Proposition 39

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.

It’s Prop 39 season and guess who brought the turkey?

On November 1st, 2017, Ross Valley Charter once again demanded district facilities using Proposition 39 (Click here to read the “request” for 2018-2019), weaving in multiple threats of legal action against the district. Though the charter is forecasting 150 students, down from the 189 they projected last year, it will be no surprise to community members that the charter is using Prop 39 again, and the pro bono legal services of charter attorneys to ask for more - more classrooms, more time in the gym, more space for their teachers, and more access to the field. In sum, they are predicting fewer students will enroll,  yet they are demanding more space, while our White Hill children learn in portables and storage rooms, and our teachers teach from roving carts.

Proposition 39 was approved by voters in 2000, ostensibly to lower the voter threshold to approve new bond measures for school facilities from 66% to 55% (more history here). However, a backroom deal was made to include a clause permitting charter schools to have access to district facilities (here), which local residents are well aware, has become a wedge issue in the Ross Valley and roiled our community. According to Prop 39, a district is only required to provide space for in-district students (those who live within the Ross Valley School District), not the students who come from other districts. This is an important aspect of the law, and brings our immediate focus to the “Intent to Enroll” (ITE) forms, and the estimated number of students for 2018-19 submitted by the charter school.

In its 2017-18 Prop 39 (submitted October 2016), the charter projected enrollment of 189 in-district students. However, as many of you are aware, as of October 31st, 2017, the charter reported a mere 105 in-district students. Under the law, the charter should have returned at least 3 of its 8 classrooms to the students and teachers at White Hill, something they have refused to do, claiming the district’s legal understanding of classroom allocation is incorrect. As things stand, the charter currently has the smallest class sizes in the district, though they contend they are lacking space. Their Prop 39 demand for 2018-19 includes 150 in-district students, which, as logic would have it, would indicate they need fewer classrooms next year, not more. Validating the charter’s in-district projections for next year, and the accuracy of their ITE forms, is critical to correctly allocating space. However, the charter has threatened our district with litigation (p.10) if they further vet any of the ITE forms on which the facilities calculations are based.

RVSD doesn't just have the right, but the responsibility to validate the ITE forms because of the associated impact to RVSD students and staff. Using 2017-18 as a benchmark, an assumption could be made that RVC’s enrollment will be 45-50% below their “projected” in-district numbers. Simple math would indicate that the charter will need fewer classrooms next year, not more. We beg the question, why wouldn't the charter want/expect RVSD to vet the ITE’s if they are concerned about the community, as they claim to be? Why the veiled threat of a law suit? What do they have to hide?

As our small, formerly close-knit community struggles to accommodate the divisions caused by the Ross Valley Charter, once again, they choose to subject us all to Proposition 39 and the pro bono legal weaponry of self-proclaimed, “Champions of the Charter Movement,” Young, Minney and Corr (here). Despite their claims to the contrary, Ross Valley Charter is again reaching for every billionaire-backed cudgel within arm’s reach, with which to pound our small district and community. As Trustee Mark Reagan said at the November 9 RVSD board meeting, “...the notion of 14 classrooms for 150 kids is not an educational discussion under any circumstances.” It seems that the Ross Valley is merely a new battleground for those who seek to privatize public education and create legal precedent, further hurting the majority of children, teachers and families in our community.

Take Action! Email Superintendent Bagley and the trustees and ask them to please do everything they can to ensure the validity of the Intent to Enroll Forms. Copy and paste their email addresses:

rbagley@rossvalleyschools.org; trustee.bauer@rossvalleyschools.org; trustee.capron@rossvalleyschools.org; trustee.pratt@rossvalleyschools.org; trustee.reagan@rossvalleyschools.org; trustee.stock@rossvalleyschools.org

Thank you for STANDing with us for our excellent, truly public schools.

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.

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