SSUSD denies Charter School petition

Board bases decision on similarity of school’s programs to those of other district schools

Linda Saholt

News Review Correspondent

The biggest issue at the Sierra Sands Unified School District’s Board of Education meeting Nov. 21 centered on the petition for renewal of the Ridgecrest Charter School’s charter.

Superintendent of Schools Jody Rummer convened an expert panel to review and develop a recommendation for the board on whether to grant or deny the renewal petition.

Based on the panel’s findings, Rummer submitted the following: “The Superintendent recommends that the Board deny the Ridgecrest Charter School Charter Renewal Petition on the grounds that petitioners are demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the program and the petition does not provide reasonably comprehensive descriptions of many of the required elements.”

SSUSD Boardmember Tom Pearl described visiting RCS that same morning. “I’m even more convinced there is meaningful and effective teaching going on in every classroom in that school,” he said. He praised the job that teachers, administrators, students and parents are doing in educating students.

During public comments, RCS Director Tina Ellingsworth spoke at length about the high test scores, consistent improvement and student achievement at the charter school.

“On the 2013 Academic Performance Index, RCS scored 864, showing 16 points of growth. The charter school has also demonstrated growth in all numerically significant pupil subgroups. In 2012, RCS scored a seven out of 10 statewide rank on the statewide API, and a 10 out of 10 on Similar Schools ranking,” said Ellingsworth.

“This year, RCS was also nominated to be a California Distinguished School. Academic achievement is higher than it’s ever been, and will continue growing in this positive direction.”

She said she believes that RCS had “swept all applicable threshold requirements for renewal,” and she called the district’s report “full of speculation and baseless conclusions.”

Boardmember Kurt Rockwell praised the good things he has seen at the charter school. “I’m absolutely good with choice,” he said. “But I think charter schools in other places focus on art or science or something different. I see RCS offering the same things as any other SSUSD school.”

“As a board member, do I want to accept the responsibility and the liability? This has nothing to do with RCS, I’ve been to their campus. I’ve been to every campus in this district. They’re all good schools,” said Mike Scott. “I want to do what’s best for the district.”

Citing conflicting data, Rockwell said, “You take on risk depending on the data you have at the time. The murkier a picture is for me, the less risk I am willing to take on. The clearer a picture is for me, the more risk I am willing to take on.

“If I knew for a minute that if they tanked, that financially it wouldn’t cost the district a penny, if I knew there were no liability issues, I’d say let’s approve this thing. But I don’t know that for sure. I wish I did. The school looks great, there is obviously lots of passion from teachers and parents, but those aren’t the things we’re making the decision on right now. We’re making a decision based on data presented to us based on long-term viability of the school in every aspect.”

Board President Bill Farris added, “If someone is to come to us with a proposal, it’s important for us to understand that the resources of the district are limited and we have to work within those limits. Just considering the petition is a strain on the resources of this district. To discuss solving additional problems regarding liability is an invitation to resolve their issues of presentation.

“My concern is if RCS was to bring to this community something unique and different to the educational process, then I think we would have a more significant obligation to spend significant resources to consider. However, the reality is there is not a significant difference in what they offer students from what we offer students but yet it will take more of our resources to address that.

“So, since their proposal is not complete and standing on its own to show us that this can be successful, I think we’re obligated as the keeper of the public trust here and resources that we’re obligated to preserve here to hand it back to them and say it does not convince us that this has the potential for success that it ought to.

“I have no argument with RCS. There are wonderful people involved, but based on what was presented to us this shows us it has no significant difference as a program to make us take that risk.”

The board voted unanimously to deny the petition.

Story First Published: 2013-11-27