Antioch School Board approves charter middle, high school academies on split votes

The school board held their meeting in the multipurpose room of Lone Tree Elementary due to the expected size of the audience, Wed., May 9, 2018. Photos by Hilda Parham

By Allen Payton

At their regular meeting on Wednesday, May 9, 2018, after over five-and-a-half hours of public comments, discussion and debate, the Antioch School Board of Trustees approved the charter petitions for both the East Bay Tech Middle School Academy and High School Academy on 3-2 votes. Board Vice President Crystal Sawyer-White and Trustee Walter Ruehlig were joined by Trustee Debra Vinson in approving the schools, while Board President Gary Hack and Trustee Diane Gibson-Grey voted no, as expected. Vinson was the swing vote, having opposed the Rocketship Charter Elementary School in November 2016. This time she voted in favor, forming a new pro-charter school majority on the Antioch board. Ruehlig voted in favor of Rocketship, his wife had previously served on the board of a charter school, and during her 2016 campaign Sawyer-White expressed her support for charter schools, so their votes came as no surprise.

The East Bay Tech Academies are sponsored by the Clayton Valley Charter High School, which was converted from a regular, public high school in the Mt. Diablo School District. The petitions were presented to the board at their meeting on March 14. (See related article.)

The meeting was held in the Lone Tree Elementary School multi-purpose room for an expected overflow audience, as occurred during the hearings on the Rocketship Charter School. On the Day of the Teacher – as honored by Superintendent Stephanie Anello – the meeting featured mainly teachers speaking against the charter petitions, and Hispanic and African American parents in favor, the same split as occurred during the Rocketship hearings.

At the request of Gibson-Grey, the hearings on the charter school petitions were moved up to the beginning of the meeting, to accommodate most of those in the audience who were there specifically for those agenda items. But, that didn’t prevent the meeting to last past midnight.

District Staff Recommends Board Denies Petitions

According to the staff report, the district staff recommended the board take action denying the petition establishing the charter school. Resolution Exhibit A Findings of Fact (EBT MS)

“The District’s staff, with assistance from legal counsel, reviewed and analyzed the petition and supporting documents for legal sufficiency, and analyze public information regarding the petitioners’ history of involvement with charter schools.  Based on that analysis we have identified numerous deficiencies in, and concerns related to, the petition and the proposed Charter School’s operations and determined that more than one of the legal grounds for denial exist.  Specifically, the petition does not provide a reasonably comprehensive description of several essential charter elements and the petitioners are demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the proposed education program.”

Public Comments – Lead Petitioners Respond

Those speakers in favor formed one line and those against formed a separate line of speakers, with Hack alternating between the two sides to hear from the speakers.

The lead petitioner for the academies, Meagan Moilalen said “There is a matter of urgency. 79% of AA students and 77% of Hispanic students at Antioch High did not meet the English standards for last year’s CAP tests. We need urgent change, now.”

Co-petitioner and former Antioch Associate Superintendent Bill Morones said of the charter petition, “It’s exceptionally strong. It has been thoroughly supported and endorsed by the California Charter Schools Association.”

“The report is full of inaccuracies,” he continued. “You have our rebuttal…and it disputes all the information you have from your attorney. Parents and students in Antioch deserve a choice. Our petition is exceptionally strong.”

Board Members Debate, Discuss, Ask Questions of Petitioners

The district’s attorney gave reasons why the petition was inadequate, which was included in the staff report.

Gibson-Grey made a motion to deny the petition and Hack seconded it.

Ruehlig requested that the petition representatives be available to answer questions. “Yes, please”

Attorney for the district, the petition must be complete upon submission, then. Whatever they’ve submitted, today cannot be considered.”

Vinson, “what did you submit today?”

Moilalen said, “We submitted, today a response to the…inaccuracies in the charter petition.”

“It is an 18-page rebuttal,” Morones added.

Their then attorney said, “What is submitted to you, tonight is clarification of the elements of the charter petition. How those are interpreted are in the eyes of the beholder.”

Morones said, “we received the denial recommendation on Sunday.

Gibson-Grey then said, “and you handed them to us, tonight. But, you didn’t email them to us prior. Some board members have them, some don’t.”

Anello responded, “the agenda was sent out last Friday.”

