ROSS VALLEY CHARTER AUTHORIZATION
Yes, California Charter schools are part of the California Public School System and provide free, public educational choice to our community. Charter opponents try to misinform the public by claiming that RVC is not a public school, despite the fact that it is without a doubt a public school. The California Department of Education’s clear Definition of a Public School on its website includes eleven criteria, and RVC meets all eleven. Mary Jane Burke, Marin’s elected Superintendent of Public Schools has said repeatedly that “the bottom line is that charter schools are public schools.”
RVC filed a complaint with the District in Marin Superior Court November 17, 2016, the day after the District sent an email stating that “student(s) identified by their ‘Intent to Enroll’ forms [in RVC] will not be allocated space in District programs for the 2017-18 school year and cannot be guaranteed continued enrollment in their current District school. Those submitting ‘Intent to Enroll’ forms with RVC who wish to maintain their student’s enrollment and current school placement in the Ross Valley School District for the 2017-18 school year, must notify us in writing that they withdraw their “Intent to Enroll” at RVC on or before 4:00pm on November 29, 2016.” The date was important because the District had to respond in writing on December 1 whether it accepted RVC student projections and these ‘Intent to Enroll’ forms were RVC’s primary evidence of interest in attending.
Marin Superior Court Judge Howard stated in court on November 18th that he was very troubled by this apparent threat. After the District’s lawyer assured the judge that the District would not treat RVC-interested parents any differently than other District parents, RVC formally dropped the lawsuit.
RVC teachers, parents and representatives have repeatedly requested that the District meet to discuss solutions that would best serve all public school students in Ross Valley, and has noted the requirement under California law that “the establishment of charter schools should be encouraged” by districts. Declining to meet about any of these issues, RVSD has spent much more on lawyers resisting RVC than RVC has spent creating the school. RVC hopes that once lawyers have finished negotiating a Facilities Use Agreement for White Hill, both parties can build an amicable relationship going forward, reducing legal expenses for all involved.
There are two charter school associations in California whose common purpose is to support existing charter schools and help parents and teachers start new charter schools to meet the continually growing demand in California public education for innovation and options. RVC belongs to both of these associations, the California Charter School Association and Charter Schools Development Center, as a school in development.
These memberships have allowed RVC to participate in in-person and online trainings needed to learn about starting and running a successful charter school and RVC could not be where it is today without the knowledge gained from these opportunities. This is no different than RVSD belonging to the California School Boards Association or its administrative officers belonging to their individual professional organizations to continually improve their knowledge and skills.
Finding facilities is the single largest challenge that charter schools face, so for all its members, CCSA funds legal fees for writing Prop 39 requests, which are legal documents. This support amounted to approximately $5,000 over the last year. CCSA also loaned RVC $18,000 for RVC’s lawsuit to require the District to treat RVC-interested parents the same as all other District parents should the District choose to overflow elementary school students to schools outside their assigned residence-area schools. CCSA was not involved in any way in the decision to either file the lawsuit or to drop it. RVC has a $375,000 federal start up grant from the California Department of Education. It has a $250,000 California Department of Finance low interest 4 year start-up loan. It has also raised more than $80,000 in donations from local parents and their extended families over the last three years.
Any claims that CCSA or other outsider parties are in charge of RVC are misguided. RVC is governed by a non-profit board of local educators, parents and community leaders to expand access to a longstanding and highly sought-after, progressive education program that was designed by members of our local community and operating successfully for many years. By design, half of the RVC board members are elected by RVC teachers and parents and are accountable to them.
RVC was inspired by a district program of choice (the MAP program) that was designed and launched 20 years ago by local parents and local district school teachers who wanted to create a different kind of environment for learning. The students and families in this program were generally very satisfied with this alternative and more progressive approach to education, and the wait list for the program was for many years long enough to double the size of the program overnight. Unfortunately, rather than embracing and expanding this program of choice to enable more waitlisted families to participate in it, the district chose to end it in 2016. Now RVC will carry forward the key ideas and practices (from MAP) of progressive, student-centered education so that more local families can have access to options within the free, public school system.
One of our RVC board members (since 2015), Kristi Kimball, is a local parent and community member with two school-aged children. She is also a full-time professional working in the education sector. In 2016, Kristi joined the board of the California Charter Schools Association. At that same time in 2016, Kristi was also a member (for more than 5 years) of the California Collaborative on District Reform, a professional learning community of some of the top district superintendents in the state, including Long Beach, Fresno, Garden Grove, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, Sacramento, San Jose and others. She is a past member of the board of Grantmakers for Education, the leading national association of education funders, and she has many professional connections with educators, district leaders, charter school leaders, and non-profit organizations working to improve the quality of education across all public schools.
