We don’t want the stinkin’ charter expansion

Castle Park Middle School parents and teachers resist trustees’ push

Susan Mitchell was the lead petitioner for the Stephen Hawking Charter K-16.
  • Susan Mitchell was the lead petitioner for the Stephen Hawking Charter K-16.

Diane Ince, a Castle Park Middle teacher, spent her summer trying to raise the awareness of interim Sweetwater trustees regarding the expansion Stephen Hawking charter school.

Ince attended the May 28 board meeting, a meeting so packed with problems and people that everyone was given one minute to speak.

In her minute during public comment, Ince appealed to the trustees to put on hold the charter expansion onto the Castle Park Middle campus. Ince said the expansion will take classroom space in the 700 building that is needed for the local school population, and she decried the idea that the campus will be divided by a fence.

Ince, who spoke before the board again on June 30, made these arguments:

“Castle Park Middle students and programs should be occupying the specialty classrooms in this [700] building. For example, we are reinstating our arts-and-crafts program next year, so the art classroom should be used for its original purpose….

“In addition, a classroom renovated for the Special Education Severe and Moderately Severe program is located in this building…. The room was remodeled especially for these students, so using it for any other purpose with the charter school would be inefficient and unfair to our student population.”

The agenda for the July 17 board meeting contains a bid for asbestos abatement from the 700 building of Castle Park Middle School. The abatement is in advance of remodeling.

The Reader queried several Sweetwater employees to find out if the abatement was being done on behalf of Castle Park Middle students or Hawking charter students.

Rather than answering, Tim Duke, Sweetwater’s purchasing manager, responded:

“I have forwarded your request to Deanne Vicedo at the Office of the Clerk of the Board of Trustees.  She told me she will contact you.”

Vicedo handles public record requests.

On July 17, Duke wrote and said he forwarded the request because he does not know the answer. Sweetwater employee Karl Bradley is listed on the agenda as project manager but has not responded to several queries.

There is yet another question about the Hawking charter expansion.

At the June 30 board meeting, several speakers questioned agendized consultant fees for Susan Mitchell, who was paid to bring Sweetwater’s charter schools into existence and continues to work for district charter advancement.

Sweetwater teacher Colleen Cooke-Salas told the board: “A public school has no business paying the salary of the director of charter schools [Susan Mitchell].”

Community advocate Kathleen Cheers told the board: “Why are we paying taxes to the public school system and then having our public school money used to support a charter school?

“Why are we paying Susie Mitchell’s salary? I want my public education system to work and I do not want to subsidize a charter school.”

Susan Mitchell was the lead petitioner for the Stephen Hawking Charter K-16 which, according to the charter website, currently enrolls pre-k through fourth grade.

Interim boardmember Susan Hartley questioned the funding for the charter school and the board voted 5-0 not to fund Mitchell’s consultant contract pending further inquiry.

Last January, the Reader covered the strife at Castle Park Middle School. Mitchell and former principal Robert Bleisch held meetings for Castle Park Middle and touted the advantages of charter schools. Teachers at Castle Park Middle were not allowed to speak at the meetings.

In February, Bleisch was reassigned pending a personnel investigation. There is a personnel recommendation for Bleisch on the July 17 agenda. The recommendation is for a leave of absence starting July 21, 2014 through June 5, 2015.

Competition for students — and the federal money that comes with them — is often a motivation for school districts to push for charter schools.

A November email to the Castle Park teachers from Bleisch offers some validation for Sweetwater’s push to go forward with charter schools: "I also shared with you that from the district's perspective, this district charter is about the future survival of the district (CVESD has 10 charters in recent years with plans for more and [the San Diego Unified School District] has over 40 charters)."

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