Antioch Charter School to be member of the El Dorado County Charter SELFA

by Placerville Newswire / Dec 12, 2016 / comments

{Correction, the original peition, and following AUSD Press release contains a typo.  SELFA should read SELPA, an acronym for "Special Education Local Planning Agency."} 

On December 7, the Antioch Unified School District approved a petition by Rocketship Charter School to open in Antioch in 2018.

The 3-2 approval came after a 3-hour 31-minute meeting which included more than 2-hours of public comments with directors Fernando Navarro, Alonzo Terry and Walter Ruehlig voting “Yes” while Diane Gibson-Gray and Debra Vinson voted “No”.

The approval dissented with the staff recommendation to deny the petition. In a 23-page staff report and review of the petition, staff and legal counsel laid out a variety of concerns.

During the meeting, Dannis Woliver Kelly, legal counsel, highlighted how the Districts team spent a great deal of time in reviewing the petition and carefully analyzed the petition to create the staff report—which determined there were grounds for denial.

“The grounds for denial fell into two categories which included “demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the program as described or it did not provide reasonable comprehensive descriptions of all of the 15-required elements,” explained Kelley.

She highlighted the staff report was not designed to showcase every concern or deficiency, but provide numerous factual findings for denial—such as revenue, budget and fiscal plan.

Terri Ryland, financial consultant, explained what the team found in their review:

  • Signatures review – not enough enrollment to meet the 50% requirement. With insufficient enrollment, it will not meet the financial assumptions to be fiscally sound.
  • Start-up grant of $400k, its uncertain and not promised or confirmed—backup plan per Rocketship was to fill up that start-up cost through philanthropy. Staff called that even more uncertain than a federal grant.
  • Private start-up costs were not identified
  • Significant mathematical error in the summary budget within the petition – Year 1 surplus of $29,000 fund balance. Netted with Year 2 deficit of $570k. Presented as Year 2 ending balance of $1.5 million. Every year starting in year 2 had a negative fund balance. Staff called this plan that of “fiscal insolvency”.
  • 15% of the Rocketship Budget goes to the Central Office services but not clear in petition or what it goes for how it benefits the needs of the students.
  • Location of facility undecided so it’s unclear of the budget can handle start-up cost for the facilities.
  • Charter has assumed receipt of SB70 money which is uncertain—subsidized rental cost but its unclear of its location and if they will qualify for the money.
  • Petition says they will become a member of the El Dorado County Charter SELFA – but not enough detail provided in budget to verify the Special Ed costs are included and if support staff required will be included in the cost.
  • Charter budget is presented in summary form and details are difficult to know—such as special education, XYZ… etc.
  • Daily Rate for substitutes is accurate, but budget only assumes they will hire a sub for 30% of the teacher absenses—wondering the plan for the other 70% of the time and it was not addressed.
  • Dollars for re-location, parent and teacher appreciation—district is concerned for what those costs could be for non-public and if it could be considered a violation and a gift of public funds.

Staff further highlighted under the “demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the petition”, they say in their research, Rocketship has a history attempted to be approved locally, noting they have had a lot of mixed success in getting approval, but after approval actually opening their facility—which was included in the staff report.

Describing all 15-elements required for approval, staff says Rocketship did not meet the requirements and used State Board of Education Regularity rubric—minimum standards for what the state would expect.

The District also says a big concern was the governance model for the charter school highlighting how parent involvement may be difficult. Staff also highlighted how Rocketship Board Meetings are not local to Antioch and its unclear if there would be local representatives on the non-profit board, confusing information about the school advisory board if it was a regional board or if this school would have representative. The meetings are in other places in the Bay Area and lacks detail as to being able to access if parents would be heard by the board.

In addition, concerns of the admissions process is unclear and how the lottery would work if it is in fact local students as well as the petition being unclear of suspension and expulsion policy.

Board Questions:

Board Member Alonzo Terry asked who hired the consultant and if the school district gave them instructions of what they would like them to do.

