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Clayton Valley HS charter could be on verge of approval

By Theresa Harrington
Thursday, October 27th, 2011 at 1:01 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district.

At Tuesday’s Mt. Diablo school board meeting, attorney Deb Cooksey told trustees the Clayton Valley High School charter conversion committee has met all but one condition — the financial plan. CFO Bryan Richards is still evaluating the finances, she said.

I videotaped portions of the meeting and am posting links below. Unfortunately, some clips do not include full video of the comments because of my phone storage limitations.

Cooksey’s presentation to board, followed by Trustee Cheryl Hansen speaking about her attempt to get a motion on the Tuesday agenda and her subsequent request for a final vote Nov. 8:

Northgate Principal John McMorris speaks against the charter and says the district should remain unified:

Charter supporter Jim Killoran urges the board to approve the charter, stressing the importance of a positive campus culture:

Walnut Creek City Councilman Kish Rajan and representatives of state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, and Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, read a letter urging the board to make a final decision Nov. 8 and to hire an independent agency to report the financial impact to the district:

Clayton resident Leigh Kirmsee recalls the Greek myth Sisyphus in describing the charter effort: (Partial recording.)

Mt. Diablo High School Principal Kate McClatchy speaks in opposition to the charter, saying the district can’t afford to spend more money on some students than others:

Clayton Valley HS teacher Pat Middendorf expresses frustation about the charter committee’s attempts to work collaboratively with the district: (Partial recording.)

CVHS parent April Winship says the district has been busy capturing the sun instead of capturing the minds of students:

Clayton Valley HS senior Kendall Winship compares the charter effort to the Revolutionary War: (Partial recording).

CVHS teacher Neil McChesney says district has been stirring up opposition to the charter my misleading principals about the impact:

Charter advocate Jae Greenwald asks board to support charter:

Clayton Councilman Joe Medrano says Roberts Rules of Order would have allowed the board to cast final votes regarding the charter at Tuesday’s meeting and urges the board to make a final decision Nov. 8:

Clayton Vice Mayor Howard Geller reminds board members of why they ran for office and urges support of the charter: (Partial recording.)

Ygnacio Valley HS Principal Bill Morones speaks against the charter, saying it would take money away from students throughout the district and could cause teachers to be displaced: (Partial recording.)

YVHS parent Gordon Nadean says all district parents want what’s best for their children and he spoke against the charter, criticizing organizers for wanting to leave the district: (Partial recording.)

Unfortunately, these are all the clips I was able to capture, due to limited storage capacity on my phone and Qik account.

Here’s a recap of the other speakers’ comments:

CVCHS board member Ted Merriam played recording of Lawrence telling Pleasant Hill Education Commission that he thought the charter would likely be successful.

Rebecca Jensen spoke against the charter, saying she has been appalled by the anger in the debate. She said she is a fairly new district employee and she appreciated Lawrence’s memo disclosing the financial impact of the charter. From my point of view, this looks like a small issue,” she said. “I would argue that the divisiveness did not start with the memo.”

Carmel Phillips, the parent of a special needs student, spoke against the charter, saying everyone is part of one community and should come together. “I believe there are a bunch of changes that could be made without the charter today…I am very concerned about how special education students would be served.”

Deb Heinzman said: “An important question that we need to answer is: What kind of a district do we want to be?” She said the debate should be accompanied by a plan and solid numbers. “This entire process has been reactionary on both sides,” she said. “I stand by my previous statement that the unintended consequences of the charter could be negative for the majority of children in MDUSD.” She said the district is doing wonderful things and urged the board to finish the strategic plan and work in a more proactive way. “When a school is begging for change, please investigate it right away,” she said. “More often not, I have seen that movement result in a win-win situation.”

Clayton Mayor David Shuey said: “Congratulations. After four months, you’ve brought an atmosphere of fear. What you’ve done is you’’ve brought a bunch of people out here under false pretense and false information.” He said the charter committee requested a special meeting and has not heard a response. “Whether it is a special meeting this week or whether it’’s Nov. 8, you’’ve heard all the elected reps from the state and federal government come in and tell you: ‘Let’s get this done.'” He said some charter supporters don’t want the district to approve the charter, because they’d rather have the county oversee it. But others do want to be approved by the district so they can be innovative and share ideas. “Please stop the fear mongering,” he said. “Let’s get this done unequivocally on Nov. 8.”

Charter supporter Gary Hood said: “This is not an issue about us against you or you against us. Clayton Valley High School has the right to go after the charter. They’’ve met the guidelines.” He said some were setting a very bad example for their children with the political back and forth debate. “This is very embarrassing,” he said.

Diablo View MS teacher Lynda Rush said she believes the charter’s plan is sound and she said her students are unable to communicate their Powerpoints because of Windows 2003 technology at her school. “Your letter explains a (teacher) bumping process but fails to say it is a yearly process. Your bumping process is not because of the charter. If 80 percent stay and 20 percent go, that would be normal operating procedure. I respectfully submit my application to the charter, if they would have me, and tender my resignation with the district.”

Carlyn Obringer of the California Charter Association said approving the charter would “truly create an exciting opportunity, an exciting incubator for best practices that can benefit the entire district.”

