Charter school, district butt heads |

Charter school, district butt heads

A last-minute special meeting to decide the fate of Prosser Creek Charter School’s future on Tuesday ended with no decision and a closed-session proposal from the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District board.

After three hours of negotiations in closed session – with the school district’s lawyer, Mattie Scott, and interim superintendent Bob Nehls delivering negotiations between the school board and Prosser Creek representatives in separate rooms – district trustees returned at 10:02 p.m. to a dwindled crowd of anticipative parents and teachers.

“The board is not going to vote tonight,” Nehls said, adding that the negotiations between the two groups had been “intense,” with the deadline for the charter’s renewal approaching on April 11.

However, the school board presented a proposal to Prosser Creek representatives, asking the charter school to agree to certain conditions. If Prosser Creek agrees to the conditions, the school board will work with them on renewing the charter, said District Board President Pat Gibbons-Johnson.

Parties from both sides would not disclose the specific conditions set forth by the school board.

Gibbons-Johnson did, however, speak on the general issues addressed in the proposal: Two-thirds of the Prosser Creek’s students do not live within district boundaries; the charter does not address the school’s $3.5 million multi-year debt; the district’s anticipated facilities surplus after the construction of the new middle school; and the school’s site location on Union Mills Road.

After the draft document was presented to Prosser Creek representatives, they told the district board that they wanted take the proposal to their parents before they made a decision on whether or not to OK the conditions.

“We want to get our parents’ reaction,” said Prosser Creek Advisory Committee member Celest Fournier, “at least as a courtesy to our parents. They need to be a part of the decision-making process.”

Prosser Creek’s advisory committee held a special meeting for parents after press time, on Wednesday night.

Just last month, after a public workshop about Prosser Creek’s charter renewal, both school and district representatives had expressed the tensions had diminished between the two parties.

However, after last night’s meeting, the climate reverted to one of contention.

“Somehow it changed last night,” said Prosser Creek Executive Director Jayna Gaskell. “[Scott] and [Nehls] came in and said [the board] didn’t like our wording (in Prosser Creek’s response the district’s proposal) … They changed everything at the last minute.”

Gibbons-Johnson iterated that in previous closed-session discussions between the school and the district, “some thoughts were thrown out as a creative ideas, and not an offer.”

Because the closed-session meetings only had a sub-committee representation from the board, Gibbons-Johnson said she couldn’t make decisions on behalf of the board.

“We are not allowed to put the board in that situation,” she said.

“We agreed on a lot early on (in the meetings), but then we got down to the tough issues,” she said referring to the general issues addressed in the proposal.

The school board was scheduled to make a decision whether or not to renew Prosser Creek’s five-year charter at 7 p.m. on Monday night, but the charter school’s representatives asked the board to remain in closed session to continue negotiations, Trustee Cindy Gustafson said.

The board will reconvene today at 5 p.m. to take action on the charter petition.

During public comment, one woman in the audience voiced her concern that the school board didn’t understand the value of charter school programs.

“The concerns we have been discussing are not about the value of the program,” said Trustee Karen Van Epps. “We know, we get [the value].”

Gibbons-Johnson said Tuesday’s special meeting was the result of 10 closed-session meetings between the school district and Prosser Creek.

In a closed meeting on Monday, representatives from Prosser Creek gave the district an ultimatum, Gibbons-Johnson said in an interview before Tuesday’s meeting.

“They said, unless we could guarantee to renew the charter, they wouldn’t grant us a waiver,” she said.

Fournier said Prosser Creek wouldn’t grant a waiver because they need a decision from the school board “as soon as possible.” If the charter isn’t renewed, she said, the appeals process to the State Board of Education is a lengthy one.

“As long as we agreed on the fundamental issues on the table, we would grant a waiver,” Fournier said.

The wavier would allot the district a 30-day extension for further negotiations with Prosser Creek. If the charter school does not grant the district a waiver, the board must take action on the petition for renewal by the April 11 deadline, 60 days after the school submitted its petition to the school board.

“Unless our differences are ironed out, we’re not going to renew the charter,” Gibbons-Johnson added.

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