Ruehlig then said, “The petition was submitted on Feb. 6. I want to know if there was any correspondence from the school district.”

“No, there was no correspondence from the school district,” Moilalen said.

Vinson asked, “did you make any attempts to reach out to the district?”

“No, I did not,” Moilalen responded.

Ruehlig, “When a charter petition is deemed this flawed it makes me wonder how much experience they have in submitting charter petitions.”

“This is a thoroughly vetted petition,” Moilalen responded. “We’re very confident it meets all the legal requirements to go forward. So, we were very surprised to receive the denial.”

Gibson-Grey was first to offer her reason for denying the petition, mainly reading her prepared remarks.

“School choice is not going away. It’s my obligation to protect and serve public school education, not charter schools,” she said. “Approving charter schools at the local level impacts local schools.”

She argued that the district staff time costs will exceed the 1% revenue from the charter schools. “I am imploring that we not get into that, again.”

“It can be approved anywhere along the line,” she continued. “It will not impact our remaining students if it’s approved anywhere along the line.”

“Charter schools in my single opinion should be approved at the county or state level,” Gibson-Grey concluded.

“I disagree,” said Sawyer-White. “I have an example. I’ve lived in four different states. I haven’t lived in Antioch all my life. I’ve attended private schools and public schools. I was not supported by Rocketship. I was supported by the Charter Schools Association” during the 2016 election.”

“My apologies,” said Gibson-Grey, who had brought it up in her comments.

“Rocketship is a full-on campus,” Sawyer-White said. “We want this school to have a full-on campus. I toured Clayton Valley campus. Before you consider, ‘no’ you should have toured the campus, first.”

“It’s not just about choice. Teachers are great. I’m a teacher. I’ve been a teacher since 2009,” she continued. “I’ve been in the trenches. I want our kids to be able to explore other options. I just think Antioch needs to move up to the 21st Century. Antioch Charter I voted for that. This isn’t Rocketship. It’s a whole other ballgame. So, I move to approve the charter petition.”

Vinson then said, “California, as a state has 1,184 charter schools educating 9% of public school students. She spoke of accountability. I too want more money per student. The issue isn’t only about money. It’s about school climate, relationship with parents.”

Vinson referred to the NAACP report referred to earlier, against charter schools.

“The bulk of this report is on the public schools,” she said. “African American students have the distinct experience of falling below on all aspects. We’ve made gains in Latino students in the district. But we’ve fallen behind with African American students.”

Charter schools are public schools, Vinson continued. “Are charter schools the answer? Not always. Rocketship in each city that they’re in they’ve taken eight to nine awards.”

“If you have only one parent out of 17,000 students championing the successes of the district, then we have a problem,” she said referring to one parent who spoke against the petition and who regularly attends school board meetings.

“I do know parents want choice,” Vinson stated. “We are a suburb. We are not going to be able to accommodate the number of charter schools as in Oakland or Richmond.”

“If the charter is denied here and is approved at the county, they can do whatever they want in our district,” she explained. “Is this the best petition before us? Probably not. But parents want a choice. Do we have excellent teachers? Yes, we do. We have to figure out a system that will benefit our children.”

“This Board approved RAAMP Charter. RAAMP Charter didn’t perform. They were able to revoke the charter,” Vinson pointed out.

The district’s attorney responded, “there can be approval with conditions. The state approves charters with conditions.”

“With all of my research and with all I’ve heard from the community, I’m going to approve this charter,” Vinson stated.

Hack said, “that is not on the table at this time.”

Ruehlig was next to speak saying, “One of the hardest decisions a trustee has to make…I was struggling with this, this afternoon. It’s a complex situation. Kind of the good, the bad, the ugly. About 41% of charter schools perform the same as the public schools in the area. 29% perform better. 30% perform worse. But, when charter schools succeed they succeed well.”

“How do I feel about charters, myself? Again, it’s a mixed bag. I’ve voted for two of them over my 10 years. I voted against two of them. I voted against the renewal of RAAMP,” Ruehlig. But, I don’t feel I have the right to obstruct the wishes of hundreds, perhaps thousands of families. It’s not me and my personal decision or personal feeling. I do say I feel the law is flawed. I personally feel the law should be rewritten so a school district is compensated when a charter school moves into an area. I also agree…it would be fair to have the state reimburse. Sure, enough whether we approve it or don’t approve it. If we vote against it we’re spitting in the eye of the charter movement. But it won’t do a whit of good. In the history of charter schools there’s been one that’s been denied at the state.”

