Monday, November 19th, 2018 pm30 3:45pm

State: Marin school board hurts minorities with focus on charter school

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In a highly critical report, a state education task force concluded the Sausalito Marin City School District board favors the district’s charter school in Sausalito to the detriment of minority children who attend a traditional campus in Marin City.

The report also suggests that the way board members are elected could be challenged legally, because it denies minorities equal access to representation, and that the district could be liable for civil rights violations.

The 106-page report was issued Wednesday by the state Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team, which sent a four-person investigative team to review records and procedures at the district in April.

The probe came as critics say money and resources have been diverted to the 406-student charter school, which has its own board of directors. The K-8 Willow Creek Academy in Sausalito began in 2001 as a response to academic problems in district schools. Meanwhile, as the charter grows, the district’s sole traditional school, the 144-student K-8 Bayside Martin Luther King Jr. Academy in Marin City, is struggling to attract students and maintain cohesive educational programs.

The scathing report focused largely on the relationship between the board and the charter.


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“The majority of the district’s governing board members are closely allied with the board of WCA (Willow Creek Academy),” the report said. “Documents reviewed and individuals interviewed, including one governing board member, indicate that those involved in the leadership and promotion of WCA ensured the election of, and exercise control over, the majority of members of the district’s governing board. Thus the majority of governing board members are beholden to those whose primary interest is the well-being of WCA. This is a clear detriment to the students at Bayside MLK. Interviews and a review of governing board meeting minutes confirm that the district’s governing board is more supportive of WCA than of the district’s own school.”

Three of the five school board members — Caroline Van Alst, Thomas Newmeyer and Joshua Barrow — have children at Willow Creek, and a fourth, William Ziegler, is a founder of the charter school.

—There are major errors in the report,” said board member Ziegler. “It is not only highly biased; it is seriously off base with its numbers.”

Election process

The report also questioned the at-large elections process, saying it “could be challenged” under California voting rights law that requires districts to consider whether equal access to representation is being denied to minorities.

“By their own admission, leaders associated with WCA exercise significant control over the majority of the district’s governing board members, resulting in an excessively close relationship between the governance of the two entities and, more importantly a clearly biased financial arrangement that benefits WCA while harming the students of the district’s Bayside MLK school,” the report reads. “Although the district’s governing board made a decision to meet the Sausalito community’s needs through extraordinary support for WCA, it has yet to make a similar decision to invest in the students of Marin City.”

Sue Krenek, Willow Creek’s board president, first saw the report Thursday and said she and others will analyze it in the coming days.

“It’s always good to get an outside perspective on how to do a better job,” Krenek said, but she wondered if the state panel went too far afield in getting into policy issues when its stated goal is looking at financial and management responsibilities. “Some of the discussion on policy and legal issues appears to be a stretch,” Krenek said, adding that some aspects of the report “look incorrect.”

Charter oversight

The report continues that although the district is required to provide oversight for its approved charter school, the state panel — created as an independent agency in 1992 by legislation — found there is no formal process to do so.

“This has resulted in potentially segregated schools and a possible federal civil rights violation, for which the district has no indemnity because its failure to provide oversight leaves it without the protections otherwise provided in law for charter authorizers,” the report states.

“It is a very sad state of affairs, one that is damaging to our entire community and county,” said Marilyn Mackel, a former Los Angeles County court commissioner who has volunteered at Bayside MLK. She has filed a civil rights complaint against the district with the state Department of Education. She had not fully reviewed the report as of Thursday.

The report also says the district’s 2016-17 budget “will divert to WCA, or not collect from it, between approximately $1 million and $1.9 million in excess of the district’s legal requirement. … This excessive contribution to the charter school comes at the expense of the district’s own school, which has many unmet needs.”

The report asserts that what the district provides to the charter school “far exceeds anything contemplated under current law and regulations, as well as what is reasonable and fair based on common practice.”

It also alleges a memorandum of understanding signed late last year between the district and charter “may go so far as to constitute a gift of public funds.”

Achievement gap

Board members in interviews with the team voiced support for students in Sausalito and Marin City, “however, their actions are utterly inconsistent with their rhetoric and their own board policy,” according to the report.

Board policy 210 states: “Equity does not mean treating everyone in the same way. It means doing whatever it takes to get everyone to the same place.”

The report states: “The district’s governing board does not follow this policy.”

The report’s executive summary concludes: “The district has not honestly examined how its actions and policies harm students at Bayside MLK. As long as the significant achievement gap remains between WCA and Bayside MLK students, financial support should not be diverted from the students at Bayside MLK and provided to WCA. Funds currently being transferred from Bayside MLK to WCA should be redirected to academic, social-emotional, athletic and activity programs to close the achievement gap for students at Bayside MLK.”

The state review also served as a follow-up to a 2012 visit by the same panel. The new report says about 80 percent of the 100 recommendations made in 2012 have not been fully implemented, including significant recommendations regarding internal controls, board policies, budget development, financial reporting, payroll and position control, accounts payable and purchases and personnel practices.

“The report raises issues that will need to be addressed in a timely way,” said Mary Jane Burke, county superintendent of schools, who asked for this year’s state review. Burke serves as chairwoman for the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team board, but said she had no hand in writing the report. “It’s incumbent on all of us to focus on the needs of the kids in Marin City.” —— (c)2016 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.) Visit The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.) at www.marinij.com Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC. AMX-2016-08-12T08:16:00-04:00

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