(The meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 18, will be shown live on Comcast Channel 30)
It's no secret to anyone who paid attention to the Dec. 11 Novato Unified School District board of trustees meeting, but the district staff has recommended denial of a petition to create a new public charter school in Novato.
The board is to vote Tuesday, Dec. 18, on the controversial proposal to open a new school, tentatively called the North Bay Academy, at an existing district site for kids pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.
If it's shot down, the petitioners — the North Bay Educational Foundation — may appeal to the Marin County Board of Education or go back to the drawing board and resubmit to NUSD.
Robert Verhoeff, a co-founder of the foundation, said it's too early to tell what move his side will make if that's the case.
"We have not yet finished our formal assessment of those points they made," he said, "however, we have identified a number of points that we believe are a matter of opinion and some of which we believe are unfounded. That's not to say their whole analysis is that way, but as we go through it, we feel there are areas that are open for debate."
According to charter law, the board may only deny a petition if it makes written factual findings that support that:
- The charter school presents an unsound educational program
- The petition falls short of the number of signatures required by statute
- The petition lacks an affirmation of each of the conditions required by statute.
- The petition lacks "reasonably comprehensive descriptions" of the required elements of a charter petition.
- The petitioners are "demonstrably unlikely" to implement the program
The NUSD staff is pointing to the last two as grounds for denial. The report, unveiled over two hours on Tuesday, said the trustees should deny the petition because of vague descriptions and the long odds of the school's success.
Verhoeff sent a letter (attached) Friday morning to NUSD requesting one hour of time on the Dec. 18 agenda to publicly respond to the staff report. Superintendent Shalee Cunningham told Verhoeff that his request was denied.
His reaction: "It is mindboggling that such a serious matter coming before our school board could be determined with a 10-minute public presentation by the charter petitioner, a two-hour public presentation of findings by NUSD staff and the denial of a request by the petitioner to rebut those findings in the same public setting as they were made. So much for the era of transparency."
The NBEF would rather work things out with the Novato school board because "We're Novatans, and that's where our interests lie. We continue to believe this is a very good offering for our community."
Marin County Superintendent of Schools Mary Jane Burke said the petition cannot be substantially changed if the foundation wants to appeal to the county board — otherwise a fresh petition would have to go through the same process with the Novato trustees. Burke said she didn't have an opinion on the charter school matter.
"I'd want to see the staff report, which I have not done yet," she said. "The bottom line is that within all districts people do their due diligence to make their recommendation and that the ultimate decision is with the trustees."
If the petition is denied and the NBEF decides to appeal, seven county trustees would have to hold a hearing 30 days from the receipt of the appeal. A final board decision would have to be made 60 days from receipt or 90 days if both parties are in agreement that more time is needed.
If the petition is denied at the county level, it could be taken to the California Board of Education in Sacramento.
In 2003, a bid to open a charter school in San Rafael was denied by the school board, denied by the county board and then approved by the state. However, the school never opened.