Tag Archives: Edison Charter Academy

Meeting notes, April 26: Edison and other controversies

Get ready, long post!

The main business item on tonight’s agenda was the renewal of Thomas Edison Charter Academy’s charter for five more years. The school has a long, tortured history in SFUSD, colored mainly by the very poor relationship between the district and the school’s former operator, for-profit Edison Corporation.

The ancient history is that back during the Rojas years (1996-1999 ish; don’t quote me on the exact years), the Board approved Edison’s charter, then a few years later sought to revoke it. In what Commissioner Wynns tonight characterized as a backroom deal, Edison was ultimately allowed to ask for a charter renewal, which the Board denied, then appeal the denial to the State Board of Education to become a state-issued charter.  Since then, the school district and Edison have mostly ignored each other, aside from the fact that Edison has been occupying prime school district real estate on 22nd and Dolores Streets, smack dab in the middle of the child-rich Noe Valley and Mission neighborhoods.

The state has renewed Edison’s charter at least once, but what has changed this time is that the school has now severed its ties with Edison Corporation and is now an independent charter operator. The current administration is apparently inexperienced in the ways of charter petitions, and the renewal petition submitted to the Board back in January was incomplete and inadequate from a budget perspective. So while the Board’s Curriculum Committee voted 2-1 back in February to give the petition a positive recommendation, the Budget Committee unanimously recommended to the Board that the petition not be approved. The full Board later voted unanimously to deny the renewal petition.

Enter the State Board of Education, which could in the past always be relied upon to approve any charter application that it saw. However, the State Board makeup has changed dramatically under Governor Brown, and many speculate that it is now much less charter-friendly than in the past. Anyway, apparently the Edison petitioners revised their petition before appealing to the State Board, but rather than approving the appeal outright, the State Board asked the SFUSD Board to take another look at the revisions before it agreed to review the petition.  (According to testimony from SFUSD staff tonight, the State Board has some kind of rule about making sure it is working off the same information provided to local governing Boards, so it asked us to rule on the revised petition before it considered taking action).

Tonight SFUSD staff presented its review of the newly-complete petition, but still found deficiencies that warranted denial of the petition. Specifically, there were several grounds cited: that the budget figures and analysis provided in the petition contained omissions and inaccuracies; and that the petition contained inaccurate or incomplete descriptions of certain aspects of the program (discipline and employee rights).

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Recap: National Board Certification, Edison, afterschool and the budget

Tonight’s regular Board meeting began on a high note with the public recognition of 33 teachers who have achieved National Board Certification this year — bringing the grand total of National Board Certified Teachers in SFUSD to 200, or about five percent of our teaching corps. This is second only to LAUSD in total numbers, but in percentage terms only about three percent of LAUSD teachers are National Board Certified. This is rightly a source of great pride for the district. Becoming a National Board Certified Teacher is a very rigorous process, and a tremendous achievement for an individual teacher.

The next major item on the agenda was the renewal of Edison Charter Academy’s charter. This charter has something of a tortured history in SFUSD — old timers might recall that the Board actually revoked Edison’s charter when it came up a decade ago. At that time, Edison was run by the for-profit chain Edison Schools Inc., which promptly appealed the revocation with the California State Board of Education. Their appeal was granted, so over the last eight or so years SFUSD has not had much of a relationship with Edison other than a facilities use agreement for the school’s large facility on 21st and Dolores (coincidentally the former Thomas Edison Elementary school). Last year, the Edison Charter Academy board formally severed its relationship with the for-profit Edison Schools, and came before the SFUSD Board as an independent community-based charter seeking renewal.

At the Curriculum Committee last week, Commissioner Maufas and I voted to give the Edison petition a positive recommendation to the full board, largely because of the school’s record of achievement (Commissioner Wynns voted against the recommendation). But at the Budget Committee, significant deficiencies were found with the petition, with the committee eventually voting to recommend denial. After reviewing the committees’ recommendations as well as the staff recommendation to deny the petition, the Board voted unanimously not to renew Edison’s charter — renewal would have given the school another five years of operation. The petitioners now have the option of resubmitting their petition as a new petition, or appealing the decision to the State Board. In the past the State Board has been very quick to grant charters, but the composition has changed since Gov. Brown appointed new members last month, so a charter appeal may no longer be a slam dunk.

We heard a presentation on 2011-12 budget development from Deputy Superintendent Myong Leigh, with the upshot being that there is still a great deal of uncertainty for K-12 education. The Governor has proposed a “best case” scenario budget that would involve cuts of perhaps $19 per ADA, or about $1 million, for SFUSD (remember that our staff salaries and benefit costs are increasing every year, so the failure to keep track with those costs will require additional cuts on top of that $1 million just to stay in place).  The “best case” assumes that the voters will pass a package of tax increases and extensions on June 7, but that’s a big IF — to even put the measures on the ballot, two-thirds of the Legislature would have to agree. Then, of course, a majority of voters would have to actually vote yes.  The “worst case” could require additional cuts of $330 per ADA — or about $20 million all in.

As district staff prepare for either scenario, they are warning us to expect significant numbers of district staff to receive layoff notices this spring. Hopefully we will be able to rescind most of those, but things are just too uncertain to know right now. Deputy Superintendent Leigh said the staff will be looking at ways to mitigate the effects of layoffs on particular schools or communities — a recent ACLU lawsuit against LAUSD may have given the school district some additional flexibility in this area.

We heard an informational presentation on out-of-school  programming and planning for increasing capacity and quality of afterschool options for public school students; also a short update on the district’s plan to create a K-8 program at the Horace Mann Academic Middle School site by bringing Buena Vista Elementary to the school and combining it with the existing middle school program. The school will retain the Horace Mann name, but discussions are underway about how to integrate the Buena Vista name into the school somehow.

Public comment:

We heard from a number of current parents at Fairmount Elementary who do not support the newest middle school feeder plan announced on Feb. 1, which would feed Fairmount into Everett Middle School.  Parents argued that Lick MS — where Fairmount would have fed based on the original plan unveiled by the district last August — makes much more sense geographically; also, they said many Fairmount students currently attend Lick and the two schools share a community connection.

We also heard from several teachers and parents at Bret Harte Elementary, who are alarmed by unspecified rumors about their school’s future. The teachers and parents were particularly critical of communication and community engagement in the Superintendent’s Zone, complaining that decision-making has been top-down and that the district has failed to reach out to parents as part of its effort to improve educational options in the Bayview.