The San Diego Unified school board narrowly decided Tuesday night to take the first step toward shuttering Promise, a Chollas View charter school where a district investigation found a long list of violations, from keeping faulty financial statements to running afoul of open meeting laws.

The K-8 school has been bitterly split into two camps of parents and teachers — those who back the principal and those that don’t. But one message rang out from everyone Tuesday night: Don’t close our school.

Even parents who backed a school district investigation that found Promise had violated state laws on conflicts of interest, failed to follow rules on student suspensions, and a long list of other problems, said they didn’t want to dissolve it. Despite turmoil, Promise ranks in the top 10 percent among schools with similar challenges statewide.

“It’s not fair that because of bad leadership, a community is being disintegrated,” parent Julieta Juarez said in Spanish to the San Diego Unified board.

Principal Jose Orozco and his supporters said they had tried earnestly to solve problems. To quell concerns that Orozco lacks an educational credential to oversee instruction, the school hired a retired school administrator to help him. It held training for its board on public meetings and conflict-of-interest law.

Orozco will also step off the board to assuage concerns that he sat on the Promise board while it voted on his contract. Promise says Orozco abstained from the vote, which counters district findings.

“You can close a school that gives kids hope for a better education or we can work together,” Orozco said to cheers from the crowd.

Attorney Paul Minney said Promise would gladly pay for an outside mediator to bring parents and teachers together to work through disputes. But the school district concluded that Promise had still done too little to remedy the problems, blaming some on past leaders and simply denying others.

The school board voted 3-2 to send a letter to Promise that would trigger a hearing where the school could make a case for why it should stay open. The school board would then have 30 days to decide whether or not the school should be closed. Board members Shelia Jackson and Scott Barnett voted against sending the letter, saying they didn’t want to take any steps to close the school.

“If we revoke this charter and the school closes, it’s a failure of the system,” Barnett said. He lamented that school districts, which are supposed to provide limited oversight of charters, can’t make “surgical changes” to how they work, only “live-or-die decisions” such as whether the charter should stay open.

But other board members said they needed to take the next step to air out the issues at Promise and decide its fate. Board member John Lee Evans said the charter had repeatedly suffered problems that went beyond bureaucratic errors. President Richard Barrera said he wasn’t convinced that Promise would take its problems seriously if San Diego Unified didn’t take the next step toward shutting it down.

“People have said, ‘Give us a chance to work with the district.’ You have had a chance to work with this district and you will have a chance to work with the district,” Barrera said.

The controversial step toward closing Promise comes as San Diego Unified has reassessed its relationship with its charter schools, tightening its oversight and offering charters-in-the-making less help. Promise has been ground zero for its debates over charter freedom and accountability. Such shutdowns are rare: The last time a charter school was shuttered by San Diego Unified was five years ago, though others have dissolved on their own after being warned of problems.

Charter schools are publicly funded but independently run by their own boards. School districts decide whether or not they can open in the first place and monitor them. If they run afoul of the law, mismanage their money or fall short of academic goals, districts can shut them down. Charter schools can appeal those decisions to the County Office of Education and ultimately to the state.

Please contact Emily Alpert directly at or 619.550.5665 and follow her on Twitter:

Emily Alpert was formerly the education reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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