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ACCS Meeting Notes for August 18, 2010

Meeting notes taken at the ACCS meeting on August 18, 2010.

Advisory Commission on Charter Schools
An Advisory Body to the State Board of Education

FINAL NOTES

California Department of Education
1430 N Street, Room 1101
Sacramento, CA 95814-5901

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

COMMISSION MEMBERS

Brian Bauer, Chair
Dr. Vicki Barber
Dr. Paul Cartas
Gary Davis
Beth Hunkapiller*
Mark Kushner
Jorge Lopez (Absent)
Corri Ravare
Curtis L. Washington


*Beth Hunkapiller is the State Superintendent of Public Instruction’s designee.

Principal Staff to the Advisory Commission

Bonnie Galloway, Consultant, CDE Charter Schools Division
Celina Torres, Consultant, CDE Charter Schools Division
Carolyn Zachry, Consultant, CDE Charter Schools Division
Michelle Ruskofsky, Education Administrator, CDE Charter Schools Division

Call to Order

Chair Bauer called the meeting to order at 10:06 a.m.

Flag Salute

Mr. Washington led the members, staff, and audience in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Approval of Meeting Notes

Chair Bauer called for a motion to approve the meeting notes from June 16, 2010.

Review/Reordering of the Meeting Agenda

Chair Bauer announced that the agenda order would be changed. Item 3 would be heard first, followed by Item 1, and Item 2 would be heard last.

PUBLIC COMMENT

Chair Bauer called for public comment related to non-agenda items. Hearing none, he called for Item 1 to be presented.

AGENDA ITEMS

Item 1: California Department of Education Update – To Include, but not be Limited to, the Public Charter Schools Grant Program.

Ms. Hunkapiller presented on this item. The CDE projects that California charters will increase by 610 over the next five years, bringing the total number of charters in California to over 1,400. California received over $50 million in grant funds for the fiscal year 2010-2011. This amount is three times greater than that received by any other state.

Although the Charter Schools Division (CSD) is pleased that California will receive another cycle of grant funding, they have not yet received word on the status of several waivers that were submitted in the application for federal funding. Because of this, the CSD is not yet able to post the Request For Applications for these funds for public viewing.

The waivers in California’s federal grant application address a number of issues, including: the length of the grant; the use of funds in the first operational year of the school for personnel costs; the allowance of more statewide benefit charters; and the conditions of the Dissemination grant.

New regulations for revocation and renewal processes will be considered at the September SBE meeting. These new regulations provide a deeper look at school performance, and allow for the examination of renewed schools that are low performing. Other components of the proposed regulations include a timeline for due process.

An additional package regarding non-renewal, and whether districts act on renewals, is scheduled for the November SBE meeting.

Chair Bauer requested clarification on the revocation packages, and whether the new regulations will allow for a subsequent review of a renewed school, to examine whether or not it should have been authorized. Ms. Hunkapiller clarified that the SBE will review schools that score in decile 1 on statewide and similar schools ranking. The review will include up to 3 years of performance records. The SBE will look for, in particular, consistent growth, as opposed to an up-and-down performance record. Should it be found that schools have not met their performance targets, the SBE will have the authority to “reach over” the authorizer’s renewal.

Mr. Kushner requested that the statistical data presented in Ms. Hunkapiller’s report be made available for review. Ms. Hunkapiller requested that Ms. Ruskofsky make a note of this.

Dr. Barber commended CDE staff for drafting the federal application to the Charter Schools Program grant, and congratulated staff on the receipt of $52 million in grant funds. Ms. Hunkapiller expressed agreement with Dr. Barber’s comments, and in particular thanked Ms. Ruskofsky and Ms. Lupita Cortez Alcala for their work on the application.

Chair Bauer thanked Ms. Hunkapiller for her presentation and called for the next item to be presented.

Item 3: Petition for Establishment of a Charter School Under the Oversight of the State Board of Education: Consideration of the Mission Preparatory School Petition, Which Was Denied by the San Francisco Unified School District.

