Clayton Valley High wants to convert to a charter

Clayton Valley High School

September 14, 2011 12:17:50 AM PDT
Parents in Concord, unhappy with the way one of the high schools is run, are trying to convert it into a charter school. Tuesday night, the school board voted to go along with the plan, but with a major catch.

The parents, students, and teachers are upset because the board approved their petition with a tough condition. The board wants to wait until February to take a final vote on this issue, which gives the petitioners very little time to prepare for the coming school year, especially if they're denied and they need to appeal.

"I'd like to share a quote by Margaret Meade and it goes, 'Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world, for indeed it is the only thing that ever has," said Ted Hall, a Clayton Valley student.

A majority of Clayton Valley High School students, parents and teachers want to convert to a charter high school, mostly because of the declining state of Mt. Diablo Unified School District.

"It strips off a little layer of that bureaucracy," said Les Garaventa, a parent.

The school district has already eliminated funding for all sports, hundreds of teachers and staff have been cut, and class sizes have ballooned.

The group promoting the Clayton Valley charter movement says a district with so many financial problems, no longer serves the needs of their school.

"We've just seen such a decline in the standards for the students, academic and social standards," said teacher Pat Middendorf. "It got to the point where many of the teachers were starting to leave the school, just to get away. So we really analyzed it and decided that there's an answer out there, we just need to find it."

The Clayton Valley charter movement grew out of similar efforts in Southern California, where established high schools converted to charter schools.

"And we have lost a lot of good citizens because they do not want to live in the Clayton Valley School District," said Clayton Vice Mayor Howard Geller.

However, the district says the charter petition does not address crucial issues like remedial education, English-language learners, and special needs students. It also says also the petition overestimates revenue.

"$95,000 in the first year, $97,000 in the second year and $99,000 in the third year," said Deborah Cooksey from the district's legal counsel.

As a charter high school, Clayton Valley High School would receive more state funding, but school board president Gary Eberhart says it would hurt the other schools in the district.

"We receive unified school district funding, which is about $900 less than high school district funding and then we in turn would have to give them high school district funding, so we would have to make up the difference, about $1.7 million district-wide," said Eberhart.

Teacher Neil McChesney says if Clayton does become a charter school, it could have a positive effect on the district it left.

"Charter schools are meant to be a laboratory for innovation for education and in fact, they're supposed to create this synergy between that charter conversion and the district so they can try new things and share their successes back with the district," said McChesney.

The school district is also wrestling with a $9 million budget deficit and now there is a concern that this could cause an exodus of other schools who want to break away. So even though the school board approved their petition, they did it by giving these petitioners a very tight timeline.

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