Orcutt Union School District’s board of trustees unanimously denied a charter petition filed by Olive Grove Charter School at Wednesday night's board meeting, becoming the fourth school district to deny the petition in the last week.
The petition has also been denied by Lompoc Unified, Santa Barbara Unified and Santa Maria Joint Union High school districts, and still faces Santa Ynez Valley Union High School and Buellton Union school district’s boards in the upcoming weeks.
Olive Grove currently operates an independent study program using resource centers in North County. Olive Grove operates under a state board of education charter that will allow the organization to continue educating until the 2020-21 school year.
The charter school is petitioning local districts after a recent court of appeal decision that ruled in the case that the state’s education code prohibits a charter school from operating resource centers within the same county as the authorizing district, but outside the boundaries of the district. In that case, Olive Grove is currently operating illegally, according to the document.
Orcutt Union expressed similar concerns to other districts regarding four main areas of Olive Grove’s application and plan descriptions in a 12-page fact finding document provided by its legal counsel. These included issues over Olive Grove’s allegedly “inadequate educational program, the lack of transparent data, the incomplete educational planning, and weak student outcomes” for the school’s current students.
Olive Grove Executive Director Laura Mudge argued in a rebuttal letter provided to the Santa Maria Times addressed to district Superintendent Dr. Deborah Blow and the board, “The concerns outlined in the district findings are clearly designed to support a predetermined denial of the petition and (contain) factual inaccuracies, misrepresentations and the misapplication of the law.”
District legal counsel attorney William Schuetz relayed to the board "numerous factual findings that support the denial" of Olive Grove's charter petition, including that the application did not reasonably provide a comprehensive description of each of the 15 requirements for the board to approve a charter petition.
Perhaps the most significant problem Olive Grove faced when approaching districts like Orcutt Union to charter the school was that the plans submitted to the districts were found to be lacking comprehensive descriptions for a variety of factors that districts take into account when deciding whether to charter a school.
“We would love to work with your district for local control, provide your district with the oversight fees, and we are confident that any concerns you may have can easily be resolved through discourse, technical amendments, and/or a memorandum of understanding between us,” Mudge wrote.
An overarching issue across districts that Olive Grove has petitioned was concerns about its financial plans.
Olive Grove's budget description, according to the district fact-finding report, was premised on overinflated enrollment projections, and found that the budget would be impacted when enrollment numbers are not realized, and also reportedly did not take into account teacher and staff salary increases or any monetary operational increases.
“As the (State Board of Education) has found that (Olive Grove’s) program, governance, financial viability and transparency are all sound, the district concerns are clearly baseless and an attempt to illegally deny a free and public alternative to families within Santa Barbara County," Mudge wrote, adding that Olive Grove had hoped to also develop a strong relationship with local districts as it had done with the state organizations that currently oversee the school.
Several Olive Grove educators addressed the board during the public comment portion of the meeting and gave personal testimonials about the benefit the school has had on students, however, no one spoke about the findings of the report.
Mudge, addressing the board, said, "We thank you for giving us this opportunity. We're sorry that we don't get to partner with you, but we will move on and up and continue to do great things for kids."
In other Orcutt district news, the board of trustees voted to approve a 1-percent compensation increase for members of the Orcutt Educators Association, district confidential employees, administrative and management employees, and contracted positions including the superintendent and all assistant superintendents.