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New Charter School: To Sign or Not to Sign?

The charter school petition for the North Bay Academy is ready for signatures. Here is what opponents want you to know.

Two forces within the Novato school community are on a path for a head-on collision in the coming hours and days, as the people behind the newly named proposed charter school North Bay Academy compete with the people behind the newly formed Save Our Novato Schools organization.

What’s at stake? The creation of a new charter school within Novato Unified School District’s footprint.

I spoke in depth with one of the people behind the Save Our Novato Schools website a couple of days ago, intending to write a post detailing what their goals are. Before getting a chance to write that post — darn kids kept getting in the way with their needs, wouldn’t you know — the folks behind North Bay Academy sent out a notice that its petition is ready for signatures.

And now it comes down to a morning of information overload with a huge clock tick-tick-ticking away. It’s like the lead up to the presidential election, this deadline of petition submission for North Bay Academy looming large. But instead of still having weeks in which to decide, you currently have two days.

In those two days, you can mobilize in one of two ways. And, for the record, while this may seem like a war being fought, it’s really just the first battle in what could turn out to be a protracted war. On that point, I’m guessing both sides would agree.

According to its press releases and notices to its mailing list, NBEF has the official petition ready for signatures from parents. “These signatures are non-binding and represent a meaningful interest on behalf of the signee to have his/her children attend North Bay Academy.” If you signed the preliminary intent to enroll form in July or August, that’s not the same. You need to — ideally — read the petition and then sign it. (Nice broad that I am, I’ve posted a PDF of the petition. You can also go direct to the link at NBEF’s website here.)

You can sign the petition until 8 p.m Sunday or between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday. NBEF lists the location for signing as 285 Bel Marin Keys Blvd, Unit L on Sunday and Unit E on Monday.

Before you consider signing any petition, the organized opponents to the proposed charter school want you to first spend some time on their website, SaveOurNovatoSchools.com, to learn reasons to join the opposition instead. What they want to do is “get parents and people more educated on what the process (of forming a new charter) is, what to expect, and what the anticipated effects would be.” Their biggest fear, one which they espouse repeatedly online, in person and on the phone, is that the creation of the charter will result in teacher lay-offs, overcrowded classrooms and permanent closure of one of NUSD’s elementary school.

The group of parents who formed the SONS website have started their own online petition you are able to access from their homepage by clicking on the link that states “I oppose the NBEF charter. We cannot afford a new school and we want to keep the ones we have.”

The petition, intended for the NUSD Board of Trustees, says, “We believe that the financial effects of a new Charter School in Novato that would benefit only a few of our children would devastate Novato Unified School District, resulting in the closure of an elementary school, teacher job losses and bigger class sizes in our elementary and middle schools. We urge the School Board to vote NO on this misguided idea. Don't let the interests of a few determine the future of all our children.”

The website provides a wealth of information against the charter, but it really does seem to me to boil down, in opponents’ minds, to a sense of fairness for the community as a whole and the “leap of faith” parents have to take with regard to their children’s education.

According to opponents, that “leap of faith” isn’t enough when it comes to using “public funds and public trust.” If the proposed North Bay Academy’s number of petition signatures comes close to the number of preliminary intent to enroll forms it received over the summer, it would take more than 500 elementary and middle school students out of NUSD. NUSD will need to cut its budget significantly to weather that loss, all on a leap of faith that the parents saying they will send their children to North Bay Academy do so and that North Bay Academy will be prepared for opening day. In fact, both NBEF and its opponents point out that a signature on the petition is not a request for a transfer and is not the same as enrolling a student.

And, opponents want to know, what about those left behind? What effect does it have on the currently enrolled NUSD students, teachers, staff, and facilities? That is of particular concern to opponents because they believe the Core Knowledge curriculum for the proposed new charter is “out-dated” and not on par with the Common Core standards being implemented in California and nearly all other states. Of far greater concern to opponents, however, is the expectation that minorities, the socioeconomically disadvantaged, and the disabled will be markedly underrepresented at the proposed charter. Finally, they point to the “main intent” of allowing the creation of charter schools, which they say was to “provide alternative educational opportunities for the lowest achieving students in our community. Those kids, in other words, who are not succeeding in their public schools.”

