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CVHS charter conversion could be close to approval

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, October 14th, 2011 at 6:59 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district.

Despite frustrations expressed during the past month by those who are pushing to convert Clayton Valley High School to a charter, a new sense of optimism is beginning to emerge.

Clayton Mayor David Shuey told me he sent an e-mail to Mt. Diablo school board President Gary Eberhart and Superintendent Steven Lawrence today, saying he was encouraged by the overall tenor and outcome of Tuesday’s board meeting.

“It was nice to actually hear some real discussion from the board on the issue,” he wrote. “As you know, we have submitted all of our responses to the conditions to staff on Wednesday and I believe we have a meeting with staff on Tuesday to go over any further concerns. While damage has been done to the relationship between Clayton and the district, if on October 25 this issue can be resolved one way or the other without further delay, I am hopeful that we can rebuild that relationship and move forward in a collaborative and mutually beneficial way.”

I also spoke to Trustees Linda Mayo and Cheryl Hansen today about the status of the petition and conditions of approval.

Mayo said she has based her previous votes on staff reports, not the possible financial impacts of the charter conversion on the district.

She clarified this in the following email:

“Since I did not have any advance information on the financial impact to the district and because I know that the fiscal impact cannot be used to deny the charter, therefore on September 13 I made my decision based on staff’s written and oral evaluation of the submitted application.

On October 11, I made my decision to sustain the action taken on September 13, because I believe there are still items that can be clarified and are important to Clayton Valley students and MDUSD students alike. One example is this: the application indicates the lottery priority for students: 1) current students and siblings, 2) students residing in the CVHS attendance area, 3) students from any other area. This has now been clarified to include #3) MDUSD students.

It’s my understanding that the applicants have submitted many documents after business hours on Thursday, October 13. I have stated previously and again on October 11, that I would consider the approval of the charter prior to February pending the evaluation and recommendation by staff.

My comments (on Oct. 11) in regard to the fiscal impact of the charter were to advise those present and the community that it is practice in MDUSD, when a board approved item affects the budget, the revenue/expense is included in the budget documents as soon as possible. For an amount this large, and knowing that there are only seven meetings remaining until March 15, MDUSD must begin to inform the community of the budget reduction potential, commence dialogue and determine where reductions can be implemented.”

Mayo said that her understanding is that the lottery now has a four-tier priority system, with MDUSD students getting preference over those outside the district.

“Since the voters and taxpayers in the MDUSD have funded that facility, I think that district students should have a higher priority,” she said. “It’s my understanding an MOU has been signed. That’s an example of an important elment that I think is worth sustaining the effort to go through the process.”

Hansen said she hopes to vote to give final approval to the charter Oct. 25, either by agreeing the petitioners have met the conditions or by eliminating some conditions that may not be possible to meet entirely this early in the planning stage.

“My goal is not to wait until February,” she said, “because dragging this out is not doing anybody any good at all.”

Neil McChesney, one of the teachers leading the effort, said the steering committee hopes to answer staff’s questions during their meeting Tuesday, to clear the way for an Oct. 25 approval.

“The end result is we want a positive staff recommendation that we’ve met all the conditions,” he said. “So far, we’ve made progress and I’m going to cross my fingers.”

Do you think both parties are moving forward in a collaborative and mutually beneficial way?

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  • Wendy Lack

    @ Concerned Parent – #100:

    Thanx for the background.

    There are many layers to this onion and I’m coming in late in the game.

  • Anon

    Wendy,
    As an FYI, tenure is an Ed Code policy not a union contract issue. So if the charter is not subject to Ed Code there is room for change. It will all depend on how progressive the teacher led Board is and how motivated they are to raise the quality of education offered to the students. It will be interesting to see.

  • Anthony Chippero

    @Concerned Parent

    I’m curious, how would “pay for performance” work? Some students are impossible to teach due to their unwillingness to learn and being the byproduct of their parents or the way they were raised. How do you structure it so teachers do not get penalized for those students? Teaching is a bit different than managing a group of employees. Sometimes no matter how hard you try, the student either cannot or is unwilling to learn.

  • Concerned Parent

    Anon is correct. The teacher contract is subject to negotiation between the school’s governing board and the union. At that first charter informational meeting I attended, there were many questions from parents about the teacher contract. Would they be willing to get rid of tenure? Will the parents have a roll in hiring/firing teachers? Will the parents have a roll in evaluating teachers? Would they be willing to institute pay for performance? Are they going to get rid of the “bad” teachers?

    The representative from the charter schools association said that some charter schools have a “thin” contract, which makes it easier for the school to fire teachers. But none of the teachers in the meeting gave any indication that they were considering that. They remained very noncommittal about all of the contract questions.

    One of the slides in the teachers’ presentation give three options to the teachers concerning their union representation and contract. They could stay part of the same union and keep the same contract. They could stay part of the same union and negotiate a separate contract for CVCHS teachers. Or they could form a separate bargaining unit and negotiate a new contract for themselves.

    I left that meeting thinking that the teachers were going to regret the charter conversion because the parents would force major concessions in their contract. I assumed the parents would be in control of the governing board. But when the teachers created the governing board, they gave only two out of nine seats to parents. The parents didn’t even get to elect their representatives. They would be appointed by the other governing board members. (That was changed after a fuss was made about it on another blog. The parents now elect their two representatives.) The governing board contains twice as many employee representatives (four) as parent representatives, plus there is a seat for a retired teacher who will be appointed by the other board members. Employee interests are well-represented on the nine-member Board.

    The teachers have since announced that they will keep their current contract for the first year of CVCHS operation and all current CV teachers are guaranteed a job at the charter. The charter intself contains several things designed to improve the situation for teachers in addition to salary/benefit issues: more training, more collaboration time, more say in curriculum, more say in hiring fellow teachers.

    I’ve been reading about charter schools and school reform efforts in LA, where there are many charter schools, both start-up and conversions, as well as quasi-charter schools run by the school district itself. In many of those schools, teachers have “thin” contracts that allow for easier hiring/firing of teachers as well as making it much easier for the administrators to control the budget, schedules, etc. The typical “thin” teacher contract is only 75 pages versus 300 pages for a traditional contract.

    It will be interesting to see if the CVCHS teachers will be willing to give us some of their job protections in the interests of improving the school. I wonder how much research the CV teachers really did before they decided to go charter. I doubt many of them did it with the intention of negotiating a “thin” contract that made it easier to fire them, and I can’t imagine them being willing to accept such a contract.

  • Concerned Parent

    Anthony, that’s a good question about how pay for performance could work. I don’t know the answer. But I do know that most private companies pay their salaried employees based on their performance. They find a way to do it, even though employees work on different assignments under different circumstances.

    Changing the current teacher contract was certainly something many of the parents in the room wanted to see.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Superintendent Steven Lawrence says the board won’t discuss the charter Tuesday: http://www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment/2011/10/21/mdusd-superintendent-says-board-wont-discuss-charter-tuesday/