For the third time in three years, representatives of Olive Grove Charter School spoke at a sparsely attended public hearing in hopes of convincing the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District board of trustees to authorize the school's charter.
The hearing, held during the district's regularly scheduled board of trustees meeting Tuesday, was the final opportunity for supporters and opponents of the charter school to address the board directly.
Attorney William Schuetz, the high school district's legal counsel, spoke on behalf of the district and provided the board with an overview history and the process. Schuetz did not comment on the content of the resubmitted petition.
Originally authorized as a dependent charter school by the Los Olivos School District in 2001, Olive Grove Charter School was created to offer students a tuition-free alternative to traditional public schools. Mudge said the charter was terminated by the district in 2015, prompting Olive Grove to seek a new district to authorize their charter.
A string of charter denials at the local and county level prompted Olive Grove to seek authorization from the California Board of Education, eventually gaining the board's approval. While the state authorization allows the charter to operate until 2022, California's 3rd District Court of Appeals ruled in 2016 that nonclassroom-based charter schools are prohibited from operating independent learning centers outside of their authorizing district.
"Olive Grove is currently authorized [by the California Board of Education] and we're trying to come into compliance with the newest legal interpretation," said Laura Mudge, executive director of Olive Grove Charter Schools. "We did a public hearing last time around [and] brought a lot of people — the board has already heard from us."
Mudge spoke to the Times on Monday and said Olive Grove did not plan to speak at Tuesday's meeting due to a scheduling conflict with the Lompoc Unified board meeting. Charter school officials also informed parents and families of their resubmitted petition but did not ask them to speak in support.
"The negativity isn't pleasant," Mudge said. "Our focus is on the well-being of our families and teachers — last year's process was very grueling so we haven't really asked people to [speak.] We've updated our petition; [the board had] all heard from our families and staff. We're letting the process happen organically."
The 93-page petition submitted to the high school district details Olive Grove's educational plan for what they describe as a "high at-risk" student population, including homeless and foster youth, English Learners and credit-deficient students. District staff previously expressed concern regarding the charter school's ability to provide for student needs, but Mudge contends Olive Grove is prepared and capable of meeting those demands.
"We have such a tiny percentage of students that aren't successful in your program that come to us," she said. "If we work together, I know we can do great things for these students."
Trustees did not pose any questions to Olive Grove representatives. They will reach a decision on whether to authorize Olive Grove's charter during their December meeting.