The San Mateo County Office of Education has analyzed the petition to open a Mandarin immersion charter school in the Menlo Park City School District next fall, concluding there are many grounds that could be used to deny the petition.
The county's board of education meets on Wednesday, Feb. 4, starting at 7 p.m. in the district office board room at 101 Twin Dolphins Drive in Redwood City. The item is near the start of the agenda and has a public comment period.
Proponents of the Menlo Mandarin Immersion Charter school appealed to the county board after the Menlo Park district school board voted unanimously in November to deny their petition.
A summary of the county report concludes the petition to start the charter:
● Has enough signatures. The district said many of the petition signatures shouldn't be counted; but the county questioned only if the final petition had actually been attached to the signature sheets, as legally required.
● Describes how it will achieve a racial and ethnic balance reflecting the general population of the district. The county report pointed out that the law does not require the school "to actually achieve a racial or ethnic balance" but just to have a recruitment plan in place to attempt to do so.
● Lacks a "reasonably comprehensive description" of a number of legally required items, including the educational program, student progress measurements, governance structure, admission requirements, staff retirement system and procedures for closing the charter.
● Does not present a sound educational program in the areas of special education, English language development (for non-English speakers), and transitional kindergarten (which is not offered in the Menlo Park City School District).
● Has problems with financial planning and resources that would make it unlikely for the school to be successful. The county staff pointed out several shortcomings in the budget, including the amounts for salaries, facilities rental and startup costs.
● Violates state law by requiring new students in second grade and up to pass a Mandarin-proficiency test.
The report says the county board has four options:
● Grant the charter for up to three years.
● Ask charter backers to withdraw the petition and correct identified problems.
● Deny the petition, based on legal grounds.
● Take no action.
If the county board denies the charter or takes no action, a final appeal can be made to the state board of education. If either board approves the charter, the school may operate in the district, and the district must provide facilities if the school has more than 80 in-district students.
The petition says the school would open in the fall of 2015 with two classes each of kindergarten and first grade, a total of 100 students. One grade would be added each year.
The backers have asked the district for 10,000 square feet of classrooms and other facilities for 2015, saying the school would serve at least 80 district students. The district denied the facilities request, but charter backers say they qualify.
The charter must be approved by May 7 to preserve a $375,000 grant for startup costs from the federal Public Charter Schools Grant Program.