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New charter school could be offered through Placer County Office of Education

Decision to be made next month
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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The possibility of a new charter school offered through the Placer County Office of Education is raising controversy among some parents and school district officials. Teachers and parents who signed the petition for the Placer County Pathways Charter School say the school is needed to give parents a choice in where to educate their children, while some school district officials say certain aspects of the charter duplicate services already being offered through their districts. Ultimately, the decision will be made by the Placer County Office of Education Board of Directors next month. Opposition got heated Cheryle Stuber, of Auburn, is a teacher at iLearn Academy, the home school and independent study program offered through the county office of education. She said several local school districts have denied the requests of parents to enroll in the iLearn program and creating a charter school will allow those parents the ultimate decision. “I just want to maintain a really great program we have already had going on for over 20 years and even offer more,” Stuber said. “It’s a choice for parents to make. Not all parents that want to come to us can because there are districts that are not willing to sign a release to the students in their district. We are not out to compete with anyone, but we are out to honor parent choice.” Stuber said some people expressed their concerns with the charter at the office of education board meeting Thursday night. “It was a pretty heated meeting last night,” Stuber said. “People didn’t want our program to go charter because they saw it as competing with whatever they still have.” What’s in the charter? The new charter would offer several programs that already exist within the county under one umbrella, including Care and Intensive Care Classes, the iLearn Academy and Career and Technical Education. Most of them serve at-risk youth, according to Placer County Superintendent of Schools Gayle Garbalino-Mojica. She said the office of education could only open a charter school to serve the types of student it currently serves. Some of the programs, including Care Classes and iLearn would continue to take place on school campuses and at the homes of students throughout Placer County. Intensive Care and Career Technical Education would be offered in a new education center, she said. The district is currently looking at a couple of buildings that are between 10,000 to 25,000 square feet in South Placer County, according to Garbalino-Mojica. She said the projected cost is between $1 million and $1.5 million. One reason a separate facility is needed is because many students in intensive care can’t legally be on a school campus because they have been expelled from school. The facility also has to be located close to public transportation lines, she said. Garbalino-Mojica said charter schools have become popular in Placer County, and the office of education wants to provide some of the benefits that come along with them. One of those includes being able to offer more instructional time than a traditional school. “Charter schools allow innovation. We are taking this opportunity to look at what we offer and realize we want to change something,” Garbalino-Mojica said. “It does create the opportunity to work around barriers and to be free of burdens that in traditional education, we traditionally have our hands tied.” She said while the school is geared toward at-risk youth, any parent in Placer County could choose to send their child to the charter school if it opens. What could it mean for other local districts? Niccole Pitz, of Colfax, is one parent opposed to the charter school. She said the charter status would make the office of education less accountable. “The Placer County Office of Education — they have great teachers. They are governed and they have to be accountable for all of their actions,” Pitz said. “If they go to charter there is nothing that will umbrella them and nothing that will make them accountable.” Dave Horsey, Placer Union High School District Superintendent, said he told Garbalino-Mojica he was concerned the charter did not clearly state it was targeted mostly to at-risk youth. Garbalino-Mojica said she welcomed the feedback and took it as an opportunity to clarify the charter. Horsey said the charter still duplicates independent study services offered at Maidu High School, which accepts students from all over Placer County and beyond. He said Maidu is already accredited by the Western Association of School and Colleges and has a stellar reputation in Northern California. “Our concern is, ‘Will this charter by PCOE draw students who would have normally gone to Maidu. While I can support PCOE’s idea of a charter for the at risk students they serve, the charter would have to take any student,” Horsey said. “It’s our feelings that we have this same type of program right here in our county and it also is open to any student.” The loss of students would also mean a dip in daily attendance funds allotted to the district’s schools. “If we lose students, we lose ADA revenue,” Horsey said. He said on average, public schools receive about $5,000 per day, per student. The charter school could be eligible to receive that, in addition to about $3,000 per day, for each at-risk student in attendance. iLearn parent wants options Kelly Hiatt, of Auburn, is one parent that signed the charter. Her son Joseph is currently a second grader enrolled in the iLearn program. She said with more districts not approving parent requests to attend iLearn, she believes the program could be in jeopardy because of low enrollment. Going to a charter status would protect a parent’s freedom of choice, she said. “Charter is a way for that to not occur. It’s another choice for us as parents. They have never said that, but the writing is on the wall,” Hiatt said. “They have had to turn away a number of families.” Hiatt said while she is sympathetic to public schools losing funding, iLearn is the best fit for her son. “I am a big believer in not pushing my agenda on somebody and I would hope that somebody wouldn’t push theirs on me,” Hiatt said. Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com, or follow her on Twitter @AJ_News.