You’re welcome to take sides in the comments below. But instead of spending a lot of time going back and forth, wouldn’t you rather see for yourself? Go on, read the petition I’ve uploaded. And, then, when you’re done, check out the Save Our Novato Schools website. Inform yourself. Then decide for yourself.

If you sign the charter school petition, you publicly go on the record that you want your child to attend. Please mean it.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Mark Schoenbaum October 09, 2012 at 02:19 PM
Dear Chip, I do have children in the existing elementary schools and I find it disgusting that there is a group of parents out there who are unwilling to even discuss the option of a charter school. The current system is broken and nobody is coming up with any solutions, so a charter school is looking like a good way to shake up the system and get people thinking about the children instead of their own vested interests.
Peter Hamilton October 09, 2012 at 03:25 PM
Would love to understand the specifics on what you think is broken and how this charter addresses this. My own experiences couldn't be further from that. I will admit my own fears about the charter school aren't proven by facts. Most of my concerns are based on what-ifs and anecdotal stories of charter schools that ruined districts financially. This process is already costing the district money that could be used to fund programs in the classroom. I haven't seen the charter budget, I know there is an MOU process that helps define the financial effects to the district. I expect in the next couple weeks we will get very really guidance from the district on the financial impact. I of course reserve my right change my mind about those concerns and support the charter if my fears turn out unfounded. If the district wasn't facing 20% state funding shortfalls, elimination of federal stimulus money and the scourge of revenue limit funding, I would be more willing to roll the dice and take a chance on a new charter school. From a risk-reward standpoint I just don't see it making sense. If the Core Knowledge curriculum the main reward of this effort, there has got to be a better way to introduce this to Novato. Those would be discussions I would have before moving towards a charter.
Chip Tingle October 09, 2012 at 03:29 PM
I thought that's exactly what we're doing here on this treasured community resource called The Patch - having a (undisgusting) discussion. I'm glad to know you have children in the existing schools, yet sad to hear your view of them as "broken". The two schools my daughters attend face challenges, but are far from broken. They are quite amazing places with amazing teachers helping my kids and so many others to truly thrive. Thus my (hopefully reasonable) concerns about a proposal that can only adversely affect these two treasured schools, among the rest of Novato schools. I repeat my request to proponents to share anonymous stats for petitioners so far.
Chip Tingle October 09, 2012 at 05:14 PM
Peter - you've got my vote! No "divisive, bullying, intimidating" rhetoric here, as has repeatedly been the charge .....just thoughtful, well reasoned commentary which happens to be contrary to the views held by the charter proponents.
Novato Unified School District October 09, 2012 at 06:04 PM
NUSD has not yet received the charter application and it is understood that the entire application is a public document. However, NUSD will not be publishing the names on the petition.
Patty Maher October 09, 2012 at 06:07 PM
Thanks for clarifying that.
Chip Tingle October 09, 2012 at 06:29 PM
Is the district willing and able to publish anonymous statistics once the petition is received? Specifically, I'm interested in present schools attended and numbers for each. Thanks
Justin Hubbs October 09, 2012 at 09:28 PM
After Ingels and company put together their charter supporter hit-list (so to speak) and determine how many hail from Rancho, they can make a passionate plea to the board, county or state that the petition should be declined because some of the supporters are Rancho folks. It will be entertaining to watch the board fumble with their decline checklists searching for the Rancho box. The students aren't here to serve the school district, the school district is here to serve the students...ALL of them. And since the state distributes an equal level of funding per student (not including special programs or federal funds), all parents have a say in how the funds are used. Fortunately, the state has created a mechanism for progressive minorities that wish to try new approaches. Change is rarely popular, never easy, but often necessary. Don't be intimidated by Ingels and his phantom group...the public school system is just as much yours as it is anyone else's.
Patty Maher October 09, 2012 at 09:32 PM
Thanks for your kind comments, Chip. Lovely, as always, to run into you on the soccer pitch. Go Novato United!
Tina McMillan October 10, 2012 at 05:00 AM
