Former Newhall superintendent seeks charter school reform

Signal file photo

Newhall School District governing board members stood in agreement with Marc Winger, former superintendent of the district, in support of a resolution that recognizes the school board’s authority to decide whether to admit charter schools into the district.

During the board’s Tuesday meeting, Winger gave summaries on four new education bills that, if passed, would dramatically increase the amount of authority a local elected school board has over charter schools entering its jurisdiction. Winger prefaced this discussion by giving a brief rundown on the Newhall School District’s history with charter schools.

“The support and action to pass a resolution reflecting this theme comes from the Newhall School District’s very own experience of having a school district outside of the Santa Clarita Valley, authorize a charter school that would be located physically inside of the Newhall School District’s jurisdiction,” said NSD Board President Sue Solomon. “That action was taken without any notice to the Newhall School District.”

The Einstein Academy of the Letters, Arts and Science, a charter school with the Acton-Agua Dulce Unified School District, was able to open a charter school in the Newhall School District’s boundaries anyway, using a provision in the Charter Schools Act of 1992 that allows a governing board, in this case, AADUSD, to approve a location in another district if no suitable site was available in the chartering district.

Despite Einstein Academy not having NSD approval, AADUSD was able to open a school site across the street from the NSD office — which is one of the circumstances that prompted the legislative package, including Assembly Bill 1505, AB 1506, AB 1507 and AB 1508. The AEA program was ultimately shut down in 2018 due to concerns over its financial model and sustainability.

With the support of Superintendent Jeff Pelzel’s office, the five-member school board adopted a resolution Tuesday calling for the extensive reform of the California Charter Schools Act and approved sending a letter of support to Sacramento regarding the new legislation.

Charter school supporters and advocacy groups have called the four bills — dubbed the “1500 Series” — “an attempt to unravel” the 1992 Charter School Act.

Current California state law allows for charters to go through an appeal process after a local school district rejects their petition, said Caitlin O’Halloran, a school governance and policy specialist with the Charter Schools Development Center. “When a charter school disagrees with a school board, they can go to the county; and if they disagree with the county, they can take it to the state.”

“But with these bills, the only chance you’d have (as a charter school filing a petition) is to have your charter reviewed and approved locally,” said O’Halloran. “And, in that case, if you are a charter petitioner and you disagree with the local school board, it’s over for you. It’s done.”

O’Halloran said she has worked with charter schools across the state over the years, and she says the passage of the 1992 Charter School Act and subsequent funding measures for California charter schools shows what voters want.

“The voters have been very clear that they want charter schools in their communities,” said O’Halloran. “But, if (the 1500 Series) do pass, then they would fundamentally change charter schools …  fundamentally change choices for a family in Santa Clarita.”

Senate and Assembly committee hearings to discuss the charter school bills are scheduled for April 10.

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