Paso Robles rejects charter school petition

The Paso Robles school board unanimously rejected a petition Tuesday night that would have launched the North County’s first charter school, suggesting instead that a magnet school might offer better school choices.

While the board’s unanimous vote will stall the project, which was set to open next fall, charter supporters say they will appeal to the county office of education and, if needed, the state.“We’re not surprised, but we’re definitely not deterred,” said Kyle Beal Wommack after the board’s vote.

The petition for the K-8 school, organized by a group of parents, community members and educators, was officially filed in November. But supporters have been speaking with school officials since last spring.

Despite their efforts, Paso Robles Public Schools Superintendent Kathy McNamara formally recommended last week that the school board reject the proposal, citing critiques that focused on the petition’s proposed site, curriculum plans and financing. Charter proponents offered a point-by-point rebuttal, saying their plan had met charter guidelines.

Before addressing the charter Tuesday night, McNamara said that magnet schools, which were proposed several years ago, would offer parents a better choice. Magnet schools pursue specialized curriculum but are still controlled by the district, whereas the charter would have a private governing body operating under the district’s oversight.

On Tuesday, the board agreed to conduct a feasibility study for a performing arts magnet school at Bauer Speck Elementary School. Board members also suggested the district could have multiple magnets.

Some charter supporters suggested the magnet school proposal was a subversive way to draw support away from the charter school.

In a room packed with charter supporters, several people, including teachers, spoke in favor of the proposed school, saying it would offer smaller class sizes and increased parental involvement while using technology.

“We want to make all of our kids more than average,” said Jim Fotinakes, a retired Templeton High School principal, who would serve as the charter’s principal.

But board members doubted the proposed school could be ready to open by fall, echoing McNamara’s concerns.

“I think you came to us prematurely,” board member Field Gibson said. “I just don’t think you can pull it off in six months.”

While the board applauded the efforts of the petitioners, Gibson said the district, which would have oversight, had to look out for students.

“If we start a school — no matter how great it sounds — and it fails, that is a disaster,” he said.While charter supporters will immediately appeal to the county, Wommack said the board’s decision will put off opening day plans.