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Otay Ranch charter school could lose campus

Court says local authorization required for Temecula-based operation

Parents and children at the September 7 Chula Vista Elementary School District meeting
Parents and children at the September 7 Chula Vista Elementary School District meeting

More than 400 students attending Otay Ranch Academy of Arts, a charter school located on the Mater Dei property in eastern Chula Vista, might lose their campus if the Chula Vista Elementary School District refuses to authorize their program.

The academy is part of Harbor Springs Charter Schools, a branch of the Temecula-based Springs Charter Schools. The center opened its doors in 2014 and over the past four years has grown from 80 to over 400 students. They offer two programs: an in-class (K–8) and a home-school (K–12) option.

At issue: even though the academy operates in Chula Vista and 66 percent of its students live in the city, the charter is authorized by the Julian Union Elementary School District. That means Julian Union has collected the 1 percent in oversight fees.

What’s more, in February 2016 the Chula Vista Elementary School District sent the academy a cease-and-desist letter. The Union-Tribune reported, “The situation causes problems for the non-authorizing districts because they don’t benefit from the state funding tied to enrollment of the students attending a charter school approved by another district but operating in their backyard, and they have no educational or fiscal control over the campus.”

Harbor Springs transition plan sent to parents

Springs Charter administrators, however, argued that legally their learning centers could operate anywhere in the county as long as they were sponsored by any school district within that county. Then, a lawsuit ruled otherwise. In October 2016 a California appellate court said charter schools must be authorized within the school district where they reside. Now the academy needs to come into compliance with the court ruling.

In May 2017, Harbor Springs obtained a waiver from the state board of education to continue operations through June 2018. Once the school year ends, the fate of the academy hangs in the balance.

On Wednesday, September 7th, parents, students, and administrators packed the district board meeting. Many held signs that read, “I love my charter school.” Springs Charter superintendent Kathleen Hermsmeyer gave an informational presentation and mentioned that if the district sponsored the charter school, it would begin to receive the 1 percent oversight fee.

In public comments, scores of individuals praised the academy and its personalized student learning options. A parent explained, “Every child is unique, and my daughter is not geared to testing and exams…. It makes her really nervous and highly pressured, so Otay Ranch Academy for the Arts is really very suited for my daughter whose learning style is very different.”

One student said, “Our school’s different because we have no homework, which is less stressful for us and our parents.”

However, Susan Skala, the president of Chula Vista Educators, expressed reservations: “I’m concerned that this is a charter chain. I am concerned that it is a conglomerate under one board. Harbor Springs admin offices are in Temecula and it’s been operating for three years through a different school district and the only reason that it’s coming to Chula Vista right now is because of a legal judgment.”

The academy has a student-teacher-ratio of 28:1 and a full-time aide in every classroom from K–5. Because charter schools are not limited to school-district boundaries, Harbor Springs can accept students from the contiguous counties of San Diego, Riverside, and Orange County. If space is limited, they use a lottery system.

Trustees will vote next month after staff presents a detailed report. Tanya Rogers, assistant superintendent of business at Springs Charter, said, “We would like to be locally authorized because then we can act as partners with the local district.”

In an interview, Hermsmeyer added, “If it doesn’t get approved here, we can appeal to the county. If it doesn’t get approved in the county, we can appeal to the state. If none of those work, we actually have other options. One option is we can have this center at one of our contiguous county charters.”

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Parents and children at the September 7 Chula Vista Elementary School District meeting
Parents and children at the September 7 Chula Vista Elementary School District meeting

More than 400 students attending Otay Ranch Academy of Arts, a charter school located on the Mater Dei property in eastern Chula Vista, might lose their campus if the Chula Vista Elementary School District refuses to authorize their program.

The academy is part of Harbor Springs Charter Schools, a branch of the Temecula-based Springs Charter Schools. The center opened its doors in 2014 and over the past four years has grown from 80 to over 400 students. They offer two programs: an in-class (K–8) and a home-school (K–12) option.

At issue: even though the academy operates in Chula Vista and 66 percent of its students live in the city, the charter is authorized by the Julian Union Elementary School District. That means Julian Union has collected the 1 percent in oversight fees.

What’s more, in February 2016 the Chula Vista Elementary School District sent the academy a cease-and-desist letter. The Union-Tribune reported, “The situation causes problems for the non-authorizing districts because they don’t benefit from the state funding tied to enrollment of the students attending a charter school approved by another district but operating in their backyard, and they have no educational or fiscal control over the campus.”

Harbor Springs transition plan sent to parents

Springs Charter administrators, however, argued that legally their learning centers could operate anywhere in the county as long as they were sponsored by any school district within that county. Then, a lawsuit ruled otherwise. In October 2016 a California appellate court said charter schools must be authorized within the school district where they reside. Now the academy needs to come into compliance with the court ruling.

In May 2017, Harbor Springs obtained a waiver from the state board of education to continue operations through June 2018. Once the school year ends, the fate of the academy hangs in the balance.

On Wednesday, September 7th, parents, students, and administrators packed the district board meeting. Many held signs that read, “I love my charter school.” Springs Charter superintendent Kathleen Hermsmeyer gave an informational presentation and mentioned that if the district sponsored the charter school, it would begin to receive the 1 percent oversight fee.

In public comments, scores of individuals praised the academy and its personalized student learning options. A parent explained, “Every child is unique, and my daughter is not geared to testing and exams…. It makes her really nervous and highly pressured, so Otay Ranch Academy for the Arts is really very suited for my daughter whose learning style is very different.”

One student said, “Our school’s different because we have no homework, which is less stressful for us and our parents.”

However, Susan Skala, the president of Chula Vista Educators, expressed reservations: “I’m concerned that this is a charter chain. I am concerned that it is a conglomerate under one board. Harbor Springs admin offices are in Temecula and it’s been operating for three years through a different school district and the only reason that it’s coming to Chula Vista right now is because of a legal judgment.”

The academy has a student-teacher-ratio of 28:1 and a full-time aide in every classroom from K–5. Because charter schools are not limited to school-district boundaries, Harbor Springs can accept students from the contiguous counties of San Diego, Riverside, and Orange County. If space is limited, they use a lottery system.

Trustees will vote next month after staff presents a detailed report. Tanya Rogers, assistant superintendent of business at Springs Charter, said, “We would like to be locally authorized because then we can act as partners with the local district.”

In an interview, Hermsmeyer added, “If it doesn’t get approved here, we can appeal to the county. If it doesn’t get approved in the county, we can appeal to the state. If none of those work, we actually have other options. One option is we can have this center at one of our contiguous county charters.”

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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