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Glendale Unified board denies charter school plans; petitioners say they will appeal to county

The Glendale Unified School Board on Tuesday voted unanimously to deny a petition submitted by parents who sought to establish a charter school in Glendale.

District officials concluded the plan for the school would fail in its execution to "present a sound educational program," primarily because of financial issues.

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The lead petitioners, however, plan to appeal the board's decision, said Hilary Stern, a co-lead petitioner who spent two years creating a 250-page plan for the school, named the International Studies Language Academy.

The charter school, which Glendale Unified officials began to formally consider in October, was expected to offer dual-language immersion programs in Spanish, German, Italian and French for students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

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"We had hoped to work with GUSD as our authorizer, but now have no choice but to appeal to the county" Stern said in an email.

If granted approval through the Los Angeles County Office of Education, Stern added, she is still hopeful to establish the school in Glendale.

The school's supporters favored the charter's potential to meet the demand for dual-language programs, which are popular in Glendale Unified because there are seven different foreign language classes, and students spend the majority of the school day learning in their chosen foreign language.

However, Glendale school officials found fault with the charter's proposed staffing, educational and financial plans.

"While the petitioners' efforts [are] admirable, and we believe that their intentions are to serve students, we found a number of significant weaknesses and deficiencies in the proposed plan," said Glendale Unified co-interim Supt. Joel Shawn.

In their 18-page staff report recommending denial of the charter school, a team of 10 Glendale Unified administrators concluded that the charter school would not likely fulfill local families' needs.

They calculated that 74% of the charter petition's roughly 300 support signatures came from families who reside outside of Glendale.

The school's plan to employ 21 teachers was also found "inadequate" by Glendale school officials, who said at least 33 to 35 teachers would be necessary, according to their report.

Glendale school officials also projected that the International Studies Language Academy would experience a budget shortfall of roughly $937,000 when it came to adopting curriculum for the school, and stated that the charter did not budget enough money for teacher training opportunities.

Glendale Unified officials also stated that the school's proposed salary compensation for teachers, at $48,500 a year, was not as competitive as the school district's average starting teacher salary of $62,433, according to the report.

Co-lead petitioner Gillian Bonacci said the petitioners were "disappointed" in the board members' decision to deny the school.

"Hundreds of charter schools use the same budgetary assumptions we did, and they are doing fine financially," she said in an email sent the day after the school was denied. "Comparing a district budget to a charter school budget is illogical, misleading and not the way to judge the financial soundness of a charter petition."

Some Glendale school board members did not go into extensive detail as they explained their reason for voting to deny the charter school, but the majority pinned their vote on what they perceived as financial weaknesses in the plan.

Without elaborating further, school board members Greg Krikorian and Nayiri Nahabedian said that overall, they supported the Glendale school officials' findings and grounds for denial.

School board member Armina Gharpetian said she appreciated the petitioners' "passion" and "dedication" to the education of children, but went on to say that she based her decision to vote against it "on the financial issues" presented in the petition.

"You have good intentions, so thank you for that. And please, continue, no matter what happens tonight, your volunteering in the schools," she said. "To me, the financial stability for any district is the most important issue, and whether it's a charter school or not, I think financial stability is the No. 1 priority for a school district."

Fellow board member Jennifer Freemon, who sends her children to Franklin Elementary, where the charter's petitioners have also enrolled their children, also denied the petition based on financial projections, as did Christine Walters, board president.

"I know that tremendous effort went into this," Freemon said. "Financially, the model to me does not appear to be sustainable. I don't think we can support something and take that type of risk."

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Kelly Corrigan, kelly.corrigan@latimes.com

Twitter: @kellymcorrigan

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