CONCORD — Clayton Valley High’s conversion to a charter school in the fall is prompting discussions at the state level about funding inequities that could result under current laws.
Mt. Diablo Unified School District Superintendent Steven Lawrence testified Wednesday before the state Assembly Education Committee in support of AB 1172, which aims to address the negative financial consequences a high school charter conversion can have on its unified school district, which includes elementary, middle and high schools. Although the district receives about $5,207 per student from the state, it must pay the charter $6,148 per student because high schools get a higher rate of funding than the overall rate given to unified districts.
Later that night, Lawrence and parents and staff from other district schools urged the Contra Costa County Board of Education to deny the charter petition, saying it would cost the district at least $1.7 million per year.
“Currently,” Lawrence said, “there will be negative financial issue for the remainder of our children in our school district.”
But the board unanimously approved the petition, in part because it could not legally consider financial impact as a reason for denial. College Park High parent Matt Lovett told the school trustees this doesn’t seem fair.
“I hope the charter proponents can sleep at night knowing they are taking away funding from all the other children in this district,” he said.
“I could never in good conscience do something like that. It really is shameful.”
Charter supporters, on the other hand, say it is not their intention to hurt the rest of the district. They question the district’s cost estimates for running the school — costs the school itself will assume in the fall.
Clayton Valley teacher Neil McChesney said Friday that the specifics about per-student payments and actual costs to run Clayton Valley are still being sorted out.
“We’re not in this to money-grub or have it better for just our kids,” McChesney said. “We really do believe that the charter can be great for everybody, and we certainly don’t want to be a burden on the rest of the district.”
Paul Minney, attorney for the charter school, is urging the district to seek a waiver from the financial impact, which would in essence require the state, and not the district, to make up the difference in the funding rate. Lawrence said he believes the state would not grant such a waiver, based on advice he had received.
Caryn Moore, who oversees charter funding for the California Department of Education, said the Mt. Diablo district could ask the state for a waiver under which the state would kick in the additional per-student money required to fund the charter.
But she said no district has ever sought such a waiver, and she did not know how the state’s legal office would view the issue. If the district applies by Feb. 27, the state Board of Education could decide on the waiver in May, according to Minney.
Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, hopes the draft legislation she and Assemblyman Tony Mendoza, D-Norwalk, have introduced will lead to more discussion about the issue.
“We are hopeful that we will be able to remedy the funding gap created during a high school charter conversion in a unified funding rate district,” said Mark Herbert, Bonilla’s district director, at the county board meeting. “We hope to ensure that the funding of a charter does not create funding inequity for other students within that school district.”
If the Mt. Diablo district can prove the charter will be a money drain, McChesney said, the charter board would try to help the district apply for a waiver or seek legislation to fix the problem.
CHARTER FUNDING GAP
Mt. Diablo Unified School District receives: $5,207 per student from the state
Clayton Valley High School charter is entitled to receive: $6,148 per student from district
Amount district is required to kick in: $941 per student, or about $1.7 million
More information about Clayton Valley Charter High is available at http://claytonvalley.org. For additional details, read the On Assignment blog at www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment.