ross valley school district

RVC - Temper Your Antagonism, Please?

As many of you may know, in Sept and Oct. of 2017, the charter went on a campaign to secure signatures for their "Intent to Enroll" (ITE) forms for the 2018/19 school year. These forms are the basis for the projected enrollment numbers used for RVC’s Prop 39 facilities request to RVSD.

Stand discovered that this “recruiting” included emails to private school parents asking for signatures on ITE forms, whether or not they intended to enroll their children at RVC. The email, from an RVC parent who is on RVC’s Leadership Council, specifically stated, "This is a legal hoop we have to jump through for space for next year."  Additionally, we know RVC representatives were regularly stationed at local (and not local) farmers’ markets and parks asking people to sign ITE forms for "more information," and making it clear it wasn’t a commitment to enroll.

Despite these dubious tactics, on 1/31/18 RVSD accepted the charter’s ITE-based forecast of 144 in-district students for the 2018/19 school year in good faith.  Based on this projection, RVSD offered six classrooms/teaching stations, which equates to approximately 24 students per class, the equivalent to district class sizes. RVSD also offered a reduction in the use of the Multi-Purpose Room, gym, outdoor space, etc. from 20% to 17% as RVC’s enrollment forecast is 45 fewer students than this school year.

On 2/16, the charter sent a threatening letter in response to RVSD’s offer. In this letter, the charter demanded that RVSD revise its offer by 2/21 and claimed they would take legal action -a circumvention of the legally binding timeline laid out in the Prop 39 law, which is the very law the charter themselves invoked.  On 2/17, after the demand letter was sent by RVC to the district, the charter had a special closed session board meeting, where the board voted unanimously to sue the district if they didn't get what they wanted by 2/21. 

On 2/21 RVSD replied to the charter’s demands, essentially saying that they would continue to follow the Prop 39 timeline and advised the charter to "temper its antagonism as litigation at this point is entirely premature."

On 2/23 the charter responded to the district, stating that they are well within their rights to sue because they believe RVSD is not providing enough classrooms to the charter. They closed this letter stating they would be sending their "formal" reply to RVSD's offer of six classrooms soon.

On 3/1, this time following the legally prescribed timeline, the charter sent its formal reply to the district demanding ten classrooms for their “projected” 144 in-district students.  Six classrooms for teaching stations and four classrooms for art, music, and specialized space. In the letter, they also requested the following: 

·      More allocated parking spaces, despite a lack of available parking at White Hill.

·      Upgraded outdoor lighting – None of the RVSD elementary schools have what would be deemed “upgraded lighting”. 

·      Better/mended fencing.

·      Shared use of the White Hill picnic tables, in addition to the picnic tables designated solely for the charter.  Will White Hill students, likewise, get to use the RVC tables and space?

·      And, more...

Recently a charter supporter (and former MAP board member) claimed in a social media post that RVC does not have to use the classrooms the way they are allocated.  Meaning, they can demand classrooms for art and music and use them instead as homerooms, likely to accommodate more out of district students. This despite the fact that Prop 39 law clearly states that district facilities allocated to the charter through Prop 39 are for IN-DISTRICT children only.

None of these actions – (illegally?) inflating enrollment projections in order to secure more space; demanding RVSD revise their offer, under threat of legal action and outside of the Prop 39 prescribed timeline; demanding classrooms for art and music for in-district students but then using the rooms to house out-of-district students - lead to a peaceful co-existence with RVSD. Nor is RVC being a good neighbor to their neighbor's children or to the teachers at White Hill, as they claim they wish to be.

If, in its negotiations, the district does offer more classrooms than the preliminary offer of six, will the charter still sue RVSD to get more classroom space for out-of-district students? Can the community trust that the charter will only ask for what it really needs to serve its in-district students, as the law prescribes?  Taking much-needed district classrooms and filling them with out-of-district kids is morally wrong and not the intention of Prop 39.  We join other voices in our community and ask RVC to do the right thing - take only what is needed for your in-district students.

RVSD Encourages RVC to 'temper its overreach"

Thank you to the RVSD Board, Superintendent and Staff for the highly-detailed response sent out yesterday in response to RVC's request for facilities under Prop 39 for the 2018-19 school year. In it, the District spells out its "objections and concerns with RVC's data, assumptions, methodology, supporting documentation and related issues which render RVC's projections for in-district ADA for the 2018-19 school year unreasonable..."

Some salient points: 

·      The prop 39 charter vastly overstated its projected enrollment for 2017-18 school year. As we have seen, the charter estimated 215 total students, 189 in-district - but now claim only 105 in-district

·      The prop 39 charter's documentation does not support its projected enrollment growth estimates for the 2018-19 school year. The charter estimates a total of 172 students, 144 in-district. The District estimates just 97 in-district students. 

·      The prop 39 charter's Intent to Enroll (ITE) forms are not an accurate estimation of actual enrollment since "the data from the past school year demonstrates that only a fraction of the students... will actually attend the charter school as represented."

·      The prop 39 charter failed to support its in-district average daily attendance (ADA) by the Nov. 1 2017 deadline.

Please take the time to read the entire letter here. We appreciate the Board's diligence, thoroughness and the amount of time that went into this and are thankful for your strong leadership and commitment to all the children and teachers of the Ross Valley School District. 

 

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.

 

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!