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Commentary by Dr. Brent Woodard
| Friday, Feb 6, 2015

BrentWoodardEducation is vital in the cultivation of our children’s minds and, if done correctly, will prepare them for the 21st century world. To ensure the success of its students in an interconnected world economy, the Acton–Agua Dulce Unified School District has been unafraid to embrace expanded educational opportunities for its students, even when those opportunities come in the form of public charter schools.

Here in our community, parents asked our Board of Trustees to raise the bar within the community and create new choices for parents and their children by embracing charter schools. AADUSD has listened to the community and responded by thoroughly but fairly reviewing any charter school petitions it receives. As a result, parents have more educational options than ever before, but it has attracted legal challenges from other school districts that choose to limit parents’ choices. However, AADUSD remains committed to honoring the spirit and intent of the Charter Schools Act.

The Charter Schools Act encourages school districts to approve charter schools.

The Charter Schools Act (CSA) of 1992 provides for the establishment of charter schools. In passing the CSA, the Legislature stated that it intended to provide opportunities to establish public schools that operate independently from the existing school district structure. The Legislature determined that the increased choices created by charter schools could accomplish multiple goals, including:

* improving student learning,

* increasing learning opportunities for all students,

* encouraging the use of innovative teaching methods,

* allowing teachers and parents to take greater responsibility for the learning programs at their schools,

* providing parents and students with more choices of educational programs, and

* creating vigorous competition within the public school system to stimulate continual improvements in all public schools.

The Legislature has gone to great lengths to encourage the creation of public charter schools. The CSA explicitly tells school districts that they should be guided by the Legislature’s intent that public charter schools “should become an integral part of the California educational system and that the establishment of charter schools should be encouraged.” The CSA also tells school districts that they must approve a charter petition if it is consistent with sound educational practice, and it only allows a school district to deny a charter petition for five specific reasons.

In certain situations, a charter school may open one site outside of its authorizing district’s boundaries.

To further encourage the creation of public charter schools, The Charter Schools Act (CSA) allows a charter school to establish one site outside the boundaries of the authorizing school district if the charter school is unable to locate a single site within the authorizing district’s boundaries that is capable of housing the entire program. Even then, prior notice is given to the school district in which the facility will be located, the local county superintendent of schools, and the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction.

If a quality charter petition proposes to establish one site outside of AADUSD’s boundaries because the charter cannot locate a single suitable site within AADUSD’s boundaries, the CSA does not allow AADUSD to deny the petition for that reason.

Take, for example, Albert Einstein Academy for Letters, Arts and Sciences (AEALAS). AEALAS operates multiple high-performing public charter schools, including the “SCV” charter. Hundreds of families have chosen to enroll their children at SCV, and hundreds more are on the waiting list. AEALAS SCV has proven to be so popular its entire program cannot fit on a single campus within AADUSD’s boundaries. For that reason, SCV operates a campus in Agua Dulce and opened a new campus in Santa Clarita this school year. In its second year of operations, SCV is off to a remarkable start obtaining praise from parents, students, teachers and community leaders.

Some school districts actively work to shut down successful charter schools.

AADUSD has always been open to working with its neighboring school districts to find a reasonable solution which would create a favorable outcome for students. Unfortunately, other nearby school districts are working hard (and spending hundreds of thousands of local tax payer’s dollars) to close successful public charter schools like AEALAS SCV mid-school year and invalidate the choices hundreds of parents have made for their children.

Our neighboring school districts even went so far as to lobby the Legislature to change the current law that allows charter schools to be authorized outside of a district’s boundaries in certain circumstances. Last year, Senate Bill 1263, authored by State Senator Fran Pavley, sought to remove this narrow exception and effectively deny parents and students the opportunity to establish or attend a seat- based public charter school if they find themselves in a district with extremely limited space like AADUSD. Governor Brown vetoed this legislation due to its punitive grandfathering clause aimed squarely at closing SCV and other currently operating charter schools.

Newhall School District sued to close the AEALAS-SCV charter school mid-year, but it continues to operate.