Ms. Zachry presented this item. Mission Preparatory School (MPS) was denied by the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) on May 11, 2010. Because SFUSD also functions as a county office of education, the appeal was submitted directly to the CDE on May 14.

MPS will open in Fall 2011. The school proposes to serve 540, K-8 students. The school boasts a college preparatory curriculum, a focus on literacy, an extended school day and school year, and intensive professional development for staff.

CDE analysis of the charter petition found the following: the petitioners are demonstrably likely to execute the program described in the charter petition; the petition includes the required signatures for a start-up school; the petition adequately addresses the sixteen elements. The CDE recommends approval of the MPS charter petition.

Chair Bauer called for questions from commissioners.

Mr. Washington requested a summary of SFUSD’s reasons for denial. Ms. Zachry cited multiple reasons, including: the lack of parent signatures of support, although CDE staff noted that the school met the requirement under Education Code by having the required number of teacher signatures; the district questioned the petitioners’ ability to achieve racial and ethnic balance; and the district questioned the petitioners’ ability to execute a successful English-language (EL) learners program.

Chair Bauer called for the petitioners to present. He reminded the audience that presenters have 10 minutes to speak, and an additional 5 minutes to answer questions from the ACCS commissioners.

Jane Henzerling, the lead petitioner for MPS, presented. MPS will serve K-8 students and will maintain high expectations for both teachers and students. The founding team of MPS is comprised of talented individuals whose goal is overcoming predictive demographics; if granted a charter, the founding team will transition into the governing board. The MPS petition follows a model of high-achieving urban charter schools on a national scale.

MPS will develop a strong English Learner (EL) program to meet the needs of the district, as well as establishing a third grade reading proficiency goal of 75%, compared to the district average of 50%. The school’s primary focus is literacy and math, and the school will have an extended day and extended year. The petition incorporates intense professional development. MPS will utilize a number of self-assessment systems to track its academic outcomes.

The petitioners have developed a five-year budget based on extremely conservative estimates. The petitioners will work towards establishing a secure financial base, including the pursuit of grants.

Chair Bauer complimented Ms. Henzerling for being succinct, clear, and under the 10 minute time limit. He called for questions from commissioners.

Mr. Washington noted that teaching staff would be central to the MPS program. He explained that due process would be crucial to retaining teachers, and inquired as to whether or not MPS provided some form of due process. Ms. Henzerling replied that the school expects to have a clear process for supporting and developing their teaching staff.

Dr. Barber recalled SFUSD’s concerns. She inquired about the petitioner’s salary projections, taking into consideration the extended day/year, and how this might affect retention. Ms. Henzerling replied that the petitioners had researched comparable schools with extended day programs, and developed their salary figures based on competitive rates from other schools. Mr. Kushner added that the salary figures provided were competitive, especially for teachers in SFUSD.

Dr. Barber expressed that, regarding the school’s ability to hire and retain teaching staff, she was not concerned for the short-term, taking into consideration the current conditions. However, as these conditions will not last forever, Dr. Barber inquired again about the school’s ability to retain staff. Ms. Henzerling indicated that, following five years of employment at MPS, staff members would receive a 2% COLA, thereby contributing to teacher retention. Dr. Barber indicated that the petitioners should clarify language relating to a COLA.

Dr. Barber inquired about the budgeted costs for school supplies and food costs, and added that she was drawing her numbers from data presented by SFUSD. Ms. Henzerling responded that the budget figures were developed based on similar schools in the state, with the costs raised.

Dr. Barber noted the excess SELPA fee of $500 per pupil. Ms. Henzerling clarified that the $500 per-pupil fee is the encroachment fee to participate in SFUSD’s SELPA. Dr. Barber inquired as to whether or not the school would be participating in SFUSD’s SELPA. Ms. Henzerling indicated that the school would be looking into other options. Mr. Kushner added that the seemingly high SELPA fee is normal for SFUSD.

Chair Bauer called for a representative from SFUSD to present.