Terri Ryland explained they were to review the petition from a financial position.

Alonzo Terry was critical of the staff report.

“Everything I just heard was negative,” said Terry. “I didn’t hear anything positive at all.”

Ryland replied she did not showcase every time where the numbers lined up, but where they didn’t.

“Then my question to you is there anything right with Rocketship that you looked into,” replied Terry.

Ryland replied they did have a budget, which is required and had assumptions without a lot of detail.

“I am going to ask you the question again, did you see anything right with the budget that they presented to you,” asked Terry.

“Everything I didn’t comment on would have been right,” said Ryland.

Dannis Woliver Kelley, Legal Counsel, stated for clarification they are up there presenting to the Board what he basis for the staff recommendation to deny.

“So of course we are focusing on the things that bring concerns either fiscally or legally. We are not presenting a comprehensive review of the pros, cons, etc. I commented on only a few things, if you look at the report, you will see many sections of the petition we did not express concern about,” said Kelley. “If you want to infer from that, that we thought it was sufficient then that is perfectly fine. But just so you understand we are presenting on what the basis of the teams recommendation is. We think those issues are pretty foundational and significant.”

Diane Gibson-Gray further clarified that if they were standing up their recommending approval, they would be presenting all that was right.

“Its just in this in this case, the recommendation is to deny the petition,” said Gibson-Gray.

“Right, we wouldn’t have a big report unless the approval was with conditions,” said Kelley. “Then we might have a report that could have things that should be changed or are changeable and would be present it as part of the outcome.”

Board Member Fernando Navarro asked how many charter schools the law firm has reviewed in its history. Kelley explained hundreds.

“How many have you approved,” asked Navarro.

Kelley replied many.

How many of the Rocketships have you reviewed.” Asked Navarro.

“This personally is my second and the first one was approved,” replied Kelley.

“Just doing some reviews of your law firm, it seems your law firm I wouldn’t want to say was shopped to strafe this effort but it seems in my opinion the end result is what we got,” said Navarro.

Kelley replied, “Well I don’t know if I can speak to that. I got a call from an existing client saying we had a charter petition and could you help us. I said yes, as a matter of fact I’ve looked at Rocketship petitions in before. I would be happy to help.”

Board member Walter Ruehlig asked if it was normal procedure if they would wait for 48-hours before a meeting to submit your report both to the petitioner and this reviewing board.

“I just found that odd, 48-hours before. It didn’t seem to give a lot of time for response or amending or curing which leads me to my next question is it your practice to look for curatives and an opportunity to work back and forth to correct things,” asked Ruehlig.

Kelley explained that it varied from district to district—but that it comes with an MOU for if they are going to approve it.

“It’s been my experience that the report will be released at a time when staff feels like it would be ready to make the recommendation and to bring that as part of the agenda item with the material to the board,” said Kelley.

Board Member Debra Vinson asked if it was customary for the report to come to the Board 48-hours before the meeting so that the board has time to review it.

“In my experience, it’s fairly customary, yes,” said Kelley.

Board President Diane Gibson-Gray explained that once it comes to the board, it’s then a public document and they had 24-hours to call the meeting—they did 48-hours.

Ruehlig also asked if the petitioner made any overtures to them to have a sit down to discuss the progression of the review.

Kelley replied, “No.”

Terry then asked “why not?”

“I am the legal counsel assisting the staff team. I would not have a conversation with the petitioners, I am in the background doing a legal compliance review and helping staff pull together their thoughts. I don’t know if they made any overtures with the Superintendent or any of the other staff,” said Kelley.

According to the audio from the meeting, public comments – 28-minute mark to the 2-hour 30-minute mark.

Board Discussion

Vinson stated she appreciated all the families, children and everyone who came out and spoke in support of the charter saying she understands their 1st amendment right and what is best for their children.