Kristi is the person who introduced the principal and lead teachers at Manor Elementary school to the Expeditionary Learning (EL) school model, and she set up and participated in the first visit of the Manor school leadership to an EL school in Grass Valley.
We are proud to have a board member who is both locally rooted in our community and also has enormous knowledge and expertise about innovative school models, effective professional development programs, curriculum and assessments, standards, project-based learning, as well as state and federal education policy and research.
The State California Department of Education (CDE) and Board of Education (SBE) have a rigorous process to evaluate charter school petitions. Both these bodies are staffed with professional educators appointed by state-elected officials. The CDE thoroughly reviewed RVC’s 400-page charter petition and recommended approval because it satisfied all the required elements, including a detailed description of the school’s educational program and a sustainable budget. The SBE unanimously approved the recommendation, which is unusual, with even the teacher union member voting ‘yes’.
The approval required RVC to slightly revise a few parts of the petition, and that has been done. Approval also is contingent on RVC securing a facility, which it has done. RVC has been given an official “County District School Code,” the last step in formal recognition.
RVC is currently one of only about 20 individual charter schools that are SBE-authorized. RVC’s authorization demonstrates that the SBE is confident in the strength of RVC’s education program and the 15 other required elements covered in its petition. RVC will apply for renewal of its charter for the 2020-21 school year and every five years.
In the last 15 years, there have been several attempts by teachers or parents to create charter schools in Marin and all have been denied by Marin Districts. As a result, Marin has only four authorized charter schools , and only 1.5% of Marin K-12 students have access to charter schools compared to 10% statewide. In California, there are 1,254 charter schools serving 650,000 students. 18% of Marin K-12 students attend private schools, compared with about 8% statewide.
Both RVSD and Marin County denied RVC’s authorization in fall 2015 before the State Board of Education unanimously approved it in January 2016.
RVC AND RVSD FINANCES
RVC is financially viable with current enrollment numbers. In June 2017, RVC will be submitting a budget for 7 classrooms and a contingency budget with 6 classrooms that both show operating surpluses in the first year and well over the required 6% reserves at the end of the year. The California Department of Education oversees the RVC budget.
ADA stands for Average Daily Attendance upon which state and federal revenue for schools is based. In the Ross Valley District, ADA has traditionally run at around 96%, meaning that an enrollment of 1,000 students would translate into a 960 ADA.
All RVC funding sources are from the state and federal government, with the exception of $75,000 that is budgeted as fundraising. On a per-student basis, this $75,000 per year is less than District parents donate on average to their schools and the YES Foundation combined. Since RVC will not be affiliated with YES, RVC will do its own fundraising for arts enrichment school programs.
RVSD enrolled 92 fewer students in 2016-17 compared to 2015-16. This enrollment drop happened before RVC opened, so this decline was not due to RVC. The District chose not to make any budget cuts in 2016-17 even though it experienced this significant decline in enrollment. RVSD instead decided to maintain spending at a higher level, even though revenues had declined by more than $700,000 due to having 92 fewer students.
Now, in the 2017-18 school year, the District is projecting an additional decline of 97 students not including the students who will be enrolled at RVC. This decline would reduce District revenues by another $750,000.
None of this revenue reduction is related to RVC.
If 100 additional students that might otherwise attend District elementary schools choose to enroll in RVC (in addition to the 227 District-projected non-RVC-related enrollment decline), the District would experience a revenue decline of an additional $780,000 to the $1.45 million it is experiencing because of reasons unrelated to RVC.
However, in the case of attrition due to RVC, the RVC teachers who are resigning from RVSD represent a reduction of District expense of $600,000 for salary and benefits, resulting in a net impact on the District of only $180,000. This represents only 10% of the District’s overall $1.8 million shortfall and less than 1% of its total budget.
The investigator found no intentional discrimination on the part of the District and its MAP program, but his report did say that District practices resulted in fewer EL and FRPL students being enrolled in MAP than at Manor School, where MAP classrooms were located. When a program of choice is not actively marketed to diverse communities, those communities won’t know about it and will inevitably be under represented. Early in the current decade, the District discouraged MAP from marketing its program and did not actively provide information to incoming families about MAP. RVC is now controlling its own marketing and its diversity numbers are significantly higher than District averages.
For more about the history of RVC, click here.