First, the Santa Clara County Office of Education denied it in November. Then, a couple months later, the San Jose Unified School District turned it down. On Wednesday, a third petition to build a second Discovery Charter School in San Jose goes back before county education officials.
The charter school would serve 490 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Before the county’s 5-2 vote against it, 700 families already signed their kids to the waiting list. The nonprofit charter went to the county first, because even though the school site lies within San Jose Unified’s boundaries, 400 of those students were from outside the district. That, plus the fact that going to the county for approval cut a year off the planning process, according to county school board trusteee Joseph DiSalvo (who voted in favor last fall).
Discovery school officials want to open the campus in August this year. But they can’t even select a site until they get county or school district approval to move forward with the whole thing.
But most county trustees just a few months ago found it fell short of criteria for a countywide charter, they said. DiSalvo slammed his colleagues in a Mercury News op-ed published a week after the Nov. 28 vote:
“The powerful status quo for public education, exemplified by this vote, is hazardous to the academic health of many children,” he wrote. “The children that suffer the most from the status quo are too often Latinos, African-Americans and Southeast Asians, as well as students who are poor and have special needs. Just look up the test scores of these subgroups of students enrolled in San Jose Unified, especially those in middle school.”
Just a year earlier, the board voted 5-2 in favor of another charter chain, the Rocketship Academy, which recently won a zoning exemption to open its eighth branch in Silicon Valley. Twelve more are planned, though the zoning exemption granted to the latest one prompted San Jose Unified to file a lawsuit against the county on grounds that it doesn’t have the authority to wrangle around with municipal zoning rules.
SJUSD says it isn’t against charters, just worried about the county setting a precedent for planning schools that usurps local authority. That lawsuit was discussed in closed session Tuesday.
Discovery Charter hasn’t had as much luck winning support from elected leaders. Still, 540 parents signed a petition to have the county reconsider the permit. The county says it needs a little more clarity from the charter, but found no legal reason to deny the petition this time, according to staff reports.
Other noteworthy items from the Santa Clara County Board of Education agenda for March 6, 2013:
• The sequestration, roughly a 5.9 percent cut to federal services, will cost county education about $2 million, according to a budget update going before trustees Tuesday. That evens out to a $1,686,335 cut to school service money and $302,173 less in other funds, says Micaela Ochoa, the county schools’ chief business officer, who calls the federal cuts “an ongoing concern.”
• Foster youth in the county get about $250,000 this year from the California Department of Education to help with school support services, like tutoring and credit catch-up in the summer. The grant amount has dropped from $433,000 in 2008, according to a report about the program going before trustees this week. The biggest challenge for the county right now is how to continue those efforts to boost graduation rates and improve academic performance with unstable and steadily decreasing funding.
• Trustees hear an annual report from each of its charter schools throughout the year. This week, it’s University Preparatory Academy’s turn. The school leases facilities from the Cathedral of Faith Church, by Curtner Avenue and Highway 87. The 6-year-old, 7-12th grade school gives more than 500 students exposure to top-notch arts education, the report says.
The school aims to support kids who want to go to college with more individualized instruction than they’d typically get in a public school setting. Advanced-placement classes, personal lesson plans and a small-school setting help students achieve this goal, faculty say.
One challenge in the past year has been to fill a vacancy for an Algebra I teacher, the school says. It needs to raise its certificated teacher salary to attract interest in the position, vacant now for two years.
Other issues raised include the campus’ lack of a media center, too much homework for students, an overall lack of resources for teachers, a resistance to electronic learning and Latino students falling behind in Algebra.
• The county’s Alternative Education Court and Community Schools has been undergoing reform for the past several years, in part because of pressure from the No Child Left Behind Act and other state and federal accountability measures. Trustees will hear a verbal report of the program’s plans to improve in the coming year.
• A couple weeks ago county Superintendent Xavier De La Torre announced his plan to give back $100,000 of his salary over the next four years to help pay down a home relocation loan. The loan has a 30-year term and amounts to $970,000. As of last Friday, he’ll pay $2,500 a month.
WHAT: Santa Clara County Board of Education meets
WHEN: 5pm Tuesday
WHERE: 1290 Ridder Park Drive, San Jose