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Update: WSCA receives approval at state level

Board votes 7-1 for charter petition
By: Lauren Weber, The Placer Herald
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Even though Western Sierra Collegiate Academy charter school was approved last Thursday at the state level, the debate about the future of the proposed school continues for many Rocklin residents. Last Wednesday night, a petition to establish WSCA, a proposed seventh-through 12th-grade charter school was brought to the State Board of Education level for approval. After approximately two hours of discussion, the decision was made to bring the matter to the state board again in May. At that March 11 meeting, four state board members voted in favor of WSCA and three opposed, which was not enough to meet the six votes needed in order for the item to pass. But the following day, the WSCA item was back up for re-discussion during the SBE meeting on March 12. According to Rocklin Unified School District Board President Todd Lowell, members of RUSD received an e-mail Thursday morning notifying district members that the state board members determined it would continue deliberations on the WSCA petition appeal after 1 p.m. Thursday. The e-mail was sent from Darrell Parsons, consultant for the California Department of Education, charter schools division. Thursday afternoon, the state board passed the petition to establish WSCA. WSCA Executive Director David Patterson said that following the March 11 meeting, there was an informal discussion with board members. “It became clear that board members were missing some key information to the puzzle,” he said. The key information was in regards to Proposition 39 deadlines. March 15 is the deadline for a charter school’s approval to open in the next school year, Patterson said. If the decision of WSCA were to have come back to the state board in May, the school would not have been able to open until the 2010-11 school year, in accordance with Prop 39, Patterson said. WSCA representatives should have raised the issue at the state board meeting initially, Lowell said. Patterson said they attempted to, but were refused by State Board President Ted Mitchell. Following the March 11 decision, the state board staff concurred that there was an oversight on their part, Patterson said. But what many local residents who attended the March 11 meeting wondered was what changed overnight for the board to approve the petition. State Board of Education member Gregory Jones was one of the three initial votes opposing WSCA, who voted in favor the following day. “There’s something that’s deeply troubling on this one,” he said at the March 11 meeting, adding that he was “not in favor of creating islands of exclusivity.” Jones said, like fellow board member James Aschwanden, he was concerned about the school’s diversity in regards to their track record with Rocklin Academy, a Rocklin charter school currently in operation comprised of kindergarten through sixth grade. The debate during the March 11 meeting was mostly in regards to the school’s mission to serve all students. While members on the opposing side of WSCA found that Rocklin Academy was less diverse than RUSD, members representing WSCA disagreed. More than 25 individuals requested to speak during the public comments section of the March 11 meeting. Those opposed to WSCA mentioned Rocklin Academy’s lack of diversity in regards to special needs, English-language learner and low-income students. But Barbara Jones said she has a personal familiarity regarding the school’s diversity. Jones is a mother of a special education student who attends Rocklin Academy. “At no point in time was my son discriminated against. We have had great success. They have gone out of their way to make sure we have what we need,” she said at the March 11 meeting. Patterson said that state board members opposed to WSCA had only small concerns and that he and other WSCA representatives were able to create additional language that clarified the school’s commitment to serve all students. The clarification resulted in the charter school’s approval. Lowell said he and other members of RUSD had feelings of “shock and unfairness.” On March 12, the district’s attorney, Michelle L. Cannon, contacted Mitchell in regards to the reconsideration of WSCA. She said the action on March 12 was in violation of the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act and Roberts Rules of Order. According to Cannon, the second vote is not valid because the action that was taken on the WSCA petition on Wednesday could not be continued the following day. Lowell said the reason the district felt the need to address these issues to the SBE and board members, was “preserving whatever legal rights we had,” he said and to “voice our objection to our surprise.” According to Lowell, the district’s next step is to hopefully receive a response from the state board and to explore the legal rights in regards to the item being reconsidered. For Patterson, he said the charter school’s next step is to start the recruitment process, hold information nights for community members and work with RUSD to finalize facilities for the school. “Let’s all work together for all kids in the community and for the families,” Wendy Boyd, chairwoman for WSCA, said. “No one should see this educational opportunity as something that subtracts,” Patterson said. “No school meets every child’s needs.” WSCA was twice denied by the RUSD board of trustees, denied once by the Placer County Board of Education, yet recommended by the Advisory Commission on Charter Schools for the state’s approval. Contact Lauren Weber at laurenw@goldcountrymedia.com.