A California superintendent speaks out on charter schools

The following was shared with us by our newest chapter, PAA-Marin (CA):

18 months into a highly contentious local battle over the conversion of a “district-wide program of choice” into a charter school, which included two unanimous denials by the local school board, and a unanimous denial by our county office of education, the Ross Valley Charter was approved by the CA State Board of Education.

During its twenty year history, the district program had received many critiques, perhaps the most stinging came after a discrimination complaint was investigated by a third party investigator, who found proof that the program had “unintentionally discriminated” against English Language Learners, low-income, and special needs students.

The charter petitioners currently have no location, and are making thinly veiled threats to file a “Prop 39 Request,” which will entitle them to a district school facility which is “reasonably equivalent” to other school sites. Our district may have to close one of its schools to house the charter.

Proposition 39 was a Trojan Horse, which ostensibly made the process for approval of school bonds easier, but which contained the aforementioned provision for charter schools. Proposition 39 was funded by 4 billionaires in the year 2000, including Reed Hastings (Netflix), John Walton (WalMart heir), and two other tech execs.

https://ballotpedia.org/California_Proposition_39,_Supermajority_of_55%25_for_School_Bond_Votes_(2000)

And here: www.saverossvalleyschools.com

They shared the remarks their Superintendent made at the State Board of Ed when the Ross Valley Charter (school) was approved on 1/14/16; they suggest that he makes some wonderful points, and is a true ally.
Remarks to SBE – 1/14/16
Good afternoon.  My name is Rick Bagley and I am the Superintendent of the Ross Valley School District in Marin County.
Clearly there is a deep difference of opinion both in this room and back home in our community about whether or not the Ross Valley wants, needs or should even have this charter school.  As much as this has become a polarizing issue for us, perhaps there is one thing we can agree on – this has been a process that has been long, complex, confusing, time consuming and costly for everyone.
Ours is a small district of roughly 2,300 students.  For us this charter petition review process, even with the expert guidance and support of an experienced and highly skilled attorney, felt overly complicated, unnecessarily ambiguous and unduly burdensome. The percentage of our staff time spent on this process far exceeded the ten percent of our students who are projected to be served by the charter.  The fact that so many bright and experienced educators at the district and county level came to one conclusion about this charter, while equally bright and experienced educators at the CDE came to another conclusion, tells me there is something in this process that isn’t working as it should.
When I accepted this position I had no clue I would find myself in the middle of a charter school debate.  After all, my District is located in the heart of Marin County, one of the wealthiest and highest performing counties in our state.  In Marin County the average household income according to the 2010 census is 49% higher than the rest of our state as a whole and the percentage of residents with a college degree is 78% higher.  Crime rates are low, unemployment is among the lowest in the State, home values are off the charts and from an educational standpoint our county is rich in high performing public, private, parochial and alternative school choices.  Compared to the true lack of choice, access and equity so many California students experience each day, Marin County is truly “in a galaxy, far, far away”.
According to EdSource, Ross Valley School District’s 2015 CAASPP scores rank us 50th in the State in English-Language Arts and 41st in mathematics.  Our elementary schools have class sizes of 20.5:1 in K-3 and 24:1 in 4th-5th, with all fully credentialed, CLAD certified, highly qualified teachers.  The voters in our community support a parcel tax, a local bond measure to modernize our school facilities and most recently the reelection of two incumbent Board members.  Parents in our District give generously to our YES Foundation, which helps provide our robust and acclaimed programs in art, music, poetry and STEAM.  Our students matriculate into the Tamalpais Union High School District, where the graduation rate is nearly 100% and 84% of all graduates go on to attend college.
The words “chronically underperforming” thankfully do not apply to us, yet in the bigger picture we are part of a State where 55% of our students in grades 3-11 are not meeting standards in ELA and 66% are not meeting standards in math.  We are part of a State where hundreds of thousands of students have limited or no educational options at all and the achievement gap between them and the students of districts like ours, grows wider every single day.  If we as educators and policy makers truly believe charter schools are part of the solution to bridging that massive achievement gap, then shouldn’t we be focusing our charter efforts there?
In their 2010 policy brief, “Choice Without Equity,” researchers Frankenberg, Siegel-Hawley and Wang state the charter schools movement has been “a major political success but it has been a Civil Rights failure.”  Why? In large part I think it is because we’ve not had the political courage to acknowledge the fact that our charter approval process makes it possible for those with the most educational opportunities and access to have even more, while over half of California’s students struggle just to meet standards. Even worse, we allow this to happen while we wax on about the importance of targeting our already scarce resources toward those who need it most.
Again, there is something in this process that isn’t working as it should.
I hate it when someone comes to me and dumps a problem in my lap without a proposed solution. In this particular instance, my proposed solution is to have confidence in the wisdom, competence and local decision-making of the Boards who evaluated this petition before you, and to vote as they did.  In the bigger picture my proposed solution is to reach out to those of us who are willing to be part of the solution, in helping this process work as it should for the benefit of those who need it the most.
In closing I’d like to share a quote from President Obama’s final State of the Union speech, in which he said,
“So, my fellow Americans, whatever you may believe, whether you prefer one party or no party, our collective future depends on your willingness to uphold your obligations as a citizen. To vote. To speak out. To stand up for others … especially the vulnerable, knowing that each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere, stood up for us.”
You have a difficult decision before you, but I thank you in advance for doing what’s right for all students, including and especially those most susceptible to what is rapidly becoming a segregative system that lopsidedly favors more choices for the privileged few at the expense of those most vulnerable.

Posted on by Julie Woestehoff Posted in Misc

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