We had a good board workshop last night with our charter school attorney, Margaret Merchat. She walked the board through the details of the Education Code related to the procedures for a group to file a charter school application, the policies related to charter school oversight, and the protocol once an application has been received. Much has changed in the Education Code since approved the 10 years ago.
There are 16 criteria an applicant must meet before the school board can approve the charter school application. Facilities will certainly be an issue, as we are full at all of our school sites and only have a few classrooms available at the Hill Education Center. Margaret did say that charter schools often lease space away from a school site.
In 2003, the Novato Charter School received $840,047 from Novato Unified for its facilities, representing 50 percent of the total construction dollars of $1,680,094. Half of the construction cost was given because only 50 percent of the total average daily attendance revenue of the Novato Charter program represented in-district students.
Staffing will be another issue. If students leave NUSD for a charter school, there will be fewer students and, thus, fewer teachers. Teachers will be receiving layoff notices by March 15 to address the decline in enrollment. Teachers will have to make a commitment in the early spring if they intend to leave.
It was interesting to hear that the charter school must have a student population that resembles the demographics of our community. Our 2010 census showed that our Novato community was 21 percent Latino at that time; I suspect it has increased over the past couple of years because our schools were 33 percent Latino last year.
There were good questions about staff benefits like retirement and health benefits, and whether or not the charter school would opt to participate in those benefits. We really won’t know anything until we get the application, but it raised a lot of questions about our current charter. It also raised many good questions about the budget, revenue and expenditures for a charter school and how they must follow the same rules and procedures we do. We provide financial oversight to our current charter, and would be expected to do the same if a new charter came to Novato.
At this point, our school year is off and running with 7,961 students, and we are very excited about the focus on technology, student achievement and wellness this year!
— Shalee Cunningham, NUSD Superintendent