Possible statewide implications for education from Dozier-Libbey charter battle

Analysis

By John Crowder

The Antioch Unified School District (AUSD) Board of Trustees voted, on March 19th, to reject a petition by teachers from Dozier-Libbey Medical High School (DLMHS) to convert their campus to a charter school. At the same time they voted to approve a novel idea presented by three district employees, Antioch High School Principal Louie Rocha, Deer Valley High School Principal Kenneth Gardner, and Assistant Superintendent Stephanie Anello to make the school a “dependent” charter.

Had the Board simply rejected the petition submitted by the teachers, the issue would have moved through the appeals process to the County and then the State Boards of Education for resolution. But by proposing to create a district-dependent charter school, they have set the stage for a much larger battle. If a school district can stop a school from converting to a charter school simply by writing a counter-petition, the law concerning the conversion of schools to charters could be effectively gutted. The California state charter school movement cannot allow such an outcome, and are certain to take legal action to prevent it.

This may well prove to be a costly battle. One important consideration will be the interpretation of the meaning and intent of the Charter School Act. Which part of the law governs this case will also be considered. The teachers at DLMHS are seeking the conversion of an existing school to a charter school. The court may ultimately be asked to determine whether or not the district can prevent the teachers from exercising this right by means of their counter petition.

The teachers of Dozier Libbey have filed their petition in line with the law concerning the conversion of schools to charter schools in California. This portion of the law is very clear. Section 47601 of the California Education Code (also referred to as the “Charter Schools Act of 1992”) provides: “It is the intent of the Legislature, in enacting this part, to provide opportunities for teachers, parents, pupils, and community members to establish and maintain schools that operate independently from the existing school district structure…” (For the complete language of the Act, click here).

The charter proposal put forward by the 23 teachers who signed the petition to convert DLMHS meets this intent. The “dependent charter” petition proposed by AUSD staff clearly does not. On page “ii” of the AUSD petition, it states, “The District shall be deemed the exclusive public school employer of the employees of Dozier-Libbey Medical High School, Dependent Charter School…” On page 8, no less than three times, the petition states, “The Charter School will comply with all District requirements and/or policies…” when referring to certain categories of learners. Continuing with their petition, phrases such as, “The District shall be responsible,” “The District shall address,” and “The District may initiate” repeatedly appear. Even more telling is the statement on page 18 of the petition, which reads, “The Charter School’s Executive Committee is comprised of five members appointed by the Board of Trustees…” There can certainly be no independence from the existing school district structure there.

Another problem involving the AUSD petition, should the courts determine that it is the law relating to the conversion of a school to a charter that must be applied, has to do with the collection of signatures. Section 47605, subdivision (a)(2), which is the applicable section when converting an existing public school to a charter school, requires signatures of “not less than 50% of the permanent status teachers currently employed” at the campus to be converted in order for a conversion charter petition to be valid. Once again, the teacher charter petition, with signatures from 23 of the 26 teachers currently teaching at DLMHS, easily meets this criteria. The District proposal, on the other hand, provides many more signatures of teachers, but it appears that not one of those who signed works at the DLMHS campus.

AUSD staff is working hard to defeat the teacher charter proposal. But, with the proposal they have submitted to maintain district control of the school, and refer to it as a charter, they have raised an issue that goes far beyond local politics, and could impact education policy for the entire state. It seems apparent from a plain reading of the law, that what District staff propose would not qualify as a conversion charter school, no matter what it is called.

Nothing seems certain in this situation, however. Ricardo Soto, a Senior Vice President and Legal Counsel for the California Charter Schools Association, told me, last week, that the move by AUSD to create a dependent charter school was unique, something he had never seen in his many years of being involved with education law. For those of us interested in education, the Dozier-Libbey charter battle, far from over, promises to be one of the most important debates we have seen in a long time.

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7 Comments to “Possible statewide implications for education from Dozier-Libbey charter battle”

  1. Dozier Libbey parent says:

    The District’s proposal for a “dependent charter” is a sham of a charter. They would maintain complete control, as they do now. They are failing to provide a safe environment at their other schools like Dallas Ranch and Black Diamond. They need to let Dozier go and focus on these other troubled schools. We need to protect the educational excellence Dozier-Libbey provides and support our teacher’s independent charter!

  2. An Antioch Resident & Parent says:

    It will be interesting how the courts will view this controversial move by AUSD naming Dozier as Dependent Charter. Why such tactics spending our tax money? Is this democracy or dictatorship? If one school district gets away with it then it sets precedents for others. What will happen to California Charters and the rights of teachers, parents and students? Why do I have a feeling as a parent my own rights have been violated? The district never gave us a choice to choose. It was either Dependent or choose a different school in the district. What happened to the choice of Independent charter? Was it conveniently left off of the intent to enroll form?

    All the more it is time to go Independent and reclaim our voice (parents, teachers & students)!

  3. Outraged says:

    I am absolutely outraged by this school district! This bogus charter is ALL about their egos and has nothing to do with the kids. Citizens of Antioch: this is completely unacceptable behavior by the district and they need to know about it! They are failing our children yet again. There needs to be meaningful change at all levels of our school district as well as our School Board who approved (rather quickly) this bogus charter–they CANNOT remain in the positions/office they have! Completely disgraceful.

    WE SUPPORT THE INDEPENDENT CHARTER BY THE DOZIER LIBBEY TEACHERS!

  4. Citizen says:

    Thank you for spelling out in clear language what this could really mean if AUSD is allowed to move forward with their dependent charter. The charter law was passed for a reason and the Dozier teachers are acting well within the intent of the law. The school district is doing everything they can to muddy the waters and confuse the parents and public. This article strips all of that away and shows the bigger picture. Like it or not, the Dozier teachers saw a problem and acted within the law to fix it.

  5. Jeanne says:

    Regarding post 4/7/14 at 5:23pm : )WOW, I have been to all the meetings and overwhelmed with excitement!! I am so proud of all 26 of the teacher’s at DLMHS!! The 23 teacher’s that are fighting for all the students enrolled and the next freshman that will attend INDEPENDENT DLMHSCHARTER 2014-2015!! Jeanne

  6. Jeanne says:

    It is sick how they do not have to be accountable for the money they are spending. All the schools in Antioch need that money, but when it comes to their paychecks, they never offer to take pay cuts. They are over paid and I feel the should receive a F grade. But lets not forget, they want student’s to be able to receive a D for their grade on their report card.
    The longer they fight and the more tax dollars they burn through. Antioch citizens will have more anger, which will continue to grow towards Superintendent Don Gill, Louie Rocha, Kenneth Gardner, and Assistant Superintendent Stephanie Anello. I have heard that Stephanie Anello will want to step up as Superintendent when Don Gill steps down. I do not know if this is a true fact. But if it is true Ms. Anello will have another battle from the Antioch Citizen’s. I almost feel sorry for all of them, but then it reverberates in my mind of how they are only focused on punishing everyone INCLUDING OUR STUDENTS at DOZIER LIBBEY MEDICAL HIGH SCHOOL. Prayers to all!

  7. Julie says:

    Once again I am appalled at AUSD and their antics. They say that they are here to make sure that our kids get the best education they possibly can but their actions say otherwise. Actions speak louder than words AUSD and you should be ashamed of yourself. Our children deserve so much more than you are offering them. I support the teachers at Dozier-Libbey and the Independent Charter.

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