“I did read the charter, the entire thing. I went through and highlighted and sent email questions to the staff, but before I go into that. I received a number of letters, emails, phone calls and a couple of things I want to make clear,” said Vinson. “The decision that I make tonight will be based on my decision and my decision alone and what is best for our children. As many of you know, I was threatened with a recall and I want to make it clear I am under no distress with my decisions. I also want to make it clear that there was no information from any of our teachers, AUSD, or any pro quo or if you do this we will make this go away. There is none of that. So my decision is based on reading the information and within the best interest of our children. Many of the staff will tell you I put the children’s needs first. That is what will happen tonight.”

Vinson, who said she was a Charter School Board President for three years, said in going through the charter there were a number of problems with the educational code highlighting this decision was not what was best for the teachers union, her personal opinion, but what is best for the children.

“There are a number of concerns that I listed for myself,” said Vinson. “Let me just say I was Board President of a Charter School for 3-years

Vinson listed her concerns:

  • Being the oversight agency
  • There is a problem with charter schools having less experienced school leaders.
  • Obvious friction that will come from having a charter school within AUSD and trying to maintain some degree of solvency.
  • The employee qualifications
  • The health and safety of the public charter school
  • The measurable pupil outcomes
  • The racial ethnic balance
  • The admission requirements – once they are met what the wait list would look like and how other students would be able to enter into the charter. (Lottery process)
  • The annual audit requirements were not clear
  • The student discipline practices were not clear
  • The faith and special needs and special education students programs were not clear or spelled out.
  • There is a proposed facility location, there was no details on the facility
  • Didn’t see anything for capacity interview. Said she would have loved to see a capacity report.
  • Didn’t see the curriculum team, charter school team, business/financial services team, administrative governance team, special education team – the details were missing.
  • Did not see the number of signatures required saying the education code stated they had to have at least 50% of the total population signatures.

Navarro stated he reviewed the staff report on Rocketship and said the staff recommended the petition be denied.

“Fortunately, I determined some time ago that I was not going to rely solely on staff recommendations when making decisions that impact the lives of our students nor am I going to take the word of what Rocketship claims they could accomplish,” said Navarro. “What I did was go and see Rocketship for myself. I looked at the performance data available by the California Department of Education. I observed enthusiastic parents and the smiles on the children. I observed those who spoke in favor and those who opposed Rocketship.”

He continued by explaining those in favor were parents seeking a better education for their children and fulfillment of the American Dream.

“Opposed were adults seeking to protect the status quo and willing to take the position of intimidation. Anyone who dared to stand up against the system that has failed our children,” said Navarro. “Bottom line, we are temporary guardians of the children in our schools. The children belong to the parents and we are privileged for the ability educate them.”

He further highlighted how money should go with the children and where the children go so should the money.

“My vote tonight is going to be with the children and the parents of this district. They are already leaving AUSD schools in record numbers in search of something better. Now with Rocketship, we can have something better in Antioch,” said Navarro. “Folks, from my vantage point, I don’t see division, I see an opportunity. If Rocketship is approved by a vote of the board, they won’t build their schools for another two years. This gives us as a District an opportunity to get our act together. Let’s compete. One school will not dismantle are whole district. We can rebuild our school now that we have competition. Competition is healthy and it’s the American way. I’ll stand for the rights of Americans to ensure that their kids get the education they deserve every day of the week. That is why I am voting in favor.”

Ruehlig stated Charter School petitions are one of the most gut-wrenching decision a trustee can make saying it’s not easy at all.

“In my 10 years sitting on the board, I have voted for a charter and against a charter. Charters run the gamut,” said Ruehlig. “I learned 1/3 of all of all charters increase their scores positively, 1/3 negativity, and 1/3 stayed the same. It’s a mixed bag. I don’t want anyone to think all charters are good, all are bad. It’s a very individuated matter.”

Ruehlig also stated that the Chief of Police, and the newly elected mayor both send their kids to charter schools.