Mary Richards, Executive Director for Charter Schools under SFUSD, presented. Ms. Richards explained that she facilitates the review process for new and renewal charters in cooperation with 16 other staff members, who come from other fiscal and education departments.

Ms. Richards stated that SFUSD had concerns about MPS’ proposed enrollment of 150, which did not reconcile with the number of parent signatures the school provided. SFUSD did not feel that there was strong community support for the MPS charter. Regarding the district’s diversity, SFUSD did not feel that the MPS petition provided significant outreach, in particular to the Asian-American communities. The district felt that the MPS petition provided for an EL program that resembled an after-school program, and that this was not sufficient to meet the needs of the district. Ms. Richards pointed out that, per the MPS charter, the Academic Dean would provide professional development to staff, but that this position would not be filled until the school’s third year of operation. She also noted that the extended day program was more appropriate for middle and high school grades, and not K-5.

Chair Bauer called for questions from commissioners.

Dr. Cartas noted that the itemized findings provided by SFUSD was more voluminous than a data matrix that was used to provide an initial examination of the charter petition; the matrix in question only identified three areas of concern. He asked Ms. Richards to explain this disparity. Ms. Richards indicated that the matrix is a set of minimal criteria that the charter must meet, and is primarily meant to guide the staff reviewer’s examination of the petition. The matrix is provided to the petitioner during the review process, and the district allows for adjustments to the matrix.

Dr. Cartas requested clarification on the district’s concerns with the EL program posited by the petitioners. He inquired, in a district with 70% EL students, why would the district turn down a program that provided for an innovative EL program? Ms. Richards explained that the district has no objections to an innovative EL program. However, the district felt that the petitioner was not specific in defining their EL program to ensure a quality EL program that was not limited to teaching standard or academic English language. 

Ms. Hunkapiller requested a confirmation that the district, in its review of the MPS petition, did not find clearly defined professional development. Ms. Richards confirmed this, and noted that the head of the school was the primary source of professional development. She elaborated that a lack of professional development could negatively influence the school’s teacher retention rates.

Dr. Barber questioned how SFUSD determined that the MPS petition did not meet the statutory threshold for approval. She expressed that the district’s findings did not rise to a level that indicated that the MPS education program was unsound. Ms. Richards responded by saying that the minimum threshold may not be sufficient. She added that the district did not feel there was strong community support for the school, and therefore the educational program could not be successfully executed.

Mr. Washington asked if there was anything that MPS could bring to the district to satisfy the district’s concerns, such that SFUSD would be willing to approve the MPS petition and it would not have to come before the ACCS. Ms. Richards replied that the door is always open.

Chair Bauer asked for a confirmation on the number of charters recently approved by SFUSD. Ms. Richards indicated that there are 13 charters in the district, and that the SFUSD board has not denied a charter in 2 years.

Mr. Kushner added that he appreciated the SFUSD office’s support of charter schools, and recognized that the office may not always agree with the board. Ms. Hunkapiller expressed agreement with Mr. Kushner.

Chair Bauer called for public comments. He reminded the floor that each speaker has 2 minutes to present.

Maria Elena Guadamuz spoke, and expressed support for the MPS charter. She explained that she was a teaching assistant for migrant students, and that underserved students are now competing with other students on a global scale. She believed that MPS would be a vital solution. 

Alfredo Najera III expressed support for MPS. He commented that the district’s representative offered no solid reason for denying MPS, and indicated that there was a lot of diverse public support for the school.

Mario Rubiano Yedidia spoke, and identified himself on the founding board of MPS. He read a letter from Leslie Garner of Teach for America. Ms. Garner’s letter offered support for the MPS charter, and also vouched for Ms. Henzerling’s credentials and ability to lead the school.

Jennifer Rosette, mother of a kindergarten student, expressed support for the MPS charter. She indicated that she would like her son to attend MPS over any other school in the Mission area.

