Commission upholds charter denial

Final decision on fate of Ridgecrest Charter School set for March

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

After about an hour of testimony at the state capitol, and almost no deliberation, the Advisory Commission on Charter Schools voted 5-1 Tuesday to uphold a committee recommendation to deny the charter for Ridgecrest Charter School.

Whether the school, which instructs about 500 students, can keep its doors open after the end of this term is expected to be decided during the March 13-14 meeting of the California State Board of Education in Sacramento.

Sierra Sands Unified School District voted last fall to decline carrying the charter for RCS, citing as their primary reason the school’s below-average performance on state testing. Although the district has repeatedly denied RCS charter applications since the school opened in 2000, this cycle a state committee recommended the same course of action leading up to this week’s meeting.

More than a dozen advocates of RCS — including parents, members of the staff and the board and private citizens — made the trip to express support for one of the few alternate public school options in the Indian Wells Valley.

Following the presentation and testimony from RCS, Commissioner Jared Austin asked if Sierra Sands Unified School District officials were on hand to address whether they were equipped to incorporate the charter school students into the district if the state continues to deny the charter.

RCS Board President Eric Bruen reiterated this comment Wednesday night during public comment at the Ridgecrest City Council meeting.

“I think it would be irresponsible not to implore SSUSD to address the issue soon. At least have an action plan to present to the community and our parents,” said Bruen.

“We made the conscious decision not to attend the meeting, because it’s important that Sierra Sands remain neutral,” said SSUSD Superintendent Ernie Bell. “We knew there would be a contingent of charter school staff and families who would be attending the meeting to make their case, and we did not want to influence the commission’s decision one way or the other.”

That said, Bell said district officials have been working behind the scenes to ensure that, if the state board denies the RCS charter, those students can make a seamless transition into the district.

“We have been very concerned for the families of the children attending the charter school. We have no control over the decision the state board makes, but in the event they vote to deny the charter, we are going to do everything we can to make sure every student and family is welcomed into Sierra Sands.”

Commissioner Dr. Mark Ryan noted that RCS demonstrated, after being put on notice for subpar academic performances in 2007, that the school could achieve the desired improvement. His was the lone dissenting vote; he had suggested that RCS be given another chance. Other commissioners did not respond to his suggestion, and the vote was made without further discussion.

The outcome of a Thursday night RCS meeting was not available by press time. Details will be reported in future editions.

Story First Published: 2019-02-08