As opponents of Clayton Valley High School's charter petition took turns at the microphone at Tuesday's Mt. Diablo school board meeting -- students, parents, teachers and administrators from other district schools all piped up -- the words varied, but the message was unmistakable:

If we have to be stuck with this school district, so do you.

Their sentiments said far less about educational vision than me-first fears of budget cuts that might befall them to support Clayton Valley's dream.

You need look no further than Superintendent Steven Lawrence to find the origin of this concern. In his Oct. 7 online newsletter, he wrote at length about the added costs to the district of funding a charter school over ones that remained in the district.

Perhaps this was only for entertainment value, because by state law these costs are not to be considered in a decision. Once they were shared with the public, though, they were like toothpaste out of the tube. They created quite a sticky mess.

So a meeting that should have focused on the merits Clayton Valley's charter plan devolved into a divisive hissing contest between us and them. The more than 400 people crammed into Monte Gardens Elementary School auditorium couldn't have been more rabidly divided if they were cheering two opposing football teams.


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An Ygnacio Valley student implored the board to "prevent Clayton Valley from becoming a charter school" because of the "unequal playing field" it would create. ("Prevent" was an interesting choice of words for a meeting presumably dedicated to advancing education.) He carried a petition signed by 742 students who joined him in dissing the charter.

A Mt. Diablo High English teacher charged the charter "ignores the needs of all the students across the district." Signs waved and cheers went up from the opponents' rooting area.

Northgate Principal John McMorris argued that the charter "will destroy the district. It will split it apart."

Frankly, it was a little late to worry about that.

If the goal was to make this process as contentious as possible, the school district scored higher than it ever has in Academic Performance Index. This set school against school, student against student, community against community.

It figured that the board's decision would come in a divided vote -- the charter was denied, four votes to one. Supposedly there was concern over financial projections unearthed the same day, but after the myriad hurdles previously placed in the charter path, a cynic might find the last-minute bookkeeping a bit convenient.

Cheryl Hansen, a charter supporter who was appalled that communities had been pitted against each other, addressed the bigger issue: "I think it has been shameful the way this has divided the community -- some of the tactics that have been employed to stop and obstruct discussion around this issue."

Lawrence seemed less concerned that factions were butting heads.

"You have everybody looking at their groups of kids and what's best for them," he said. "It's going to come down to how you're looking at the problem."

Board President Gary Eberhart saw two sides to the friction: "On one hand, it concerns me. On the other, it's exciting for people to come out and speak passionately about education."

Passion was part of it. So was anger. And envy.

Tuesday's meeting was to decide whether the little bird was prepared to leave the nest. The only thing the rest of the flock cared about was being left behind when it moved to a nicer tree.

Contact Tom Barnidge at tbarnidge@bayareanewsgroup.com.

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