Prosser Creek and TTUSD: A history of disagreement
August 7, 2003
After more than five years of tumultuous relations, the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District has threatened to revoke Prosser Creek Charter School’s charter based on an alleged education code violation.
With the new school year just around the corner, the disagreements between the two parties could take the decision of whether or not to cure the alleged violation down to the wire.
Perhaps Prosser Creek Executive Director Jayna Gaskell summed up the school district-charter school relationship best, saying “The school districts oversee their charter schools. It’s an inherently bad relationship. It’s like saying Bill Gates has to oversee Mac.”
Here’s a brief history of Prosser Creek Charter School and its relationship with Tahoe Truckee Unified School District:
— April 6, 1998: The school board approves a five-year agreement for Prosser Creek Charter School.
— Fall 1998: Prosser Creek opens its doors to approximately 220 students from Nevada, Placer and other contiguous and non-contiguous counties. By early October, approximately 75 students had transferred out of the district’s mainstream schools and into Prosser Creek. “We didn’t expect as many students to move to the new school,” said then-Superintendent Pat Gemma.
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— November 1998: Although district mainstream schools face declining enrollment, with some of the students moving to the charter school, the district can’t obtain “declining enrollment” status from the state because Prosser Creek students – even the out-of-district students – are considered part of TTUSD’s overall enrollment.
— July 1999: Prosser Creek has to get rid of 150 of its students after the legislature passes a bill only allowing charter schools to instruct students in contiguous counties.
— August 1999: Charter school officials announce they will operate on five different sites in the Tahoe area and contiguous counties.
— September 2000: Twenty percent less students show up for school than Prosser Creek officials say they had anticipated.
— April 2001: Prosser Creek parents protest the district’s parcel tax allowance to the charter school. One parent calls the $17,000 contribution “appalling.”
— February 2002: Prosser Creek officials discover a sizable error in its budget accounting in which the school’s director of business affairs included state aid – one portion of ADA funding – in the budget twice. The budget – including the error – had been approved by the school board and the Placer County Office of Education. Based on the error, and allegedly overstated enrollment figures, the county superintendent of schools withheld $350,000 from Prosser Creek.
— October 2002: The school district hires an independent firm to conduct an audit – best known as the FCMAT report – which questions Prosser Creek’s fiscal viability and brings to light the school’s nearly $4 million of debt. The in-depth audit of Prosser Creek’s finances, teacher credentials, land purchase agreement for the site and enrollment figures cost the district $15,000. “These concerns go far beyond the accounting error that was discovered last February,” Gemma said. Prosser Creek Executive Director Jayna Gaskell said the report “reinterpreted the law.”
— November 2002: Two Prosser Creek supporters take on the incumbents in the school board election and lose by a narrow margin.
The school board approves Pat Gemma’s contract renewal, despite comments from Prosser Creek parents who say Gemma is “anti-charter school.”
— December 2002: State Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin asks the county superintendent to return most of the funds withheld from Prosser Creek, except for $58,786 in question for ADA funding.
— April 8: As the date for charter renewal or non-renewal approaches, Prosser Creek and district officials spend a lot of time behind closed doors quarreling over the five-year charter. The result: Essential elements were added to the charter. With the requirements the charter school would have to vacate its current site, place a cap on enrollment and get rid of their out-of-district students.
— April 10: Prosser Creek’s charter is renewed for five more years. District and charter school officials say they’re happy with the outcome. The board approved the charter with a stipulation that both parties must agree to a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in 45 days.
— May 7: The school board decides it may renege on one of its essential elements and possibly allow Prosser Creek to remain at its Union Mills site for one more year.
— June 4: The school board extends the deadline for the MOU, with district staff citing the legal counsels for the charter and district “had been on vacation.”
— June 25: MOU is still incomplete. Officials from Prosser Creek and the district say they’re still working on the details of the agreement.
Prosser Creek asks Tahoe Truckee for a $2 million-plus financial contribution in order to help balance the charter school’s budget. No such agreement has been put in writing.
— July 1: The school district delivers a letter to Prosser Creek officials indicating that the school’s charter may be facing revocation. It accuses the school of violating California Education Code, saying Prosser Creek “failed to meet generally accepted accounting principles or engaged in fiscal mismanagement.” It also stated Prosser Creek refused to sign an MOU.
July 3: In a special board meeting about the violation, the board sets a date, Aug. 7, to determine whether or not Prosser Creek has cured its alleged education code violation.
July 14: Prosser Creek’s attorney sends a letter to school district counsel stating that the charter school wants to begin the dispute resolution process.
July 30: School district counsel responds, stating that the education code violation supersedes any dispute.
Aug. 2: Prosser Creek’s counsel sends a letter to district counsel threatening to take the district to court if it doesn’t begin the dispute resolution process by Aug. 4 at 3 p.m.
Aug. 4: After no response from district counsel, Prosser Creek’s attorney starts asking the court for an injunction on the charter school’s revocation.
Aug. 6: The school board cancels the Aug. 7 meeting.