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By Allison Jarrell
At Wednesday night’s Capistrano Unified School District Board of Trustees meeting, the Orange County Academy of Science and Arts (OCASA) presented a petition to the board to create a charter school within the district.
During the presentation, OCASA representatives said they’ve gathered hundreds of signatures at community events in San Juan Capistrano, Laguna Niguel and San Clemente, and have held a half-dozen parent information sessions across the district. They presented goals for the school such as a focus on an exploratory, integrative STEAM curriculum; ethnic and socioeconomic diversity among students; and having the school accessible to low-income, underserved students, of which they want to comprise 25 percent of the student population. During the hearing, Trustee Gila Jones questioned whether that population would be adequately reached with the school’s current outreach plan.
The school’s projected enrollment is 255 students K-8 in academic year 2016-2017, 330 students in 2017-2018 and 375 students in 2018-2019.
According to the California Department of Education, Proposition 39 requires that school districts “make available, to all charter schools operating in their school district with projections of at least 80 units of average daily attendance (ADA), facilities that will sufficiently accommodate all of the charter’s in-district students, and that facilities be “reasonably equivalent” to other classrooms, buildings, or facilities in the district.”
OCASA’s Proposition 39 application submitted to the district states that, “Based upon the needs of the charter school and the residency of the projected student enrollment” OCASA would like to locate its facility “within the attendance area of San Juan Elementary school in San Juan Capistrano or within the attendance area of Las Palmas Elementary school in San Clemente.”
However, when asked if OCASA’s intention is to occupy a current school site, San Clemente resident Kapil Mathur, lead petitioner for OCASA, replied that the charter school is currently “proceeding on parallel paths” with the “intent to secure a private facility.” He said once a lease is signed, they may withdraw the Prop 39 application.
“Our plan is to lease a private facility to use as the school,” Mathur said. “We do not plan on using an existing school facility.”
The integration of charter schools into the district is nothing new for CUSD. In September, the Board of Trustees voted to close Crown Valley Elementary School in Laguna Niguel to make way for Community Roots Academy. In 2012, the district closed Barcelona Hills Elementary School in Mission Viejo to house Oxford Preparatory Academy, and in 2007 Foxborough Elementary School in Aliso Viejo was closed and replaced with Journey Charter School.
During public comment on the hearing, 11 people spoke in favor of the charter school, with a couple dissenting viewpoints. Sally White, president of the Capistrano Unified Education Association, said she was glad to hear that OCASA doesn’t intend to take over a neighborhood school site, but doesn’t see a need for more choice.
“Our schools obviously offer STEM and we have great arts programs,” White said, listing other district benefits such as highly-qualified teachers, student diversity, access to technology, AP courses and ROP programs. “I don’t think we need more diversity or more choice, and I’m really tired of schools being targeted, so I would just say enough and be careful.”
According to OCASA’s proposal, the district is required to express any objections about charter school attendance projections in writing on or before Dec. 1, and the school must respond to the objections by Jan. 2, 2016. OCASA then expects a written preliminary facilities proposal from the district on or before Feb. 1, and the school has until March 1 to respond with any concerns or counter proposals. A final notification regarding the space to be given to OCASA is required prior to April 1.
To view OCASA’s petition and proposal, visit www.capousd.org and search under “Board of Trustees.”