On split vote Antioch School Board gives Rocketship Delta Prep second notice of violation on technicalities

Hundreds of Rocketship parents, students and supporters, wearing purple shirts, attend the Antioch School Board meeting at the Lone Tree Elementary auditorium, Wednesday night, April 10, 2019.

“A blatant abuse of power” – Rocketship’s VP of Operations.

New school risking loss of charter is really premature” – Superintendent Anello

By Allen Payton

The Rocketship Delta Prep charter school in Antioch, which opened their brand new, $16 million school last fall, was issued a second notice of violation by the Antioch School Board over what they claim was a failure to fulfill state reporting requirements agreed to in their Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Rocketship and the district. During a contentious board meeting, attended by hundreds of Rocketship parents and supporters, the motion passed on a 3-2 vote with Trustees Crystal Sawyer-White and Ellie Householder opposing. Resolution 2018-19-26 to Approve Issuance of Second Notice of Violation

The reporting requirements in the MOU adopted on June 27, 2018, include both financials and student enrollment projections.

Rocketship responded to the first notice of violation with 900 pages of documents.

However, a separate report, labeled the 2nd Interim Report was due March 15 and according to both Rocketship representatives and the district’s attorney, Scott Holbrook, it was received on time.

But, then the Rocketship board voted to revise that report on March 28 and submitted their Revised 2nd Interim Report on April 1st, within two weeks, which is allowed, according to Rocketship representatives.

However the revised report, according to Holbrook, negated the March 15th report, causing the district to be late, thus triggering the opportunity for the new notice of violation.

The details supporting the information in the Interim Report were included in the 900 pages of documents in response to the first notice of violation. But, that’s not acceptable to Holbrook or Superintendent Stephanie Anello.

“This is not about the education…it is a violation of law, a violation of timeline. It’s about the contractual obligation in the MOU. It’s nothing personal,” Anello said.

Two board members weren’t having it.

“Can’t the two attorneys meet and communicate? I don’t understand why we’re going back and forth. It’s time consuming and there are attorney fees, here,” said Sawyer-White to a loud round of applause.

No District Staff Have Visited The School

“Stephanie, you’re the district staff point person,” Householder stated. “Have you…visited Rocketship?

“The MOU requires a visit once a year and that’s set up for May,” Anello responded.

Rocketship Delta Prep’s new $14 million charter school in Antioch. Photo by Hilbers Inc.

“Doesn’t the MOU go both ways?” Householder asked. “I’m just trying to be honest. It’s April and we’ve issued two NOV’s and nobody in our…you know it seems it should go both ways. It’s this idea about good faith. I see several points where AUSD is not acting in good faith, as well.”

According to the resolution, the March 28 report projects the school will be fiscally insolvent in the 2019-20 school year, with an ending balance of -$645,394.03. That amount is greater than what was projected in the charter petition adopted by the school board in 2017, according to Holbrook.

Deficits were projected for Rocketship’s first three school years, explained Marie Issa Gil, Rocketship’s Regional Director.

“We refuted the allegations of insolvency, said Jerry Simmons, Rocketship’s attorney. We find it interesting that the school district’s independent auditor…did this audit…it demonstrates the school is not fiscally insolvent.”

The report also projects the school has 10 more students than was projected last year, for a total of 396 students according to the March 28th report. However, that’s a decrease of 24 students from the March 15 report.

According to the resolution, “The 2nd Interim Report failed to include any supporting documentation, and/or supplemental or narrative information explaining the projections. The 2nd Interim Report fails to specify any ‘5%’ set aside of reserves for economic uncertainty as required by the MOU, and contradicts the budget submitted with the Petition when the Charter was approved by the Board which projected a surplus.”

The resolution also states, “the March 28 Revised 2nd Interim Report appears to be a complete and total reworking of the March 15 2nd Interim Report with a multitude of revenue, expenditure, and enrollment alterations” and that “the 2nd Interim Report, the Revised 2nd Interim Report also failed to include any supporting documentation, and/or supplemental or narrative information explaining the new projections.

Additionally, the March 28, 2019 Revised 2nd Interim Report includes significant changes to the Charter School’s enrollment assumptions, again with no supporting documentation or narrative information explaining the new projections.”

However, Householder speaking of the details in the 900-page report asked Holbrook “Why is this threaded throughout. It says there’s no supporting documentation. How can we say that?”

The enrollment issue was not mentioned as a concern by the board members.

No Violations, An Abuse of Power

Members of Rocketship’s leadership spoke on the matter before the board deliberated.

