CARLSBAD — At a hearing before the San Diego County Board of Education on March 18, Oxford Preparatory Academy (OPA) representatives claimed that its petition to open a charter school in Carlsbad was misrepresented and denied unjustifiably by the Carlsbad Unified School District (CUSD).
OPA spokespersons urged the board to follow California Education Code requirements and approve its petition, while district staff maintained that the charter petition raised unmitigated concerns.
The district initially denied OPA’s application to establish a three-year charter school for 800 to 1,000 students grades kindergarten through eighth grade in Carlsbad in late December 2012.OPA currently operates charter schools in Chino Valley and South Orange County.
Still aspiring to open the charter school for the 2013-14 school year, OPA is in the process of appealing the district’s decision before the county board.
“The district hasn’t approved a charter in its history and has no clue how to do it,” said OPA’s attorney Greg Moser at the hearing. “The technicalities that the district is throwing up are really a smoke screen.”
One of the more heavily debated issues at the hearing involved the school facilities requested by OPA in Carlsbad.
Districts are legally required by Proposition 39 to provide facilities for approved charter schools to operate.
Because OPA requested facilities near Interstate 5 and state Route 78 in its petition, the district would be required to provide facilities at the Buena Vista Elementary School campus.
Providing OPA with such space “would require the forcible displacement of hundreds of students,” said CUSD Superintendent Suzette Lovely.
“The law may say that you can take these students and displace them, but I’m concerned about the heartbeat of that community,” said county board member Mark Anderson.
Moser countered that regardless of these concerns, the board has to follow the law and pressed the board to consider what was best for Carlsbad’s students.
“You can talk about the heartbeat of the community, but you have to think about what is right for the individual kid,” Moser said.
One of the primary concerns previously expressed by the district was the racial and ethnic diversity of the student population at the proposed charter school, claiming that the diversity at OPA’s current schools is lower than the schools in the same districts.
“We believe the district misinterpreted our racial demographics by law,” said Dr. Eric Beam, OPA’s director of special services. He insisted that because OPA students are selected on a random lottery system, the school administration has no control over the school’s demographics.
“It’s not fair to compare one school with hundreds of students with a district with thousands of students,” he said.
County board member Gregg Robinson expressed concerns that OPA’s lack of a reduced school lunch program and required parent volunteer hours would dissuade some economically disadvantaged students from entering the lottery for enrollment.
While district officials didn’t respond to the issue of racial and ethnic balance within OPA’s student population, they did question student interest in attending an OPA charter school in Carlsbad.
Lovely stated that OPA submitted “inflated enrollment projections” as part of its petition. She explained that when principals at the district’s elementary schools called parents to verify the amount of interest in OPA enrollment, the interest levels were far lower than asserted by OPA.
OPA spokespersons emphasized that their current schools have waitlists that are hundreds of names long.
OPA representatives and parent supporters further claimed that the district’s surveys were misleading and improperly conducted.
Amy Hagen, a CUSD parent and OPA supporter said that the phone call from her child’s principal made her believe that if she expressed interest in OPA, her child would not have a space at the CUSD school next year.
“This notion that the district can go and survey the parents goes beyond the legal requirements. We believe this is an intimidation factor,” said Moser.
The district also raised issue with OPA’s lack of financial audit reports in its petition and questioned the quantity and qualifications of the teachers who expressed interest in teaching at an OPA Carlsbad location.
OPA representatives emphasized the schools’ solid financial standing, pointing out that it had already been awarded Public Charter School Grant Program funding for a Carlsbad location for more than $1.5 million.
The board will consider OPA’s petition and the district’s considerations and make a decision on the charter school at its next meeting April 10.