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Despite questions, Hawking Charter schools approved for one more year!

July 10, 2015

By Susan Luzzaro

Community advocate Maty Adato asked the Sweetwater Union High School board a provocative charter school question at the June 22 board meeting. Trustees were deliberating on the renewal of facility contracts for Stephen Hawking charters I & II. The charters are for grades K-6 and Adato wanted to know if Sweetwater, a 7 -12 district, must give up unused classroom space to a K-6 charter.

Community members were particularly concerned about Sweetwater’s charters because they appeared to be the work of a paid consultant under former superintendent Ed Brand, rather than charters arising from parent choice.

The Hawking I charter is partially located at the Sweetwater’s former Regional Occupational Center and partially in Castle Park Middle School. Hawking II is co-located on the Southwest Middle School campus. This is the third year of existence for Hawking I; it will be the second year for Hawking II.

Proposition 39 was passed in 2000 which allows charter schools to occupy unused classroom space. At the June 22 meeting, Ramon Leyva, Director of State and Federal Programs, acknowledged, “This is the first time they [Hawking charters] have gone through a formal Prop 39 request. Previously the district simply gave the facilities to the charters.”

Trustee Paula Hall queried Levya about space. What happens, she asked, if the charter schools want more of our classroom space?

Leyva said the outlook for giving the charters additional space in 2016-17 is “problematic.” He said, “The bleeding has stopped at Southwest Middle and Castle Park Middle.” In other words, students who had been attending other schools are returning to their neighborhood schools. According to Leyva, at one time Southwest Middle had been down to 100 students and now is back up to 700. Castle Park Middle also increased enrollment up to 900.

Former interim superintendent Phil Stover weighed in on trustee Hall’s question about space for the district’s students. He said, “Proposition 39 starts new every year. Charters are only given a one-year term. A charter school has no inherent right be at the same site year, after year, after year.”

“In November they [charters} make a request. On December 1 we [the district] get back to them and say we have room or we don’t… We are under no obligation to give them the same site if there is no available space, this is a constant moving process.”
Karen Janney, who was not formally the superintendent at the June 22 meeting, spoke at the podium and expanded on Adato’s initial question about whether the district needed to grant space to K-6 students.

Janney pointed out that staff’s own agenda analysis said “None of the Charter Schools’ students qualify as “in-district students” because both [charter] schools currently offer a program to K-6 students only.” In-district students are students who would have attended a district school if the charter were not in place Janney suggested the board seek more clarity.

Stover then stated, “That’s where current litigation is ongoing because there’s more and more of these secondary and elementary school situations are turning up.”

Leyva said the fact that we are a 7-12 and they are a K-6 “does complicate the issue.” Leyva says he has been working with counsel on these questions and that the district was using Proposition 39 as “a guide.”

Stover then asked, “What district chartered these [Hawking charter] schools?”

Several trustees replied, “We did.”

Stover said, “Bring on the lawyers; that makes it even more complicated.”

Trustees then approved the Hawking charter schools for one year.

When Superintendent Janney was contacted on July 2, she wrote “if the board wants to continue to research the quest of “in-district” students with our general counsel, I will certainly follow their direction.”

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Comments

4 Responses to “Despite questions, Hawking Charter schools approved for one more year!”

  1. eastlaker Says:

    Sure would be great if we could hold accountable those who got these messes going. (More Ed Brand schemes for pals…)

    Now the district needs to expend resources to clear things up, and for what? For someone’s ego projects. Sickening.

  2. susan Says:

    Former superintendent Phil Stover elaborated on his comment about attorneys, unfortunately his useful contribution to the discussion was too late to include in the article. Stover’s comment follows:

    Regarding charters. Individual idiosyncrasies in the charter situation are being resolved in two ways: 1. Advocacy by supporters with the legislature to expand, clarify, or modify existing legislation and 2. litigation regarding implementation of existing laws. Both will have their purpose and will bring about change. My comments at the last board meeting I attended were in that regard. I am not sure existing statutes contemplated a secondary district establishing elementary charters. The ins and outs of that will have to be settled via 1 or 2, and either one certainly involve lawyers. There is a move afoot in San Diego County to create an impressive charter school advisory team from among local charter and school administration and curriculum gurus. It is an interesting area of educational policy that after over 10 years of existence is still being refined and defined across the country. I wrote the academic design and charter application for the Sarasota School of Arts and Sciences, one of Florida’s first charters back in the mid-nineties. It seems eons ago. Those who are fur them are fur them ardently; the same can be said of those who are agin them. Research, as with most of educational policy is mixed and relies on the anecdotal to support or diminish the work of charters.

  3. joepublic Says:

    From the article:
    [Stover then asked, “What district chartered these [Hawking charter] schools?” Several trustees replied, “We did.”Stover said, “Bring on the lawyers; that makes it even more complicated.”]

    I think the “We did” refers to the prior school board who went along with Sweetwater’s quest to recruit elementary school students . Both the elementary (CVESD) and the secondary(SUHSD) districts have been competing for the money that comes with average daily attendance (ADA), and have used  charter schools as their means. I guess if the new board pulled the plug on this charter right now, it would cause problems for students who return to school in a couple of weeks and with the law appearing vague on this issue,  it would invite potential lawsuits by the charter school. However, when the timing is right, let’s hope we will see an end to this practice. Unfortunately, it looks like taxpayers’ money and district resources will now be spent on untangling this mess instead of in the classroom where it should be.

  4. Fran Brinkman Says:

    SUSHD is a 7-12 district,and that’s the way it should stay. We jumped all over Chula Vista Elem.Brand started this mess and now Chula Vista has a program that takes our students. We should do what we do best,and work together now that we have a supt.that knows what she’s doing. Education is about kids not money. Just my thoughts.

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