District’s Dependent Charter Plan Approved
By John Crowder
Hundreds of people packed the John Muir Elementary School multipurpose room Wednesday night, March 19 as the Antioch School Board heard public comments on, then voted unanimously to deny, a petition filed by teachers from Dozier-Libbey Medical High School to convert it to a charter school. Following that decision the board then voted, again unanimously, to approve an alternative proposal for a dependent charter put forward by district personnel, keeping the school under district control.
The meeting was held in response to a petition filed on February 24th by 23 of the 26 permanent teachers currently employed at Dozier-Libbey to convert the school to an independent public charter school.
The move to convert to a charter school would provide “a number of advantages for our students,” said Jeff Weber, one of the teachers who signed the petition. “Innovative academic programs, for which the school has come to be nationally respected, will be able to continue, without obstruction from a remote and cumbersome district bureaucracy.”
The move to convert to a charter, however, has strongly divided the community, and last night the school board faced both sides in the issue as those in support of the charter petition sat mostly to their right, and those opposed to their left in the packed room. Following the pledge of allegiance, the only point during the meeting at which all sides seemed to come together, board president Joy Motts called the public hearing on the matter to order. The petitioners spoke first, with virtually all the teachers who had signed the petition standing behind their spokesperson, science teacher Robert Young, as he presented their case. In a twenty minute presentation, he told the board that the conversion to a charter was necessary in order to provide equity with other schools in the district, and that achieving autonomy was vital to “funnel more money into the classroom.”
Following Mr. Young’s presentation, Associate Superintendent Tim Forrester introduced Scott Holbrook, an attorney representing the district, who provided the administration response. Holbrook raised several objections to the petitioner’s request, but focused repeatedly on the question of the proper use of public funds. “You are the stewards of public money,” he told the board. He also noted that, “There are a number of instances where a charter has opened their doors, and in a few weeks closed their doors, and all that money is gone.”
During public comments, which followed the two presentations, supporters and opponents of the charter proposal took turns voicing their opinions. So many wanted to speak that the time for public comments was extended by thirty minutes, resulting in an hour and a half of comments. Those supporting the charter included a number of students from the school, who took turns praising their teachers for their dedication and the care and concern they had been shown by them. A few of them noted that they were special needs students or English learners, as they sought to refute the contention made by opponents that the teachers were looking to establish an elitist school.
“They have our best interest in mind,” said Rachel Vasquez, a student at Dozier-Libbey. “[They] challenge us to be better students.”
Those opposed included district employees and leaders in the community, including Mayor Wade Harper.
“I represent all of the citizens of Antioch,” Harper said. “I cannot support the independent charter at this time. I feel it is divisive.”
The divisiveness of the issue was an idea that would be picked up by the board later in the evening as they debated the merits of this, and the district’s competing proposal.
After the close of the public comments, the board members made brief remarks before voting 5-0 to deny the petition.
Following a recess, the meeting then continued with three district employees, Antioch High School principal Louie Rocha, Deer Valley High School principal Kenneth Gardner, and Assistant Superintendent Stephanie Anello presenting a petition to form a dependent charter school. An issue they repeatedly raised was about fostering an academic environment inclusive of all students, something they contended was lacking in the Dozier-Libbey teacher-backed charter proposal. Following public comments, and after brief remarks, the board then voted, again unanimously, to approve the dependent charter petition.
Even though the AUSD board has now made their decision on the matter, the issue may still be far from settled. In a statement released today, teachers at Dozier-Libbey said they are “submitting their petition to convert to a public charter school to the Contra Costa County Board of Education as part of an anticipated appeal process following Wednesday night’s denial of their conversion charter petition by their own Antioch Unified School District.”