“We wouldn’t want to think we had to be a chief of police or mayor or white or middle class or privileged to have that free choice. There should be a seat at the table for military academy, charter schools, Montessori schools, home schools, alternate schools, comprehensive schools, and yes traditional public schools,” said Ruehlig. “None say they are better, they are different. They are options.”

He further highlighted when he visited Antioch Charter School and Rocketship, they told him 1 in 3 students fit their model.

“I found that refreshing, they admitted 2 out of 3 students in Antioch wouldn’t thrive in their school. Again, it’s not better or worse, it’s just different,” explained Ruehlig. “Charter schools are a great equalizer for those of us who cannot afford $15,000 to $20,000 to send our kids to De La Salle or some other school. All our parents deserve to be vested in educational opportunity. I would hate to think somebody knows better than the parents, the parents are not fools. They know their kids, they know their families, they know if their kid is happy or prospering, they don’t need to be told that.”

Ruehlig stated Rocketship is not perfect and he had concerns and questions.

“One overriding concern is why we waited until 48-hours to submit this report. Why wasn’t this an opportunity for two sides to sit down and work cooperatively to improve the petition. That said, I am not happy. It looked like the verdict was in, the final chapter of the story was written before the story even began,” said Ruehlig.

He explained that no one can criticize Rocketship’s track record.

“We are not talking about a school that is coming out of nowhere, they have been around for 10-years, there are 15-nation wide and have a 96% average daily attendance. 91% of their students return each year and we know people vote with their feet. No one is pointing a gun to their head and forcing them to come back,” explained Ruehlig. “Nobody is forcing them to go, nobody is forcing them to stay. This is working for some people, why should we take it away from them?”

He noted Rocketship scores 49% in the common core.

“Math standards, you heard what our scores are. Our superintendent committed to a goal which we haven’t had in years. A goal of improving 5% a year. That would take us 8-years if we achieve that goal. We have been in stagnation and spinning our wheels for years,” explained Ruehlig. “It would take us 8-years to get where Rocketship is today. In the final analysis I will be voting for the charter application on conscious.”

He noted his experience and 48-years in public service while stating he would not turn his back on his ideals.

“I am not going to turn my back on chronically underserved minority population free choice and the right for their precious children to have a decent and competitive future. That to me would be a vote against civil rights and kids rights,” said Ruehlig. “I hope we share the equal opportunities we ourselves were gifted with. It’s the least we can do for our kids.”

Ruehlig then asked on the critique that the days at Rocketship are too long and wanted that addressed because it says it was tough on kids and stresses them out.

Terry stated he was “sad and almost to cry” as he made his comments explaining how he visited Rocketship and spent more than two-hours there with two other teachers from the AUSD.

“Walter and I went to the Antioch Charter School here. I had never been so proud in how our kids were performing in those schools. I went to Rocketship, I was so impressed I am on my knees talking to the kids seeing how they function. I said I wish we could steal what you have, what Antioch Charter have and make sure we have it here because we have the potential and we are doing it. We have some of the greatest teachers,” said Terry. “Every kid in that school is not bad. Every teacher is not bad. We have more great teachers I am impressed with on both sides. We are talking about paper, red tape. Us adults we are educated people and get caught up in that red tape and forget about what the source is we are dealing with. Our children are not commodities, they are human reality. Understand what this is all about.”

He continued by stating at the end of the day, everyone needed to work together.

“Rocketship, I will vote for you. But you will let us be part of you in your decision making. These are our kids,” said Terry.

He went on to discuss how the Board should be honest, truthful and set a good example and they are not doing that.

“No I didn’t get voted back on this board, thank god, but let me tell you this. As long as I am breathing on this earth, no one is going to stop me from fighting for our kids,” said Terry. “You don’t have to elect me, I was selected to help our kids and that is what I am going to do.”