Members of the local community may already be aware that the Newhall School District has sued AADUSD and the AEALAS SCV charter school. Newhall has sought to invalidate and close the AEALAS SCV charter mid-school year or to force AADUSD to revoke the SCV charter because AEALAS SCV operates a campus in Santa Clarita. Newhall has focused on AEALAS SCV’s operation of a site in Santa Clarita, arguing that SCV cannot operate in Santa Clarita because AEALAS SCV can locate its entire program at a single site somewhere within AADUSD’s boundaries.

On October 9, 2014, Judge James C. Chalfant of the Los Angeles Superior Court considered Newhall’s arguments. When a charter petition proposes to locate a single site outside of the authorizing district’s boundaries, the plain text of the CSA does not require a school district to make an explicit finding that the charter petition can properly operate an out-of-district site. However, Judge Chalfant concluded that findings are necessary in case, as happened here, someone challenges the charter approval. Otherwise, the courts do not have a record which can be analyzed for compliance with the CSA.

Judge Chalfant believed there was substantial evidence that SCV could not locate at a single site within AADUSD’s boundaries, but no findings were made on the issue when AADUSD approved the SCV charter in 2013. Judge Chalfant ruled that the SCV charter school could remain open while AADUSD and AEALAS were given an opportunity to consider and approve or deny a new charter petition to replace SCV. AADUSD could only approve the new petition if AADUSD explicitly concluded that it could properly locate outside AADUSD’s boundaries under the CSA.

AEALAS submitted a new charter petition (named “Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics” or “STEAM”) to replace AEALAS SCV. AADUSD used its extensive vetting process based on the CSA and the California State Board of Education’s charter review regulations. AADUSD gathered factual evidence and thoroughly evaluated the petition as it has done for every charter petition submitted to the District since the 2013/2014 school year. AADUSD’s Office of School Choice went above and beyond the Judge’s order and evaluated every aspect of the new charter petition, including whether there was any evidence to support denying the petition under any of the five acceptable reasons for denial.

Two public hearings were held on December 4, 2014, and January 8, 2015, to provided ample opportunity for Newhall, AEALAS, and interested community members to address the Board of Trustees. After over four hours of public comment and Board debate, the Board approved the new STEAM petition by a vote of 4 to 1.

When Judge Chalfant gave AADUSD and AEALAS an opportunity to replace the SCV petition, he scheduled a hearing for February 5, 2015, to review the outcome and make a final ruling on Newhall’s lawsuit and SCV’s status pending the launch of its replacement. The parties appeared before Judge Chalfant as planned, but the Judge did not resolve the case. Instead, the entire case was placed on hold because Newhall has initiated an appeal of Judge Chalfant’s October 9 order.

Specifically, Newhall hopes to convince the Court of Appeals that Judge Chalfant was required to shutdown SCV (including the Agua Dulce campus) on October 9. That would have left hundreds of parents and students without a school they love and dozens of educators without jobs in the middle of the school year even though, as Judge Chalfant observed, there was substantial evidence that SCV could not fit at a single suitable site within AADUSD’s boundaries.

With Newhall’s lawsuit on hold, SCV is allowed to continue to operate. STEAM is unaffected by any of this and AEALAS has stated they still intend to open STEAM to replace SCV before the 2015/2016 school year starts.

AADUSD is above all focused on students.

In the future, when charter school petitioners submit petitions to AADUSD, the District will continue to rigorously review the petitions. Not all petitions can meet AADUSD’s standards and satisfy the CSA’s requirements. But when AADUSD is presented with a high-quality petition, the District will continue to work with petitioners to provide expanded educational opportunities to parents and students. This is consistent with the intent and goals of the CSA, and with AADUSD’s primary objective – to provide students with the high quality education they deserve.

Students are at the center of everything AADUSD does, including the District’s review of charter petitions. AADUSD’s approval of exceptional charter schools may lead to difficulties and challenges like Newhall’s lawsuit, but the District is ready and willing to move forward when it is in the best interest of students because that is what’s right and fair.

 

Dr. Brent Woodard is superintendent of the Acton-Agua Dulce Unified School District.

