Charter Schools Don't Have To Follow Public Rules

There has been some question as to whether the Ross Valley Charter is truly a public school.  What makes a school a public school?  Good question.  Does the charter take California tax dollars?  YES, the per-student ADA.  So the charter gets public money.  What else makes itpublic?  Consider if the answers to these questions describe a public or private school:

·      Is RVC’s school board elected?  NO.

·      Are the teachers or employees of RVC Public employees? NO

·      Can the charter expel kids? YES

·      Can the charter fire employees without due process? YES

·      Does the charter have to follow conflict of interest laws that apply to public institutions? NO

·      Can parents, teachers and board members loan RVC money with interest? YES

·      Can the business of the charter - referred to repeatedly by RVC leadership as “the company” - be run by private or for-profit companies?  YES  (Click here for the website of the company the charter is using to run their back office operations)

·      Does RVC's law firm consider charters public? NO - click here to read more

We are not alone in this claim.  To learn more, check out the following recent statements by the experts:

Click here to read our new blog about the NAACP’s call for a strengthened moratorium on charter schools.  

Click here to learn why National Labor Relations Board decides charter schools are private corporations, not public schools

Click here to read the full position statement on charter schools from the Network for Public Education: "By definition, a charter school is not a public school. Charter schools are formed when a private organization contracts with a government authorizer to open and run a school. Charters are managed by private boards, often with no connection to the community they serve. The boards of many leading charter chains are populated by billionaires who often live far away from the schools they govern.” 

Click here to read the full National Education Association's Policy Statement on Charter Schools:  "The growth of separate and unequal systems of charter schools that are not subject to the same basic safeguards and standards that apply to public schools threatens our students and our public education system.  The purpose of this policy statement is to make plain NEA’s opposition to the failed experiment of largely unaccountable privately managed charter schools while clarifying NEA’s continued support for those public charter schools that are authorized and held accountable by local democratically elected school boards or their equivalent.” 

To show support for public schools, send a request for a magnet, sign, hat or T-shirt.  Use the link to sign up for our newsletter, and please follow us on FB and Twitter.

NAACP Calls For "Permanent and Rigorous" Local Control

As parents in the Ross Valley struggle over the impending opening of the Ross Valley Charter (RVC) and its displacement of White Hill’s sixth graders, the NAACP has doubled down on its 2016 call for a charter school moratorium (here). According to Education Professor Dr. Julian Vasquez-Heilig (here), “The report goes further than 2016 resolution in calling for a permanent and rigorous local role in authorizing and renewing charter schools. It would ‘empower those districts to reject applications that do not meet standards, and establish policies for serious and consistent oversight.’” Can you imagine where our community might be today if the decisions of our elected Ross Valley School District and Marin County Board of Education Trustees had been honored?

Dr. Vasquez-Heilig goes on, “The report also goes beyond the moratorium by proposing the elimination of for-profit charter schools. It states that ‘no federal, state, or local taxpayer dollars should be used to fund for-profit charter schools, nor should public funding be sent from nonprofit charters to for-profit charter management companies.’” Though RVC is a nonprofit corporation, its finances are managed by a for-profit charter management company, EdTec.

As some of you may know, the NAACP was the group which brought the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education case, which effectively outlawed segregation in public schools. Shouldn’t we heed the call of this vanguard civil rights organization as it advocates for equal education for ALL children, not simply those who have the social capital to “choose” a charter school in the public education “marketplace?”

We STAND for quality, locally-governed public education for all.

We STAND with the NAACP.

 

Skin in the Game: Questions About The Prop 39 Charter's Possible Conflicts of Financial Interest

We have recently discovered that several charter leaders have a direct, personal financial stake in the charter’s success and some stand to financially benefit from its operation[1]. Through a recent Public Records Act request, it was revealed that the charter received a total of $130,000 in unsecured, personal loans from charter board members, parents, and family members. Click here to read the email from Conn Hickey, the charter school CFO, explaining the sources of the loans and click here to see the list of people that loaned the charter school money. Additionally, two of the lenders have received payment from the charter for services provided. Click here to read the charter’s expenditures/payments records.

These unsecured, personal loans will presumably be repaid with our public tax dollars. This raises all sorts of ethical questions, which we encourage you to ask:

1)    Why did the charter not disclose the source of this revenue in their charter petition to the state? 

2)    Since three of five current board members (formerly four of eight) have a personal financial stake in the charter, does this create potential conflicts of interest?

3)    Due to its markedly low in-district enrollment (currently 104), the charter’s financial viability is now tied to their importation of out-of-district kids. Will the charter leaders’ personal financial stake impact their ability to make neighborly decisions with regards to White Hill students, teachers and classrooms?

4)    Not only is one board member also a teacher (raising interesting ethical and governance issues), but the same teacher has a personal financial stake in the charter as the lender of a low-interest loan.

5)    What is the significance of the co-lead petitioner’s father loaning the charter $60,000 with interest?  How might that family's relationships be impacted if the loan is not repaid, and how does this motivate that family (when advocating on behalf of the charter)?

6)    Despite the fact that the demand for this charter has clearly not materialized (the number of enrolled in-district students is lower than the district program upon which the charter is based), this monied group continues to assert its desires against the wishes of the overwhelming majority of our community. Is the repayment of these personal loans a higher priority than community well-being? Do the personal loans, and the charter proponents' possible desire to repay family members, have anything to do with this?

7)    What does it mean that two of the lenders (one current board member) have also received some monetary compensation from the charter and how might that impact board decisions?

8)    Why does the charter present these monies as cash positive reserves in their budget? This is akin to taking an equity line of credit out on your home, then putting it in the bank and calling it savings.

9)    Does this sound like the way a truly public school operates?

These are our tax dollars. These are our facilities. These are our teachers. This is our community.

Most importantly, these are ALL of our children. STAND for our excellent, truly public, neighborhood schools.  Click here to contact the California Department of Education and demand that they revoke this charter.  Follow up with a phone call to Cindy Chan's office at 916 322-6029

[1] Though the charter’s July 15, 2015 petition included an $85,000 unsecured loan in its budget, its source (personal loans) was not stated.

