CARLSBAD — Claiming that its petition was not given fair consideration, OPA (Oxford Preparatory Academy) is appealing to the San Diego County Board of Education over the Carlsbad Unified School District’s denial of their petition to run a charter school.
OPA, which runs charter schools in Chino Valley and Orange County, will present its petition and appeal before the board at a public hearing Feb. 13 in hopes of opening a charter school in Carlsbad for the 2013-14 school year.
“Despite what the district says, we (OPA) still have a very strong parental demand in Carlsbad,” said Dr. Eric Beam, OPA’s director of Special Services and primary spokesperson for the Carlsbad petition. “We know that we have a very sound charter petition in education that would benefit the community.”
Citing doubts about OPA’s ability to meet half of state Education Code requirements for charter schools, the district’s Board of Trustees denied their charter petition last December..
“We were very concerned about OPA’s ability to deliver on the instructional program and the fiduciary responsibilities that are required under the law,” said CUSD Superintendent Dr. Suzette Lovely.
OPA’s proposed charter would establish a three-year charter school starting with the 2013-14 school year. The school would operate kindergarten through eighth grades for 800 to 1,000 students.
OPA has requested to operate a facility near the Interstate 5 and state Route 78, and therefore would most likely reside on Buena Vista Elementary School’s campus.
A team of district administration reviewed OPA’s charter petition, and determined that it met eight of the 16 elements required for a charter school by the state Education Code.
Among its primary concerns, the CUSD review team concluded that the charter petition would have a disparate impact on minority students, lower socioeconomic students, students with disabilities, and English Learner students.
The district team also found that the petition did not adequately describe how OPA would achieve a racial and ethnic balance in its student enrollment reflective of the CUSD population.
Additionally, the team stated that the petition did not adequately explain how OPA’s governing body, based in Chino Valley, would effectively oversee a school over 80 miles away in Carlsbad or how it would cover the start-up costs of opening a charter in Carlsbad.
The team’s findings were presented to the board during a public action meeting on Dec. 5, 2012. After taking directive from the CUSD review team, the board heard final public comments and made its decision on the charter petition.
Dozens of parents and teachers spoke out in favor and against the charter school at the meeting. Some argued that CUSD students deserved a choice of schools, while other speakers stated that CUSD offers excellent schools and claimed that OPA selectively chooses its students.
OPA representatives were not allowed to present on their proposed charter or answer questions raised by the board during the meeting. After over an hour-long presentation by the district’s review team, OPA administrators were granted five minutes each to speak only during the public comment portion of the meeting.
Beam said that he and other OPA staff believe that the CUSD was determined to deny its charter petition from the start and did not portray the petition fairly.
“(The district’s) request for a response for several questions (about the petition) pretty much told us the reasons why they were planning on denying this in advance,” said Beam about the petition’s initial review by the CUSD. “There was no meaningful program or meaningful dialogue about our program beyond what was on the (petition) paper.”
He said that contrary to the CUSD review team’s findings, OPA would specialize in meeting the needs of underrepresented students, including special needs students and English Learner students.
He also said that OPA had a great deal of interest from teachers wishing to apply for positions at a charter location in Carlsbad.
Lovely maintained that OPA’s charter petition was reviewed fairly without bias.
“We (CUSD administration) went through (OPA’s petition) very methodically, and we spent an inordinate amount of time to make sure we looked at everything objectively,” said Lovely.
She said that because the district evaluates charter petitions with state standards, there is no possibility of prejudice in the review. “The district really has no option but to follow the Ed Code,” she said.
Lovely also said that OPA was granted a fair opportunity to present their proposed charter during the review process.
Two members of the district review team met with Beam and another OPA representative to address matters within the petition before reaching a conclusion, according to Lovely.
The review team stated that it spent over 200 hours assessing the petition.
Furthermore, the district board’s governance policies do not allow them to hear presentations directly from petitioners during internal review processes or public meetings, she said.
Hoping to have the district’s decision appealed, OPA has submitted its original petition and supplemental materials to the county.
“We also hope to clarify some misinformation that the district used in their denial,” said Beam.
Both CUSD and OPA representatives will give presentations on the charter petition before the county at the 6 p.m. public meeting Feb. 13.
The county will then make a decision on OPA’s appeal at its next meeting in March, according to Lora Duzyk, SDCBOE’s assistant superintendent of business services.
Over the past 11 years, the county board has heard five charter petition appeals, according to Duzyk.
Literary First’s charter in El Cajon was approved, while three petitions were denied and the last was withdrawn.
If OPA’s appeal is approved, the charter will operate under the countyinstead of the district.
If the appeal is denied, OPA has the option of appealing to the state.
“We have faith that the county or if necessary the state will judge the petition fairly,” said Beam.
“I would hope that (the SDCBOE) would honor the findings of the (CUSD) staff and uphold the board’s decision on the charter.
“We’re confident that our findings are accurate,” said Lovely.