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The San Diego Unified School District is poised to warn two charter schools that if they don’t change their ways, they could be shut down.
Promise Charter in Chollas View and Tubman Village Charter School in College Area have been under investigation for two months as San Diego Unified sorts through a storm of allegations about them, hiring an outside group to help dig through documents and do interviews.
In a draft letter, the school district excoriated Promise Charter for a long list of alleged problems, including violating the state law that requires it to hold open meetings, keeping faulty financial statements, and not following legal rules on student suspensions that require parents to be informed of their rights.
The district challenged whether Promise was meeting the educational pledges it set forth in its own guidelines, arguing it lacked an appropriate program for English learners and didn’t provide the instructional time it had promised.
The school district also says Promise failed to report allegations of child abuse. Parents who back the Promise principal, Jose Orozco, argue he has rightfully tried to quash inappropriate behavior between teachers and students. San Diego Unified does not go into detail about the alleged behavior in its report, but it says while the principal tried to stop inappropriate behavior by adopting new policies, “they are apparently not being followed or enforced with success” since “nothing has been successful in curbing the allegations, or apparently the behavior.”
San Diego Unified also argued that Promise violated its own rules about who should sit on its charter board. Major changes on the Promise board were one source of disputes at the school, as different camps of teachers and parents argued over who should have power at the Chollas View school. It concluded several former members of the Promise board were improperly unseated and that at least four of the Promise board members were not legitimately elected, invalidating their later votes.
And the whole report calls into question whether Principal Orozco is equipped to be a principal at Promise under its own charter rules, pointing out that he doesn’t have an administrative or teaching credential.
“Most, if not all of the issues surrounding the legal and charter violations identified herein, as well as the variety of complaints being lodged about the school’s operations, all can be traced back to leadership both in the administration and the Board, none of whom appear to have the necessary experience in operating a public school or spending public dollars,” a draft letter to the school from Deputy Superintendent Nellie Meyer concluded.
Orozco, in turn, argues that he has been tackling many of the very issues that the report addresses, such as inappropriate behavior and shoddy financial statements. He complained that the school district failed to pick up on those problems before he became principal and was now targeting him as he tried to fix them. He also contested some of the findings in the report; for instance, the report claimed that Orozco had violated conflict of interest rules by voting to ratify his own employment contract, based on meeting minutes. Orozco said that never happened.
As for his credentials, Orozco argued that test scores went up on his watch. “That has to say something about my leadership,” Orozco said. “Imagine what will happen four years from now.”
To fix the problems, the school district is insisting that Promise either prove the problems did not actually occur or show they have been solved. It specifically wants Promise to show that student discipline and education programs for English learners comply with the law, remake its board to comply with its own rules, figure out how to elect its board members, record all its board meetings, and hire an administrator who is credentialed and experienced in operating a public school. Orozco said their board would work together to decide how to respond.
“Promise has demonstrated a wholesale failure to understand and comply with the legal, fiscal, and charter requirements,” the draft letter from Meyer reads. “It is clear that Promise is either blatantly disregarding its obligations or is unable to meet them, even with training.”
Tubman Village Charter School had a much shorter list of violations, including violating state laws that require open meetings, failing to take meeting minutes that are sufficiently detailed, and not following its own rules about how to constitute its charter board.
The school district also said it was concerned that Tubman had yet to settle on a labor agreement with its teachers, years after they opted to join the union. Unlike Promise, which got a list of specific changes to make, Tubman was asked simply to either rebut the violations or fix them. Principal Lidia Scinski could not be reached immediately Wednesday night for comment.
Charter schools are publicly funded but independently run and overseen by school districts. If they mismanage their money, fall short in student achievement or violate their own rules, school districts can shut them down. However, charters can also contest the findings and appeal to the County Board of Education to stay open.
The school board is scheduled to vote Tuesday whether to send the warning letters to the schools. If it does, Promise and Tubman will have a little more than a month to show that they’ve fixed the problems or proven the district wrong. You can read the full letters that San Diego Unified could opt to send to the charters here and here. The San Diego Unified board is slated to vote on whether to send the warnings at its meeting next Tuesday.