Kirsten Bourne identified herself as a member of the founding board of MPS. She read a letter of support from business owners in the Mission area, which expressed support for the MPS charter.

Carlos Vasquez spoke, and identified himself as the son of a founding member on the MPS board. He read a letter from a member of the MPS board that requested approval of the MPS petition, and vouched for the dedication and efforts of the MPS staff.

David Noyola spoke, and indicated that the founding board of MPS is comprised of professionals with the expertise and commitment to accomplish what they set out to do. In particular, he vouched for Ms. Henzerling’s ability to lead the board, and find new and talented members to join their team.

Colin Miller of the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) indicated that the CCSA has worked with MPS, and believe that the petitioners are well-qualified and that the educational program is sound.

Ken Burt of the California Teacher’s Association (CTA) explained that the CTA’s stance is that elected democracy is the best form of democracy, and if the ACCS, which is appointed, was to approve the MPS petition, it would be subverting an elected board’s judgment. He expressed that the SFUSD board is most familiar with the residents of San Francisco, and would have the strongest notion of their support of the charter. He added that he believes in the sincerity of the petitioners, but does not believe they should be approved at this time.

Chair Bauer asked for comments from the commissioners.

Mr. Washington expressed that he would support the petitioners working out their differences with the district so that this issue would not come to the ACCS.

Dr. Barber agreed with Mr. Washington, but added that when charter appeals reach the ACCS, it is clear that the process at the local level was not amicable. Dr. Barber noted two primary concerns in the district’s findings, the first being that it was not demonstrably likely that the charter could be implemented due to a lack of proposed enrollment. However, she thought it was significant that the school was able to provide signatures from 38 parents who expressed interest in enrolling their children in a school that does not plan to open until 2011-2012. Dr. Barber identified EL program specificity as the second issue of contention, and indicated that she felt there had been a great deal of detail in the petition related to this issue. She elaborated that, in comparison to the great number of petitions that come before the ACCS, the MPS charter is certainly not in the bottom decile.

Mr. Davis addressed the concern about community interest. He indicated that the school’s ability to enroll students will be hinted at by the quality of neighboring schools. Taking this into consideration, Mr. Davis feels that there is no concern.

Chair Bauer commented that he was impressed by the depth of information and research provided by the petitioner. He elaborated that he feels the petition is innovative, and incorporates taking tried and true practices and improving them. Chair Bauer called for a vote on Dr. Barber’s motion.

Chair Bauer called for a 2 minute break at 12:02 p.m.

The meeting resumed at 12:10 p.m.

Item 2: Update on Consideration of Requests from Nonclassroom-based Charter Schools for Mitigating Circumstances Flexibility Under the Senate Bill 740 Funding Determination Process.

Ms. Hunkapiller presented on this item. She noted the difficulty involved in posting this item because of a required legal review of its contents. In order to be consistent with the posted agenda that was made available to the public ten days in advance, Ms. Hunkapiller welcomed any discussion on the item, but advised that any action be postponed.

CDE staff reviewed the last ten years of waiver requests for independent study student—teacher ratios and requests for “mitigating circumstances”, and for each case, in what order the waiver request and mitigation request were submitted. Ms. Hunkapiller indicated that the term “mitigating circumstances” does not appear in Education Code.

She also noted that in 2006 and 2007, there were a total of 3 requests for current year mitigating circumstances. In 2008, a total of 6 requests; and in 2009, a total of 3. In the fiscal year 2009-2010, there have been 21 requests for current year retrospective mitigating circumstances, primarily due to the budget crisis. Many of these were considered at the latest SBE meeting, which occurred July 2010. Ms Hunkapiller stated that Chair Bauer could explain why this item has subsequently appeared on the August 2010 ACCS meeting agenda.

The general waiver process has been historically sought under the SBE, and the SBE will not delegate its waiver authority. The ACCS may have exceeded its authority in raising independent study charter school class sizes with the SBE reviewing this action first.

