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NUSD Staff: Charter School Bid Should be Denied

Controversial issue goes before school board on Dec. 18, and petitioners aren't sure what would happen next.

(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.

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Roger December 15, 2012 at 03:08 AM
Years ago the teachers at Clayton High School took it to become a charter, but the State approved it after the district rejected it. The high school then got lots of money as a charter, and parents and teachers there are happy with their charter.
TAK December 15, 2012 at 02:22 PM
Chester - I agree with you and wish it could be up for public vote. If the public had a chance to have all the information and if NBEF and NUSD publicly debated the issue, and if facts were all verified, I bet it would pass with a super majority. Please read this and see if it doesn't sum up what is happening in Novato. http://www.publiccharters.org/editor/files/NAPCS%20Documents/FacingtheOppositionSpeakingUpforPublicCharterSchools.pdf
Jerome J Ghigliotti Jr December 15, 2012 at 03:40 PM
@TAK, I see that you are old enough to remember "democracy", where the people control the society. That went the way of the buffalo. Now we have a leftist government that is run by the government and for the government because "they" know what is best for us and "we" do not. You elected them. I did not.
Roger December 15, 2012 at 04:25 PM
Lynwood is in its 5th year of PI status. Transfers unrestricted to PV will add big cost for portables, said head of district at June meeting. Is that failing or succeeding?
Michael Christian December 15, 2012 at 06:23 PM
I submitted a petition in opposition to this proposal at the last NUSD meeting. Nearly 1,100 parents signed it. 1,100 parents expressing concerns over the effect this proposal could have on our current schools. To learn more and to take action, please visit SaveOurNovatoSchools.com
Keith S. December 15, 2012 at 07:16 PM
Are you kidding! Of course the District wants is denied. This whole thing is about money and the NUSD saving face because of the poor product they put out. People should not look to the NUSD as a non- prejudice voice. We need to change things and shake up the status quo.
Kevin December 15, 2012 at 08:01 PM
Keith, I'm just a parent and I'm against it.
Roger December 16, 2012 at 12:22 AM
The charter is driven by Rancho teachers and parents, and the Rancho "brand" has had a big draw over the years ( 6 applicants for every open slot). Wow. I think it will be a no brainer for the State to approve the charter over the local district opposition. The teachers union can enjoy its short-lived victory of gaining a first-step rejection of the application, but I suspect the charter will have the last smile. The district should think about the outcome of winning an early battle, but in the end losing the war.
Kevin December 16, 2012 at 12:31 AM
We'll see Roger. Do we really need another school that sounds good on paper but has an all white population? How is that fair? Rancho and the Novato Charter school are primarily all white schools. We're all Americans and if our latino population doesnt have the means to transport thier children to a school outside of walking distance from thier house do we just say "it's not my problem"...We've also heard from the latino population that they are intimatated by these schools and nothing has been done about that and I'm sure nothing wil be done with this Charter. PS I'm white AND a republican! We dont need to split our thin resources even more that they are already!
Roger December 16, 2012 at 12:54 AM
Kevin, doesn't the district have a better chance forcing some diversity into the charter now at this early stage than after a very hostile relation has been established between the charter and the district and the charter the just takes minimum orders then from the State?
Jerome J Ghigliotti Jr December 16, 2012 at 08:05 AM
The teachers' unions in Louisiana had the right idea. State law permitted low income students attending schools which failed to meet state education standards to apply for vouchers to attend a school where they could actually get an education, The teachers' unions sued to force the children back into the failing schools in order to preserve their per diem numbers and prevent bad teachers from being laid off. Does NUSD have the same intent to keep the numbers up for the non-charter schools?
Mike Marsh December 16, 2012 at 08:07 AM
If the things on your website were factual I'd sign your petition. The NUSD issued their financial impact on Dec. 4th of $1.39MM and denied that a school would close. http://novato.patch.com/blog_posts/cfos-corner-a-look-first-interim-financial-report-for-2012-13 If the charter budget impact is to be believed then you must accept that they spend about 50 cents on the dollar actually on education in the classroom. And that this new school will not attract any non-NUSD kids to the district. Not one. If everyone is so fired up about a charter school that might or might not cost the district, why are they not rioting over a $3.3 million deficit and the district's intention to cut instructional days and/or increase class sizes. Try getting people to support a new parcel tax when that is the quality of the educational product in Novato. Your website sounds well named to bring some visibility to this larger issue. Do that and I will join you in gathering signatures.
