continued But by the end of October 2001, Tarr still hadn't heard any news from the school district, so he asked his attorney to get a progress report from the district's attorney. "And they got ahold of him, and he said, 'I haven't been given any documents yet.' So here we are, 30 days into it, and their attorney hasn't even received the documents. And this is after Pete has told his board that his attorney is looking at it. He had never given it to his attorney."
Tarr continues, "So then we started to try to push this thing, and our attorney started talking directly to their attorney. But every time we sent something their way, there was always a problem. No matter what it was, there was always a problem with it. And our attorney told me, 'This isn't usually so tough to get this stuff through.' "
"We weren't at all uncooperative," Schiff responds. "Our board said to me, 'Do what you can to help the charter school.' But again, when a charter is presented and you have a 60-day timeline, 30 days to hold a public hearing, and another 30 days to respond, and we have had no dialogue -- zip, zero, none, with the proponents... It was 'Here is our charter,' and it was scanty at best when it was first proposed. There was no budget associated with it, there was no curriculum associated with it, and those are two of the canons that the state says the local education agency must oversee. And the way the law is written, you have to document why you are not going to approve the charter, or you have to approve it. We were just having some difficulties with the timelines associated, and with the lack of specificity within the charter, and the lack, quite frankly, of understanding and cooperation from their legal staff, when they finally got one."
As the 60-day deadline approached, Tarr says it became clear that Ramona Unified was not going to meet it. So instead of going into a 30-day extension, he pulled the proposal and resubmitted it, which restarted the 60-day clock. "And then we get into December, and we are still haggling over the memorandum of understanding between us and the district. They kept adding stuff that made it more difficult for us to do what we had to do. One of the things that they put in there was that we had to have 100 students by July 1 signed up for us to stay in business, or they could pull the plug on us. We were all the way into January when we finally had a complete set of documents. We took it to the board on January 14, 2002. But, at the last minute, Pete adds a whole bunch of extra stuff into the resolution, things like them being able to look at our curriculum and decide whether or not our curriculum is correct. Well, the whole idea of having your own school is that our board looks at the curriculum, not their board.
"He was putting in as many roadblocks as he could," Tarr continues, "so that we could trip and he could pull the plug on us. We could see that, and we went before the board and said, 'We can't have this, we can't have that; if you are going to tell us that we have to do that, then just vote us down.' Because if they turned us down, we could have appealed to the county and gotten a vote at the county. And frankly, at this point, I would have appreciated it if they just turned us down, because the county wouldn't have given us so much grief over the long run."
But at that January meeting, the board approved a memorandum of understanding and Tarr's charter. The first order of business was to form a 501(c)(3) corporation "so that we would be able to get donations and all those kinds of things." The next was recruiting students.
"One of the things that we had put in the memorandum at the last minute," Tarr says, "about the only thing that was good for us, was that we asked for all the names and addresses of the graduating eighth graders, so that we could send our enrollment materials to them. Apparently Pete hadn't seen that in the last draft of the memorandum that went along, because when it came to February, I asked him, 'Hey, we need to get those names.' And he said, 'Well, I am not signing that memorandum; I am not going to give you those names.' And I said, 'The board approved it the same time that they approved the charter.' And he said, 'No, they didn't; all they approved was the charter. They did not approve the memorandum of understanding.' "
Tarr says he was partially relieved that Schiff would not sign the memorandum of understanding, because it meant items he felt were unfavorable to his cause were still under negotiation. But it also meant he did not get the names and addresses he requested.
"In their charter," Schiff says, "it proposed that they get them April 1 of a school year. But he then proposes to get them March 1. Well, I felt an obligation, and I reported that publicly to the board, and they concurred that we needed to send a letter to all eighth-grade parents saying we were going to release this information by April 1 unless they in fact told us not to. Well, it turned out to be April 3 or 4 or 5, but we met the spirit of that deadline."
Schiff also believes sending high school information to eighth graders before April -- when Ramona Unified sends such materials -- could be disruptive. "All of a sudden, they are focused on the high school instead of finishing up the eighth grade."
Tarr responds that there are still two months of school left in April. "By the time we got the names," he adds, "we were into April, and they had already mailed out all their stuff, and people were signed up for Ramona High School already."