“The second notice of violation deals with three issues. But none of them are violations,” said Carolyn Davies Lynch, Vice President of Operations for Rocketship. “We submitted the financial report on March 15, on time. The budget revisions were submitted within two weeks. Our revised report does not equal a late report. To label it a violation is simply not true.”

“Third, the notice states the 5% reserve sits in a line item other than the district staff would like to see. But state law nor education code requires it sit in any line item. This is not a violation,” she reiterated. “The second notice of violation is a blatant abuse of power.”

“We expect district staff will have questions on our submission. That’s how we operate with other districts,” Lynch continued. “I urge the board to reject this latest notice of violation and direct staff to work with Rocketship for the benefit of students in the Antioch community.”

Rocketship representatives, parents and supporters claim their students have improved multiple grade levels since switching to the charter school, last fall. But, the Board President Gary Hack and Trustees Diane Gibson-Gray and Mary Rocha pointed out that the matter before the board had nothing to do with academics, just financial reporting.

Anello Hasn’t Met With Rocketship Leaders

Gil also claims the district staff, specifically Superintendent Stephanie Anello, was sending the notices to the school address instead of Gil’s office and has refused to meet with her to rectify the situation.

Anello responded, “We sent one letter to the school. The rest were sent to the correct people.”

During her remarks, Gil noted that AUSD is the only authorizer that refuses to meet with Rocketship directly.  Every other authorizer Rocketship works with, including the California Department of Education, holds regular meetings with Rocketship to answer their questions, resolve any concerns, and work together in good faith partnership.

Gil later shared that per the MOU, all correspondence should be mailed to Rocketship Public Schools, 850 Twin Dolphins in Redwood City.  In the documents from the District there were at least five different mailings sent to Rocketship Delta Prep at 1700 Cavallo (the school’s address). Just this week, I received another envelope at 1700 Cavallo Drive.  The District has not cared that they are still failing to follow their MOU.

Regarding the fiscal issues and not willing to meet, Anellos responded, “if it deals with public money, all of our conversations need to be in public. The remedy is to put it before the board. Produce the documents, then we can sit down and talk about it.”

Anello’s greatest concern is the financial impact on the district from the projected deficit Rocketship is facing.

“As the charter authorizer the district can be responsible for any debt they might incur,” she stated. “If we didn’t document it and let the public know that wouldn’t be responsible.”

Gil said Rocketship is willing to provide a hold-harmless agreement for the district, like they’ve done for other districts where Rocketship schools are located.

Parents and other Rocketship supporters believe the district is being petty and focusing too much on process rather than results.

“Assuming the district will de-charter the school is really premature,” Anello responded. “It looks like we’re being arbitrary, but I believe the public expects us to be fiscally responsible. The least thing I want is for Rocketship to fail.”

Rocketship supporters also have complained the school’s representatives weren’t given the time they needed to explain things at the last two school board meetings.

However, according to Holbrook, the district has 60 days to review the documents provided by Rocketship. Then the school board will hold a public hearing at which the trustees and Rocketship representatives will have the opportunity for questions and answers.

“I think this is a little drastic…pump the brakes a little bit,” Householder said, making one last attempt to convince her colleagues to not pass the resolution. “This is our community. These are our people. I’ve only been here four months and I’m constantly being given these ultimatums… ‘you have to make this decision or the world’s going to fall apart.’ I ask the Superintendent to be transparent. We need to pump the brakes. Our kids are suffering.”

But her arguments fell on deaf ears as Rocha made the motion, Gibson-Gray seconded it and Hack voted with them to adopt the resolution issuing the second Notice of Violation. That triggered another 30-day timeframe for Rocketship to respond and then another 60-day clock at the end of that, in which the district has time to review the response and hold a public hearing on the second notice of violation.

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the attachments to this post:


AUSD Board meeting 04-10-19

Resolution 2018-19-26 to Approve Issuance of Second Notice of Violation
Resolution 2018-19-26 to Approve Issuance of Second Notice of Violation


4 Comments to “On split vote Antioch School Board gives Rocketship Delta Prep second notice of violation on technicalities”

  1. Rocketship Parent says:

    The way Rocketship has handled this has been horrible! They’ve been casting this in a light of being attacked and not taken any responsibility for their failure to do paperwork properly and on time. Parents have spoken of violence and the school board doing its job as being part of a “race war.” It sounds as though the Antioch Herald has bought in to this idea. I don’t think the board is asking too much when expecting the school to uphold the MOU.
    Btw, the school is doing well for some students, however the ENTIRE 4TH GRADE is not making the progress it should. This is because they spend massive amounts of time trying to figure out how to handle children who should be referred to Spectrum. Spectrum has the proper training and set up for violent children with severe behavioral problems, but Rocketship prefers to let the entire grade suffer the constant threat of violent outbursts, etc. Naturally, the bullying and bad behavior is not limited to 4th graders. It’s especially sickening that the PARENTS have literally had fist fights on school grounds and one even joined her child in bullying a 2nd grade victim. With this kind of reprehensible behavior being modeled, I have little doubt why these children are so horrible.

