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Charter school appeal filed with SJ County Board of Education
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Two weeks after their application for a new charter school was denied unanimously by the Manteca Unified Board of Education, Great Valley Academy officials in Modesto filed an appeal with the San Joaquin County Office of Education.

At the same time, Great Valley school officials are preparing an official response to the specific rubric points cited by Manteca Unified as their reasons for denying GVA’s charter school application. Cy Cole, founding principal of the Modesto Great Valley Academy, said they plan to submit this response to Manteca Unified officials.

Among the items they plan to address are the two areas that the district considered inadequate to approve the charter: Special Ed and their financial plan. Cole pointed out that these, and other areas in the application questioned by the district, could have been easily clarified and resolved.

Cole said that before they submitted their charter application, “we offered and attempted to collaborate with them in their review of the charter multiple times, and were refused the opportunity repeatedly.”

They also were not informed in advance that the district would use a rubric, or specific titles, to evaluate the charter “so we could have known what they asked,” Cole explained.

“It really was impossible for us to be successful with their rubric because they expected certain items that we just couldn’t anticipate.”

Here are some of those unexpected things he was talking about:

• Memorandum of understanding or MOU. By nature, Cole said, this is an agreement that is developed mutually. “There was no way we should have anticipated that we would create a document that is supposed to represent a common understanding, especially since they were unwilling to sit and discuss this option with us.”

He said the absence of various MOU’s is something that comes up often, especially in regards to the subject of Special Education, one of the two main areas - the other was what the district deemed was a lack of an adequate financial plan - that doomed Great Valley’s charter application.

“It is in the MOU where we would have specified any district responsibilities towards special ed, if any at all,” Cole stated.

• Assurance of indemnification. As required by law, the first section of the charter submitted to the district was a specific list of assurances. But, Cole said the district “decided to add a requisite regarding Indemnification of liability.” That assurance was not on the list. “However, on page 87 of the charter, it specifically talks about this and refers to the (educational) code that offers this assurance of indemnification. We got dinged for not placing it on the first pages.”

That “arbitrary requirement” also ensured the denial of their charter application, Cole said.

• Special Ed plan. “Our special ed section is based on the latest special education laws and basically places responsibility on GVA. The MOU’s would have clarified this relationship, as is required and appropriate, but (the district’s) statement that we should have prepared these MOU’s in advance ensured our denial,” Cole stated.

•Financial plan. The analysis is similar with the above, Cole pointed out. “They recognize we assure we will secure appropriate insurance, but say they want to see the Declaration Page - a declaration page of an insurance policy for a school that doesn’t exist yet. It just doesn’t appear to be a reasonable request, and also a request and requirement that were not made known.”

Added Cole, “They say our assumption of small class sizes is unreasonable, but yet we maintain those very class sizes in our current school. They basically reject our financial model saying it is not feasible, based on assumptions that are perhaps appropriate to a traditional school, but they definitely work successfully, as demonstrated by our very successful budget.”

“It’s an excellent charter. It was a well-done charter and we don’t think it was given a fair evaluation,” agreed Great Valley Academy founder Eldon Rosenow, an optometrist who has been practicing in Modesto for more than three decades.

He also did not understand all the criticism lodged against their school budget. “It’s the same budget we have here in Modesto,” he said, adding he doesn’t think that “moving 15 miles to the north,” referring to their plan to open a second campus in Manteca, will cause their budget structure to be ineffective.

Charter school parents, supporters ‘never had chance’

Robert Bergquist, a parent whose children do not attend Great Valley nor does he have plans to enroll his children at the proposed Manteca charter campus, and who was at the meeting when the board voted against the charter application, said he believes “those parents and supporters of the charter school never had a fair chance.

“The application process is being used, I suspect, to prevent them from getting approval. The board is incorrect in their assessment that they are watchdogs for taxpayer funds. If they feel that is their primary function here, then they are doing a poor job,” he said in an e-mail to the Bulletin which he also posted as a blog on the Bulletin web site.

Added Bergquist, “It is the parents’ responsibility to ensure their children are educated and are ready to compete as young adults in the marketplace. MUSD, like other districts - private, charter or vocational schools - are there to provide that service on our behalf and subject to our oversight! If parents feel that the MUSD does not measure up, and many have cause to feel that way after four years of being on mandatory improvement status, then why does the MUSD think they have the right to prevent an option like the Great Valley Charter School from doing better?”

Commenting on the statement made by MUSD Superintendent Jason Messer at the board meeting when he said that he and his senior staff “don’t see charter schools as competition,” Bergquist asked: “If that be the case, why not partner with them (GVA) to shepherd them through the application process? If the goal, as it should be, is to maximize the education of each child for the least amount of money possible to obtain the best value for the taxpayer’s dollar, then why present application roadblocks? Mr. Messer and others indicated the educational aspects of the proposed charter school exceed minimum requirement but the financial requirements need work. It seems to me that is the pot calling the kettle black based on MUSD’s finances.”

The superintendent was out of town when a call was placed to the school district office for a comment on statements made by GVA officials about their “multiple” attempts to meet with MUSD officials before the charter application was submitted but were met with repeated refusals.

However, Assistant Superintendent Don Halseth gave this statement: “I believe the district did encourage the charter school to provide information in a timely manner to the board for their review.”

30 days for public hearing, 30 days for county board vote

In the meantime, Great Valley Academy officials are once again on waiting mode. If the San Joaquin Office of Education Board of Trustees decides that GVA’s charter application in Manteca Unified did not deserve a denial and approve it, the county office of education would be the agency that would oversee the branch GVA campus at the Manteca Christian School on Button Avenue.

“Manteca Unified would not have anything to do with the school,” Rosenow said.

If the county office of education board approves the charter, it would be the one providing the oversight, but not for gratis. Should that happen, and GVA officials hope it will, Rosenow said that the county office of education, which would be the authorizing agency, “legally can charge 3 percent of our budget as oversight, so they can actually make money on this thing.”

The waiting periods for their appeal with the county will be the same as what they went through with Manteca Unified. The county board of education will have 30 days from the day of filing to hold a public hearing on their appeal, which will take place the third Wednesday of January 2011. The board would then have another 30 days to vote on the petition, with that meeting scheduled to fall on the third Wednesday of February 2011.