SACRAMENTO -- The state Board of Education has denied a request by the Mt. Diablo Unified School District to waive $1.7 million in costs the district must pay to Clayton Valley Charter High.
Trustees agreed the law that requires the payment is unfair, but said they did not have Constitutional authority to require the state to pay the $1.7 million instead. They also worried that granting the waiver might prompt other districts to seek similar waivers, which could cost the state about $8.4 million.
The district sought the relief because charter high schools receive more per student than unified districts, under current law. This means the district must pay the charter about $979 more per student than it receives from the state.
The matter has caused strife in the community because the rest of the schools in the Mt. Diablo district will lose money, while the charter will get more than the school received before it converted. Walnut Creek Mayor Pro Tem Kish Rajan, whose children attend other district schools, said the inequity could heighten tensions among parents and students at neighboring schools.
"Should this continue, it would continue to be divisive and I think ultimately destructive and debilitating," he told the board. "The result, I think, would be disastrous for the community."
District Superintendent Steven Lawrence and two parents of students at other campuses said Clayton Valley has a smaller percentage of English learners and low-income students than many other schools. Deb Cooksey, an attorney for the district, said the disparity could lead to an equal protection lawsuit.
The Contra Costa County Board of Education approved the charter, after it was denied by the Mt. Diablo school board. But Jane Shamieh, controller for the county board, said county trustees were not legally allowed to consider the financial impact on the district.
"Nobody intended that approval of this petition would result in essentially taking money away from one group of students and giving it to another," she said. "However, that is the case."
Kipp Penovich, a teacher at the charter, said the state's funding formula should be changed so that unified districts receive funding based on how many elementary, middle and high school students they educate, with each level comparable to the charter rates. Then, he said, funding would follow the students and there would be no loss to the district.
Trustees mentioned AB 1811, pending legislation by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, that attempts to address the funding inequity. But that bill, if adopted, would not go into effect until 2013-14. It would also exclude high school charters that convert between Jan. 1, 2010, and Dec. 31, 2012, so it would not apply to Clayton Valley.
State Board President Michael Kirst said it is up to the Legislature to decide how to allocate funds. Chief Deputy Superintendent Richard Zeiger said the waiver caused the Department of Education a great deal of pain because he did not believe the board had the legal authority to grant it, but on a policy level, it would rectify an injustice.
The board voted to deny the waiver based on staff's determination that it could not appropriate the money. After the vote, Trish Williams, vice president of the state board, urged waiver supporters not to be at odds with the charter.
"Find a way to all work together for the kids in the district," she said. "It's a choice you can make in your district for how you want the kids in your community to feel."
More information about the Mt. Diablo school district's waiver request is available by visiting: http://www.cde.ca.gov/be. Click on item W-25 of the July 18-19 meeting agenda.
For additional details, read the On Assignment blog at www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment.