Thoreau Community School to appeal to county board of education
The Santa Barbara Unified School District board denied Thoreau Community School’s petition for charter Tuesday evening with two out of four board members in attendance voting to deny.
Petitioners have the option to appeal the board’s decision to the Santa Barbara County Board of Education.
The district administrators’ report suggested the board reject the petition.
“The charter school has presented an unsound educational program for pupils to be enrolled in the charter school,” Meg Jetté, assistant superintendent, said during the meeting. “Petitioners are demonstratively unlikely to successfully implement the program set forth in the petition.
“And the petition does not contain a reasonably comprehensive description of all 15 of the required charter school elements. As a reminder to the board, they can deny a charter with one or more findings — and we have three.”
Thoreau Community School gave a 63-page response to the district’s report and adjusted its petition. It argued a few of the district’s findings were unnecessary in a charter petition.
Kate Ford, board president, and Laura Capps, school board member, moved to accept the charter but add conditions, such as reducing the term from five years to three.
But Rose Muñoz, board vice president and board member Virginia Alvarez were concerned about the liberties taken in the proposed budget.
“I appreciate the intent. And the aspiration by looking at the composition of the mission of achieving 60% low income and 13% special (education) is just very close to my heart,” Ms. Alvarez said. “However, I don’t see a full understanding of the fiscal resources that I needed to achieve this aspirational goal. And at this point, I am not ready to support the expectation that is being brought forward.”
The mission of Thoreau Community School resonated with community members that called in to give a public comment.
Many commenters appreciated the proposed downtown location.
When the district reported an issue with Thoreau Community School’s ambiguous location, petitioners secured a letter of intent to rent Casa de la Raza, located at 601 E. Montecito St. in downtown Santa Barbara.
“There are great disparities between academic outcomes for vulnerable student populations and their more privileged peers. A new centrally located downtown school would be able to serve such students by focusing on the wellbeing, strengths and interests of all children,” Elizabeth Blair, Thoreau Community School’s acting education director, said.
The proposed lottery system to accept students prioritizes low-income families.
The district’s current charter schools — Adelante, Peabody and Santa Barbara Charter School — have waitlists.
“I know there are charters that haven’t lived up to the promises that they have offered to their districts and their families — but that is not the case here in Santa Barbara,” Ms. Ford said. “My experience with charters here has been absolutely wonderful.
“Charters represent terrific potential to think outside of the box to provide an educational experience that is non-traditional to meet the needs of parents of students and students who are seeking something different, something exciting.”
Ms. Ford has experience as a charter-school leader and was positive about Thoreau.
“I think this is a complex petition, and it’s a complex educational model,” she said. “It’s not simplistic, and it’s more thorough than other charters that I have seen over the years.”
Ms. Capps took a similar tone.
“I have to say, when I received the report on Friday from our team, I was crestfallen,” she said. “I’ve given support verbally to this project since it was just an idea years ago.
“I also think it comes down to a bit of a leap of faith. And I have faith in Thoreau Community School. And I want us to be partners to help it succeed.”
Board Clerk Wendy Sims-Moten was not present at the meeting, so the vote was split. In a tie, the petition is denied.
Thoreau Community School petitioners posted their response to the district’s report on its website Wednesday, at thoreaucommunityschool.org/response-to-sbusd-staff-report.