PLEASANT HILL -- Supporters and opponents of a proposed charter school in El Cerrito argued their cases passionately Wednesday evening before the Contra Costa County school board, which is considering the charter's petition after the West Contra Costa school district denied it.

Backers of Redwood City-based Summit Public Schools' charter plan somewhat outnumbered those who supported the district's decision.

At their Aug. 12 meeting, West Contra Costa trustees voted 4-1 to deny Summit's petition, saying the nonprofit did not have a plan to recruit students from low-income neighborhoods, nor did it have a transportation plan for students from flatland neighborhoods to reach the proposed campus site at the base of the El Cerrito hills.

Charters are required by law to pick students through a lottery. However, limited outreach and no plan to bring students to the school could restrict participation in a lottery, said Linda Delgado, the district's coordinator of educational services.

That could limit Summit's ability to meet a state requirement that charters reflect the ethnic makeup of the school districts where they are located, she added.

Opponents at the county board meeting echoed those arguments and advanced others, including the idea that the charter would "cherry-pick" students, stripping Portola Middle School in El Cerrito and El Cerrito High School of some of their best students and most supportive parents.


Advertisement

"Enrollment declines will negatively affect students in these schools," El Cerrito resident Joanna Pace said. "Enrollment will go down by 50 students in each grade, limiting their range of (educational and enrichment) offerings."

Other opponents complained that the proposed campus site, the former Windrush School, at 1800 Elm St., is too small to accommodate a proposed enrollment of 700 seventh- through 12th-graders when the school reaches full capacity in six years.

Diego Arambula, Summit's chief growth officer, said the nonprofit may seek a larger site in the future even if it begins operations at the Windrush facility.

Summit brought a contingent of supporters, including a group of parents and students who said they were from Richmond College Prep, a charter primary school in Richmond's low-income Iron Triangle neighborhood.

Several parents, some of whom spoke through a translator, said they were impressed with Summit's record at its other Bay Area campuses of having 96 percent of their graduates accepted to at least one four-year college.

Some also expressed unhappiness with the academic performance of West Contra Costa district schools in their neighborhoods.

"Alternative schools have a high level of learning," said Yolanda Lopez, a Richmond resident. "We don't mind if schools are far away if it is worth it when you get there."

Richmond resident Michael Wisely disputed the idea that Summit will be difficult to reach by public transportation.

"(The campus) is a block and a half from a BART station, which is serviced by major bus lines, and students would only have to cross one street," Wisely said.

Summit operates six schools: two in San Jose, two in Redwood City, and one each in Sunnyvale and Daly City. Its original campus in Redwood City was ranked 82nd in the nation and 11th in California in a survey of public schools by U.S. News and World Report.

Summit's interest in a West County campus has attracted the attention of other West Contra Costa government bodies.

On Tuesday, the Richmond City Council backed the school district by recommending that the county board turn down the charter's petition. At the same time, the El Cerrito council was presented with what backers said were 250 letters from West Contra Costa residents supporting the school.

"We support having more public education options, and a great, innovative educational approach," said El Cerrito resident Virginia Duplessis, one of the organizers of the letter-writing campaign.

The five-member county school board will consider a staff report and have an opportunity to vote on the charter petition at its Nov. 13 meeting.