Five Santa Clarita Valley school district superintendents sent a letter chastising Acton Agua Dulce Unified School District officials over concerns with the state’s Education Code, ahead of a vote on the state Senate floor that might address their concerns.
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State Senate Bill 1263 would stop a school district from being able to approve a charter school outside of its district’s boundaries.
The concern and subsequent letter were spurred by AADUSD’s interactions with charter schools such as Albert Einstein Academy for the Letters, Arts and Science, according to Marc Winger, Newhall School District superintendent.
“We sent a letter (May 12) stating we will do everything we can legally and administratively to expose this,” Winger said, calling AADUSD’s proliferation of charter school approvals a “pay for play” budgeting mechanism skirting both the intent and letter of the law.
“SB 1263 needs to pass,” Winger said. “This abuse is incredible.”
Einstein Academy officials did not immediately return calls seeking comment Tuesday.
Related article: Charter School Law Leaves SCV Districts In Limbo
The letter, signed by Winger and four other school district superintendents, notes AADUSD operates four of its own schools, although district staff has recommended the approval of 15 charter schools in the last three years.
Brent Woodard, superintendent for the Acton Agua Dulce School District, said in previous interviews the charter school approvals aren’t a for-profit move.
The approvals are a way for the district to offer parents what they want, Woodard said. The district was failing to meet parental demand, he said, and as a result, the parents were voting for charter school approvals “with their feet.”
“It’s not a model that generates money (for school districts),” Woodard said. “It’s just nonsense. It’s unfortunate that people have gotten that take.”
The goal was to attract parental support, which has gradually gone away over the last 10 years, by adding programs to attract them. AADUSD has been losing hundreds of students a year, Woodard said, describing the approvals as a long-term strategy to address parents’ concern.
A little more than a year ago, the AADUSD board voted 3-2 to OK Einstein Academy for a Mandarin language charter school petition.
While the school ended up being within the Acton-Agua Dulce Unified School District boundaries, there was controversy surrounding the move. Saugus Union School District officials were notified about the approval, which is required by law, the day before the vote. Einstein officials said they were planning to put a school chartered by AADUSD in SUSD district boundaries
However, the site approved was actually within Castaic Union School District boundaries, a site that still lacks proper zoning approvals. Students for that charter school are now taking classes on AADUSD campuses.
The discussion from AADUSD board members in favor of the Einstein approval focused on the loss of enrollments to other Santa Clarita Valley school districts, and the resulting budget crunch the district was facing.
“These are the folks who take approximately $1 million a year from us, and have been doing it for years and years with the students they’ve been taking from us,” said AADUSD board member Mark Ridenour, at the May 13, 2013, meeting when the Einstein Academy school was OKed. “‘Oh, there’s a district up there now?'” he asked the crowd rhetorically. “I find little sympathy for that group of folks right now.”
At the time of the approval, Woodard said the district could be facing a half-million-dollar deficit for 2014-15.
The bill, which was authored by state Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Calabasas, is likely to go to a floor vote on the Senate by the end of the month.
State Sen. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, said he was still weighing concern from his constituents, and wasn’t ready to give a yay or nay on the bill. He’s a big supporter of charter schools, he said, but also of the traditional public school system, which his children attend.
Knight also noted that certain educators, such as continuation schools, benefit from the ability to operate outside of their chartering district, in order to better serve students.
“I don’t want to hurt those (charter school) programs, but I understand where the school districts are coming from,” Knight said, adding he just spoke with Pavley on the matter, and planned to speak with SCV superintendents this week. “If a charter school is performing well and providing a great service just like a public school, I’m going to be there to support them.”
A statement about SB 1263 from Pavley’s office expressed concern over accountability and oversight, not finance.
“School districts that are not also the authorizer do not have any oversight or monitoring authority, even though other local bodies have this authority,” the statement read. “Additionally, when a charter plans to operate outside the authorizing school district, it must notify the district in which it intends to operate, but there are no consequences for improper notice or failure to notify.”
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Source: Santa Clarita News