Dr. Barber stated that she does not believe that the ACCS has exceeded its authority because it functions in an advisory capacity, and all actions were recommendations. The ACCS has developed guidelines for what qualifies as a “reasonable basis” to vary from the established standards. These guidelines were submitted to the SBE, but subsequent legal review had deemed them akin to “underground regulations”, and therefore could not be passed by the SBE. However, it was Dr. Barber’s understanding that charters who requested mitigating circumstances could still be considered on an individual basis. She noted that, in response to the budget crisis, schools are increasing their class sizes to survive. She urged that the field needs predictability and flexibility from the State.

Ms. Hunkapiller responded that the issue of flexibility is a great concern. According to law, there are no regulations that the SBE uses to waive pupil-teacher ratio. In every case, the SBE must make a finding about the interests of the students in particular, and this is cause for the individual review. The SBE has not delegated this authority to the ACCS. Beth explained, following CDE research into the matter, it was found that most pupil-teacher ratio waiver requests were approved or withdrawn, and only 3 were denied because “the educational needs of the students were not adequately addressed.” Regarding the most recent occurrence at the July 2010 SBE meeting, apparently the pupil-teacher ratio waiver requests were submitted through the ACCS and not the waiver office. Ms. Hunkapiller also noted that anomalies were generated because the waivers only last for two years, whereas the funding determinations last for four years.

Mr. Kushner expressed agreement with Dr. Barber. Mr. Kushner stated that he felt several SBE members were unfamiliar with the function of the ACCS, and that introducing ACCS members to the SBE might be helpful. He also expressed that technology has changed drastically since the establishment of the 25:1 pupil-teacher ratio, that the ratio is completely inappropriate and it does not take into consideration was is most effective for the students. He strongly expressed that testimony from the field could be instrumental to informing or possibly updating laws related to pupil-teacher ratio.

Mr. Kushner asked Ms. Hunkapiller what she would like in terms of a process for handling this item. Ms. Hunkapiller conveyed that she felt hamstringed in not posting the item on time, and as such, she was weary of making a recommendation. Ms. Hunkapiller also expressed concern about a requirement in Education Code that a request for mitigation be acted on within 120 days of submission of that request.

Chair Bauer thanked Ms. Hunkapiller and CDE staff for their work on this issue. He indicated that while the ACCS may not make a formal recommendation, they might consider offering a “communication” to the SBE on this item.

Dr. Barber indicated that she would like to have a broader discussion about this item for future ACCS agendas. She expressed that this issue affects more than just charter schools, and she felt that independent study is the future of public education, especially taking into consideration that technology today is vastly different. She stated that it didn’t make sense for charter schools to go to the SBE and then ACCS. Dr. Barber also expressed interest in having a discussion on the ongoing viability of SB 740. She stated that the original intent of SB 740 was to stop exorbitant financial gains for charter schools. However, she feels it has become too technical and questioned whether it is still applicable in today’s world. She stated that if charter schools perform that they should not take away an option (funding flexibility) and that she would like to see a reduction in the administrative process.

Mr. Kushner added that class size is different in the context of hybrid education. A class may be 200 students, but teachers do not hold session every day, and they might only teach a body of 200 students in classes of 10.

Chair Bauer inquired about what the timeline would look like for a school to submit a waiver to the SBE for pupil-teacher ratio. Ms. Hunkapiller explained that the general waiver would be submitted to the SBE approximately one month before the ACCS meets, then mitigating circumstances would be heard by the ACCS, then the SBE would meet approximately one month subsequently. The actual timeline might take approximately 4 months for the charter school to receive an action.

Chair Bauer encouraged the CDE to work with the SBE liaisons to express to the SBE that the ACCS would be willing to shoulder the burden to examine these issues and make recommendations on what the process should look like. 

Ms. Hunkapiller added that the ACCS should be more tightly linked to the SBE, and that the focus on performance under SB 740 is a new direction. She added, the schools need to demonstrate with good evidence that their school is performing well.

Chair Bauer reasserted that no action would be taken today on this item, and called for public comments.