    • Publisher says:

      Rocketship Parent,
      Thank you for reading the Herald and taking the time to write your comment.
      However, I have to take issue with the part about “the Antioch Herald has bought in to this idea”.
      I’ve reported the facts or rather information (some of which was not factual) as provided by both sides.
      I find it interesting that I received complaints from two Rocketship supporters last night that my articles have been too favorable to the school district.
      So, I must be doing something right to receive criticism from people on both sides of the issue.
      The bottom line is I’ve quoted people directly on both sides – the school district and Rocketship – and leave it up to you, the reader to decide what you want to believe.
      What I do believe is it was unnecessary for Superintendent Anello and the district’s attorney to issue a second Notice of Violation before first sitting down and meeting with Rocketship’s representatives to go over the 900 pages of documents and the report submitted on March 15 – on time – and the March 28th revised report.
      If this is about educating students, then that should be the focus. Not bureaucracy. Anello needs to sit down, meet with the Rocketship representatives, and if necessary, attorneys for both sides, and work things out – for the benefit of the children. Communicating through Notices of Violation is not the way to accomplish that.
      As for the other claims in your comment, I don’t recall them being reported publicly, before and you should feel free to provide that information to both Rocketship’s board and the AUSD Board.
      Allen Payton, Publisher & Editor

      • Terry Ramus says:

        The Antioch Schools (AUSD) “leadership” has lost perspective — big time. I attended this meeting last night and I must say that even after 34 years of living in Antioch and knowing the players well, I was surprised by the pre-determined votes of three Board Trustees. AUSD hides their own agenda to get rid of Rocketship Schools behind paperwork — and after Rocketship builds a new $14 million school with no public money in a section of Antioch that is in need of improvements — really?. I have actually visited Rocketship in person and read the 900+ page Rocketship response and the claims by AUSD. Apparently AUSD leaders can not drive over there to even visit the school? Now AUSD says that it can only communicate through attorneys? This is a big paperwork mess that could be cleared up in one honest meeting. There have likely been minor errors on both sides, so get together and work it out. Quit terrorizing the parents and students at this new high performing school with threats of closure. Meanwhile, unfortunately, AUSD is the lowest performing (by student performance) District in the County. Maybe School Board Meetings should address the horrible performance of AUSD as an emergency! My three daughters graduated K-12 from AUSD over a decade ago when AUSD was a slightly above average performing school district. What happened? Now Rocketship comes in here and in less than a year they have already shown dramatic improvements in the academic performance of Rocketship kids from AUSD (Yes, the same kids!). Maybe everyone should meet and understand, “how do we provide the best educational results for kids in our City”?? I once had high hopes for Stephanie Aneillo as the AUSD Superintendent but now she appears as the “ring leader in this “get Rocketship” mess. Inflexible and determined to undermine the choices that local parents have made for their students. Suggestion: AUSD leadership should begin to think about the students, not the adults with hidden agendas. AUSD should realize that Parents will always win because they have the choice to just remove kids from AUSD and sneak their kids into nearby school districts with much better records (just use a local address and you are in). It is no secret and this has gone on for years. Unfortunately, AUSD has quietly lost thousands of students to other nearby Districts through “Parent Choice”. So AUSD should radically improve the product now and yes, it is the real emergency in AUSD. The crazy votes were made by Gary Hack (former AUSD Union Boss), Mary Rocha (City Council or School Board for over 20 years), and Diane Gibson Gray. The three AUSD Board Members were determined to vote against Rocketship before the night even began. They made the arguments that I have heard for years “Oh, we must be responsible Trustees”. Just BS. The one bright spot was when the youngest and newest member of the Board “schooled” the old guard with logic and honest questions. WOW!

  2. Arne says:

    Wouldn’t it be nice if the AUSD was held to the same high standards that they are expecting Rocketship to abide by?

    Clearly, the majority of the AUSD Board of Trustees are biased against not only Rocketship, but all charter schools. I find this very sad.

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