Charter school petition denied

Written by Brenna Swift, The Union Democrat June 21, 2013 12:30 pm

Soulsbyville School District’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously Thursday to deny a petition for a new charter school that would focus on leadership and the arts.

Six parents and teachers had given Soulsbyville the petition in May, seeking the district’s sponsorship for a school to be called the “Foothill Leadership Academy.”

The academy would use art to reinforce subjects like math, feature community service projects and have students take leadership classes, according to the charter petition.

Its petitioners, led by Copperopolis parent Emily McVey, said the school would help fill the gap left in arts education by budget cuts over the past several years. 

They still plan to open the charter in August 2014 with 95 students, eventually expanding it to 225 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Students from other counties could attend. 

But a team of reviewers at Soulsbyville said the 140-page charter petition failed to meet several legal requirements, and the school district’s trustees concurred without much discussion Thursday.

According to the district’s review, the unmet requirements included establishing the school as a public-benefit nonprofit, pinning down a location, adopting a conflict of interest policy, specifying liability insurance coverage, describing health and safety procedures, and giving parents a copy of the charter petition before asking for their signatures in support. 

Soulsybville Trustee Denise Houghton said the board had no choice but to reject a proposal that didn’t meet requirements, but she welcomed the petitioners’ enthusiasm for the arts.

 “My hope to you is that you keep going, keep finding ways that we can bring this to the children of  our community,” Houghton said. “I’d invite you to be part of the mainstream, too, because I think there’s some opportunities there as well.”

The other charter petitioners are McVey’s husband, Ian McVey, who would be the school’s director; Lisette Sweetland, the Sierra Repertory Theatre’s company manager; Modesto Junior College and Columbia College professor Chad Redwing; teacher Niurka Benton; and local business owner Shawn Price.

The McVeys and Sweetland are Sonora High School graduates, and Redwing helped found a charter school in New Mexico. 

McVey contended that Soulsybville’s reasons for denying the petition were either “not factual” or based on requirements the charter could have legally fulfilled later.  

She said the charter petitioners did establish a nonprofit, a step that would have freed Soulsbyville of liability for future debts or legal claims, and had the paperwork to prove it.

The Charter School Management Corp., a Temecula-based company, helped prepare the petition and ensured it covered all bases, McVey said.  

She and the charter school’s five other petitioners plan to submit a “rebuttal” to Soulsbyville’s review and apply to the Tuolumne County Board of Education for a charter within the next few weeks. 

Golden Lakes Charter School, now located in La Grange, went the same route when Big Oak Flat-Groveland Unified School District denied its charter petition.

The county board approved Golden Lakes’ petition in 2010, the first charter it had ever granted. But the school struggled financially and opted to switch counties rather than try renewing its charter in Tuolumne County this year.

Tuolumne County’s school enrollment has been declining, but the Foothill Leadership charter petition said founders will carry out an “aggressive recruitment campaign” to ensure enough families are interested by 2014.

“It’s not something that we’re doing for us,” McVey said. “We’re doing it for the community — so other people, their children and families, can get what they need.”

She said that if the Tuolumne County Board of Education denies the charter, petitioners will appeal at the state level. 

“It’s really needed and wanted in this community,” McVey said. “Anything worth having is never easy. We knew it wasn’t going to be a cakewalk.”

The Foothill Leadership Academy proponents plan to post Soulsbyville’s findings, along with their rebuttal, on their website at www.foothillleadership.com next week.