Paso Robles Public Schools board to discuss charter school

Every kindergartner will have an iPod and every eighth-grader will have a MacBook under the plan proposed for a new, technology-heavy charter school in Paso Robles.

The proposal for the K-8 school, which would eventually house up to 410 students, faces its first significant test before Paso Robles Public Schools tonight when the school board is scheduled to vote whether to consider the petition for the school. If the board agrees to consider it, the board will have 30 days to approve or reject the project.

“This is the first time a charter school has come before the Paso school board,” said Kyle Beal Wommack, the outreach chair for the proposed Paso Robles Cooperative Charter School.

Charter schools are still public schools — and don’t charge tuition — but they’re not bound by the same rules as other public schools. Students attend charter schools by choice. In 1992, California was the second state, after Minnesota, to approve charter schools, which are formed by private groups.

With board approval, the Paso Robles charter school project, organized by a group of parents, community members and educators, could result in a new school opening as soon as next fall. While the school would have its own governing body, it would be under the oversight of the Paso Robles school district. At the same time, there would be more flexibility in arranging personal learning plans for each student, said Jill Ogorsolka, president of the board for the proposed school.

“This is actually providing a choice,” she said, noting that there’s only one charter school in the county — the Bellevue-Santa Fe Elementary School in Avila Beach. “We thought it would be a great fit for our community.”

While the district has been forced to make cutbacks because of state budget shortages, the proposed charter school wouldn’t require new taxes. Instead, Wommack said, the money comes from funds already set aside by the federal government for charter schools.

“The money is there,” she said. “It’s earmarked.”

Charter schools can also raise funds through private donations.

The cost of building and running the school is not known.

Already, the group has written the charter, which includes a detailed plan for the school, with budgetary information and implementation procedures. A possible location has already been staked out — at 22nd and Spring streets — and a principal has been selected to lead the school: former Templeton High School Principal Jim Fotinakes.

The site where the group hopes to open the school used to be a car lot. It plans to use modular units when the school first opens, which will minimize preparation time and construction costs.

“It’s well-researched,” Wommack said of the 300-page petition to establish the school. The district isn’t yet commenting on the proposal.

The project, emphasizing the core curriculum, is not a reaction to state budget cuts, Wommack said.

“I think it’s more of a reaction to what students need in the 21st century,” she said.

In addition to focusing more on technology — hence, the iPods and MacBooks — the school will emphasize the arts, language and character development. Each student would have an individual learning plan, and parents would sign a contract committing to participation in the learning process. As planned, Ogorsolka said, there would be one teacher for every 20 students in grades K-3 and one teacher for every 25 students in grades 4-8.

If approved, the school would house 180 students the first year, but it could grow to 410 by the third.

If the demand is greater than capacity, a lottery would be held to determine which children can attend. Because it’s a charter school, children outside the district would be eligible.