ConcernedNovatoan December 16, 2012 at 06:53 PM
Kevin, what percentage of these Hispanic parents don't have the means to transport their kids to school? And what happens when they go on to middle and high school? The schools maybe two or three times as far perhaps? Transportation still a problem there? In regards to "intimidation by these schools" I am wondering what specific examples you are speaking of. Something similar to Father Luke getting threatening phone calls and emails at his church? Or perhaps intimidated by the number of white students signed up? No one is holding anything against any parent interested in sending their children to the new charter school. The Hispanic parents complain about diversity yet most apparently won't even try to enroll their kids in the new charter or even the Novato Charter School. So in my opinion they are creating this issue of lack of diversity.
TAK December 17, 2012 at 06:46 AM
I believe that much of the opposition to the charter is based on the financial impact to an already strained district budget. The NUSD didn’t provide a charter financial impact statement until Dec. 4th. They have stated a $1.39 million cost of the charter school. Their budget did not show a school closure. Please update your website with this official information. With a public charter school both the revenue and the costs of educating follow the student. The NUSD budget impact says that for every dollar of revenue lost they would save just 47 cents in per student education costs. If instead you assume that the district spends 77 cents of every dollar on education costs and acknowledge the money that the charter would (per their budget) pay back to NUSD, then the charter has no financial impact on NUSD. I am one of the parents that presented these findings to the Trustees on Dec. 4th. If you would like more information or a copy of this analysis please send me a message. If you would like to read and comment on the district’s interim budget, which shows a $3.3 million structural deficit that will lead to increased class sizes and/or fewer instructional days, please read this Patch article. http://novato.patch.com/blog_posts/cfos-corner-a-look-first-interim-financial-report-for-2012-13
Jerome J Ghigliotti Jr December 17, 2012 at 06:28 PM
@Roger, all right. I have kept my mouth shut for 24 hours, so here goes. For 2009 the California Department of Education reported that 50.4% of public school students were Hispanic (legal and illegal). The Department no longer reports state wide demographics, but gives raw number demographics by school district. So much for politically correct transparency. If the truth would infringe on PC social engineering, then YOU cannot have that information. Therefore, by diversity I must know you to be writing that you want to insure that more Caucasians would be enrolled in the Charter school since Caucasian students are a minority.
Steve December 18, 2012 at 06:07 PM
Mr. Ghigliotti, the Louisiana voucher law provided for tax dollars, which were constitutionally designated for public education, to fund the voucher. The law lacked standards, allowing a school that did not have a library and that used DVDs as classroom teaching to get public money. The school's science education uses a book that "presents the universe as the direct creation of God and refutes the man-made idea of evolution." Is that the type of education public money should provide?
Jerome J Ghigliotti Jr December 18, 2012 at 06:59 PM
@Steve Good. You fix the US education system. It has been broken for 48 years and no one has come up with a solution. Sorry but it really annoys me when unions protect teachers to the detriment of teaching students. I no interest in getting involved in the god/evolution argument, nor do I care. I want schools to teach children to read, and write, and use mathematics. US schools have failed that seemingly simple task for 48 years, 2 1/2 generations. Grrrr!
Steve December 18, 2012 at 10:01 PM
Yes, lets bash the teachers union for all of the perceived failings of our school system. I happen to respect the folks who work tirelessly to educate my kids for a lot less pay than they should be getting. By the way, you're the one who brought up the Louisiana voucher plan as a model for education reform. If you support the charter school, which of our existing elementary schools do you advocate closing? And good luck on Thursday with that misdemeanor thing. Let us know what you find out about what the DA thinks you did wrong, but that you can't recall.
Jerome J Ghigliotti Jr December 18, 2012 at 11:23 PM
@Steve, I respect the majority of California teachers, but there are some in California who should have been fired 20 years ago, and it is only the unions who have prevented that. I support the teachers, it is the union officers and union negotiated contracts with whom and which I have serious reservations, nay, objections. As do most leftists, you misquote me. The Louisiana unions have thwarted AN effort at better education. It is not my "model".

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