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Clayton Valley charter committee requests more dialogue with district

By Theresa Harrington
Wednesday, September 14th, 2011 at 6:33 pm in Clayton, Concord, Education.

At the Mt. Diablo school board meeting Tuesday, trustees unanimously agreed to approve the Clayton Valley High School charter petition, subject to numerous conditions that must be met by February.

Here is a link to video of the staff presentation regarding the conditions by staff attorney Deb Cooksey:

Cooksey was explaining the points in this PowerPoint presentation:

Due to limited storage space on my cell phone and limited battery power, I was unable to videotape the entire meeting.

However, here are a few clips I got:

Beginning of committee presentation:

Explanation of some education programs by CVHS teacher Cate Sundling:

Eighteen people spoke, including 17 in favor of the petition and one against.

Before any board discussion, Trustee Sherry Whitmarsh made a motion to approve the petition with conditions. Trustee Linda Mayo seconded the motion.

Trustee Cheryl Hansen said she would like to amend the motion to postpone the decision so the board could hold a study session with the petitioners to further discuss the conditions. No other trustee agreed with this idea.

Trustee Lynne Dennler said the size of the district contributed to the charter movement, along with poor communication between schools and the district office. She said labor contracts that can inhibit quick, inexpensive actions from taking place at schools. She did not specifically address the conditions.

Trustee Linda Mayo said she appreciated the efforts the charter committee had made. However, she said she would put her faith in the staff attorney, who supported the conditions of approval. She was specifically concerned about the financial plan, which she said needed to be better explained.

Trustee Sherry Whitmarsh also expressed concerns regarding the proposed budget. She said she had heard from some district parents who urged her to deny the petition.

“I hope the staff will come up with a charter that will meet the conditions and will greatly alleviate the fears of the board and the fears of other parents in the district,” she said.

Board President Gary Eberhart said there was an “amazing energy around trying to make change at Clayton Valley High.” He praised the parent and community involvement in the effort.

“The schools that are truly successful are the schools that have a high degree of parental involvement — there’s no question about that,” he said. “So, that is a huge benefit.”

He said trustees were placing some faith in the charter organizers, but that the plan lacked specificity.

“Think of it this way,” he said. “If a school district said: ‘We are going to do something completely different at a high school — without specificity — it would be rejected by the community and rejected by the staff. We have the responsibility that when we say, ‘yes,’ that we say yes to something we believe is going to reasonably succeed. We are very inspired by the amount of advocacy that we see.”

He said, however, that the plan should be able to stand on its own, without depending on the committee members’ reputations.

“I’m enthusiastic about this,” he said, adding that he thought it would be successful, after more specificity was added to the plans.

“I hope we are not clouding each others’ vision so it will make it difficult to work together,” he said. “I think working together is going to be beneficial. This could be an amazing opportunity for this district. It could be an amazing opportunity for this to continue. And asking that we get a little further down the road on this process is not unreasonable.”

Charter attorney Paul Minney asked to address the board. At first, Eberhart appeared reluctant to let him speak, since public comment had ended. But Hansen said she thought more dialogue between the board and the petitioners would be beneficial.

Eberhart gave Minney two minutes to speak.

“Honestly,” Minney said, “in 18 years, this is the first time I was told the district was going to accept conditions that the committee has said they cannot accept. The petitioners may consider it a denial.”

He asked the board to consider modifying the conditions and returning to vote on them Sept. 27.

“There’s only a few in here that give us heartburn, some of which can be resolved,” he said. “The way it’s being constructed right now is we would essentially be delayed to February to find out if we’re going to be approved.”

The board then vote on the motion and unanimously approved the charter, subject to the conditions outlined in this resolution:

Today, I spoke to Clayton Mayor David Shuey and CVHS teacher Neil McChesney, who said the charter committee plans to ask the district to reconsider the idea of modifying the conditions. They sent me the following statement from the committee:

“We were extremely disappointed in a meeting that appeared to have a pre-ordained outcome from the outset. Despite overwhelming community, teacher and staff support, as well as a charter petition that is based on tried, tested and true successful charter high schools in the State, the School Board effectively denied the petition by stating it was approving with conditions. The concern is that the conditions are subjective, unrealistic, and in some places illegal. The group feels that the decision is a de-facto denial of the petition since they cannot legally impose the conditions they did without the charter’s approval, which was not given. The charter is working on a more comprehensive and detailed response to the Board’s denial of the petition and will provide this to the District and public in the interests of full disclosure. In short, we will urge the District Board to support a more succinct list of objective conditions upon which the charter school and the district can agree.”

I also received this statement from the California Charter Schools Association:

“The California Charter Schools Association fully supports the charter as put forward by the Clayton Valley Charter High School petitioners. We have been working with the teacher-led team throughout this process, including reviewing their petition, which we have found to be fully comprehensive. Unfortunately, the district has unilaterally imposed conditions on its approval that call for a level of detail far beyond what is required by law or necessary.

We have seen many districts use these sorts of tactics to arbitrarily delay quality petitions in recent years. Given the clear support for this petition from the teachers, parents and community, we urge the school board to work with the petitioners to approve a set of mutually agreed upon conditions that are consistent with charter law.”

Do you think the Mt. Diablo school board should reconsider the conditions of approval?

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