O.C. board postpones decisions on 2 charter schools’ requests to start campuses that local districts rejected


In a fight over two charter schools proposing to open alternative campuses in two local districts, the Orange County Board of Education decided Wednesday to give all parties more time to hash out disagreements and meet a resolution the board could vote on next month.

The county board was expected to determine whether the International School for Science and Culture and Sycamore Creek Community Charter School could move forward with their pitches to create new facilities in the Newport-Mesa Unified and Ocean View school districts, respectively.

However, department staff recommended postponing the decisions until the board’s March 13 meeting.

The charters’ petitions were unanimously denied by the district boards last year because of myriad issues, including curriculum and administration.

County trustees Ken Williams, Mari Barke and Lisa Sparks voted to extend the timeline on Sycamore Creek’s petition to give the parties more time to negotiate an agreement that could be adopted by the county board. Trustee Rebecca “Beckie” Gomez dissented. Trustee John Bedell was absent.

In ISSAC’s case, Williams and Gomez voted in favor of an extension and Barke and Sparks abstained. The latter two originally pushed to approve ISSAC’s petition, with Barke citing low-performing district data that she said shows there “may be room for a charter school” to serve students. But they abstained after learning that if the charter were approved Wednesday, it wouldn’t have to meet various recommendations by county staff.

If resolutions can’t be met by next month’s meeting, county staff will recommend that the trustees deny the charters’ proposals, according to Aracely Chastain, the board’s coordinator of charter schools.

However, the board could vote against that recommendation.

Wednesday’s standing-room-only meeting highlighted the common arguments of the districts and charters.

Sycamore’s proposal says the free public charter school would apply arts-integrated curriculum inspired by Waldorf methodologies, in which students’ creativity is a central focus. The school anticipates opening in September in the Ocean View district and serving transitional kindergarten through eighth grade, with overall enrollment capped at 240 students.

ISSAC’s petition describes it as a free public charter school with a focus on STREAM (science, technology, reading and writing, engineering, arts and math) and foreign-language education. The petition seeks a five-year term with hopes of opening in August in the Newport-Mesa district with about 390 students in transitional kindergarten through fifth grade. Students would study Spanish and Mandarin Chinese in addition to English and would rotate among different classrooms.

Critics of charter schools often argue that they drain resources from struggling districts. Newport-Mesa and Ocean View advocated Wednesday for retaining local control.

Charter advocates contend they promote choices for parents interested in providing their children with an alternative curriculum.

Sycamore’s request to give enrollment priority to 10 to 15 children of parents who founded the campus dominated much of the discussion Wednesday. Some of those students are from outside the district.

Attorney Sukhi Ahluwalia, representing Ocean View, said she had never seen a charter petition give preference to students other than those within the district.

Sycamore attorney Janelle Ruley said the school only wants to give priority to those 10 to 15 students.

In ISSAC’s case, Patricia Gould, the lead petitioner, told the board it would concede to all recommendations by county staff.

“You have no problems at all?” Williams asked Gould, referring to staff’s recommendation to give priority to students within the Newport-Mesa district.

“No, [it] won’t be an issue,” Gould said. “You give district students priority.”

However, Russell Lee-Sung, Newport-Mesa’s deputy superintendent and chief academic officer, asked trustees to delay their vote to allow time for district staff to review the charter’s proposal with recommendations from the county.