Questions worthy of consideration: How will my child be affected?

All parents of children enrolled in Ross Valley Charter should be questioning the charter’s viability and longevity. At the RVSD board meeting in June 2017, the RVSD staff discussed saving spots for children returning to the district from the charter.

By now, most people have heard the pleas not to enroll in RVC, for a perceived “gain” that is of little distinction from our wonderful neighborhood schools. But have they considered what their own child(ren) will lose?

Most people are also aware that RVC will have a serious negative impact on hundreds of children. But perhaps it is now time to explore the impact on RVC-enrolled children? We are curious: Have you considered the risk that is inherent with signing your child up for an unproven school, with a dubious financial future? 

  1. Will the charter school director be successful running RVC given he has assisted, yet never led, a school—let alone a brand new one? MAP enjoyed the deep knowledge, necessary administrative infrastructure, and support of a highly functioning district and its resources.

  2. Will the special education director meet the needs of the children given that (1) she just completed her special ed degree in last month; (2) has no experience being the primary teacher in a special education program for an entire school year; and (3) has no experience running an entire special ed program, particularly one that has been given a unrealistically low budget?

  3. As the charter has been actively recruiting English Language Learners and children with special needs, how much experience do RVC teachers have working with multiple children falling into these categories? At MAP, the teachers had disproportionately fewer numbers of these students. How will the time required to now serve these children, whom they historically did not serve, impact the children who require differentiation at the very high performing end of the academic spectrum?

  4. Is the charter school budget viable despite the current enrollment dropping by over 40% since its petition was approved?  The Marin County Office of Education unanimously denied the charter petition due to unlikely financial viability over 3 years and that decision was based on a full enrollment of 220 students. Overhead is fixed, income is now meaningfully lower, and margins are razor slim. How will the school handle the inevitable unanticipated expense?

  5. Are you aware that RVC is relying on an average donation of $700 per child in its budget?

  6. Will the Prop 39 charter school be able to attract enough young children to replace the large number of fourth and fifth graders who will quickly age out?

  7. If the state does not allow RVC to open due to the large drop in enrollment, or if you or your child is unhappy at RVC, where will your child end up? There may be unused classrooms at your neighborhood school, or your child may need to be placed at another school, where there is space in a grade. 

  8. What will it be like for littles to share a campus and building with middle schoolers?

  9. Are you aware that RVC is barely meeting the number of in-district children required for Prop 39, and may not be entitled to space at White Hill in 2018?

  10. Are you aware that your child's sibling doesn't have a legally guaranteed spot at RVC?

  11. How long will you be sitting in traffic driving your child to and from White Hill every day?  How will the neighborhood feel about the traffic increase, given that there was nearly zero interest from RVC families in coordinating a bus?

  12. Are you aware that progressive education-seeking families, who were exposed to the MAP experience in 2016-17, chose to remain at their wonderful neighborhood school?  For example, nine students whose parents had signed intent to enroll in RVC forms were placed in K at Wade Thomas, with a MAP teacher.  By the end of the school year, not a single student's parents had elected to enroll their child in RVC. Have you taken a moment to question the discrepancy between the magical marketing and the reality of what RVC will be?

  13. When will they hire two dedicated, credentialed teachers to teach your child art and music? When will they even be able to afford to?

  14. Is it in the best interest of your child (and family) to be a part of an unproven experiment? If it fails—or is not what you had hoped it would be— your local school community will happily and genuinely welcome you back. Yet, have you considered the energy required of your child to adapt to a new environment, with new friends and teachers, perhaps mid-year?

  15. Are you positive, and have you independently confirmed, that your out-of-district child will have a space in a classroom in year two and beyond, as the facilities provided by RVSD are only based on in-district enrollment?

  16. Is your leadership being honest with you?

 

Your neighborhood schools welcome you to our dynamic learning communities. Thrive with us.  Please reconsider.

RVC Parents:  Please commit to your local school district by June 15!

The time has come to choose where your children will be enrolled for the upcoming school year.  We hope you will choose to stay at your local public school. 

Per the charter school’s website here: “RVC will be notifying the schools our students are currently attending on or before June 15, 2017 to ask for student records.” When the charter school requests student records, standard procedure dictates that those students will be un-enrolled from their existing school districts.

The good news is that all children are welcome at local public schools, and students can be re-registered at any time, although not to a specific school.  Standard RVSD policy is to welcome late registrants back to a RVSD school based on “space available.”   http://rossvalleyschools.org/parents/stu-enrollment/2016-17-new-student-registration-2

We hope all prospective charter families decide to remain at their local public school districts, for the benefit of all children.  According to the author of this Huffington Post article dated 6/12/17, “The easy short-term answer is, ‘Just worry about your own child. Do whatever you must to find the best school for her….’  As these strategies gain acceptance and spread, the result is to undermine education as a collective effort on behalf of the entire community. Divided parents and their communities end up with little collective voice. Similarly, without unions, teachers have no unified influence. Millions of personal decisions about what appears to be good for a single child at a moment in time is a recipe for divisiveness, not collective good.”

Our excellent local public schools are already underfunded and facing attrition and reduced budgets due to naturally declining enrollment. The loss of any student to the charter is a further blow which will hurt all district students and teachers, including those at White Hill, where many charter students will likely attend middle school. A smaller overall pie means smaller slices for each of us.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/why-we-should-care-about-the-education-of-other-peoples_us_593ea655e4b094fa859f1a49?ncid=engmodushpmg00000003

As the great wizard said "Soon, we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy" - Albus Dumbledore

STAND Remains Committed to Civil, Fact-Based Discourse

STAND does not condone the personal attacks or uncivil tone of some recent statements against the charter or its supporters.  We remain committed to civil, fact-based engagement, and we ask our neighbors, whatever their point of view, to do the same.  

From the start, STAND has voiced our commitment to respectful civic engagement. On January 16, 2017, we wrote:

 

"We acknowledge that people sometimes disagree, strongly, and we ask that our entire community commits to doing so respectfully. We are one community, and while we may have different opinions and goals, we are still neighbors, teammates, and even friends." 

