A report prepared to help the Menlo Park City School District board decide if it should allow a Mandarin immersion charter school in the district concludes the petition is flawed and the school is not "likely to succeed." The board is scheduled to vote on the petition on Wednesday, Nov. 12, at 6:30 p.m.
State law limits the grounds on which the board can deny the petition. The 56-page report, prepared by a team of district administrators and consultants, goes through each of the areas in which the board has some leeway when making its decision.
The report did conclude the petition had gathered enough signatures. The law requires signatures from the parents of at least 50 percent of the 100 students the petition says the school will serve the first year; the parents must be "meaningfully interested" in enrolling their children in the charter school.
The district contacted each signer. While many did not have appropriately aged children or said they no longer wanted their names on the petition, the district found that 44 in-district and 14 out-of-district parents with children who would be in kindergarten or first grade next year had signed -- eight more than the required minimum.
However, the report finds flaws in other areas. The petition does not give a reasonable description of how the school would, as required by state law, "reach a racial and ethnic balance in its student population" that reflects the district's current racial and ethnic makeup, according to the report. Asian students constitute a little more than 7 percent of the district, and the report said other Mandarin immersion programs have much higher percentages. The report gives an example of a problematic imbalance with a Mandarin immersion school in New York City that has nearly 75 percent Asian students where the district-wide population is less than 16 percent.
The charter school may also have problems reaching its projected eventual enrollment of 450 students, especially with students who live within the district, according to the report, which says the school will have trouble replacing students who drop out with students who are proficient in Mandarin. The petition states that any child who enters the school after first grade must first pass a Mandarin proficiency test.
The district's current survey of home languages shows only 36 students speak Mandarin at home, the report says. It also concludes that the target of 450 students is unrealistic because that includes 15.5 percent of all students in the district, a much larger percentage than any Mandarin immersion program in nearby school districts.
The report says the school's budget is also unrealistic; the amount of money budgeted is less per child than the district spends on items such as textbooks, technology, professional development and site maintenance. Also, the school may have trouble finding and keeping teachers because the proposed salaries are below local market rate and Mandarin-speaking instructors are in short supply.
The charter school may also be short on administrators, since it will be governed by the Bay Area Language Immersion Schools, a brand-new nonprofit which is also trying to open a school in San Jose next year. During the first year, according to the report, the executive director of the nonprofit will also serve as principal of both the San Jose and Menlo Park schools.
"It would be nearly impossible for a single individual to serve as the CEO of the nonprofit corporation while serving as a principal starting up not one, but two, charter schools, in two different locations," the report states. Furthermore, the board of the nonprofit lacks members with school administration experience, according to the report.
Carol Cunningham, spokesperson for the Mandarin immersion charter school, was not immediately available for comment.
The Nov. 12 meeting will be held at the Encinal School Multi-Use Room at 195 Encinal Ave. in Atherton.
If the school board denies the charter petition, backers may appeal to the county school board. If that board also denies the petition, the appeal can go to the state board of education.