“I’ve been a supporter for 50 years of public schools. But, I’m not an obstructionist,” Ruehlig said. “To tell you the God’s honest truth, it was not a happy day in my life when I heard about this charter petition. I thought, ‘here we go again, so soon on the heels of Rocketship.’”

He read a quote from former President Barack Obama in support of charter schools from 2016.

“With a heavy heart, because of the impacts of the school district, I will be voting for this charter,” he stated.

Gibson-Grey then shared additional thoughts, saying “I will never have the eloquence of Debra or Walter. I want you to know I don’t have any problem with Rocketship. I’m only against the cost to the district for oversight. I’m not against parent choice. But, I’m elected as a public school trustee. That’s why I’ll be voting they way I am, tonight.”

Hack was last to speak saying, “I spent my entire life in public schools. I went to public schools. I’ve taught in public schools. I was the teachers’ union president…I’ve been on the board of public schools. I’m a purist, I know that parents, students and teachers make a difference in students’ lives. Will I approve a charter school by definition? No. I believe charter schools, for whatever reason harm public schools.”

Motion To Deny Petition Fails, New Motion Made.  RESO 2017-18-29 East Bay Tech Academy Antioch Middle School BOE 5.9.18

The motion to deny the charter petition failed 2-3 with Hack and Gibson-Grey voting yes.

The attorney then said “the board has to take action tonight, to be within the 60 days, unless the charter petitioner is willing to extend it.”

The staff only provided the board with a resolution for denying the petition, so a lengthy discussion ensued over what to include in a motion to approve it.

“If this is going to be approved then I recommend it be with conditions, with an MOU (memorandum of understanding),” the attorney continued.

He further advised that the board members of how to make a motion that addresses the deficiencies in the charter, “which may have already been corrected.”

“I would recommend a timeline,” he said. “Maybe something reasonable in summer.”

Anello suggested the early fall, perhaps the end of September to finalize an MOU.

Vinson then made a motion to approve the charter petition, with certain conditions for the petitioners to meet, and that they address certain finding of facts, and that the superintendent or designee negotiate the MOU by September 28.

The attorney kept pushing the district staff’s findings of fact for denial to be included in the motion and Gibson-Grey repeatedly attempted to get the board to postpone their decision for 30 days.

Vinson wasn’t having it.

“What I’m saying is…I’m a detailed person. I want to look at this. I may not have any questions at all. Then we will finish up with the budget. Then we will get it all organized and completed. So, I don’t see what the problem is,” she stated.

“The attorney works for us and we will be able to respond to him if there are any concerns,” Vinson continued. “But, they have said they’ve already addressed them. We’ve approved charters and the MOU comes later. They’re agreeing to have the MOU worked out.”

The petitioners wanted the MOU done in 30 days but Anello said that wouldn’t work with the graduations, school closings and reopenings about to occur.

Ruehlig asked, “Can you live with 45 days?”

Moilalen responded, “It didn’t take me very long to go through the points. The urgency is high. We’re trying to open two schools.”

The district’s attorney said, “I’m sure we can work it out. So, the 18th of June.”

Vinson then remade her motion to get the MOU done by June 18th.

Sawyer-White seconded the motion, again.

At 11:55 P.M. the motion passed 3-2 with Ruehlig joining the two ladies to approve the charter petition.

High School Academy Charter Petition Approved

Many people were still in attendance and some chose to speak, again repeating much of the same arguments on both sides during public comments.

Vinson then made a similar motion for the East Bay Tech Academy High School charter petition. Sawyer-White provided the second and it passed on another 3-2 vote at 12:40 A.M.

the attachments to this post:

School board mtg audience HParham

School board mtg HParham

RESO 2017-18-29 East Bay Tech Academy Antioch Middle School BOE 5.9.18
RESO 2017-18-29 East Bay Tech Academy Antioch Middle School BOE 5.9.18

Resolution Exhibit A Findings of Fact (EBT MS)
Resolution Exhibit A Findings of Fact (EBT MS)

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