 

We all must remember that this is a public policy debate about how to spend our community’s education funds and about the future of public education in our state and nationwide.  While each of our children are being affected by the opening of the charter, and thus emotions run high, we must not give in to contempt for those with whom we disagree.   Every one us can do better to show respect and compassion for one another.  

https://www.facebook.com/harvardkennedyschool/videos/10154251688431403/?pnref=story

Who is Really Backing Ross Valley Charter?

If you want to know the truth, follow the money.

Despite the privately managed, taxpayer funded Ross Valley Charter’s claims that it is “the creation of local public school teachers and public school parents,” some of their high powered maneuvers and litigation begs the question - who is really behind Ross Valley Charter and what do they hope to gain from this? If you want to know the truth, follow the money (click here).

Through various Public Records Act requests (click here to read them) submitted by community members who wished to gain a better understanding of the charter school’s resources and motivation, it has become clear that the Prop 39 charter school is not just a group of local citizens seeking to form a school. What we now know is that two charter school leaders have connections to wealthy special interests, which are very interested in seeing this charter open its doors in our Ross Valley. The following heavy hitters are funding and fueling their local effort: The California Charter Schools Association (CCSA); their favored law firm, Young, Minney and Corr; and the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation. Holland and Knight, a high-powered lobbying and legal firm from Florida has provided pro bono work to the charter.

Why should we be concerned about these deep-pocketed backers of the Prop 39 charter school? If the current charter school leaders succeed, these special interest groups will have taken root in our small community and Marin County, and we might never be free of them. With the opening of the charter, the groundwork will have been successfully laid for the opening of more charters within the Ross Valley, potentially further eroding our community, weakening our public school district and removing local governance and control. Given the militant tone and approach of the charter’s backer, CCSA (Click here to read about their recent conference entitled “COMBAT WARFARE: LEGISLATIVE THREATS TO CHARTER SCHOOLS”), we need to prepare for this eventuality and STAND together.

The CCSA is funded by billionaires such as Charles and Helen Schwab, the Waltons (WalMart), Eli Broad and Reed Hastings, among others (click here and then click on each billionaire’s name to see their donations to CCSA, and here to read about these “power brokers”). These donors fund charters and pro-charter school board candidates across California and the country, in order to break and take our public schools while turning them into profit making ventures. They have even helped to fund a recent lawsuit seeking to gut the teachers’ union (click here to read the final outcome of that lawsuit). Because this is so-called “dark money,” it is difficult to illuminate all they fund, but a simple google search is telling.

Kristi Kimball, a local resident and member of the Ross Valley Charter School Board is also on the CCSA board, although her bio on the charter board website does not disclose this connection. Though apparently never an educator herself, Ms. Kimball has overseen the distribution of millions of dollars of charter school funding through her work for billionaire foundations such as the Hewlett Foundation and the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation. Click here to see the list of organizations her current employer, the Helen and Charles Schwab Foundation supports, including the CCSA.

The Prop 39 Charter School was represented by the charter industry law firm Young Minney and Corr in the recent lawsuit against our public schools (read the Marin IJ article here). But how could this local group of parents and teachers afford such expensive legal services?

A recent Public Records Act request helped illuminate how the charter has been able to fund such expensive legal actions. In their December 23, 2016 emailed response, Sharon Sagar, Charter School Board President wrote, “We want you to know that All YMC work on Prop 39 was pro bono, paid by CCSA, so we do not have any records for that work.” In other words, the Prop 39 Charter School’s legal assault on our district is being funded by CCSA which pays the costs of its legal services in order to maintain the fiction that the charter school is a local grassroots group. Further, the CCSA wrote a blog entitled ”Ross Valley School District’s Efforts to Thwart Families’ Right to Education,” about the suit, but it has been subsequently removed. This pro bono work is on top of the $40,000 loan the charter accepted from CCSA to cover the costs of litigating against our district around enrollment issues. Click here to read the letter from our Superintendent, which explains how the CCSA, Ross Valley Charter and Young Minney and Corr have a “tripartite agreement.”  Click here to read our blog about the loan.

Andrea Sumits’ involvement in the charter and in the MAP program has been extensive, yet her official role remains unclear. She served as the leader (“Facilitator”) of the MAP board, and then went on to serve as a member of the charter school’s board. Her spouse is the co-lead petitioner, and as local residents know, her comments appear all over social media. Additionally, Ms. Sumits was the named plaintiff (with another parent, on behalf of the charter) in the aforementioned lawsuit against our public school district, which has since been dismissed.

Perhaps more interestingly, Florida based law firm Holland and Knight employs Ms. Sumits, and has provided $80,000 in pro bono work to the charter. It is unclear whether Ms. Sumits is the attorney of record for the Prop 39 Charter School, but according to invoices from Holland and Knight obtained under a Public Records Act request (click here to read them), Ms. Sumits billed for 62 hours of work at a rate of $620 per hour as “Consulting Counsel.” Holland and Knight is a massive legal operation, employing over 1,000 attorneys across the nation. According to The Center for Responsive Politics, Holland and Knight was paid $14.5 million dollars as a result of their extensive lobbying work.

Rather than a “grassroots” effort we might better refer to the charter school as another “astroturf” group fronting for powerful corporate interests with its sights set on taking and breaking our children’s public school and transforming it into yet another private corporate venture.

As we take stock of the recent actions of Donald Trump and his appointment of anti-public school billionaire Betsy DeVos to Education Secretary, who are seeking to remake the Department of Education into a “school choice” promoting machine, it stands to reason that our public schools are under attack. We can expect greater pressure from the federal government and deep pocketed corporate groups such as CCSA to dismantle our public schools and replace them with more publicly funded and privately managed charters. The fight we face in Ross Valley to protect our schools is the fight happening all over the country to prevent the destruction of public education in America. With the end of public education, so goes our democracy.

We believe in true public education. Stand with us!

