Against community pushback and staff recommendations to deny both applications, the Orange County Board of Education voted Wednesday to approve proposals for two charter schools to operate within local school districts.
The International School for Science and Culture wanted to open in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, and the Sycamore Creek Community Charter School sought to operate in the Ocean View School District. Their requests were rejected by the district boards.
The schools then appealed to the county Board of Education.
Both are expected to open for the next school year. They will be able to enroll students from areas in the respective districts in addition to neighboring districts.
The county board’s chamber was filled with parents and district staff members, the majority of whom opposed the charters. But some spoke in favor of them, saying they would provide parents and children with more choice in schools.
“I think our children need choices,” Orange County trustee Mari Barke said before the vote on Sycamore Creek. “I think choices include quality, and good schools will improve the quality of the education, the excellence of the education.”
Trustees Barke, Ken Williams and Lisa Sparks voted to approve both charters, in addition to a five-year term and a “founding families” stipulation that allows the schools to give limited but preferential enrollment to students of parents who founded the campus.
Trustees John Bedell and Rebecca “Beckie” Gomez dissented.
“I agree with parent choice, but choices have to be of quality. You cannot have something that is put in front of parents and have it be over-promised and under-delivered,” Gomez said.
She added that she had “significant” concerns with the proposals, partly because the schools agreed to comply with staff-recommended changes at the last board meeting but the staff report for this meeting still cited several issues with both.
“It’s not a choice if there’s no quality,” Gomez said. “If you have people saying that just because it’s a charter that it’s quality, no. I am anti any school that doesn’t provide quality, whether it’s a charter or public.”
Patricia Gould, lead petitioner for ISSAC, said she was “very pleased” with the board’s decision.
Amy Green-Bosinoff, lead petitioner for Sycamore Creek, said she was “over the moon” to be making the Waldorf curriculum, an education model that focuses on students’ creativity, more accessible.
Wednesday’s decision came after the board in February postponed a vote at the recommendation of staff to provide all parties more time to work out disagreements and return with a resolution the board would be able to vote on.
The Newport-Mesa and Ocean View districts filed separate resolutions, in accord with the state’s education code, that pointed out concerns about the charter schools’ curriculum and staff qualifications.
Similar concerns were brought up again Wednesday.
Sycamore’s proposal describes its curriculum as “arts-integrated” and adheres to the Waldorf teachings. The school will serve transitional kindergarten through eighth grade.
ISSAC’s proposal describes it as a STREAM — Science, Technology, Reading and Writing, Engineering, Arts and Math — school that will have a foreign-language program that teaches students Spanish and Mandarin Chinese in addition to English. It will serve transitional kindergarten through fifth grade.
Newport-Mesa and Ocean View determined in their resolutions that the schools had “unsound education programs” and that “petitioners are demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the program set forth in the charter.”
Newport-Mesa Supt. Fred Navarro said in a statement last week that the charters’ appeal to the county was “a deliberate choice to end-run local control and seek a more favorable ‘pro-charter’ audience.”
He called ISSAC’s financial plan “unsustainable” and its educational plan “unsound.”
“Sure, it had a fancy name, but it couldn’t be backed up with anything but vague promises,” he said. “The petition sought to use taxpayer funds taken from our community as ‘venture capital’ in a highly speculative, flawed proposition.”