Paso charter school rebuffed

The superintendent of Paso Robles Public Schools has recommended the agency’s board reject a proposed charter school, citing what she believes is an “unsound educational program,” a budget plan that is not viable and “unworkable and unsafe” facilities.

Yet, organizers of the proposed kindergarten-through-eighth-grade charter school say the district is just confused over the laws regarding charters and that the proposal has met the requirements for charter schools.

“We’re not surprised,” said Kyle Beal Wommack, the outreach chair for the proposed Paso Robles Cooperative School. “These are all things we can refute in the charter.”

The school board will vote on the proposal Tuesday night. If it votes to reject it, Wommack said, charter proponents are prepared to appeal to the county and state level if needed.

The proposed school, organized by a group of parents, community members and educators, would emphasize technology and parental involvement.

Eventually, up to 410 students would attend the tuition-free school, which would — if demand called for it — use a lottery to determine which children can attend.

Superintendent Kathy McNamara would not comment on the recommendation, district spokeswoman Anne Quinn said. But her report was formally released Friday.

The six-and-a-half page analysis cites several criticisms, the biggest of which suggests the proposed program fails to demonstrate how the proposed curriculum would “support student mastery of state content standards.”

It also suggests the proposal doesn’t adequately spell out how the school would be governed, that it wouldn’t have sufficient finances, and that one proposed site — at a former used car lot — is too small and potentially dangerous.

Soon after McNamara released her analysis, the charter organizers released a rebuttal, making counterpoints to each of the district’s claims.

The charter’s program, organizers said, is tied directly to the California state standards.

Furthermore, they say funding measures have been secured, and the proposed site — which doesn’t even need to be a part of the approval process — is safe, with a plan laid out by architects who have school building experience.

While parent Kandi Quick is pleased that the administration is behind the magnet school, she questions opposition to the charter school, which she said offers parents another option.

“I’m not sure what the threat is,” said Quick, a mother of two in Paso Robles.

While she likes the charter’s proposed technological focus and parental involvement, she’s mostly concerned about her fifth grader entering a regular middle school next year.

“The size concerns me,” she said. “I like the idea of a smaller school environment.”

Besides, she added, charter schools are part of a nationwide movement.

Despite the lack of support from the superintendent and teachers union — which has announced its support of McNamara’s recommendation — Wommack said the charter does have much support from the community.

Still, she said, she gets why some might be concerned about a new approach.

“I understand if there is some perceived apprehension about that,” she said. “While it’s being done throughout the state, it’s new for Paso.”

The organizers have spoken to school board members and McNamara in depth since last spring, hoping to assuage any concerns. But, prior to Tuesday’s meeting, McNamara announced that she would recommend the board deny the proposal.

Though the school board has not made a decision on the charter, board President Jay Packer said the proposal’s supporters have to address some issues, such as the curriculum plan and location.

“The site is the major concern with parents,” Packer contends.

Packer acknowledged that charter schools have value in encouraging competition. Tuesday’s meeting agenda includes an unrelated proposal for a performing arts magnet school.

And he said the charter school organizers have been enthusiastic and energetic. But he said the school board would have to look closely to see if the proposed school can be successful.

“Idealism can sometimes overshadow realism,” he said.

If approved, Paso Robles Public Schools would be in charge of oversight. But the charter school would be largely free to make its own rules with its own governing body.

In reviewing the proposal, Packer said he has consulted with several charter schools, which have had mixed results.

The Bellevue-Santa Fe Charter School in Avila Beach, he said, has had much success, while a recent one in Salinas has spiraled.

The board will also have to consider whether the charter school would affect the district financially.

“We’ve cut 20 percent of our budget in the last three years,” Packer said, noting that more teacher layoffs could be forthcoming in the next budget.