What are charter schools? Why aren’t they the same as other public schools?

A public school is one that is both publicly funded and publicly managed by locally-elected officials. By this measure, most charters - including RVCharter - cannot be regarded as truly public.

Charter schools are publicly funded. Tax dollars are pulled out of the local school district, thus weakening existing schools. However, charter schools are also often privately run: They are not required to have local, publicly elected oversight. RVCharter is managed by a self-appointed board. Two board members don’t even live in California. One member (Kristi Kimball) is also on the board of The California Charter Schools Association, a lobbying group.

Originally created to encourage experimentation, especially in failing districts, charters do not need to follow proven curriculum, nor can they guarantee academic results.

Charters favor the benefit of the few over the many. They provide what’s best for “my” student, while excellent public school districts like the RVSD strive to provide an ideal learning environment for all students.

Until charter schools are governed by local, democratically elected leaders and follow the same rules regarding transparency and equity as public schools, we do not regard charter schools as truly public.

How did the RVCharter get permission to take our local resources? I don’t remember seeing the Ross Valley Charter on a ballot, and it seems most of the community is not in favor of this charter.

There has never been a popular vote to determine whether Fairfax and San Anselmo supports the establishment of the RVCharter. In fact, our local, democratically-elected Ross Valley School Board rejected the petition for the charter - twice - as did the Marin County Board of Education.

Rather than respect the decision of our locally-elected officials, RVCharter went to the California State Board of Education for support in forcing their school on our towns. Note: the CA BoE members are not elected by California taxpayers. The BoE members are appointed by the governor.

The California laws that enabled this local override were written by special interest lobbyists and state politicians. No local vote was required. The best way you can “vote” is by enrolling in your neighborhood District school: Brookside, Hidden Valley, Manor or Wade Thomas.

I’ve heard a lot from the charter supporters about their desire to locate at the Red Hill School site. Why won’t that work?

Prior to filing the Prop 39 request, the RVCharter specifically requested the Red Hill site. RVSD conducted two separate processes to lease Red Hill and attempted, in both instances, to negotiate the use of the facility by the Charter. In June 2016, RVCharter declined the Board’s final offer to lease the facility: The Charter wanted the RVSD to assume all liability for an out-of-code facility.

Since RV Charter submitted the Proposition 39 request at the November 2016 RVSD Board Meeting, our district is now required by law to provide facilities that are reasonably equivalent to other classrooms, buildings or facilities in the district.

In its current state, the Red Hill site does not meet the equivalency requirement imposed by Proposition 39. The expenses to bring the site to the level of our other campuses are in the millions of dollars. Our small district is unable to absorb these costs.

Under Proposition 39, the charter can give the RVSD Board permission to temporarily waive the “comparable space” requirement. In this case, any district facility, in any condition, could be rented to the Charter. However, Prop 39 requests are submitted annually: RVCharter could revoke the waiver in any subsequent year, which leaves our district with long-term liability.

Why am I hearing different facts and figures from the two sides? It is confusing and hard to know what to believe.

We trust the Ross Valley School District because it is governed by our local, elected RVSD Board Members. Our Board Members are charged with fiduciary responsibility to the voters for educating each child within its boundaries.

On the other hand, the RVCharter is a self-appointed, self-governed group with no accountability, supported by lobbying groups, with a projected student body of approximately 5% of the families in our district.

What is the impact of the RVCharter on RVSD Revenue?

RVC will have a large, negative financial impact on our five district schools. The overall revenue loss is estimated to be over $1 million, resulting in a net loss of over $500,000 after offsetting teacher reductions. Additional savings are minimal as most other expenses are fixed and will now be shared across fewer students.

This is an especially hard blow to RVSD since we are a small, budget-constrained district. We cannot absorb this loss without substantial losses to our students and teachers.

To absorb this revenue loss, RVSD will almost certainly have to let go of additional teachers. The district will cut other expenses or postpone projects that are dear to our community, such as shade structures for students at all campus, the rollout of Expeditionary Learning program beyond Manor, the development of a garden curriculum across all schools.

Note: This impact is calculated on 152 students. RVCharter forecasted 189 in-district students in their November 2016 Prop 39 request, with 37 coming from private, parochial, and home schools. The remaining 152 are current RVSD students or incoming kindergarteners who would otherwise have attended their local district elementary school.

Why is the net impact to the district so high?
I thought each child’s state funding would follow them from RVSD to RVCharter along with the associated costs of their education.

It is true that funding of almost $8,000 follows each child from RVSD to RVCharter. About half of these lost dollars are offset by a reduction in teacher salaries and benefits. However, each child’s funds also help cover substantial fixed costs such as principals, PE teachers, librarians, janitorial staff, school nurses, counselors, special education teachers, district office employees as well as facilities maintenance, computers, IT support, equipment, insurance, etc. These fixed costs must now be spread among a smaller group of students.

What is the likelihood of the proposed RVCharter being financially viable?

Our locally-governed RVSD Board, and the locally-elected Marin County Board of Education reviewed the RVC petition on a total of 3 separate occasions. Both found that the RVCharter has precarious finances and a poorly planned budget.

