The group bidding to open a new public charter school in for kids of pre-kindergarten through eighth grade has turned in its petition and the ball is now in the court of the school district.
The Novato Unified School District acknowledge receipt of the petition Friday morning, saying the North Bay Educational Foundation filed the document Thursday as it hopes to have a new school, called the North Bay Academy, open by the fall 2013 at an undetermined location.
"We are pleased to have achieved this goal and we recognize that there is still much ahead," said Robert Verhoeff, a board member of the foundation. "We look forward to having a broader and more engaged conversation about what this opportunity really represents for the children of Novato."
Superintendent Shalee Cunningham said in a release that a public hearing will be held within 30 days as long as all components of the petition are in order. The district has five workdays from Thursday's delivery to evaluate the document, and if it is deemed complete, the clock will start on the 30-day window for a hearing. Cunningham said she was checking to see whether the start of the 30-day period would be the day the petition was turned in or the day the package is considered complete.
At a hearing, the NUSD trustees would weigh support for the bid by employees of the district, including teachers, plus parents of kids in public schools, Cunningham said.
"We don't know exactly what we'll be asked to do at a hearing, but we believe we'd be making a case in public as to why particular questions were raised (about the charter school) and specifically address the reasons why a charter can be denied.
"In addition, we would also discuss other pertinent questions of interest we've heard from the public — for example, what the impact would be to other schools in the district if this charter is approved. The answer to that is that any assessment right now of that is purely hypothetical and, the fact is, until enrollment is allowed and kids start to sign up, no one knows."
Verhoeff said more than 300 signatures were gathered on a petition that gauged if people were meaningfully interested in enrollment. He said signatures did not obligate anyone to sign up if the charter school is approved. Legally the foundation was required to obtain signatures on the "meaningful interest" petition that amounted to an estimated 50 percent of actual enrollment at the new school, Verhoeff said.
"Actually enrollment would not happen until 2013," he said. "Right now, we are clearly pleased with the ability to provide to the district and community an alternative education opportunity that we find very exciting."
An opposition group has popped up in the past month, as evidenced by a website called Save Our Novato Schools and a petition circulated to halt the charter school effort. Michael Christian, one of the group's founders, said about 100 people have signed a petition against the new charter school effort.