MAP 6: It's time to resign

There is an urgent matter that needs to be addressed before irreparable harm is done.  Unless the charter’s founding teachers resign, RVSD may have to give some teachers “pink slip” notices of termination of employment on May 15. 

Much of this could be avoided if the charter leadership would simply act in good faith by releasing their current enrollment numbers and formally hiring  their teachers.  There are 6 teachers, all former MAP teachers and founding members of the proposed charter, who currently work in the Ross Valley Elementary Schools, who have yet to tender their resignations to RVSD. Per the charter’s web page FAQ section:

“The six petitioning RVC teachers are long-term, tenured employees of RVSD. They will give notice of their resignations to RVSD when RVC’s site is confirmed and students are enrolled. As the District asserted in its February 2016 workshop, if the charter school does not open, the students that the District is currently projecting to leave for the charter school will not leave, so the District does not have to lay off teachers in March.”

Per charter school's Facebook post (here), "RVC today (April 12, 2017) officially accepted the District’s final offer.  We are grateful that this issue has been resolved and will work to be good neighbors as well as minimize our impact on the middle school."

The conditions set to hire the MAP 6 appear to be met. Why the delay?  Are there enough students for this program to be financially viable?  Public Records Act requests over the last 5 months show a pattern of steadily declining enrollment, with only 120 children enrolled in late March - 100 children short of the 220 students the charter petitioners expected to enroll.

At an RVC board meeting in January 2017, Conn Hickey stated that the teachers wouldn't risk losing their tenure.  Watch the video of Hickey and MAP 6 teacher and RVC Board Member Chris Lyons answering a question about teacher resignations  here.   If the teachers have so much to lose, why should families risk the education of their children?  Will the charter actually open?  Will it last the year?  Will it have enough students? Is the charter financially viable with a shortfall of 100 students?

Charter supporters say they don’t want to cause any harm to the district schools.  Yet the charter leadership is risking the livelihoods of many of our dedicated RVSD teachers and the the education of many RVSD students so the MAP 6 teachers can hedge their bets.

Out of consideration for all of the children and teachers in the district, we ask the RVC board to please hire the MAP 6 for the 2017-18 school year immediately so they may give their resignations to RVSD asap.

Low enrollment & lack of viability

The State Board of Education (SBE) sent a generic reply to our recent emails reiterating the charter school's final approval. This is not unexpected as the they have rubber stamped their phase of approval. The appointed SBE members were included in our list of recipients as a courtesy, and to raise their awareness of the opposition to this school. However, it is the elected (and therefore accountable) State Superintendent of Schools, Tom Torlakson, and the California Department of Education (CDE) who are responsible for the final approval, which will include a site visit to White Hill prior to opening. Regardless of their political position on charters, they are very sensitive to wasteful spending of taxpayer money on schools that are not financially viable (here). They may not want this one on their record, and continued public pressure should help ensure the review will be thorough. 

The approved petition stated the charter school would enroll 220 children. This is critical to their financial viability. Enrollment numbers obtained from several recent public records act requests document that they are nowhere near that number.  Ross Valley Charter reported 120 enrollees—if you believe that kids will be commuting daily from Nevada City and the Modesto area—and the enrollment has been steadily declining since December.  Click here for detailed information on their enrollment as of March 26th. 

Based on this information from Sharon Sagar, 32 children were "admitted" in the "lottery" on March 8th, and not one of them accepted the offer to attend the Prop 39 charter school. Moreover, on April 28th, the charter school refused to respond to the last request for enrollment, stating "they do not have the reports containing the information you requested" (here). Are we to believe that the charter school does not know who is enrolled in their school less than 4 months before it is opening?

Contextually, there are 104 in district enrollees in the 120 reported. That is 20% less than the number of children who were in MAP when it was a district program at Manor.  

Based on the lack of enrollment, this worthy fight is not over. They are approximately 100 kids short of being financially viable and meeting the requirements of the charter petition that was approved by the SBE.  We will continue to ask Tom Torlakson and the CDE to do their job and review the charter school's enrollment on August 10, before allowing them to open. We must keep up the pressure. Please continue sharing this letter and encouraging your friends and neighbors to speak out. 

This takes just one minute. Take action:

https://actionnetwork.org/…/deny-ross-valley-charter-condit…

Remember to follow us on twitter at https://twitter.com/STANDpublic to stay up to date with pop up locations, action items and breaking news.

RVCharter Leadership is Taking You for a Ride…Again

The turmoil in our community is being caused by one thing, and it's not STAND. It's not the appearance of signs and magnets. It's not even the existence of a charter school. The upheaval in our community is the direct result of the charter leadership's use of Proposition 39, a law allowing the hostile takeover of our children's school buildings.
 
Using this law, which was never meant for small, well-performing districts like ours, the charter is commandeering the 6th grade building at White Hill Middle School, displacing the entire District's 6th grade and eliminating the “soft landing” into middle school that a separate space provided.
 
Charter leadership has spun the tale that they were "forced" to invoke Prop 39 because the District wouldn't continue negotiating with them for the rental of Red Hill. However, as a community member just reminded us, it is documented here that, in fact, they attempted to shoot that missile at the District long before those negotiations even started. The charter's narrative of victimization at the hands of the District could not be farther from the truth.
 
In October 2014, around the same time they submitted their first charter petition, the leadership filed a Prop 39 demand for facilities, specifically a large chunk of Manor School. The filing demanded seven classrooms with the intention to expand to nine over the following two years. The charter’s previous incarnation as the Multi-Age Program (MAP) occupied six classrooms at the time. This Prop 39 expansion would have drastically reduced the space for the rest of the students on the Manor campus and would almost certainly have caused some neighborhood children to be moved to other schools. 

The maneuver occurred just a few months after MAP leaders decided it was a "complete waste of time" to work out the inequities at Manor and keep MAP as a program of choice within the District (here). MAP went rogue and became a charter to avoid District oversight. Now we can plainly see how they simultaneously began a long, drawn-out battle to take over District facilities using Prop 39.


