RICHMOND -- Encouraged by a vocal group of teachers and residents, West Contra Costa school district trustees Monday night denied the charter school petition of a Silicon Valley-based nonprofit that wants to open a middle and high school in El Cerrito.
Although district staff had recommended acceptance of the petition if three caveats were met, board members turned it down on several other grounds, including that its proposed location would make it difficult for students in the primarily low-income Richmond flatlands to attend. Summit Public Schools plans to appeal the board's rejection to Contra Costa County education officials.
Summit is in negotiations to place the school, which would be called SPS:K2, in the former Windrush School facility in the El Cerrito foothills east of San Pablo Avenue.
Most of the spots at the charter would be filled by a lottery, which assures that past scholastic performance or other such discriminating factors can't be used as criteria.
But students in low-income neighborhoods won't apply if they have no way of getting to the school or don't hear about the opportunity in the first place, said trustee Charles Ramsey in making the motion to deny the petition that he and his colleagues passed by a 4-1 vote.
"There's inadequate information about transportation in the petition, and there has been inadequate outreach to the community," Ramsey said.
Board President Madeline Kronenberg said Summit would likely pull higher-achieving students from Kennedy High School in Richmond, which has been working to improve test scores and reduce suspensions and truancy.
"Summit wants 100 percent engaged parents, so they will be siphoning those kinds of parents from other schools," Kronenberg said.
Trustee Todd Groves was the lone vote to approve the petition, but he said he was voting yes only because he is certain Summit's petition will be approved later, either by the Contra Costa County Office of Education or the state Department of Education.
Groves predicted dramatic drops in enrollment at Portola Middle School in El Cerrito and El Cerrito High School, which are close to the charter's proposed site, when SPS:K2 gets up and running.
The district is building a new Portola campus while trying to reduce the loss of students from Kensington and the El Cerrito hillside areas to private schools and public schools in neighboring communities.
"Efforts (by Portola boosters) will be undermined by this petition," Groves said.
Although the majority of about 25 speakers at the meeting opposed the charter, some supported it, including one West Contra Costa teacher who participated in a Summit-sponsored, curriculum-development workshop this summer.
"I worked with teachers of the highest caliber who are re-imagining the possibilities of education," said Tyler Sussman, a sixth-grade teacher at Bayview Elementary School in Richmond. "I can't imagine a better opportunity to reach new academic levels."
Summit will file a charter petition immediately with the county Office of Education, which will have 60 days to review it, said Diego Arambula, the charter operator's chief growth officer.
If the petition is approved at the county or state level, Summit will begin operations in the fall of 2014 with its first class of 120 seventh-graders, Arambula said.
Summit plans to recruit new seventh-grade classes for the next five years after that until reaching peak enrollment of 677 middle and high school students in 2020-21, according to the petition.
Summit has schools in San Jose, Redwood City, Daly City and Sunnyvale.