Embattled Charter School Could Be Shuttered
The decision on shutting down Promise Charter could be a
dramatic test of the school district’s new, tighter leash on
San Diego Unified is taking the first step toward shutting down a charter school that’s been wracked by months of controversy, arguing that it violated a slew of state laws and failed to live up to its own founding charter.
Such shutdowns are rare. The last time that San Diego Unified came close to shutting down a charter was four years ago with the Children’s Conservation Academy, which closed on its own, and the last actual revocation was in 2006, when the A. Phillip Randolph Leadership Academy was shuttered.
If the school board decides to push forward and hold a public hearing on whether to close the school, it will be a dramatic demonstration of its new, tighter leash on charter schools. Charters are publicly funded but independently run, with limited oversight from the school districts that approve them in the first place.
Earlier this spring, a school district investigation concluded that Promise, a K-8 charter school in Chollas View, suffered a long list of problems, including keeping faulty financial statements and violating state laws that require it to hold open meetings. It found that Promise had violated conflict-of-interest laws by allowing Principal Jose Orozco to vote on his own contract.
San Diego Unified challenged whether Promise was meeting the educational pledges it set forth in its own charter rules, arguing it lacked an appropriate program for English learners and didn’t provide the instructional time it had promised. The investigation called into question whether Orozco, who doesn’t have an administrative credential, was equipped to be a principal under the Promise rules.
Promise had roughly a month to either show that the problems were solved or prove they never existed. It denied many of the allegations but agreed to make some changes, such as hiring a retired school administrator to assist Orozco with evaluating teachers and other instructional oversight. It argued that its state test scores, which rank high among similar schools, should dispel worries about its academics.
“The bottom line is that Promise Charter School is a public school worth saving because it is … successfully serving the academic needs of the Hispanic/Latino, English Learner, and socio-economically disadvantaged students,” attorney Paul Minney wrote in the Promise Charter response.
But San Diego Unified said Promise had merely tried to shift blame for problems onto its past board, administration and staff and “provides little to no documentation or information to refute the violations.”
The school district first began investigating Promise after parents and teachers complained that Principal Orozco intimidated parents who disagreed with him on everything from scheduling to staffing. Teachers at the Chollas View charter recently became unionized, which brought the San Diego teachers union into the fray.
Orozco and parents who backed him argued that the complaints stemmed from a disgruntled minority upset with needed changes, such as setting rules on inappropriate contact between teachers and students. Many of the complaints arose after a shift in power on the Promise Charter board.
Lisa Berlanga, who leads the regional chapter of the California Charter Schools Association, said she was disappointed that San Diego Unified hadn’t tried to resolve the disputes informally before launching its investigation. That shift is part of the larger change in how San Diego Unified deals with charters.
“It went from parent complaints to a formal legal process. That doesn’t give the charter school and the district staff a chance to talk through things,” Berlanga said. “It’s attorneys talking to attorneys.”
The school board will vote Tuesday night on whether to begin the process of shutting down the school, sending a letter reiterating its concerns. That would then trigger a public hearing on its fate, likely in late June. The school board would then have 30 days to decide whether or not to shutter the school. Charter schools can appeal to the County Board of Education and ultimately to the state if they disagree with the decision.