Vinson had an alternative proposal for Rocketship and would like to know if they would come work with the AUSD for two-years to provide oversight

Rocketship replied they work under a governance under state law that they operate schools in partnership over their authorizer.  The framework is consistent with state law—which creates choice.

“I saw some of that, but I didn’t see the full detail so I am asking again would you be willing to consider and MOU to come under oversight of this board for two-years because your meetings are in San Jose and I think it would in terms of partnership and connecting would go well for this District for you to consider that. I know if you do opposite of that we don’t really have oversight, we would only be authorizers,” explained Vinson.

Rocketship replied an authorizer is much more than oversight which includes framework. If you are asking for this board to be our governing board, that is not what we are proposing—that is not what we do.

Ruehlig asked whether Rocketship on common measurable that are agreed with together. Rocketship replied yes – called a Charter Compact on ideas of how to improve and create apple to apple comparisons and they welcome that approach. Rocketship said they welcome a partnership.

Diane Gibson-Gray said she was going to be clear and that there was a certain set of criteria and it was not met, yes or no.

“In my opinion, the criteria was not met, so I am going to be voting no,” said Gibson-Gray.

Prior to board motion, Antioch legal suggested that if they do make a motion in favor, that they do so conditional on Rocketship addressing the deficiencies that have been identified.

“Some people made verbal comments that suggested that there were things in the report that are not right because that is not how Rocketship does something. If that is not true, then the petition should accurately reflect what they do,” said Dannis Woliver Kelley. “In addition, I think there are budgetary issues and absolutely critical that there be an MOU developed as one of the conditions and an MOU that will address these items. Sometimes petitions just have to be amended to better reflect what is actually happening or address some concerns.”

Kelley went onto state they will need to do an MOU and she recommends that to the Board—saying they should not approve the petition without some sort of guiding contract with the Charter School.  She also suggested including a term – up to 5-years.

Superintendent Stephanie Anello stated that what legal is asking was if the Board approves it tonight that Rocketship address the concerns staff has outlined—such as accounting errors.

Vinson stated that her concerns are why she is in favor of including an MOU as part of the conditional approval.

“I want to put it out there that I do want there to be some conditional items for oversight. What is the problem with what? I am concerned why wouldn’t that be considered? If we are going to do an MOU I would like to see that as part of the consideration,” said Vinson. I don’t feel like that is asking too much.”

Navarro then made the motion to approve the petition.

“Without any conditions?” asked Gibson-Gray.

“Without any conditions,” stated Navarro.

“The motion on the table is to approve the petition without any conditions,” statedGibson-Gray. “Is there a second.”

Terry seconded the motion.

Ruehlig stated he would support that as long as the conversation continues as witnessed here tonight by many people to iron out these things.

“Yes, but if you approve it without any conditions, its like buying a car without signing the contract and you walk away thinking you have them and you don’t have them,” said Gibson-Gray. “They have to be in the motion.”

Final Vote

  • Motion by Fernando Navarro, second by Alonzo Terry.
  • Final Resolution: Motion Carried
  • Yes: Alonzo Terry, Fernando Navarro, Walter Ruehlig
  • No: Debra Vinson, Diane Gibson-Gray

Gibson-Gray, Navarro, Terry Terms Expired Prior to Rocketship Vote

According to the Antioch Unified School District Education Code, 9300 — BP 9307 Item III:

“Members of the Board of Education are elected at large biennially on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November of each succeeding even-numbered year to fill the office of those members whose terms expire on the first Friday of December next succeeding the election.

Based on the educational code, Board Members Fernando Navarro and Alonzo Terry, both who were not re-elected, terms expired on December 2, 2016. The votes they casted occurred on December 7th.

Diane Gibson-Gray, who was re-elected, also had her term expire on December 2ndand would not be allowed to vote until being sworn back into office.

It’s unclear if the AUSD will take action based on the education code. It also has not been clarified by AUSD if there was a quorum of elected board members to even vote on December 7th. The three new Board members are not expected to be sworn in until December 14th.