The Marin County Board assessed the RVCharter’s budget using loose financial models. Even so, Marin County found the financial projections of the RVCharter to be weak. Committing to send students to a financially unsound school may not be a smart decision for a district - or for parents.

How will the RVCharter impact our teachers?

Based on the budget impact of RVCharter, the District will be forced to let go of some of our beloved RVSD teachers. This is true even if the former MAP teachers do the right thing and resign before March 15th.

Our remaining teachers will likely be forced to teach larger classes, and the job description of all 6th grade teachers will be severely modified if RVC is located at White Hill. In preparation, the RVSD Board has already been forced to set new policy around class size to address projected budgetary issues directly resulting from the opening of the charter. Also, current budget projections preclude any cost-of-living raises for our teachers.

When we choose District instead of charter, we pool resources to strengthen our financial health and work together to improve our teachers’ compensation. Happy teachers = happy kids = a healthy and successful community where all are valued.

What about the RVCharter teachers? How do they factor into this?

We respectfully ask the six self-declared RVCharter teachers (former MAP teachers), who are currently employed by the RVSD, to resign before the district is forced to hand out pink slips on March 15. This will give greater budget visibility to the RVSD and thus spare the jobs of dedicated RVSD teachers, who will otherwise be let go due to the seniority of the six RVC teachers, while we wait for those teachers to quit.

Why won’t the RVSD mediate with the RVCharter?

The RVSD has reason to be skeptical of mediation with the RVCharter.

The district engaged in mediation with the leadership of MAP (predecessor to RVCharter) in 2005, and again in May and June 2014, at which time the MAP leaders (despite requests to continue the facilitated meetings provided by the Marin County Board of Education) stalled the mediation process through the fall and applied for charter status.

In early 2016, RVSD leadership sat down to work with the RVCharter leadership regarding the rental of Red Hill. (See above or on our website for more information.)

In late 2016, without any attempt to communicate with the district, the RVCharter led a temporary restraining order against RVSD to halt communication with district students. The judge denied the charter’s request.

Why does the district recommend White Hill as the location for RVCharter?

RVSD is currently recommending housing RVCharter in the current White Hill 6th grade building. In this scenario, White Hill would probably become a 7th/8th grade middle school, and the 6th grade program would move to our 4 district elementary schools.

Unfortunately, there is no location for RVCharter that does not cause significant disruption and loss to our community. We are a small district with limited resources and limited real estate.

What is the impact of locating RVCharter at White Hill?

While White Hill is the least disruptive location for RVCharter, it still carries a large cost to our children. This location negatively impacts our 6th graders, our TK-5 students, and RVCharter students.

The 6th grade program at White Hill is well designed to provide an ideal transition to middle school. The teachers work collaboratively to create a program that cannot be replicated at our elementary schools. Bringing all of our 6th graders together at White Hill creates the scale to provide amazing “period zero” electives (orchestra, band, chorus, inventor’s lab, and art), lunchtime and after school clubs (cooking, children for change, trivia, coding, tech, knitting, drawing, French, mathletes, mountain biking, book club, strategic games, and more). Sixth graders also have dedicated sports teams including cross-country, volleyball, and basketball. Students rotate through the “21st Century Skills” program in which each teacher leads curriculum on subjects such as engineering, digital art, technology, theater, and more.

There is simply no way to replicate this integrated, multi-faceted program for a smaller subsets of students on 4 different elementary campuses. Current district families of fifth graders are experiencing heartbreak at this loss.

Transitioning our elementary schools to TK-6 programs would create crowding on campuses that are already at or near capacity, particularly at Wade Thomas and Hidden Valley. These schools will likely have to give up their dedicated art and music classrooms to create room for these new 6th grade classrooms.

What differentiates the RVCharter from the public schools in the Ross Valley?

The primary benefit of the RVCharter, say supporters, is the multi-age curriculum, in which students have the same teacher from two years, and go from being the mentee to the mentor.

However passionately the RVC ideologues insist otherwise, there is no objective evidence that children in a multi-age setting do better than children in a conventional setting. The Rand Center in LA published a large study regarding achievement of students in multi-age classrooms in LAUSD. Similar to findings of other researchers, they found that children in multi-age classrooms did no better than children in conventional classrooms and that there was a trend (though very small) towards worse academic performance.

I am happy at my school, but I respect my neighbor’s right to choose. How do I reconcile each of our interests?

We respect a parent’s right to choose what is right for their child, provided it doesn’t detract from the opportunities of other students. We don’t want our kids, or our tax dollars, to pay for a “choice” that is detrimental to so many and of little to no proven benefit for so few.

Our community benefits from a diverse array of public schools that cater to different learning preferences. For a balance of proven traditional and progressive, common core-inspired curriculum, consider Brookside, Hidden Valley or Wade Thomas. For project-based learning, check out Manor’s integrated Expeditionary Learning curriculum for K-5 students. For multi-aged classrooms, apply for an inter-district transfer to the public Lagunitas Montessori School.