Bakersfield City School District staff once again recommended a denial for a petition from the Central Academy for the Arts and Technology, which is seeking to open a charter school on Truxtun Avenue in downtown Bakersfield.
“Specifically, there were issues regarding their instructional program,” BCSD Superintendent Mark Luque said Friday in discussing a staff report on the petition that had just been posted online. “The terminology is, whether there’s sound or unsound educational programs. In the initial petition and subsequent follow-up petition … we found ongoing unsound practices in their petition.”
The district’s staff report posted online cited significant concerns with the school’s plans for how it will address English learners, special education and disadvantaged students, according to Luque.
Those populations are considered the most challenging groups for educators for a number of reasons and, as the largest elementary school district in the state, BCSD has a significant number of all three.
According to the state’s school dashboard, BCSD has an enrollment of approximately 29,307 students, and of that figure, 27,205, or 92.8 percent, are considered socioeconomically disadvantaged and almost 24 percent, or 7,003, are considered English learners. Just over 10 percent, or 2,988, are considered students with disabilities.
Central Academy for the Arts and Technology, or CAAT, submitted its petition June 1, which started a 60-day clock for the district to post its response. District staff is expected to formally review the response with BCSD governing board members at their Aug. 23 meeting. At that time, the board is expected to vote on whether to approve the petition.
Joanna Kendrick, a founding member of the proposed school, said the school’s organizers appreciated that this time around there was more communication up front about what the district considered its “nonnegotiables,” in terms of things that must be addressed by the charter in order to gain approval. However, she also said Wednesday there was little communication between the school and the district following the school’s submission of the petition.
She also felt the updated charter petition adequately addressed the three main areas of concern.
“There were questions about the school we had identified as receiving a preference (for admission),” Kendrick said, referring to Longfellow Elementary School on Stockton Street.
BCSD officials said it should have been Franklin Elementary School, which is located at 2400 Truxtun Ave., about half the distance — .9 miles versus 1.9 miles for Longfellow — to the 1200 Truxtun Ave. address proposed for CAAT.
Kendrick considered this a “difference of opinion” with how both sides were interpreting Education Code on the matter, noting the law cites proximity, but it also offers leeway on whether the closest and lowest-performing school can also be chosen, which was what CAAT what seeking.
As a compromise, she said CAAT would give preference to Franklin and “recruit heavily in the area around Longfellow.”
“Special education was the second piece,” Kendrick said. The district wanted CAAT to be clear in its plan for how it would serve this population.
Kendrick said the charter school would plan to contract with its own services, but district officials questioned the feasibility of this plan due to the availability of such services in Kern. She acknowledged the original petition mentioned there might be a need for district help in this area, but she also said that was only due to the original timeline, and now that the school is planning to open next year, that wouldn’t be an issue .
The updated petition also added specificity on how English learners would be taught, including time set aside, but the plan remains inadequate, according to the BCSD.
“While some of the new material included within the petition resolves original findings in part, the program still lacks elements needed to be considered a sound educational program,” according to the district’s staff report.
Kendrick said Wednesday before the district’s report was posted online that the charter school was preparing for the appeals process ahead of the district’s Aug. 23 formal review of staff’s recommendation.
The likelihood of an appeal probably was bolstered by two subsequent events. The release of the district’s recommendation, and an organized protest by the Dolores Huerta Foundation, which issued a news release expressing concerns about the charter’s plan and encouraged residents to comment at the governing board’s most recent meeting Tuesday.
Opponents of the charter school’s plan “share concerns that charter will siphon precious resources and money from public schools across the Bakersfield City and Kern High school districts, tokenizing students of color,” according to a release sent by Ashley De La Rosa, education policy director for the Dolores Huerta Foundation.
Kendrick said she has reached out to DHF to discuss their concerns, but she had not heard back from the organization.
The DHF did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
Steve Comstock, president of BCSD’s teachers union, shared concerns noted by the district when reached for comment last week, as well as some of the items mentioned by the Dolores Huerta Foundation.
Kendrick mused that political factors are likely to play a significant and unfortunate role in the charter school’s plans.
“We are still preparing for the appeals process because it’s ultimately going to come down to a vote, which feels more political than it does actually about providing an innovative program to kids,” she said Wednesday.
“I think (approval) will come down to the school program and pushback that they’ll get from the union and organizations like (Dolores Huerta Foundation),” she added, “which is unfortunate.”