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Rocketship charter denied

West Contra Costa Unified educators, officials and parents after the State Board of Education denied Rocketship a charter school in their district, September 7, 2018. Photo: Emma Erbach

In Sacramento Friday, the concept of local control over new charter schools won a victory thanks to the East Bay education community that joined together and spoke out against a flawed charter proposal.

The California State Board of Education listened, and agreed after a hearing at its regular meeting to deny an appeal of two denials of the charter by the local and county school boards. The vote was 9-1. The State Board has often granted such charter petition appeals, despite local denials.

West Contra Costa Unified School District educators, school board members and parents joined with county Office of Education officials in urging the State Board of Education not to clear the way for a new Rocketship charter school proposed for San Pablo. It had already been denied twice, by the school district and county school board.

“Rocketship’s flawed proposal to open a new school has been denied at the local level and is not supported by educators, parents and local administrators.” – Demetrio Gonzalez, president, United Teachers of Richmond CTA/NEA

The showdown was yet another test of California’s broken charter school law that allows charter companies to appeal to the State Board of Education when their petitions for new schools are denied by the school districts they would directly impact. Local concerns about the petition by Rocketship, a nationwide charter company, included class sizes, the ability to adequately support special education students, student retention and local control.

“Rocketship’s flawed proposal to open a new school has been denied at the local level and is not supported by educators, parents and local administrators,” said Demetrio Gonzalez, president of the United Teachers of Richmond CTA/NEA, in a statement before the State Board vote on Friday. “The State Board of Education must respect the deep concerns of our education community.”

Gonzalez signed a letter spelling out the concerns that’s also signed by West Contra Costa district Superintendent Matthew Duffy, school board President Valerie Cuevas, the mayor of San Pablo and the mayor pro tem of El Cerrito, among others.

In a separate letter to the state board, Contra Costa County Board of Education President Fatima Alleyne spells out her strong concerns with the Rocketship petition around issues of special education, student enrollment, fiscal responsibility and local control.

Rocketship charter denied

Educators and parents line up to speak out against a flawed charter proposal by Rocketship before the State Board of Education, September 7, 2018. Photo: Emma Erbach

And state Senator Nancy Skinner of Oakland warned in her letter of the damage done whenever the state board fails to heed local school officials about proposed charter schools. “Overruling the rigorous evaluations of charter petitions by local school boards undermines the practice of local control, wherein districts develop priorities and plans with input from all stakeholders, including parents, students, teachers, and community members,” Skinner wrote.

The California Department of Education had recommended that the state board not grant the Rocketship appeal, citing the “unrealistic financial and operational plan for the proposed charter school.”

EdSource also covered the two-hour public hearing.

Many of the East Bay stakeholders opposing Rocketship’s petition rode together to the Sacramento hearing early Friday morning in a chartered van, and wore yellow “No Rocketship” T-shirts in solidarity. More background on the showdown is online under Item 17 on the state board meeting agenda.

The West Contra Costa Unified School District serves about 28,000 students in the cities of Richmond, Hercules, Pinole, El Cerrito and San Pablo, and unincorporated areas of Contra Costa County such as the communities of El Sobrante and Kensington.