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Proposed Clayton Valley High charter brings hope, questions

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, May 20th, 2011 at 7:47 am in Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington.

The effort by some Clayton Valley High School teachers to convert the public school into a charter is entering unchartered territory in the Mt. Diablo district. It is the only school in the district to consider such a move, although organizers say it could prompt others to follow if it is successful.

Unlike many charter conversions throughout the state, organizers are giving themselves a year to plan – expecting a vote of teachers by June 6 to open in fall 2012.

The charter would continue to operate as a public school, but would be recognized as an independent educational agency that would receive funding directly from the state. Run by a board of directors, it would develop its own budget, hire teachers and decide whether or not to contract out for services such as custodians.

At a Monday teachers’ meeting about the charter, organizers said they expected the current staff could remain at the school. They also said clerical staff would likely be able to work full-time, since the school would take on administrative duties that are now handled at the district office.

The clerical staff at the school is excited by the conversion idea, office secretary Renee Steen and attendance secretary Dina Jacobsen told me on Tuesday.

Due to state budget cuts, the school board cut one hour a day and two weeks from their work schedules. This equals about 30 days cut from their paychecks over the year, Steen said.

On top of that, they are taking three furlough days this month, along with most district staff.

”We feel so devalued,” Steen said. “We’re feeling pretty downtrodden these days.”

But the charter effort is energizing staff, as they look forward to working together as a team to improve the campus, the pair said.

Statewide, only about 10 percent of charter schools are conversions, consultants said. The rest are new start-up schools.

They speculated that this is because a conversion requires 50 percent of teachers plus one to vote for the change. Although a community petition isn’t required, Clayton Mayor David Shuey told the City Council on Tuesday that about 500 community members have signed petitions in support of the conversion.

This prompted Councilwoman Julie Pierce to ask why those people hadn’t been tapped for money to help fund legal costs for drafting the petition. If each person donated $20, organizers would have the $10,000 they needed, she said.

Instead, organizers have raised about $1,500 and were scrambling to come up with about $8,500 more. Although Shuey asked the council to give the group up to $8,500, Pierce and Councilman Howard Geller were uncomfortable with this idea.

The council voted 4-1 to approve an unsecured loan of up to $8,500, with the hope that the city will get its money back if the charter moves forward. Consultants said organizers could likely receive a line of credit, as well as a start-up grant.

If the charter vote fails, however, the city is unlikely to recover its money. Pierce said she personally supported the charter and would be willing to donate $40 herself. Geller added that he would put up $100.

Pierce suggested that organizers should also ask the Concord City Council for funds, but Shuey said that may be problematic, since Concord students feed into the district’s five other high schools, as well as Clayton Valley.

Clayton students, on the other hand, all attend Clayton Valley High School, unless they attend private schools, Shuey said. He insisted a charter would attract more residents, businesses and increase property values, but Pierce was more skeptical.

She said several residents had asked her not to spend city funds on the charter, while Shuey said several residents had told him they supported the use of city funds for that purpose.

Pierce said the city should consider how the district would interpret the city’s support of a charter, since the city negotiates with the district on other matters, such as joint use of a gym.

“I’m not ready to slap them in the face this way and I think that’s the way they’ll take it,” she said. “I think our negotiations with the school district will get decidedly muddy if we go forward with this. I think this discredits our relations with the school board if we go forward.”

Shuey argued that helping to fund the conversion would show “bold leadership.”

“To take the myopic view that we are not responsible for the school is just flat out wrong,” he said. “It is short-sighted. It is conservative.”

Shuey and Geller said they hoped the Clayton Business and Community Association would also consider contributing money to the start-up costs.

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