Sierra Sands denies charter school request

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Sierra Sands denies charter school requestDuring a special meeting last week, the Sierra Sands Unified School District Board of Trustees denied, on a 5-0 vote, a request by Ridgecrest Charter School to sponsor its petition.

SSUSD staff reviewed the petition and made a recommendation that the board deny the request on three primary grounds — RCS does not meet renewal criteria outlined in California Education Code, Section 47607(b), RCS is “demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the program” as presented and the petition does not provide a reasonably comprehensive description of the elements required by the state for a charter petition.

Members of the district noted that these obstacles are the same that have driven the denial of previous requests to carry the charter.

“While disappointed, we will continue this process by appealing to the state board,” Eric Bruen, president of the charter school board, said in a prepared statement. “In three previous applications, SSUSD has not felt compelled to unite this community, and this process followed that same pattern.

“We are not shocked. RCS will now bring to the state our petition to provide parental choice and a different educational experience for our community. We are optimistic that [the state] will be able to see what SSUSD could not and will renew our charter as they have previously.”

District officials noted that they would be putting SSUSD resources at risk by taking responsibility for a school over which they have no discretion or authority.

“We do believe in choice for the children in our community,” said Ernie Bell, superintendent of SSUSD. “Each time the charter school goes through the application process, our boardmembers have expressed very clearly that they are limited by the regulations outlined in the ed code.”

Bell noted that the decision of the board was based solely on the fact that the petition did not meet the requirements outlined by the state.

“My biggest disappointment in this is that we did not work collectively but rather through attorneys. The whole process was wrapped in code and legal paperwork which amounted to 42 pages of legalese being passed between the groups within 48 hours,” said Bruen.

Bell said that districts are neither required nor encouraged by the state to coach petitioners through the process. “If they are looking to partnership to fulfill their goals, we are happy to sit down and talk with them. But it’s their responsibility to put forth their interests and develop a plan.

“If the charter school officials wanted to engage in conversation, I don’t see why we could not do that. But they never approached us.”

SSUSD officials noted that charter schools are exempt from certain standards required of public schools in order to allow flexibility in delivering education. The concept behind this provision is to allow charter schools to find creative solutions to meet specific needs in their communities.

However, the success of these alternative options for education is still measured in the state’s standardized tests and assessments. If the scores are not at or above the average of the scores for other schools in the same geographic locations, charter schools are typically put on report until they can improve their scores.

In this case, RCS scores were not only below SSUSD scores, but also were showing a decline over time.

“Academic achievement is another important criterion, and RCS failed to demonstrate eligibility,” said Bell. “Even if they are not regulated by the typical rules that we have to follow as a district, they are still required to demonstrate comprehensive governance, curriculum, instruction, financial stability. Our staff does not have the resources to provide this on their behalf.”

“This process will come up again in five years,” said Bruen. “I believe the goal of the RCS board and administration and the SSUSD board and administration should be to ensure than an open dialog exists regularly and consistently as to what it is going to take for the SSUSD board to see the qualities and value of RCS to this community.”

Story First Published: 2018-10-19