Did anyone else come home to a series of posts from Michael Christian that were deleted from this thread? I came home to no less than four that reached my email and said Mr. Christian is one of the individuals behind SONS and that they do intend to go forward and post the names of families and teachers on their website. Yesterday, I also took the time to post links and quotes on the SONS website to provide accurate information about the issues being discussed. They all tied directly to Core Knowledge curriculum articles and the state of CA links regarding public charters. Low and behold they are all now gone! Such is the example of free speech on SONS. Apparently only shared views are allowed. How interesting that a website that purports to provide accurate and up to date information on the charter school wont allow dissenting opinions to be posted. Here is a list of School Board Members emails directly from the website. If you are so inclined and you find SONS approach to this issue to be problematic, you can write to the Board and let them know how you feel. Derek Knell*: derek@strahmcom.com Cindy Clinton: cclinton@nusd.org Maria Aguila*: maguila@nusd.org Ross Millerick: rmillerick@nusd.org Shelly Scott*: sscott@nusd.org Thomas Cooper: tcooper@nusd.org Debbie Butler: dbutler@nusd.org (* indicates up for re-election in 2013)
Tina McMillan October 10, 2012 at 06:59 AM
Here is a link to the MOU with NCS. It gives you a sense of how the system works. http://www.novatocharterschool.org/ncs-memorandum-of-understanding-2011-2016 The funding for SELPA is based on the total number of students in the school. That way it is a shared debt. The charter provides a percentage of the districts total cost with regards to IEP's. The students served by the charter that have IEP's will result in some costs being reimbursed back to the charter. The ADA paid to charters is the lowest in the district. You can go to the NCS website to see the amount of fund raising that is accomplished each year to maintain the school. Any student can apply to join. The idea of placing NBEF in a central location, like the Hill campus, is to make it more available to students in surrounding neighborhoods. NBEF is a member of CCSA, California Charter Schools Association. CCSA provides help with writing petitions, budgets, funding and the entire process of becoming a public charter. The effort behind this petition has been tremendous. It isn't just a "few" people as described by SONS members. This is a community effort to create an alternative school that is capable of providing a program that includes: a PreK through 8, The Core Knowledge Curriculum, an extended day, and the Springboard Aftercare program. The district closed Hill. That has been their response to the current fiscal crisis. Perhaps it is time to provide a parent inspired option.
Tina McMillan October 10, 2012 at 08:42 AM
http://www.northbayedu.org/templates/beez5/typography-beez-5/2012-06-17-14-46-33/2012-07-14-03-23-16.html NBEF website Charter Petition Rather than giving in to fears not proven by facts, go to the link and read the charter. The "petition" is the actual agreement that lays out everything about the school from the curriculum implementation to the budget and financing and teacher contracts. It has 16 detailed elements. Here is a link that explains the development of the document and the review process http://www.calcharters.org/starting/petition/ Happy reading.
Bill October 10, 2012 at 07:18 PM
and here is why many charter schools fail....because the parents politics gets in the way of common sense. People will sign a petition for a school to be created with public funds, yet have no intention of sending kids there. It actually does more harm than good, because if the school presents a budget based on bogus signatures and questionable intent, it will be financial ruin. Bullis Charter in Los Altos claims 6,000 on their "wait list", but you dont see them trying to house all them, because they wouldnt all go. People who sign "in support" are causing greater problems , because when they don't show up on school day 1, neither does the revenue.
Georgia October 10, 2012 at 08:04 PM
Sample lesson plan for Kindergarten (5-6 years olds): http://www.coreknowledge.org/mimik/mimik_uploads/documents/469/K_Pres05.pdf
John Parnell October 11, 2012 at 12:34 AM
NUSD - Thanks for the input. It's great to see public agencies engage with the public online in forums such as this. It is nice to know that you will not publish the names on the petition; but as you say, it is a public document. Therefore, you can't really stop anyone else from publishing the names, can you?
John Parnell October 11, 2012 at 12:34 AM
Sorry for the overposting, but I found a new article that may be of interest to everyone. It is in the newest edition of American Educator, which is the magazine put out by the American Federation of Teachers. As has been written, the teachers' unions aren't crazy about charters, so it is especially interesting to see such a positive article on the Core Knowledge, and how it helped these schools in Queens. I would have posted the PDF here, but don't want to get Brent in copyright trouble. The link to the article is: http://www.aft.org/pdfs/americaneducator/fall2012/Dubin.pdf
Tina McTroll October 11, 2012 at 01:04 AM
If I sign the petition, I would want my name published. I wold want everyone to know where I stand. Why wouldn't you want your name published? I don't get it.
Starling Sapphire October 11, 2012 at 01:21 AM
You are clearly not Tina. Tina understands everything. Some other facts you might not know about Tina: Tina can slam a revolving door. Tina knows the last digit of pi. Tina made Dirty Harry's day. Tina came before the chicken and the egg. Tina doesn't sleep, she lays in wait. Tom Petty backed down from Tina. Tina's smile once brought a puppy back to life.
