Charter School Director Threatens to Sue Santa Clara County Education Trustee

When Voices-Morgan Hill charter school’s petition to stay open for another five years came up for a vote last month, Santa Clara County Board of Education trustee Claudia Rossi asked some tough questions. How much of the school’s budget was going to the charter management organization? Was the school inflating its student achievement data? Why does it pay teachers less than their public school counterparts? Though the board ultimately approved the charter’s renewal through 2023 in a 4-2 vote with Rossi and her colleague Anna Song opposing, Voices Executive Director Frances Teso isn’t ready to let bygones be bygones. In a letter dated Jan. 12, the charter school principal called Rossi’s assertions slanderous and demanded that she take back what she said at the Dec. 13 board meeting. Teso says she took time during the relative quiet of the holiday break to reflect on Rossi’s “false and defamatory statements” about test scores, teacher pay and management fees. “Your false statements served only to unnecessarily alarm parents and expose yourself to liability,” Teso wrote. “If even one student dis-enrolls from Voices or a new student chooses not to enroll in a Voices charter school, or one teacher chooses to leave our organization due to your false statements, Voices will have met the damages requirement in an action for defamation.” In other words, Teso is gearing up for a lawsuit. Rossi balked at the provocation, saying she fears it will have a chilling effect. “I don’t take back what I said,” she tells Fly. “But it’s upsetting to receive a threat.” Rossi says elected officials should feel free to ask difficult questions to make an informed vote. “If we’re now working under the fear of being sued by lobbies that are wealthy,” she says, “then that could really affect how we deliberate.”

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12 Comments

  1. Even charter advocates have got to look at this one and think that Voices is going way too far. What a terrible statement from Teso, practically saying she hopes her school suffers so that she can sue the County Board. She won the vote, this is what oversight is supposed to look like.

    • It appears that the goal of Ms. Rossi was to place doubt in the minds of the public about the school. She offered no proof to support the assumptions behind her questions.

      • Um, there is plenty of data, or “proof”, about charter schools unsavory financial management and lack of success for students. As “Gracious In Victory” noted, “this is what oversight is supposed to look like”.

  2. “How much of the school’s budget was going to the charter management organization?”

    — This question only has merit if asked in response to a concern legitimized by evidence, otherwise, Ms. Rossi’s motives for asking it must be assumed based not on her oversight responsibilities but on her personal prejudices.

    “Was the school inflating its student achievement data?”

    — Again, absent strong evidence suggesting such wrongdoing, Ms. Rossi’s words (reminiscent of the slimeball tactics of desperate defense attorneys) constitute an insult, not a question. Who knows, were it not for her responsibility to print-out graduation diplomas for illiterates, Ms. Rossi might’ve had the time to properly prepare for the option request.

    “Why does it pay teachers less than their public school counterparts?”

    The salary levels at the school represent agreements between the employers and employees, of which Ms. Rossi is neither. The question she should’ve asked: “Why do charter school students consistently outperform ours?”

    At the minimum, Ms. Rossi’s insulting and confrontational behavior should’ve been questioned by the board and investigated by any news agency reporting on the exchange. But given the results-based reputation of the county board of education (D-) and the maturity of local journalism (prepubescent), the only thing Ms. Rossi has to fear is the lawsuit she earned with her undisciplined and oversized mouth.

  3. Unfortunately your story does not accurately report the statements by Ms. Rossi. She did not ask questions. Rather, she made false and accusatory statements. You should review the video of her statements instead of taking Ms. Rossi’s own representation of what she said, which is obviously what you did. As a member of the Board of Directors, who are all volunteers, it was insulting that she would accuse us of stealing from the children.

  4. Frances Teso was an outstanding teacher when she taught at our neighborhood school, Sherman Oaks in the Campbell Union District. She built Voices from the ground up with members of the community supporting her. She created a school for children who otherwise have not been adequately served; she herself came from a low-income Latino family so she knows the challenges those children face. Asking questions in public which assumes erroneous and unproven information is a defamation of the school, because it places undeserved doubts in the public’s mind about the school. Ms. Rossi should have been asked to provide proof of her assumptions.

  5. These questions should already be covered in reports about the operation of the Charter. I’m sure they are. So then the issue is with the conclusions inherent in the comments by the Trustee. I can see a Trustee failing to do homework and not actually know the answer to the questions. I can’t see the person who prepares the application and the reports not being well informed. Therefore, it seems like the issue is that the legal action is well founded in the facts. These do appear to be likely slanderous statements.

  6. Rossi doesn’t need to worry. It is impossible to sue an elected official for defamation based on statements made in a legislative proceeding. Civil Code 47(b).

  7. This is not slander. Voices from what I hear is a great school. I personally do not think highly of most of the Santa Clara County Board of Education but asking questions is not slander. If someone felt corned they can always advise they will get back to them on their question and do so. Adults need to act respectful towards each other and teach our children how best to handle tough situations.

  8. Well a little dose of Accountability is a good thing. I think the SCCOE Board should be asking many more questions and being more diligent before approving Charter School Applications. Claudia Rossi should thank her lucky stars that she has the privilege of serving the children in Santa Clara County and begin devoting her energy to improving professional practices in her Charter School. She should be looking in the mirror rather than looking out the window for excuses. Overall only about 40% of students at her Charter school meet or exceed standards in Mathematics. Only 57% of her students meet or exceed standards in English Language Arts. This represents mediocre performance at best – and can be matched by many of our public school districts. She should quit whining and get to work as she has A LOT to do to prepare her students for college and career. No?

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