Charter leadership has repeatedly stated they do not wish to displace District students, yet one of their first acts as a newly proposed charter school was an attempt to forcibly expand at Manor using Prop 39, which would have displaced students who were not in the charter from their neighborhood school.
 
The charter claims to be using Prop 39 only as a last resort. That is patently false.

Impact: Two Public School Teachers’ Perspective on Charter Schools

I have been an itinerant teacher for the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) for twelve years. In this capacity, I travel to different schools, teaching adapted physical education for children with special education needs that attend both public and charter schools in SFUSD.  

I have witnessed the large disparity between the two groups. There is competition over buildings and space, funding, technology in the classroom, and enrollment. The public schools have larger class sizes. The charter schools target various populations based on ethnicity, socio-economic status, and English Language Learners. There exists a growing divide when there are charter schools and public schools competing for the same finite resources. Thank goodness the San Francisco mayor gives the SFUSD monies from the SF City Rainy Day Funds, or the public schools would have been in the red years ago. 

My partner teaches 7th and 8th grade science in the West Contra Costa School District (WCCUSD) where she has 38 students in a single classroom. The Summit Charter School down the street from her public school is using the same funding and ADA formula as her school district- yet they have only 24 students in their science classes.

In both these cases for SFUSD and WCCUSD, wouldn’t it have been a better idea to use the resources to work on the existing schools, rather than to siphon off a large portion of our public funds to charter schools? The existing public school districts could have invested in obtaining input from the teachers, administration, parents and community and put all the efforts and money to work to create something amazing for each of the existing schools, for the benefit of every child.

Here in the Ross Valley School District, we have a meaningfully smaller district than SFUSD or WCCUSD, and even fewer resources. Critically, we have no rainy day fund. We do, however, have high-performing public schools. We might soon also have Ross Valley Charter, an entity that will not only receive ADA money for the students who attend, but has also received a $375,000 public school grant. They enjoy staggering legal fees covered by the CCSA-funded team of Young, Minney & Corr, and other lawyers, while depleting our District’s limited resources with legal threats which are designed to further weaken the laws that protect our invaluable public schools. 

We may have to contend with a charter school that was explicitly denied authorization from both the Ross Valley School Board and the Marin County Board of Education. It has opened a Pandora's Box for usurping tax money that will have no oversight from the taxpayers of our community. This privately-managed school is an experiment at the expense of those who sign up for the school, as well as all of us who live in the Ross Valley. 

We have heard the term “innovative school” used quite a bit with regard to the this Prop 39 charter. How can the program be innovative for its employment of project-based learning which has been around for decades?  Rooftop Elementary School in San Francisco is a school-wide thematic/project-based SFUSD school (not a charter) that was considered innovative years ago. Several of the better aspects of project-based, interdisciplinary learning are already incorporated into many RVSD classrooms. 

Nor are multi-age classrooms “innovative.” They have been in existence since the creation of the one room schoolhouse. Teachers and parents often lack a full understanding of multi-age education, which can result in difficulties of implementing effective multi-age classrooms. Often teachers indicate that they are not adequately trained to teach multi-age groups of children. Perhaps some teachers are not aware of these inadequacies, and parents are wise to worry about the environment and the quality of instruction. Having the same teacher for two years in a row may present a familial environment, but that does not equate to or guarantee academic growth and success. 

To the parents that have signed up for charter, we hope the leadership is being upfront and honest with you. What are the learning outcomes that you desire for your child? How did students previously taught by The MAP 6 fare in middle school- academically, socially and psychologically? For those of you who plan to enroll in the charter from out-of-District, did you know that because the charter filed a Prop 39 facilities request, your child’s seat is only guaranteed for the 2017-2018 school year (for which the space allocation was based on a guess from RVC)? The following year it will be based on documented enrollment, and only in- District students will be provided space on the White Hill Middle School campus. Did the leadership tell you that? Did they tell you the school is still just conditionally approved by the state? If you have a child with an IEP or 504 plan, has RVC informed you how your child’s IEP will be implemented, who will be part of the IEP team, and who will be providing your child with speech, physical therapy, occupational therapy?  Do you know who the psychologist will be, or have you seen the credentials of the special ed teacher?  Did they tell you about the accommodations and/or modifications that will be made by the classroom teacher for your child per IEP? 

Did you know that the charter will be using eight classrooms at White Hill Middle School that currently house a thriving 6th grade cluster? Those 6th graders will soon be crammed into the 7th and 8th grade building, losing their dedicated space, and leading to larger class sizes. Some White Hill teachers will not have a dedicated classroom, but will be using mobile carts, or teaching in rooms with partitions to separate one class into two. If you live in the RVSD, your charter school child will also eventually attend at a crowded White Hill, unless you choose to send your child to private school. How will these changes impact all of our middle school children, yours included?  

As parents, teachers and members of this amazing RVSD community, we have seen our five schools have come together with passion, conviction and fortitude to STAND up for our children’s education. There is now a unified and growing group of over 400 families that do not want to just put up with this because of the charter school trend at the local, state and national level. We will continue to contact our local, county and state government leaders with our perspective and requests. We are dedicated to changing these laws because, at present, there is no law that protects our public schools from being taken over by any charter that eyes our District, and decides to set up shop. There is no reason to think the current charter is the only one that will ever try to open in the RVSD. So yes, we STAND at the door of the public schools which we hope will one day soon be closed to charter schools.

Teressa DiPerna and Gail Pavlich
 

A White Hill Student's Perspective

By Jackie McKillop-Herr and Ella Acker


[Editorial Note: We are thrilled to share this critical point of view, from our young, independent guest bloggers. The authors’ organic effort to communicate their thoughts and feelings regarding the impact of Prop 39 got our attention. Upon writing their perspective, nearly 150 of their peers had quickly endorsed their essay with signatures of support. More signatures are rapidly being added as of the posting of this blog. As they are minors, we will not be publishing the list of supporters.]