Ken Burt of the California Teacher’s Association spoke. He appreciate that the ACCS is forgoing action on this item, but believes that the ACCS is violating Bagley-Keene by stating their opinions on the item. He also expressed disagreement with Dr. Barber that school districts deserve more flexibility. Mr. Burt added that the ACCS is trying to sort out legislative issues that the legislature is unable to sort out itself. He indicated that this is not a function of the ACCS. Mr. Burt continued to explain that establishing regulations for mitigating circumstances would be akin to “underground regulations,” even if considered on a case-by-case basis. He asserted that mitigating circumstances could only be considered for unique, one-time circumstances, with particular emphasis on one-time only.

Peter Birdsall of School Innovations & Advocacy spoke and indicated that works with the California Virtual Academies. He expressed that it is important to separate pupil-teacher ratio and mitigating circumstances. He also explained that the initial pupil-teacher ratio was established in the 1980s, and could use some updating.

Jeff Rice of APLUS+ spoke. He equated this discussion to “building a beautiful home and watching it burn.” He explained that this discussion began in 2008, during a time of funding surplus and also a time when funding reductions were on the horizon. He proposed to the ACCS that both the funding surplus and funding reductions be considered as mitigating circumstances. This proposal was eventually rejected for legal reasons, to which Mr. Rice attributed a disconnect between the ACCS and the SBE. He also noted a disconnect between the SBE and non-classroom based schools. Mr. Rice also expressed concern for “API creep,” which he defined as the practice of factoring performance into a non-performance related issue. He described this is primarily a fiscal issue, and as such, performance should not be factored in.

Eric Premack of the Charter Schools Development Center spoke. He described the issue as having short term and long term consequences. He explained that, during the short term, the 40-80 threshold is inconsequential because falling below this threshold does not invalidate a funding determination. However, he noted that for the long-term, the 40-80 targets were arbitrary and needed to be re-written.

Colin Miller of the California Charter Schools Association spoke. He expressed strong agreement with Dr. Barber’s comments. He stated that the regulations guiding this process are not working anymore. He also indicated that there is a difference between independent study and virtual education, and this is an issue that goes beyond charter schools.

Chair Bauer called for closing comments from commissioners.

Ms. Hunkapiller noted that this item will be heard at the September 2010 SBE meeting.

Chair Bauer asked if either of these subjects would be addressed at the October ACCS meeting, and whether or not this would include input from the SBE’s hearing in September. Ms. Hunkapiller indicated that, in order for future considerations for either item to be heard at the October ACCS meeting, this may be too soon of a turnaround time to prepare and post the necessary materials. She also explained that there is a difficulty around providing ACCS input on impending SBE items, due to the required deadline for posting information to be heard at the SBE meeting.

Chair Bauer indicated that the commission would review future ACCS agenda items during the October meeting. Chair Bauer then opened the floor to comments from commissioners on subjects that commissioners would like to engage at future meetings.

Mr. Kushner expressed interest in the subject of multiple authorizers.

Chair Bauer expressed interest in CTE and charter school access to other programs; he also expressed interest in updating the commission on special education issues.

Mr. Kushner expressed interested in UC approval of courses for virtual schools. Ms. Hunkapiller indicated that the subject of UC approval of courses for virtual schools might better be handled by asking commissioners to make contact with UC representatives, because an item to sufficiently cover this subject may exceed 100 pages in length.

Ms. Hunkapiller introduced Nicolas Schweizer, the new Executive Director of the State Board of Education.

Mr. Kushner explained to Mr. Schweizer that shortly following the formation of the ACCS, the commission gave informational presentations to the SBE for the purpose of edifying SBE members about the function of the ACCS. Mr. Kushner proposed that Mr. Schweizer consider re-instituting this practice, to better facilitate the relationship between the ACCS and the SBE.

Adjournment

Chair Bauer adjourned the meeting at 1:36 p.m.

Questions: Charter Schools Division | charters@cde.ca.gov | 916-322-6029 
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