights.
Last year they petitioned to open a charter school in the Oceanside Unified School District, but were denied.
Public Board Meeting
A district review team made up of CUSD’s superintendent, director of secondary education, director of fiscal services, attorney, and other administrators scrutinized OPA’s 400-plus page petition and request for facilities.
The 100-plus attendees, many of who had to stand due to lack of seats, seemed to be equally divided and equally passionate in their arguments both in support and opposition of the charter petition. Throughout the meeting, people shook their heads, frantically whispered to each other, and pursed their lips as controversial information was brought forward.
The district review team was granted over an hour for its presentation that strongly advised the board to deny the charter.
OPA representatives were not permitted to present during the board meeting, and only granted five minutes each to speak during the public comment portion.
Presented at the meeting by Dan Shinoff, an attorney hired by the CUSD, the district review team findings stated that OPA’s charter school presented “an unsound educational program.”
The team stated that the petition met eight of 16 elements set forward by stat educational code. The presentation cited issues including OPA’s ethnic and racial balance among its student population, financial concerns, the governance of the charter school, and interest in a Carlsbad charter school.
The team and subsequently the board expressed great concerns about OPA’s ethnic and racial balance among its current and proposed student populations.
Shinoff presented data from OPA’s current schools that showed that there was a higher ratio of Caucasian and Asian students and a lower ratio of Hispanic/Latino students than the overall ratios of the districts where OPA’s two schools reside.
“I think diversity is so key with a vibrant school district. Those numbers don’t lie,” said Board member Ann Tanner during the meeting. “I’ll go down in flames over that (issue).”
Members of the review team also expressed that OPA’s petition policies promote a disparate impact on lower socioeconomic students, students with disabilities and English Learner students.
OPA Executive Director Sue Roche denied this claim, stating during her comment period, “We do educate all students regardless of their socioeconomic background, regardless of their special needs.”
Shinoff’s presentation pointed out that OPA’s petition lacked adequate financial information about where OPA would obtain its necessary funds and included some budget miscalculations. He also stated that the petition allowed for potential “co-mingling of funds” with OPA’s other schools.
Board members expressed concern over the financial responsibility CUSD would have to take on if the charter school was opened.
Yet OPA administrators insisted that CUSD would only have to provide facilities and funds to the charter school comparable to what they would spend if the charter students were attending a public school run by the district.
Review team members, board members, and a number of parents expressed dismay that a board of trustees based in Chino Valley would govern an OPA charter school in Carlsbad. As such, parents, teachers and administrators in Carlsbad would have to drive over 80 miles to address the board.
“This government structure concerns me greatly,” said board member Kelli Moors. “I believe in representative government, and I do not see one here,” she said.
During the meeting, board members, the review team, as well as parents and OPA representatives in the audience debated over the true amount of teacher and student interest in a Carlsbad charter.
The review team claimed it was remarkably low, while others in attendance stated that the surveys used by CUSD and OPA to establish interest in the Carlsbad charter were misleading and inaccurate.
The review presentation and board discussion did not mention OPA’s educational perspectives or its current schools’ exceedingly high API scores.
At the meeting, eight parents spoke against the charter and three parents, as well as OPA’s Beam and Roche speaking in favor of the charter.
Parents against the charter stated that CUSD offers excellent schools and does not “pick and choose” its students.
Parents for the charter argued that students in CUSD deserved a choice in their schools and teachers that were not hired based on tenure and seniority.
Prior to voting on the petition, each of the board members acknowledged how emotional the debate was for many relevant parties but stated that their decisions were based on the facts presented about the charter alone.
The board members voted unanimously to deny OPA’s charter petition.
Roche said that OPA was “very disappointed” by the board’s decision and was discouraged that OPA representatives were not allowed to present or answer the board’s questions at the meeting.
“I would have loved the opportunity to answer some of the questions during the presentation since this is our school,” Roche said.
In the end, she said she still believes that OPA has “a wonderful program to offer the community.” She said OPA is unsure at this time if it will attempt to appeal the board’s decision.