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Charter Supporters Disappointed by MDUSD Board's Conditional Approval

Charter advocated are weighing the possibility of bypassing the board's decision and appealing to the Contra Costa Office of Education.

"With conditions."

Those were the two words that irked Clayton Valley charter supporters as they filed out of the stuffy multi-purpose room at Monte Gardens Elementary School Tuesday night.

The Mt. Diablo Unified School District board voted unanimously — with conditions — to approve Clayton Valley's petition to convert to a charter school. The board wants to see more specifics in the charter with respect to a wide range of subjects, including financial planning, curricular integration and employee qualifications.

The board has given charter supporters until February 2012 to incorporate the changes.

This now leads to a dilemma for charter supporters. They could either:

A. Do what the board asks and try to meet the board's conditions by the February deadline.  

B. Take the approval with conditions as a form of denial and appeal the decision to the Contra Costa County Office of Education, . It is not clear if this second option is legal.

What troubles charter supporters is that if they try to meet the board's conditions and are denied anyway, they might not have enough time to appeal the decision. Charter supporter plan to open Clayton Valley Charter High School at the start of the 2012-13 school year.

"I'm very disappointed," said Megan Kommer, a parent who was recently elected to . "It puts us in a bad situation with our timeline. We will wait and see what our options are."

All five Clayton City Council members attended the meeting in support of the charter and all five recommended the board to approve the charter without conditions.

"That was unacceptable," said councilmember Julie Pierce of the board's decision. "The board had an opportunity to make a bold decision and they had the support from the community to do it. But now we'll have to go over their heads. I'm really disappointed in the school board."

The attorney for the charter school group, Paul Minney, was tight-lipped about what the next move might be, saying, "We will look at all our options." He added, "The district wants unrealistic conditions."

At the board meeting, the Clayton Valley Charter discussion started with Deborah A. Cooksey, associate general counsel to the board, laying out a comprehensive critique of the charter.

Cooksey's focus was primarily on its lack of specificity. She voiced particular concerns about the charter's financial plan and also its road map for reaching the educational goals laid out in the charter.

"The board has adequate grounds to deny the petition," Cooksey said.

Pat Middendorf, a co-chair of the Clayton Valley Charter High School steering committee, told the board the charter isn't supposed to be a detailed document with all the details of the school, but a framework to work from.

The other co-chair, Neil McChesney, told the board other California charter schools have similar charters and that their schools are excelling academically.

More than a dozen charter supporters spoke during the public comment period, many saying that Clayton Valley High has deteriorated and that they have the right to try and improve their school.

Barb Johnson, the district director for Congressman George Miller, told the board Miller supported the charter and that the board should approve it without conditions.

Only one person in public comment said they were against charter.

During the board's discussion, and all five members said they had concerns about the lack of specifics in the charter.

Right before the vote, Minney, the charter's lawyer, asked to address the board again. After initially being denied a chance, the board did allow him two minutes.

Minney told the board that the supporters did not agree with the conditions and that he had sent the board a counter proposal earlier in the day, one which would have given charter leaders more time, until July of 2012, to comply with the board's conditions.

The board then quickly voted to approve the charter with the February deadline in place.

The room, filled with more than 100 charter supporters, was mostly silent after the vote.

Tom Payne September 15, 2011 at 07:17 AM
It appears that the MDUSD Board has strategically put the Charter and its proponents between the proverbial rock and a hard place with their “conditions”. Sounds like dirty pool to me!
Shelly Doyle-Shuey September 15, 2011 at 04:07 PM
It was interesting that some of the MDUSD Board members read statements at the end of the night which had clearly been written before any public comment. Board member Eberhart also went on blogs to state his views before hearing the public as well. Clearly, their minds were made up and the meeting was a mere formality. How disheartening for the students who attended this seemingly pointless meeting.

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