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12 Comments

  1. Robyn Flath Robyn Flath says:

    i would like to see how this goes, seeing first hand how horrible the teaching was. This would make the Acton/ Agua Dulce look decent

  2. Elizabeth Seward says:

    What are the five reasons that a charter can be denied?

  3. Bill says:

    Opposition to charter schools only benefits the unions and not the students or parents

  4. Denny says:

    All you have to do is “Follow the Money”. That’s the sole purpose for what the Acton/Agua Dulse School District has done and the courts are sufficiently intelligent to sort this out and to invalidate the illegal charters.

  5. Sara Jones says:

    With the implementation of common core I am a true believer in having educational options for our children. Common core is not a cure for the educational challenges in this country just like Obama care is not the cure to the healthcare crisis.

  6. Richard Hood says:

    America requires competition to thrive. Therefore, what does this tell you about those who would attempt to prevent parent-driven demands for competition and choice?

  7. Leon Worden says:

    The “competition” argument is true for private enterprise. It does not extend to government functions. Government functions require consent and collaboration. Imagine fighting WWII if everybody was left to fight it in his own way. That’s called chaos. You have choice in education; it’s called private school. There is fierce competition among private schools. MY choice is not to spend my tax dollars on your kid’s private school – or, in this case, on a school that is private in every way except for the fact that I have to pay for it. That’s another Americanism, by the way.

  8. Bart Joseph says:

    Leon,
    All charter schools are public schools open to all residents in the state. The operate under the same public schools laws as the traditional schools. Private schools have a different set of laws. The teachers are part of CALSTRS and have all the same benefits available to them as traditional schools.

    The major difference is the funding. Charter schools receive less money, are not granted property and can not encumber property owners with long term bond financing for books, computers and other short term assets. Charters receives funding from foundations and donations. They are truly community based and lowers your tax burden.

    The reason they are approaching 10% of all students is because of the flexibility of teaching methods. All teachers spend a lot of time and effort getting certified. Then traditional system teachers are told what and how to teach. They are “trained” on methods dictated by their district. In charter schools, they are not bound to backroom text book deals, and tools. They are provided the freedom to meet standards based on their professionalism.

    The down side for a teacher is a positive for the community. There is no tenure, no collective agreements, no union protection. If you are not to the standard of the school, your contract will not be renewed.

    To Summarize, Same rules as traditional schools, lower cost to the public, flexibility on meeting standards, and no tenure keeping only the best teachers on staff.

    All children learn at different speeds, and some need different methods to learn. There is no cookie cutter approach to education and that is why Bill Clinton and the democrats initiated the Charter School System.

  9. Richard Hood says:

    Interesting points Leon, but failure is never an American value, and public schools have been failing for a long, long time, despite constant and increasing infusions of tax payer cash. If you want your tax dollars to have decent results, look at the ranking of AEA High School in the state and in the nation. Would you deprive the parents motivated enough to do something about the state of education this option because you would settle for poor results from as you say, “government” schools,” simply because you think it will cost you less? I’ve taught in both settings, and I can assure you, that the difference is night and day – throwing your money away versus getting extra value added. Local control is better, so even more so charter schools. Why should only rich people, like Obama, be able to send their kids to schools you equate with “private?”

  10. SF says:

    This clear explanation of the issues between AADUSD/AEA and NSD and the status of the litigation is refreshing. The appeal is but gamesmanship to avoid the outcome of NSD being the “prevailing party,” but AEA lawfully operating under a new charter. How many hundreds of thpusands of dollars is NSD willing to spend to try to protect its turf is yet to be seen.

  11. Bart Joseph says:

    It appears most people do not understand legal terms like who a prevailing party is, or what an appeal is. There was no verdict, and only losers appeal. Who ever contests they won? Did the Patriots contest the interception they made to win the big game? No because a prevailing party would not do that.

    Prevailing Party: The litigant who successfully brings or defends an action and, as a result, receives a favorable judgment or verdict.

    Appeal: Timely resort by an unsuccessful party in a lawsuit or administrative proceeding to an appropriate superior court empowered to review a final decision on the ground that it was based upon an erroneous application of law.

    You would think a school district would know how to use a dictionary.

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