Do you have a student who will attend White Hill Middle School next year? If so, are you aware of the effects that the incoming Ross Valley Charter School (RVCS) will have on your child? We are 8th grade students who have spent the past three years at White Hill Middle School (White Hill). We are concerned that bringing the RVCS to White Hill will reduce the classroom space, quality of classes and White Hill’s unique learning programs. We think these changes will create confusion, and make it harder for students to get a good middle school education. We are not alone in our concerns. So far, 140 White Hill students (with more being added every day) have signed our petition to keep RVCS from disrupting education at White Hill Middle School.   
            
White Hill classrooms are split up by grade; 6th grade buildings, 7th grade buildings and 8th grade buildings. With RVCS moving into the 6th grade buildings, White Hill teachers and students will have less space. Different classes will need to share the same classroom. For example, when a music class is not in session, a 7th grade math class will move into that classroom. Since the equipment needed to teach a math class is very different from the equipment needed to teach a music class, students and teachers will have to spend time each day moving materials and equipment around. Some students are concerned that their expensive instruments are at risk of getting damaged or lost during daily transitions.   

We already feel like many of our classes are rushed. Carving time out from our already short class periods is going to make it harder for us to focus and learn. In addition, teachers will have to spend their valuable preparation time moving equipment and materials between classrooms rather than focusing on lesson plans or helping students individually. We are worried that all of this moving around will make things chaotic and confusing.  Middle schoolers already have a hard time focusing – so why make it harder?

As 8th graders we know that middle school can be a difficult time. After many years of having only one teacher, middle schoolers have multiple teachers in different classrooms and lots more homework. The school is much larger, and there are many students from other schools that you don’t know. Also, middle schoolers are going through a lot of personal changes. Adding more change, more students, and a whole new RVCS program at an already difficult time seems like a bad idea for all students.   
        
We are also worried that the Ross Valley School District will be forced to let go of some of our amazing teachers if the charter school is formed. We have already seen so many of our teachers leave our schools to teach in other school districts that pay more. Shouldn’t we be trying to keep our teachers rather than sending them away? It seems disruptive and unfair to lose even more of our amazing RVSD teachers to support the RVCS program that benefits only a small portion of our community. 

We know students who participated in the MAP program at Manor School, and many  enjoyed it. These students are our friends. The older ones (who are friends of our older siblings) are in high school now, and doing fine mixed in with non-MAP students. If MAP had not existed for our , and everyone had gone through the same program, we think things would have turned out pretty much the same as they are now. It seems that no matter which elementary school program each of us went through, all of the students get along, and it really doesn’t matter. Adults in charge, why are we making a program that will pull the student body apart when really it’s just the parents who need to be pulled together?

You might wonder why we are writing this blog as 8th graders who will soon be leaving White Hill to start high school. You might think that this isn’t our problem since we won’t be at White Hill next year anyhow. As 8th graders, we think we have a unique view of our RVSD education, especially the middle school years. We hope that by sharing our experiences and ideas, adults in charge will find a way to work together to continue to give all students a great education that prepares us well for high school. This is really important to us. Is it to you? What’s your STAND?
 

Ross Valley Charter: A Pawn of the Lobbyists

In light of Ross Valley Charter's March 1, 2017 response (here) to the Ross Valley School District’s Prop 39 offer of classrooms at White Hill (here), we want to remind the community about the charter’s legal and financial relationship with the the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA).

The January 23, 2017 letter (link here) from Superintendent Dr. Rick Bagley to the charter was a response to the charter’s repeated requests for mediation. The letter revealed why Dr. Bagley and our elected trustees are not interested in sitting down with the charter to discuss these matters over a cup of coffee, as many in the community, including San Anselmo Town Council Member John Wright (link here), have urged.

The charter's CFO and Treasurer, Conn Hickey, signed a $40,000 interest-free loan commitment (link here) with CCSA to finance the charter’s litigation against our school district (IJ article link here).  The purpose:  "To prevent RVSD from rejecting [RVC's] attendance projection in its request for facilities under Proposition 39 and for no other purpose."  

CCSA is a pro-charter school lobbying group, funded to the tune of over $20 million a year (link here).  These powerful outside interests are fueling conflict in our local community. Go here and read more about the billionaires who fund CCSA and other groups seeking to privatize public education.

The loan also states that the charter, CCSA, and Young, Minney & Corr (the charter’s attorneys) have “formed a coalition for a common purpose.” The document specifies that CCSA must agree to the terms of any settlement reached between the charter and our public school district. If the CCSA is not satisfied with terms the charter agrees to, the charter may be subject to “immediate or accelerated repayment of the loan,” with a 10% "interest" penalty. Thus, any potential settlement’s terms will be controlled by the agendas of outside interest groups seeking to set legal precedent, not trying to come to the table in good faith to heal our community.  This loan will be paid back with our tax dollars received by the charter through state and federal funds.

If you would like to read more about a handful of the numerous CCSA-backed lawsuits filed against public school districts on behalf of charters, click here, here and here.

If you believe that Ross Valley Schools should have transparent government by our locally elected and accountable leaders, not powerful outside interests, STAND with us. STAND for our teachers and children in the face of this deep-pocketed, outside group.

Did you say ‘negative message’? Respectfully, we disagree.

The Families and Friends of Ross Valley Schools are committed to engaging the greater community in the ongoing open discussion regarding educational policy, both locally and nationally. We wear our orange with pride, and have carefully considered our initial STAND message, which is two fold:

  1. STAND! with your awesome neighborhood school- be it Brookside, Hidden Valley, Manor, Wade Thomas or White Hill. STAND with your exceptional teachers. STAND proudly with your friends. Our children are excited to feel the energy being created around a sense of pride in their community. Proud and happy looks great on them. We were invited to a competition, and the school spirit is rising!

  2. One of our goals is to support, advance and enhance outstanding truly public schools, whose noble aim is to serve the greatest number of students at the highest possible level for each of them, within the constraints of finite public resources. Thus, in keeping with this mission, we support the broad policy: ‘Go Public! Not Charter’

Our second message is clearly a matter of policy, not a judgment of the people who support or disagree with the policy itself. Most of us speak daily about issues regarding our government. There is no reason to abandon our commitment to honest free speech on this particular and relevant topic. Among the many principles with which we STAND, the First Amendment is near the top of the list.