Mike Koniaris October 11, 2012 at 01:52 AM
My parents also believed in choice. They chose not to send me to my neighborhood school, but to Our Lady of Loretto and then St. Vincent High School. They also paid for their choice in 12 years of tuition while still supporting the NUSD with their taxes and voting to pass parcel tax proposals that NUSD put on the ballot. There are plenty of school choices for the people of Novato. My choice is to send my kids to our neighborhood school. I am lucky that I don't have to make the sacrifices that my parents did for my education. I am thankful for all the great teachers at Pleasant Valley and the wonderful community we are a part of. It will be shameful if some of these teachers lose their jobs and schools lose funding or even close because of the creation of a new public charter school. I support the Novato public schools. But I also respect the choice of parents who send their children to private schools, like mine did. Because the bottom line for me is that they are paying for their kids private education and not asking me to help pay for their kids private education. Which in my opinion, is what a charter school is. And it is also my opinion that if the consequences of creating a new charter include the closing of an existing school, like PV for example, many more students will leave the district for private schools with smaller class sizes and better student to teacher ratios which will in turn reduce funding to NUSD even more.
Tina McMillan October 11, 2012 at 02:24 AM
MIke you do understand that public charter schools are "public" schools. They were designed by choice to provide alternate curriculum that would be made available to all students not just the one that could afford private school. The threat to close a district elementary school has been on the table since Hill was closed. We have three schools in PI and one in its 5th year which generally means either a transition to magnet, charter or a complete change in the folks working at the school. All these laws are part of the California Education System. NCLB is responsible for the laws that use PI. When parents join together to create a public charter is is a tremendous effort. It is not a fly by night operation. Read the 176 page charter and see what work has been accomplished. To assume this is wrong without understanding the law and the benefit is small minded. That is what the SONS people have done. Unfortunately the superintendent is fanning the flames by making statements without even having the petition in hand. NCS opened with 50% out of district students whose ADA came with them to the charter. Our children need us to put them first. That is what is behind a charter effort. The needs of the children. NCS has been in operation for 16 years. It is an example of a public Waldorf charter that has been a huge success. This Core Knowledge charter will reach a much broader base. Let's give it a chance to succeed. Take the time to read the links.
Brent Ainsworth (Editor) October 11, 2012 at 02:33 AM
I have not deleted a single comment on this thread as I go through them right now (7:30 pm Wednesday). It could be that commenters have decided to delete their own comments, but nobody other than a Patch editor with certain privileges on the site can spike a comment.
Mike Koniaris October 11, 2012 at 02:46 AM
I do understand that Tina. It is my opinion that a public charter school is like a private-public school. It's only my opinion. I'm not basing that on anything other than my own personal feelings. And I would feel the same way if parents from PV wanted to make PV a charter school. I have nothing against the parents who have signed this petition nor will I engage in any name calling or mud slinging. I'm sure I have friends who have signed this petition. I'm against the charter. I'm not going to sign the petition. That's just me. You support the charter and I respect that. And if the charter gets approved, I will wish it well and will do my best to make sure PV and Sinaloa are the best schools they can be for my children and the other children who go to those schools.. But, thank you for calling me small minded. I always knew the money my parents spent on my education could have been better used.
Tina McMillan October 11, 2012 at 09:06 AM
Brent I think they were deleted by the author. Two went to this thread and two to the other thread regarding the charter. I did not think you had taken them out.
Bill October 11, 2012 at 05:20 PM
I read thru the petition.....it has no budget, no location etc, I can't believe people can make an educated decision while lacking that info......but what is MOST glaring is what just appeared on the NBEF website. I went to find a petition written in Spanish for the English as Second Language of Novato. There isn't one. What just appeared on the NBEF website is a 9 page "executive summary" in Spanish. 167 page document summarized on 9 pages for Spanish population........I guess not ALL kids are invited to read and sign it.....
Bill October 12, 2012 at 08:30 PM
two comments from Tina.... " provide alternate curriculum that would be made available to all students not just the one that could afford private school." "This Core Knowledge charter will reach a much broader base." So a simple question.....how are the kids of parents that cannot read english supposed to be considered included in this new school?