Monica Fitzgerald spoke against the charter, urging the board to consider comments made by some of the princpals and Rajan. “Everybody wants a fast decision, but I really think we need some more information,” she said. “Every single person in this room clearly cares about education and whatever you decide, I know that you have the best interests of the children in mind. I encourage to think about the language you’’re using.” She said she did not believe the board’s actions were a “power ploy.” “Never before have I been called a lap dog when I’’ve agreed with you. We have missed a big opportunity to have a conversation about education.” She urged people to take their anger and frustration to Sacramento and to have a meaningful conversation about the state of education.

Les Garaventa Jr., a CVHS parent and CPA, listed the qualifications of the CVHS charter lead accountant Marshall Mayotte, of ExEd. He said Mayotte found the charter would be successful and would not be a drag on the district office. Mayotte also found that CVHS receives the second lowest amount per student of all district high schools. “Reports about the district losing money to other schools is not entirely accurate, since the district has already chosen to spend less for CVHS than other high schools in the district,” he said.

Chase Davenport of the California Charter Schools Association said charter supporters were looking forward to list’s of expense reductions from the district as the result of the charter, such as costs associated with education programs, assessment, professional development, staff including site-based administration, food service, human resource function, facilities, finance, and staffing for payrolls. The charter group would also like to see the district build in additional revenues as the result of the charter, including oversight fees, facilities costs and any other contracted agreements that may be reached. “I urge you not to draw an analysis based on per student spending,” he said. Of over 140 charter school conversions across the state, he said his organization was unaware of one that had caused serious district cuts and said some ended up being cash positive. His organization was also unaware of any charter conversions that closed due to financial instability, he said.

Shuleen Martin, the parent of four children in district including two high school students, said she didn’t think now was a good time to approve the charter, because of the financial impact. “Maybe in the future,” she said, “when we have more money.”

Gregory Gardens Elementary Principal Cheryl Kolano encouraged the board to “truly consider every child.” She said she felt that some comments at the last board meeting were “bullying” and that she truly appreciates the members of the board. She said truly listening to all sides of the debate says a lot about who we are as a community. She ended by quoting the slogan of Ygnacio Valley High School leadership students: “Leadership is an action, not a position.”

Trustee Linda Mayo thanked everyone for coming and speaking. “I know that we may disagree about the role of the board in reviewing the 16 requirements,” she said. “It is part of our process and it is a charge from the Department of Education to do that. I appreciate our staff’s work an I appreciate the Clayton Valley High charter committee’s work as well.”

Trustee Sherry Whitmarsh also thanked everyone who came to speak. “As a board,” she said, “we have to do what’’s best for the school district.”

Board President Gary Eberhart said he thought it would be a “positive process” to partner with an outside agency and come up with an objective view of the ramifications of approval. He said the possible loss of about $2.5 million was an unintended consequence of the charter. “I actually think it’’s a legislative issue that needs cleanup,” he said. “I think the legislature has spoken many times about the power of charter schools and I don’’t think that was their intention…We would be remiss if we made any decision without considering the financial ramifications to the school district as a whole.”

He also criticized some of the emails he’s received about the charter. “The tone of some of these emails is frankly shocking,” he said. “And from people who are supposed to be leaders in our community — it’’s shocking…I’’m not going to point fingers and I’’ve tried not to respond to some of the negativity.”

He pointed out that the board took action in September and established a timeline through February. Initially, he said, the charter committee said it would be difficult to meet all the conditions in that time frame. He defended the amount of time the district is taking to review the conditions and objected to accusations that the district is “dragging its feet.”

“This is an important decision and it deserves and demands comprehensive analysis to determine whether or not the students in Clayton (and Concord) will be served well, the parents will be served well and we are living up to serving all students in the Mt. Diablo School District. So, that analysis that must take place is essential…I believe we will make a final decision on Nov. 8…When we make that decision, it wil be a full 100 days ahead of schedule. For anyone to suggest that the district is dragging its feet — it’’s just baseless. I’’m not ashamed that we are providing this analysis so we can make sure that whatever happens at Clayton Valley High School, it stands the test of time.”

Trustee Cheryl Hansen then said she wanted to make a few comments. At first, Eberhart objected, saying she had her chance to speak up earlier. However, she continued speaking.

She said students are looking to the board and district community us as models of civil discourse. “I’’ve said: ‘When a family is faced with a crisis, do you pull together or do you turn in on each other?’ Change should not be seen as a threat.”

She said the board needed to learn courtesy, respect and appreciation for civil discourse in public, which was why she had previously suggested holding a board study session about the charter.

At the end of the meeting, during Board Reports, Eberhart spoke about the need to communicate better.

“This is a time where as a board, we need to pull together and work as a team and work collaboratively and not step on each other and not accuse each other, but to find ways that we can work together,” he said. “Because what we do has a huge impact on the children of our district.”

He said he has recently felt the need to consult Roberts Rules of Order regarding how governing bodies can respectfully work together “for the betterment of the people we serve.” He said he has never before felt the need to walk around with that book in the 15 years he has been on the board.

“Fortunately, I only have one more meeting as President and then I can sit in someone else’s chair, which will be fine with me,” he said. “Are we going to have to raise our hand to be noticed by the president? Are we going to have to develop rules so in the middle of the night we don’’t’ send each other emails that are accusatory and disrespectful? We are here to do what is right for kids and it is impossible for us to carry that out if we cannot all get along together, if we can’’t extend the verbal courtesy to each other that’’s what we expect of our students at the elementary level. We expect our students to understand basic courtesies. I don’’t know what the answer is, but I know that somehow we have to get back to that. We have to have civil discourse and set an example for our kids and our staff.”

Do you believe the board will be ready to make a final decision on Nov. 8?

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