August 29, 2008

Charter Plan Concerns San Mateo Union High School District

By Neil Gonzales


SAN MATEO -- Proponents of a charter school need to resolve educational, financial and other concerns in their proposal if they want to build a campus in the San Mateo Union High School District, local education leaders said Thursday night.

The Southern California-based Magnolia Educational and Research Foundation has petitioned the district to approve a charter for the proposed Magnolia Science Academy, which would serve sixth- to 12th- graders.

But the petition raises "serious questions" whether the foundation can provide an educationally sound program and one that aligns well with what the district offers, said Matthew Biggar, San Mateo Union associate superintendent of instruction.

For instance, the district provides support services for English- language learners, Biggar said. "I could not find equivalent support in the petition."

Also, the way the district offers Advanced Placement courses would conflict with how the foundation goes about it, he said.

District officials were also worried about how the foundation would finance a charter.

After its first year, the charter would have an operating deficit of about $680,000, said Elizabeth McManus, district associate superintendent of business services.

District leaders also complained about a petition that was not detailed enough and was, at times, confusing.

"Are we going to get a petition that's all cleaned up at some point?" asked district board Vice President Linda Lees Dwyer.

Foundation officials argued that they have a solid educational and financial plan for the proposed charter.

The foundation has enough money to open a charter and operate it within budget, including $600,000 in a start-up grant, according to Joseph Hurmali, the organization's chief executive officer.

The foundation has identified three existing buildings in San Mateo that could house a charter, Hurmali added. The preferred site is a former education building.

The foundation also has a strong academic track record as evidenced by its current high-performing schools in Southern California, he said.

The foundation, however, is willing to work with the district to address concerns in the petition, said Andy Gokce, who is in charge of new schools for the charter group. "We're open to suggestions and recommendations."

The district board is expected decide whether to approve the petition during its Sept. 11 meeting.

The new school would begin with 225 students next year and eventually serve 800 youth.

The foundation had wanted the Foster City Council to reserve four acres of a 15-acre property near the Government Center for the project -- an area that might otherwise become part of a larger residential and commercial project.

But last month, the council voted to not reserve the city-owned land for the charter, citing concerns that the foundation lacked a viable business plan to finance construction of a campus and other issues.

Staff writer Neil Gonzales covers education. He can be reached at 650-348-4338 or [email protected]

Originally published by Neil Gonzales, San Mateo County Times.

(c) 2008 Oakland Tribune. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.