Our current debate represents an opportunity for each of us to speak with our children about educational policy and perspectives. We might agree or disagree with, or be curious about, a particular policy position. STAND believes in the common good. We believe that children are able to understand the concept that supporting truly public schools--or not-- and explicitly opposing charter schools--or not--  is a point of view on policy, not individuals.

Let’s break it down: ‘Go Public!’ is a broad-based statement of support for our truly public schools. ‘Not Charter’ clarifies that STAND does not recognize charter schools as truly public. They have little transparency or local accountability, and are often for profit, or indebted to some heavy-muscle lobbying groups. Proponents of charter schools will say that public vs. charter is a difference without a distinction. Respectfully, and strongly, we disagree. The vocalization of this disagreement is a right that each and every one of us can celebrate. Our disagreement is not personal; it is a Civics lesson.

Let’s address the concerns expressed by one of Marin County’s four charter schools that STAND signs, which are not yet displayed, are upsetting their children. Parents have the opportunity to explain that our message is no different from one that says ‘Vote Democrat! Not Republican’. Would the President’s child take that party/policy affiliation as an attack on his/her family? Probably not. And if they did, there is no doubt that adults could explain it if they chose to. It is a party/policy position. We must never compromise our First Amendment Right- or our neighbor’s- to take a stand.

It is also unfair to make the assumption that the charter school’s children are the only children in the District who are upset. A great many of the District’s students are also upset, angry and hurt from the forthcoming disruption to their schools and teachers. They must be allowed to express their authentic feelings. We cannot hide reality from them, nor should we. We, as parents, can explain to them that the charter school chose to exercise Prop 39 to make this happen, and that no matter what, we will make it work. We can explain that the charter’s purpose was not to harm them. The charter simply took a policy position that exercising Prop 39 was a good idea. It is up to us to explain that this was not personal. We are looking at two sides of the same coin.

If your child has expressed some distress, we are confident you have the tools to assure them that not everyone supports the same causes in our community. Regardless of your personal position on this issue, we continue to STAND for respectful expression and conversation. STAND itself is a diverse group of individual community members. We recognize that not every STAND supporter will adhere to our mission statement. However, we have been heartened by the support and feeling of community which STAND has inspired. 

So while we are unhappy that any child in the district is sad or angry or concerned, we want to be clear that all of our children are experiencing these feelings as a direct result of the charter invoking Prop 39. Our ultimate message is a warm invitation to the charter students and teachers to return to Ross Valley Public Schools.  We want to do what is best for 100% of the children in our District. Our goal? Everyone send your children to our superb, truly public schools. We welcome you with open arms.

With this being stated, we again ask RVC to rescind their Prop 39 facilities request.  And if you would like to sign or view our petition in support of this request, it is available below.

Stating a policy preference, tacitly or openly, is an honored and protected right in this amazing nation. This is not the time for silence. Not now. Not ever.

 

http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/request-to-ross-valley?source=c.em.mt&r_by=11553673

 

An Open Letter to the RVC Community

By Allison Waugh,
Mother of a Fourth Grader at Wade Thomas

As both a parent and a taxpayer, and with all my might, I’m asking Ross Valley Charter (RVC) to take pause and rethink your decision to open this Fall. I don't know when parents began using the entitled viewpoint that ADA (average daily attendance) is connected to a specific child and therefore, ADA should follow a child. I'd like to offer a different, and what I believe to be truer, understanding of ADA. ADA is community money. It is taxpayer money allocated to our community to educate our children. Yes, for logistical reasons, school money is supplied in per-pupil increments. But let's be honest here. That ADA is not my son's personal education fund. Nor is it your daughter’s personal education fund. It is community money. Plain and simple.

If you still think ADA should follow your child, then I ask you, “How far does this line of thinking go?” In each ADA allotment, there are funds set aside for special education. If a child has no need for these services, should his parents be allowed to have those funds go toward something else, leaving the pool of money for special education a bit smaller?

RVC, you are set to open in the Fall, crowding our 800+ middle school students into a space designed for 540 and shrinking our pool of district money by ~$250,000 in 2017-2018 and ~$500,000 each year after. I ask you, when do you take pause? You didn't when our community elected board said no. You didn't when Marin County’s board said no. Well now over 1300 members of your community have signed a petition saying no. So again, I ask, when will you pause and look back to your local schools to see if they can fill your educational needs, especially now that Manor has a pilot program for project-based learning. I remember when the head of my son's Waldorf school told me that no child can thrive in public school. Well you know what? For financial reasons, we decided to try our community school, and I'm so thankful we did. The fear that my son would lose his interest in learning and be stifled by worksheets and teaching to the test were unfounded. He and I both have great appreciation for the progressive elements within our public schools.

So before you create a very real threat to the health of our schools, please reconsider. Please rejoin our community and make our schools stronger with your energy and passion for education.

 

 

 

Block Betsy

President Donald Trump has nominated billionaire Betsy DeVos to be our next Secretary of Education.  DeVos has admittedly never attended public school; neither have her children or grandchildren.  She strongly favors publicly funded school choice:  "magnet, virtual, charter, home, religious, or any combination thereof.”  

In her home state of Michigan, DeVos has won her battle; the state now boasts the highest number of charter schools in the nation, even though test results have shown most Michigan charter schools have not performed better than the state's public schools.  A Detroit Free Press investigation concluded, “[T]he most accurate assessment is that charter schools have simply created a second, privately managed failing system.”

DeVos has spent millions of dollars - at least $1.45 million in 2016 - to defeat state legislation that would have required more charter school oversight in Michigan. To restate: Charters use public dollars, but without public accountability. According to the Detroit Free Press, “Michigan spends $1 billion on charter schools but fails to hold them accountable.”

