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Novato's proposed charter school faces opposition from teachers’ union

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Posted: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 12:06 pm | Updated: 12:06 pm, Wed Nov 14, 2012.

Hundreds filled the Novato Unified School District office Nov. 8 — some expressing their opposition, others their support in front of the NUSD’s board of trustees – for a proposed charter school in Novato.

Hours before the public meeting, the Novato Federation of Teachers released a statement saying the North Bay Educational Foundation’s proposed charter, North Bay Academy, would have a negative effect on Novato’s already “outstanding public school system.”

“Charter schools weaken the regular public schools,” said a statement signed by Aaron Fix, president of the NFT Executive Board, and five other union officers. “They take money away from neighborhood public schools and from the district budget.”

Fix also expressed concern about future teacher layoffs, but charter co-founders Mary-Jane Lonson and Robert Verhoeff say such a statement is false.

“We expect a voluntary shift of NUSD teachers who want to teach at North Bay Academy,” wrote the NBEF. So far six NUSD teachers are part of the charter’s “founder group.”

“And two more NUSD teachers signed the petition,” wrote the NBEF. “North Bay Academy will attract students not currently enrolled in NUSD schools today … this will reduce the number of current NUSD students leaving their schools, which will help secure positions for existing NUSD teachers.”

The charter expects to hire 21 teachers for the school’s first year.

“It is possible that there will not be any teacher layoffs as a result of the charter school,” NBEF wrote.

Additionally, the district will no longer have the salaries and benefit costs of the teachers who move to the charter, according to the NBEF.

The union had concerns about excluding students who have disabilities or who are English language learners, Fix wrote.

According to the teachers’ union, the charter is also free to send low-scoring students back to local public schools. “This improves [the charter school’s] results, but it leaves the regular public schools with disproportionate numbers of the most challenging students,” Fix wrote.

The NUSD has not yet had a chance to evaluate the potential financial impact of the proposed charter school, NBEF said.

“It is true, as NUSD students that enroll in North Bay Academy, the [Americans With Disabilities Act] dollars associated with those students will shift to the new charter school,” wrote the NBEF. “However, the cost to educate those children also shifts to North Bay Academy. Further, NBEF has written its charter to maximize revenue to the district in every possible way.”

The charter will also be classified as a Special Education provider, meaning the charter is required to pay the NUSD a fee per student to support services, wrote the NBEF. If the NUSD becomes the authorizer of the North Bay Academy, law also dictates that the district will be paid an oversight fee as well as pay rent to the district for any property utilized by the school.

The charter’s Core Knowledge curriculum model is an innovative, research-based program, Lonson said.

The NBEF is proposing to serve an estimated 544 students. Approximately three-quarters of the students with intent to enroll currently attend a school within Novato’s district, and 382 parents signed the petition – half are parents of Rancho Elementary students.

Other opponents are concerned about a potential school closure. While the NBEF says this worry is an “overstatement with little factual foundation,” the group Save Our Novato Schools, made up of local parents, disagrees.

“We can’t add a new school now,” said Ross Ingles, member of Save Our Novato Schools. “Those 544 students will end up replacing a school.”

“With the potential to attract and retain students from private schools and out-of-district public schools, the North Bay Academy could very well be a positive force in staving off or slowing down the possibility of a school closure,” NBEF wrote.

The teachers’ union also highlighted their belief that “charter schools are promoted not as ways to collaborate with public schools but as competitors that will force them to get better or go out of business.”

Many parents asked why competition was such a bad thing after all.

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