PLEASANT HILL -- With a few caveats, the Contra Costa County Board of Education on Wednesday unanimously approved a charter school petition that the West Contra Costa school board rejected unanimously in May.
The Caliber K-8 charter school, to be located in Richmond, "presents a sound educational program, the budget is balanced and the financial and operational plan is realistic," according to the county Office of Education staff report.
The assessment differed from that of West Contra Costa's staff that questioned whether Caliber had lined up dependable financing. The district also cited deficiencies in special education, learning disabilities, ESL and speech therapy programs and other concerns as reasons for rejecting the petition.
But the county school board approved the petition for a five-year term, providing five conditions are met by May 1 for a fall 2014 opening.
The conditions are outlined in a memorandum of understanding approved by the board that requires Caliber to adjust its budget to correct overly optimistic enrollment assumptions and to reflect gains and losses in revenue from projections in the petition.
It also requires the charter to locate a school facility, submit plans for special education and English learner instruction, and submit a curriculum outline for each of the five grades in its initial class.
"They met all the legal requirements and have a strong leadership team," said Jane Shamieh, the county staff member in charge of the review.
Board member Pamela Mirabella called Caliber's petition "innovative and thoughtful" and expressed frustration that West Contra Costa had refused to reconsider its decision.
"At some point we're going to get overwhelmed (with charters)," Mirabella said. "This should be under the WCCUSD."
Board Vice President Ellen Elster agreed.
"This should be a WCCUSD charter," she said.
One charter school in West Contra Costa -- Making Waves Academy -- is currently sponsored by the county Office of Education.
In other business, the board accepted a $50,000 grant from San Pablo for a project to identify students at Helms Middle School in the city who are at risk for dropping out and teach them about career opportunities that might be available if they stay in school.
In addition, a plan initiated by board clerk Daniel Gomes to sponsor an advisory vote on the November 2014 ballot aimed at allowing the board of education to appoint the county superintendent of schools was dropped without a vote after the four other members voiced serious concerns. The county superintendent is currently an elected official.
Board member Cynthia Ruehlig said that only five of the state's 58 counties allow their county school boards to appoint superintendents.
"Changing to appointing would politicize our positions," Ruehlig said. "Unions and charter schools would be trying to get three board members elected (for a majority)."