In addition, there is a disconcerting lack of regard for how the creation of charter schools negatively impacts students attending their neighborhood public schools. In her Senate testimony, DeVos did not explain how she would safeguard the education of children attending truly public schools when charters siphon away limited public funds from school districts. A perfect example of this problem is taking place in the Ross Valley School District, where the establishment of the Ross Valley Charter threatens to take hundreds of thousands of dollars from RVSD and disrupt the students and teachers at our district’s shining star, White Hill Middle School. The RV Charter will negatively impact about 2000 district students for the benefit of the approximately 5-7% of the total in-district population who plan to attend the RV Charter.

Despite the damage the RV Charter is inflicting upon all of the Ross Valley School District children, the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) approved a loan to the charter to fund litigation against our own district.  The CCSA determined that litigation against the school district would further “the promotion and protection of the charter school movement in the State of California.” The very same CCSA wrote in November of 2016, the “California Charter Schools Association congratulates Betsy DeVos, a longtime supporter of charter schools, on her appointment as Secretary of Education.”


DeVos’ testimony regarding her commitment to meeting the educational needs of individual children and to providing school choice for parents may look appealing, but it overlooks the greater good. In an ideal world, every child would have an education perfectly designed for him or her, but our public education system does not have the resources to turn this dream into reality. As long as charter school advocates continue to force privatized public schools upon our educational system, children in truly public schools will suffer.  DeVos’ privatized education model is not right for our country, and it’s not right for our community.

Heather Bennett
Eileen Brown
Robin Goldman
Stephanie Goldsborough
Samantha Lyman
Kelly Murphy

An Open Letter to Our Community

 Why would a supporter of Ross Valley Schools go to a charter Information Night?

        In the last few days, charter proponents have asked why members of the Families & Friends of Ross Valley Schools attended the January 12 Information Night for the proposed Ross Valley Charter, held at the Ross Valley School District property at Deer Park.

        Good question.

        On one level, there is a simple reason: Information Nights are one of the few ways we in the community can learn how the proposed charter plans to use our tax dollars.

        The school will be funded with each enrolled student's "ADA" dollars:  about $8000 per child per year. That's approximately $1.5mm annually based on the charter's intended enrollment of 189 students. There is no public oversight of that money, as the charter board is self-appointed. The proposed school was authorized by a state board, which is also appointed, not elected. 

            So how do we, as taxpayers, have representation? Especially because we have no vote, we view it as necessary to learn as much as possible. The evening was billed as an "Information Night." We were under the impression that all were welcome to attend, ask questions and get answers.

            Every taxpayer in the district, regardless of age of children, or choice of school, should be asking: Is this charter a good steward of our public dollars? We regularly ask the same question of the staff and board of RVSD. There, at least, we can attend regular meetings, and vote for the board.

            At the Information Night, we did have the opportunity to learn. A few of us attended part, or all, of the formal presentation. Some of us stayed outside. And still, we learned a lot.

            We engaged several dedicated charter supporters in conversation. We questioned. We listened. We disagreed Sometimes, we agreed. “We” means all of us: charter and district school supporters alike. It was a challenge, and at moments awkward, but we made some progress toward understanding each other's concerns and passions. It was a circle of dialogue, a valuable moment, and an important reminder: We are one community.

            We appreciate the question of reciprocity: Do charter supporters get to attend events for district schools? By all means, yes! In fact, charter supporters have been well represented at recent public events held at public venues. Recent examples: RVSD Board Meetings. Manor’s Expeditionary Learning information session. The Brookside Parents’ Association meeting.


            To every member of our community, we say: Please come to all future public meetings at public venues. Keep learning and connecting. Keep the dialogue respectful. We shall do the same, and hope that this will build better understanding across our community.

            This is a complex situation, and there are other reasons we attended the charter Information Night.
             
            First, we want to make sure the prospective families who attend these sessions have the balanced opportunity to consider the truly public options available to elementary-school children in our district.

            The project-based Expeditionary Learning program goes live at Manor next year. Brookside, Hidden Valley, and Wade Thomas offer a balance of proven traditional and progressive, common core-inspired curriculum. The Readers' and Writers' Workshops are especially enriching. The YES Foundation makes exceptional art, music, theater, poetry, library, and special events available to our elementary school kids, with even more opportunities - especially in STEAM fields - available for middle school students at White Hill.
             
            How did we present this information at the Information Night? At most, with a one-page welcome letter. The handful of us who attended welcomed guests and offered them directions to the meeting room when they asked where to go. We were not forming a line. There was no line:  Not inside the meeting room, nor outside. Supporters of the Stand campaign were respectful in our attendance, whether in the meeting or in the courtyard.
             
            Second, we want to show our support for every child in the Ross Valley School District.

            The charter only expects to serve a very small percentage of our district children. An estimated 1800+ students will attend RVSD schools. The vast majority of students will not be at RVC.
             
            We want the children who don’t attend the charter, for any reason, to know their education matters to our community. We want our students to be confident that they will get a superb education. We want them to know that they, too, are important. The Families & Friends of Ross Valley Schools embrace passionately the principle that all children deserve quality, free, public education.
             
            In closing, we found this Information Night to be just that: informative. A good start to a necessary dialogue. We thank the charter members who engaged with us in a positive and productive conversation. We all have more to learn, and we look forward to more opportunities to learn together.
             
            We acknowledge that people sometimes disagree, strongly, and we ask that our entire community commits to doing so respectfully. We are one community, and while we may have different opinions and goals, we are still neighbors, teammates, and even friends. We all have room for improvement here. Let’s start now.
             
            We invite anyone who wants to learn more about the Families & Friends of Ross Valley Schools to check out our new Facebook page and website: www.standwithrossvalleyschools.org. All members of the community are welcome.
             
            The Families & Friends of Ross Valley Schools look forward to seeing you at upcoming opportunities to get informed:

The RVSD Special Board Meeting on Tuesday, January 17, at 6pm, at Wade Thomas
The RVC Regular Board Meeting on Wednesday, January 18, 7pm at Drake High School
Future kindergarten orientation events at Hidden Valley, Manor, Wade Thomas and Ross Valley Charter

            These meetings are open to all.

     
    The Families & Friends of Ross Valley Schools