RICHMOND -- West Contra Costa school district trustees Wednesday evening denied a petition for sponsorship from the backers of Caliber Schools for a K-8 charter school.

The district staff's evaluation of Caliber's petition cited a general lack of specificity in the school's operating plan, including concerns about whether backers had lined up enough dependable financing, deficiencies in special education, learning disabilities, English as a Second Language and speech therapy programs, and other issues.

Caliber aims to draw students principally from Richmond, El Cerrito and San Pablo.

Linda Delgado, a coordinator of educational services for the district, told the board the petition did not include credible plans for dealing with special needs students.

"We didn't see a strong foundation for special ed, and there's no budget for a psychologist or a speech therapist," Delgado said. "A psychologist is needed for testing for learning disabilities."

Board member Todd Groves told organizers he is sympathetic with Caliber's general aims but that they "still have some work to do."

"I hope to continue the dialogue," Groves said.

The other four school board members also voted to turn down the petition, although only board clerk Charles Ramsey joined Groves in encouraging Caliber to come back with a better plan.

"Work on it some more and put something together that supports everyone," Ramsey said.

Caliber backers have the option of petitioning the Contra Costa Office of Education for sponsorship, which Caliber CEO Allison Akhnoukh said they will do. If they fail there, they can try again with the state Department of Education.

Akhnoukh said the school obtained 350 signatures from community members, and several dozen parents and children were present Wednesday evening to express their support.

Akhnoukh said her group has "a strong record of success" with charters and described Caliber's intention to create "a personalized learning plan" for each student.

Caliber instructional lead Jon Skolnick said the school's intention is to teach students to become "self-directed learners," allowing them to decide independently where they need help the most.

"It doesn't make sense to have a rigid school model," Skolnick said.

West Contra Costa has five charter schools, four of which are sponsored by the district. Another, Making Waves Academy, is sponsored by the county Office of Education.

Altogether, there are 11 charter schools in Contra Costa County, two of which are sponsored by the county, one by the state and the rest by school districts.

The West Contra Costa board denied a petition for a five-year charter extension for West County Community High School in Richmond last year over concerns about academic performance.

However, another Richmond charter high school, Leadership Public Schools, has been making a name for itself. More than 100 applicants out of about 270 were turned away in an admissions lottery for next fall's freshman class earlier this year.

West Contra Costa is building a new home for Leadership, now housed in a former elementary school, that it will share with a district continuation high school.

Akhnoukh said Caliber would prepare students to attend a charter high school, such as Leadership.

"We see the urgency for more great public schools in Contra Costa," she said. "Our plan is to create a school just like (Leadership) with a strong college preparatory orientation."