PLEASANT HILL -- Contra Costa County school trustees on Wednesday unanimously denied West County Community High's charter renewal petition, citing an unsound financial plan and also questioning the Richmond school's curriculum and academic performance.
"There's a need to have a process for better oversight," said trustee Pamela Mirabella before the 5-0 vote. "I feel really badly for the 123 students."
Wednesday's vote upheld the West Contra Costa school board's unanimous decision in June denying the charter for failing to adequately describe its plans for educating special education students and English language learners. In addition, its Academic Performance Index score -- based on standardized tests -- was lower than all West Contra Costa district schools except one, said Linda Jackson, administrator for the district.
Advocates for the school said it provided a small, safe community campus that supported students and led graduates to pursue postsecondary educations. But charter school board President Francis Spruit and attorney Lisa Corr acknowledged that the school's budget and other paperwork were not as polished as they should have been.
"The primary challenge since I arrived six months ago was for record-keeping for the school, and that is something that needs to be addressed right away," Spruit told the board. "We specifically appointed a new executive director."
Corr elaborated on the school's leadership transition.
"They reference a $75,000 reserve," she said. "But there's no documentation to support that."
Trustee Ellen Elster said she shared Shamieh's concerns.
"I feel that it's irresponsible as a board member to have students going to a school without a curriculum that can be shown and is just about to go under financially," she said. "If it did after the start of school -- which it sounds like it will -- then what?"
Corr said the school has a sound curriculum but that information about it wasn't included with the petition because district officials could visit the school for themselves. Jackson, on the other hand, said she was only allowed to visit two classrooms when she toured the school as part of its accreditation review, which it passed.
Spruit admitted the school did not have $75,000 in reserve. Instead, he said it had about $34,000 but added that the school has arranged to obtain a $200,000 loan.
"I'm asking for trust here," he said.
Bill Clark, the county office of education's chief business officer, said the charter's balance sheet was so weak that the school might not qualify for a loan. He said the county could assume financial risk if it approved the charter.
"I found that you may have a negative equity," he told Spruit. "In other words, the charter (could be) bankrupt."
Board President Cynthia Ruhling urged the charter and the district to send letters informing students they can apply to attend other district schools. They can request to attend campuses other than Kennedy and Richmond high schools, she added, because they failed to meet federal requirements.
More information about the West County Community High School Charter renewal is available by calling 925-942-3380, or by visiting www.cccoe.k12.ca.us. Click on School Board.
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