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Proposed Rocklin charter high school faces uphill battle again

By: Jon Brines, Special to The Placer Herald
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The latest plan to build a charter high school in Rocklin now has a third strike against it as the Placer County Board of Education failed to pass the charter petition last Thursday night. The petition for the proposed Western Sierra Collegiate Academy was denied twice before by the Rocklin Unified School District. Charter schools are independently run and tuition free, but are tax-supported schools, created with a charter that mandates a different educational philosophy and curriculum than public schools. “They have to demonstrate that they have a sound educational program and be successful,” said RUSD Superintendent Kevin Brown. “(WSCA) failed to do that.” RUSD would be the party most impacted by the school’s creation as WSCA students would be housed on Rocklin campuses until their own facility could be constructed, the proposal said. “If they have 200 kids next year that is $1.2 million of revenue we lose,” Brown said. “The challenge here is to first get an approval,” said Rocklin Academy Executive Director and WSCA spokesperson David Patterson. Patterson said he hopes he can ride the success of Rocklin Academy’s kindergarten through sixth grade program to build the proposed seventh though 12th grade charter high school. Brown said the plan he’s seen is unlikely to be successful. “Their attitude is ‘approve my petition and we’ll figure it out later.’ It doesn’t work that way. Figure it out now. After we approve it, it’s too late,” Brown said. The head of RUSD and WSCA have some basic differences, which have created an atmosphere of mistrust. “We haven’t learned a single thing from a charter school,” Brown said. Patterson’s view differs. “We’ve out performed the district every year since our founding,” Patterson said. Rocklin Academy is an “A” rated school by the Department of Education. State Assemblyman Ted Gaines, R-Roseville was one of the nearly 50 people who voiced an opinion last Thursday night in front of the Placer County Board of Education. “Competition is good, especially in education. I want parents to have as many choices as possible,” Gaines said. Rocklin High School Principal Mike Garrison has a conflicting view of school choice. “By taking our students, they’re going to take away our opportunities (for choice),” Garrison said. WSCA officials said the school has been a victim of a fear mongering campaign headed by the district staff. “Parents shouldn’t be used as pawns in a political process,” Patterson said. Patterson said nearly 5,000 e-mails and 5,000 robo-calls were initiated by RUSD officials to get parents against the charter. In response, some Placer County board members said they received more than 500 e-mails and several phone calls before Thursday’s vote. “The e-mails the district sent out describe charter schools as a parasite,” Patterson said. “How inappropriate and disrespectful. We believe their actions were motivated by a narrow self interest and are counter to the desires of families in Rocklin to have choice.” The plan calls for the charter school students in seventh through 12th grades to be housed on the Rocklin High School and/or Whitney High School campuses. “I like my school just the way it is,” said Whitney High School sophomore Jessica Skalet. “The school district has a choice to make,” Patterson said. “They can accept choice and both the challenges and the opportunities the charter brings or they can be terribly opposed and try everything to stop charter schools.” Brown said he’ll work on the latter and lobby the state to deny the petition. The charter petition is now in the hands of the California Board of Education who could take up the matter for a vote as early as March 2009, Patterson said. “Slow and steady wins the race and that’s what it takes on this one,” Patterson said. We’re committed to the long haul.”