Prosser Creek’s downfall was avoidable | SierraSun.com

Prosser Creek’s downfall was avoidable

Guest Column by Nancy Handel

The Truckee Tahoe Unified School District claims to have acted on behalf of the majority in the revocation of the Prosser Creek Charter School. In fact, they protected the narrow and self-serving interests of a few to the detriment of our entire community.

PCCS did not ask TTUSD for a “gift” of $2 million. And PCCS was never provided with a fully prepared memorandum of understanding (MOU) to sign. On the same morning TTUSD Administrators met with PCCS representatives to reassure PCCS that the MOU was “on track,” the district office was faxing the TTUSD special Board meeting agenda, listing the proposed “letter to cure,” to the public.

PCCS did retire $600,000 of debt in February, 2003 and PCCS did imagine that the agreement to sell the well loved and parent-improved, Truckee campus, and the spin-off PCCS sites, as required in TTUSD’s “essential elements,” had opened the doors to a new district-wide collaboration. Parents believed they had correctly chosen to value community commitment above their own dearly held dreams for the future of their school. PCCS could not have been more deceived.

Upon realization that TTUSD had no such collaboration in mind, PCCS, under the guidance of a PCCS Advisory Council member [Chris Handel], who holds a Stanford Ph.D. in finance, presented a revised, balanced and realistic budget. PCCS went out alone to pursue refinance. In a few short, pressured weeks of summer, PCCS succeeded and pleaded with TTUSD Administration and Trustees to meet to gain personal knowledge of this plan.

Despite the fact that PCCS financiers flew here, the Trustees were advised not to meet with them prior to TTUSD’s Aug. 19 revocation hearing.

At the meeting, Trustees turned deaf ears as financiers stood before the board, and committed publicly to refinance. The financiers offered to stay in Truckee, to meet personally with TTUSD administrators and trustees, but TTUSD was unwilling to alter the revocation script.

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Only Trustee Karen Van Epps had the character and independence to research the issues from all perspectives. Charter families will be forever grateful for her judiciousness. Her colleagues abdicated their role as leaders and allowed themselves to be led. They turned their backs on their neighbors, constituents and all of our children, to march to the tune of anti-charter drummers from far outside our district.

Four members of the TTUSD Board fell prey to the political agenda of Pat Gemma’s hand picked “consultants.”

San Francisco TTUSD attorney, Matti Scott, gave conflicting and misguided counsel, and frequently advised Trustees to cut off communication with PCCS representatives. Sacramento financial consultant Teri Ryland’s Powerpoint presentations were inaccurate, never confirmed with PCCS business managers and clearly intended to mislead both the TTUSD Board and the public. Our elected official, Placer County Office of Education Superintendent, Bud Nobli, visited his PCCS constituents only twice, once to hand over the contentious 2002 FCMAT report and then, once more, for a ringside seat at the August revocation spectacle.

The frequently referenced, nine month FCMAT “investigation” was dismissed early last fall, prior to its public presentation by TTUSD, by both the California Department of Education and by CDE General Counsel, Michael Hersher. In their correspondence to FCMAT, CDE and Hersher described the FCMAT report as “harsh” and as “opinion, not fact.”

Despite their awareness of the CDE ruling, TTUSD continued to invoke the FCMAT report as a viable critique of PCCS and as justification to starve the school of previously apportioned State funding.

News of the public FCMAT hearing and the already defunct report were released just in time to achieve headlines in the last local newspaper to be issued prior to the Nov. 7 school board election.

Pat Gemma’s mean-spirited portrayal of PCCS parents as anti-TTUSD schools and teachers was expressed most reprehensively in his November 2002 “confidential” and widely circulated memorandum to “all staff.”

In fact, many PCCS families had children in both TTUSD and PCCS schools. Some PCCS parents saw PCCS as an opportunity for specific periods in the lives of their children and many PCCS parents volunteered generously with children throughout the community. Gemma further used his influence to deepen divisiveness, to overtly discriminate against Prosser public school children in the distribution of Measure A parcel tax funds and to entirely freeze the granting of Excellence in Education dollars to the 7 percent of all TTUSD students enrolled in PCCS.

Superintendent Dennis Williams came to TTUSD in June 2003, and soon left for vacation. Within days of his return and prior to any dialog with PCCS families, he resumed the assault on PCCS. By renewing the PCCS charter in April 2003, TTUSD avoided a Prosser charter denial appeal to the state. By revoking in August, after depriving Prosser of all cash due to the school starting in June, the TTUSD administration was assured that the charter school would have no resources available to pursue justice. This process was well planned and not coincidental.

It is unlikely that the new superintendent devised this strategy during his first vacation and it is far more plausible that those who “searched” for him knew exactly what they planned to deliver. Had four trustees been vigilant and had they, as they like to say, “put kids first,” they would have been cognizant of the destruction that was unfolding before them.

Just as every TTUSD school has special attributes, so did PCCS. Our community has lost an irreplaceable educational choice, as well as the fragile commitment to heal our wounded spirit.

During these late days of August, the profound sadness and anxiety of PCCS parents, children and teachers, as we hear those painful words “back to school,” cannot be described.

Nancy Handel is a parent of two former Prosser Creek Charter School students. Her family lives in Truckee.