Tassajara Prep’s Cookie Cutter Charter Petition
OneDublin.org has obtained a copy of the Livermore Valley Charter Preparatory High School charter petition, and reviewed the Tassajara Prep charter petition, and has concluded that:
- Most of the Tassajara Prep charter petition was a copy of the Livermore Valley Charter Preparatory High School petition. Livermore Valley Charter Preparatory High School was approved after several appeals but has not yet opened or graduated a student.
- The Tassajara Prep charter petition was submitted without parent signatures.
- The location of Tassajara Prep, if approved and opened, remains unknown.
- Tassajara Prep, if approved and opened, will divert up to $5,660,366 per year in ADA funding from Dublin High
As part of its ongoing review of the Tassajara Prep charter petition, OneDublin.org did a page-by-page comparison with the Livermore Valley Charter Preparatory High School charter petition from November 2007. While it is expected that templates will be used for charter petitions, in this case the documents were virtually identical. Differences between the documents are minor – rewording with no material change in meaning, differences in enrollment targets and updates related to the new Tri-Valley Learning Corp. structure (that replaces Livermore Valley Learning Corp. and effectively eliminates Dublin Learning Corp.)
As a result, Tassajara Prep is no longer a local initiative, but rather the next step in the creation of a multi-city charter school management corporation. There have been mixed results from charter corporations of this kind in California in large part because of financial mismanagement and insufficient oversight (the most notable example being the abrupt closure of the California Charter Academy’s network of charter schools).
In addition to the cookie-cutter nature of the Tassajara Prep charter petition, OneDublin.org has also determined the following from a review of the charter petition and additional research:
- One of the mandatory components of a charter petition is a signature requirement. There are two ways to meet the signature requirement for a charter school:
- The petition has to be signed by at least 50% of the parents/guardians of students required for the first year enrollment OR the petition has to be signed by at least 50% of the teachers the school estimates will be employed in the first year of operation
- OneDublin.org has learned that the charter petition was submitted without parent signatures. Instead, Tri-Valley Learning Corp. had to resort to the second option – signatures from likely first year staff members. Given that we’re coming out of a difficult recession with school closures across California, finding teachers to sign a document for a school that might – at the earliest – open in 2012 was likely an easy task. A charter petition without parent signatures – what does that mean to you?
- The location of the school was not part of the charter petition and is not a mandatory element. From the beginning an east-side location has been the key benefit promised by the charter school proponents. The location of the school, if approved, will remain TBD for several years and an east-side location is not guaranteed. The only reference to the location of the school in the charter petition is necessarily vague: “Tassajara Prep desires to operate on one site within DUSD boundaries.” Translation: Tassajara Prep, if approved and opened, could end up at a temporary facility anywhere in Dublin – north, south, east or west.
- Tassajara Prep, if approved and opened, will divert up to $5,660,366 per year in ADA funding from Dublin High (source: Tri-Valley Learning Corp. Tassajara Prep Fiscal Plan, Jan. 7, 2010), and up to $19,004,754 cumulatively from 2012-2017.
- OneDublin.org has argued previously that student choice and funding are inextricably linked – and that two undersized high schools reduces student choice. Dublin High is smaller than the average high school in Pleasanton, Danville, San Ramon and many other high performing school districts.
- The Tassajara Prep Fiscal Plan makes no mention of revenue from charitable donations even though most charter schools, in particular charter high schools, depend in part on donations to offer a full program.
- Livermore Valley Charter School (LVCS), operated by Tri-Valley Learning Corp., depends on at least $1,000 per student per year as detailed in this article.
- Pacific Collegiate School in Santa Cruz is asking each parent to donate at least $3,000 per student per school year; Community Harvest Charter in Sherman Oaks is asking families to donate at least $1,000 per student per school year and Downtown College Prep in San Jose states on their website that they need to fundraise annually $1 million to be able to offer a full program (which is 1/3 of their annual budget). Bullis Charter School (BCS) has the following statement on their website: “BCS depends on its entire parent community to make generous donations each year. To help cover the funding gap, we ask each family to donate towards the BCS Annual Campaign goal of $1,400,000. Our suggested donation for this year is $4,000 per student.”
- Budget challenges are facing schools across California – district-run and charter. Charter schools are particularly vulnerable – 29% of charter high schools in California have failed, primarily due to financial challenges.
- According to a Thomas B. Fordham Institute study, which looked at charter school funding vs. district-run school funding, charter schools on average get 22 percent less per student. According to the Fordham Study the charter school funding gap for California charter schools is wider – 31.5% on average. Tassajara Prep’s claim that donations will not be required to offer a complete program does not mesh with the Fordham data or the evidence from other charter schools in California.
- According to this article, charter schools in New York receive nearly $1,500 per student per year in donations.
- OneDublin.org, therefore, recommends parents budget for a donation of $1,000-$3,000 per student per year when considering the Tassajara Prep charter school proposal.
Most significantly, the Tassajara Prep Charter Petition does not articulate what problem exists in Dublin’s public education system, specifically with Dublin High, that justifies the inherent risk in starting a charter high school. There is additionally little evidence that charter high schools outperform district-run high schools. Both charter-run high schools and district-run high schools have demonstrated success – looking at 2009 API data published by the California Department of Education, district-run high schools had an average API of 731 and charter-run high schools had an average API of 708. OneDublin.org has previously highlighted how charter schools can be very effective when addressing a real problem.
As a point of comparison:
- Dublin High’s 2009 API of 842 is better than 90% of high schools in California (charter or district-run, using data from the California Department of Education website)
- 95% of 2009 Dublin High grads reported attending college
- Dublin High’s Class of 2010 have achieved impressive early acceptance results
- Dublin High will be included in Newsweek’s 2010 List of America’s Top Public High Schools
The experience is no different in Livermore where Livermore Valley Charter School’s API is not materially better, and even somewhat worse, as compared to Livermore’s district run options (specifically, Livermore Valley Charter School: Grades K-8, API 866; Mendenhall: Grades 6-8, API 858; Smith: Grades K-5, API 901; Sunset: Grades K-5, API 904). Closer to home, Dublin Elementary (classified by the California Dept. of Education as a “similar school” for comparisons purposes to Livermore Valley Charter): Grades K-5 posted a higher API at 870. Bottom line: it is a myth and over-simplification that putting “charter” in front of “school” = “better school”.
Parents interested in further researching the risks inherent in successfully managing a charter school are encouraged to review the following articles:
- A partial list of Closed Charter Schools by State including reasons for the closure (interestingly this list was create by a pro-charter lobby group)
- California Charter Academy Bankruptcy
- Oversight boards were blind to charter school’s troubles
- Obama’s Race to the Top competition won’t fix public schools
- Sun Valley High will stay open through January, trustees say
- Oak hills Academy suspected of fraud
- Charters’ funding is the fly in ed reform ointment