Tina McMillan October 12, 2012 at 08:55 PM
Bill This is not the last chance to enroll nor is it the first time monolingual Spanish speaking families have had to hear about the charter. The process has a timeline that was defined by the state. At this juncture parent signatures indicate an interest in joining the school in August 2013 so that they can not develop a budget for the board. Outreach to ED and ELL will be ongoing. Personally, I think Waldorf is a curriculum that does not appeal to as broad a segment. For example no weekly television or clothing with cartoon characters. My boys loved spiderman and we watched television together. I know of families for whom NCS Waldorf was a great fit and so I don't have the same response to charter. I also know families who were crushed when MSAT lost its charter. Non English speaking parents are one of the hardest groups to reach. They are already part of their neighborhood schools so if we put this school in the Hill site I believe it stands a much better chance of bringing in a diverse student body because it is in a neighborhood that reaches many families of different economic levels. The groups we are concerned about are ED and ELL. I wish I spoke Spanish,but my Mom was French so that is what I learned. If I spoke Spanish I would do direct outreach by going door to door. The whole point of the curriculum is to equalize cultural and economic differences. Even after November parents can continue to apply.
Steve October 12, 2012 at 10:22 PM
I understand that the NBEF is committed to outreach to non-English speaking families throughout Novato, to have the school available to and represent the entire community of Novato. However, the school's plan states that it will not provide transportation, other than carpooling assistance. While the location of the school has not been determined, isn't the ability of the school to reach its goal of being representative of the community dis-served if indigent families are not able to get their children to the school? Even if the school is "centrally" located, e.g. Hill, families that rely on having their children walk to school would be unable to attend unless they lived close enough to walk. Won't that inevitably skew the socio-economic make-up of the school towards wealthier families? How can the charter school be open to families that rely on public transportation and still be representative?
Tina McMillan October 12, 2012 at 11:41 PM
Novato schools do not have the funding to provide transportation. I just heard of several schools in the Sacramento district having to stop bus service. If it is an unrealistic expense for a district school then it will be an impossible expense for a charter that receives and even lower per pupil funding. The questions is how children get to school right now and how many people with diverse socioeconomic means live near the Hill campus. Hill seems optimal if the district was considering restructuring because it wouldn't result in a closure if some of the current programs were to move to a campus that has fewer students. It wont be the two remaining middle schools, they are already impacted. I don't know if San Marin is as full as Novato High but Marin Oaks and NOVA are for older students. Some of the other programs occur after school and so they could remain. This is all speculation and guesswork but once there are numbers and a budget then finding an appropriate campus that best utilizes the districts existing resources seems like the next step.
John B October 13, 2012 at 03:23 AM
Mike - did your parents pay because they didn't think the Novato public schools would give you a good education or did they chose a religious or Catholic-based education? Charter schools cannot by law be religiously based. I am not asking you or any other Novato parent to pay for my child's education. Trust me, I pay and pay and pay. If I choose to go charter (and actually I am on the fence about this whole thing) my child's ADA would follow. How is that you paying for my kid's education? I could afford to go private. Instead I choose to stay in the system and work hard for our public schools, charter or neighborhood. All the dire consequences you talk about - larger class size, closing a school, not to mention a shortened school year - are all on the table now regardless of a charter school. Just check out the NUSD website. I hate to see people try and blame these things on a charter and not on the crappy State and District budget realities. I personally wish that all the energy being expended on this charter conversation could be harnessed to get out the vote on props 30 and 38. If these don't pass we are all looking at devastating cuts.
Ross Ingels October 29, 2012 at 05:50 PM
Since its launch, www.saveournovatoschools.com has received approximately 2000 visits with over 16,000 page views. We have received over 200 parent signatures representing nearly 500 students from all of our schools. There is clearly a growing concern among NUSD families about the effects the proposed charter school will have on our district. Please take a moment and visit www.saveournovatoschools.com to learn more about the opposition effort and sign the online petition. It is also important to write the NUSD Board at charter@nusd.org AND attend the public hearing on November 8th from 6-8PM at the District Office.

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