October 1, 2020 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

School Board Rejects Pt. Dume Elementary Charter Petition: Snell, Pye, Mechur, Escarce Vote to Deny Petition, Overriding the Others

Although the Pt. Dume Elementary charter petition was turned away by the Santa Monica-Malibu School District, petitioners are preparing an appeal to the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE). The appeal must be filed within 180 days of the Dec. 2 denial.

The same petition that was shut down by the school board will be the same petition appealed to LACOE, according to petition organizer Ali Thonson. LACOE’s board will have to return with an answer within 60 days of the appeal’s filing.

Since 2008 the county entity has received seven petitions and approved three, according to Jan Eisenberg, project director for the charter school office at LACOE. Two appealed petitions were denied and another two were denied because they were over the time limitations, she said.

According to Eisenberg, among the approved charters were Via Nueva, which doesn’t yet have a location but is slated to open next fall, and the Environment Charter Middle School, which was rejected by the Los Angeles Unified School District but opened in September at a temporary site.

Once an appeal is filed with LACOE, the entity sets a public hearing date within 30 days and takes action within 60 days. A 30-day extension can be granted as well, Eisenberg said. In making its decision, LACOE relies on 16 provisions within the state’s education code to determine whether a school should be granted a charter.

On Dec. 2, acting on its staff recommendation that the Pt. Dume charter petition as presented would be insolvent after the first year – despite petitioners’ pledges of $500,000 – the Santa Monica-Malibu school board denied it. With four members, including board president Barry Snell, Kelly Pye, Ralph Mechur, and Jose Escarce voting ‘no,’ a simple majority was enough to overcome the abstention of board member Oscar de la Torre and ‘yes’ votes from board members Ben Allen and Maria Leon-Vasquez.

De la Torre said he abstained because he felt the board didn’t have enough time to understand the issues at play, in particular the district’s staff report which concluded that the new charter would not be financially viable.

“It wasn’t enough time to really understand who was correct,” de la Torre said. “I wanted to see if the staff can meet with the petitioners to get on the same page before we voted. Being that it wasn’t possible, I wasn’t comfortable to either support it or deny it.”

According to de la Torre’s understanding of the district’s staff report, the charter would be $400,000 in the red in the first year of operation. Although the petitioners told the board they had pledges of $500,000, de la Torre wasn’t swayed. “You can’t budget off of pledges,” he said.

For his part, Allen said he wanted to see the district staff and the petitioners reconcile their differences before casting his vote, but several days after the meeting, realized that the differences between the petitioners and the district staff were too wide.

“I found out that the petitioners would not have agreed to more time for them to talk to the superintendent about the budget discrepancies,” Allen said. “Had I known that they had no interest to work out the differences, I would have voted against the superintendent’s position and voted ‘no.’ I would have joined the majority if I had been given the opportunity the second time around.”

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