Charter School

RVC's Trump Connections, Part 2

"Education reformers call this school choice, charter schools, vouchers, even opportunity scholarships. I call it competition--the American way." Donald Trump, November 2016

"Education reformers call this school choice, charter schools, vouchers, even opportunity scholarships. I call it competition--the American way." Donald Trump, November 2016

Why does RVC keep claiming they are the champions of underserved, English Language Learners (ELL), and low income (FRL) kids? We find their claims to be disingenuous, but familiar, given the claims made by right wing education reformers across the country, and even in our own backyard. Click here to read the article about how “ed reformers,” operating as “Innovate Charter” in San Francisco, funded by the Waltons, Schwab ($500,000) and others, are using race and the performance gap between African American and white/Asian students, to justify a privatization push there, rankling NAACP leaders and dividing the SFUSD community. Charter folks there echo the California Charter Schools Association’s (CCSA) language, describing this as a “war,” and causing San Francisco parents to ask, “Are we at war?”  

As many readers know, Schwab and the CCSA have a direct link to the Ross Valley Charter. The Schwab Foundation, is headed by RVC Board member and Fairfax resident, Kristi Kimball, who also sits on the CCSA board. According to Fortune, Schwab was one of the largest donors to Donald Trump’s inauguration, giving  $1 million. It is unclear if the donation came from the Schwab Foundation, or Charles Schwab himself (perhaps this could be a question for the next RVC board meeting?). This newly discovered Trump connection adds to what we already know about RVC and its connections to right-wing groups and billionaire “reformers” (click here for a refresher and here to read the California Charter Schools Association’s congratulations to Betsy DeVos).

How can RVC continue to claim to care so much about disadvantaged children while maintaining such close links to the President and his top funders? How can they claim to be motivated to serve underserved kids when they had a proven record of discrimination against them?

We ask our friends and neighbors, do we really want our excellent public schools disrupted and privatized by billionaire-backed and right-wing groups? We say no, and invite you to STAND with us for our truly public, neighborhood schools.

RVC: Teetering on the brink of financial ruin?

The writing is on the wall. Ross Valley Charter is not financially viable. It is time to take a good long look at what the drastic difference between projected and realized enrollment means for the future of the school.

RVC projected a total enrollment of 222 students in their charter petition, which the State Board of Education approved after our district and county denied it largely due to financial unviability. The charter’s numbers have fallen a whopping 45% below their projections, far beyond the 25% level of decline which should trigger a material revision to ensure it has a sound financial budget, yet the State has declined to require one.  When the school opened on August 23rd, their total enrollment was 131. As they did all throughout summer, the charter claimed they would have new applicants and continued new interest. And yet, their enrollment has actually declined by an additional 5% during the first 3 weeks of school. At this time, they have only 124 students, almost 100 students less than projected. As a result, Ross Valley Charter is in a dire financial situation.

For 124 children, the charter receives less than one million dollars in ADA for the year. Based on the charter’s July financial report, the monthly payroll costs are $92,000, which is a yearly cost of $1.1 million. This means that the ADA is insufficient to cover the payroll costs, let alone the rent, subsidizing free and reduced lunches, office expenses, legal fees and all the other costs associated with operating a school. The charter opened its doors $400K in debt, including $130k in personal loans. They have already spent almost all of the $250K loan from the CDE they deposited in July. By our estimates, the charter will be out of money by March.

At their last board meeting, they stated they will not be able to make payroll in October without going further into debt and approved seeking additional short term personal loans of up to $100,000. These loans are meant to cover costs until the school receives a check from the CDE in October. However, here's the rub, the CDE sends three checks throughout the year. The first is based on a final enrollment projection given in July and the second two are based on actual attendance. The check that is coming to the charter school next month is based on 172 students, the number that the charter gave the CDE in July. However, the remaining checks, arriving in December and the spring, will be adjusted based on the actual attendance numbers released next month causing the school to be drastically underfunded later in the year.

On top of all that, the charter’s Memo of Understanding with the State Board of Education requires the charter to have reserves of at least 5% or 55K.  The charter does not have this cash and thus is already in violation of the MOU.

Charter enrollment has been consistently overstated and has persistently declined. Its finances are depleting. Hard earned taxpayer money is being wasted on a school that will not survive. Charter students will have their education interrupted when it fails. The truth about RVC's finances needs to be acknowledged and the State needs to intervene. The current situation is irresponsible and unfair to all of the children and tax payers in Ross Valley.

 

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

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.

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?
 

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.