Transparent as mud in Chula Vista

Parents say (again!) they weren't included in charter high school decision

Parents and trustees at the February 26 meeting
  • Parents and trustees at the February 26 meeting

Silver Wing Elementary parents showed up at a special board meeting on February 26 in hopes of convincing Chula Vista Elementary School District trustees not to construct a charter high school on their elementary campus.

High school opponents packed the boardroom, gathered 361 signatures on a petition opposing the proposal, and garnered support from San Diego City Council member David Alvarez — to no avail.

Some parents reiterated concerns voiced on February 19. Again, transparency was the concern: parents insisted they had never been included in discussions about the permanent placement of the high school.

One Silver Wing mother told the board that her two daughters will not be able to attend the high school because those students are selected by lottery or must come up through the Chula Vista Learning Community Charter system.

Ron Marcus, an elementary-school teacher and member of the executive board of the Chula Vista Elementary Education Association, asked the board if they had done a traffic study to see how the high school would impact the neighborhood.

Marcus also stated that San Diego Unified charges charter schools fair market price to rent district land. He asked, “What price is [the charter school] paying?”

The district stated they do not charge dependent charters rent. Chula Vista Learning Community Charter is a dependent charter, one of many that pay for district services but not for land use.

The construction contracts for the charter high school total $3,431,000. Oscar Esquivel, assistant superintendent of business services, stated that the charter is responsible for payments on a loan taken out in 2013. The district took out the $6,845,000 federally taxable loan for “charter school improvements.”

Roberto Rodriguez, president of the Sweetwater Education Association, also addressed the board and said that, due to a previous court ruling, the district is not obligated to charter high schools because “you are an elementary-school district — by definition the students that are attending the secondary grades at [the charter high school] would not be attending schools in your district; they would be attending Sweetwater.”

There were no speakers in favor of constructing the high school on the Silver Wing campus.

Superintendent Francisco Escobedo said the safety concerns of Silver Wing parents would be addressed with “a solid wall built around the school.” Escobedo also said, “The two schools will be communicating and have staggered start times.” He emphasized that the charter-high students are well behaved.

Before the meeting, on February 25, the U-T posted an article that included this statement: “[Trustee Francisco Tamayo] hopes the feedback from the February 18 parent meeting will be taken into consideration and the board will move forward with approving the items.”

Tamayo responded to a Reader query on March 1: “My opinion in the UT was based on my research of the item and previous items approved by the past board based on the minutes posted on the [elementary school district] website between 2012–2013.

“I felt that our hands were tied by the decisions and commitments made by the previous board, especially because the Charter High school has been on the campus for almost 3 years now. I wanted to find a solution that could address most of the Silver Wing parents’ concerns and still meet the previous commitment made by the past board to the students of [the charter high school].

“I don’t know what reasoning the previous board had that made them decide that having a high school share a campus with an elementary school was a good idea. I wish they would have worked with [the charter school] to help them find their own location so they could house both middle and high school together, which is their stated goal.

“Parents’ concerns about safety will be addressed. The communication between the District and Silver Wing parents and community needs to drastically improve.

Rosa Surber

Rosa Surber

“If the charter school continued to use [temporary structures] for their 12th grade, that would have taken more space in addition to the space taken by the 2 story building. Also it would have wasted the $600,000 already spent for permits and soil testing. I am not happy with the results of this Item, and I hope the Silver Wing community stays active!”

Rosa Surber, the parent of an elementary-school student, said via email, “It was very obvious the Chula Vista boardmembers had already made their decision to pass this motion no matter what parents and community had to say. Silver Wing does not have a declining student enrollment [charters are by law allowed to occupy schools with declining enrollment]. I have no interest in having my son attend this charter….”

Disclosure: The author has a daughter who teaches in the elementary school district and is a member of the bargaining team.

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I remember reading in other comments that some of the students attending this charter school are children or grandchildren of previous board members. If that is the case, it looks like an elaborate scheme to put together essentially a private school for the benefit of a few well-connected people.

Oh--and it was also mentioned to an individual in the neighborhood that they had been told that if their child/children were GATE students, they would be able to attend the charter school. So, picking and choosing by test scores and family connections, multi-million dollar costs for the district--and no one is called on this debacle??

Where was the County Board of Education when all this was happening? Was it nap time? I can only think that the reputation of the County Board of Education is so low that the unscrupulous think all of our schools are fair game. With the example of Ed Brand, Dianne Russo and a few others, I guess we are teaching the wrong things....this nonsense and abuse of public education facilities and dollars must be stopped!

Ridiculous how the least privileged pay the bill. Criminal and immoral.

Doesn't this all remind you of the governance of Sweetwater during the Gandara and Brand times? The board goes ahead and does just what it pleases. This time it is because the earlier board made commitments that now cannot be escaped, or so the story goes.

eastlaker, I think you may be onto something with your suspicion that this was set up, in part, as a private little school for the chosen few. And as long as it stayed under the radar, they might have pulled it off. But now, with a new CVESD board, it doesn't have to stay that way. If the school is doing what has been alleged, it has been violating the law, and the charter could be cancelled for that reason alone. Either of the things you mentioned about selecting students is NOT anything a charter school is legally permitted to do. If there was ever a time for scrutiny by the COE, the DA, or the state superintendent, now would be it. Those allegations of admitting favorites need to be thoroughly investigated and now, not a year or two down the road.

When Superintendent Escobedo "emphasized that the charter-high students are well behaved", that struck my funny bone. Every supe and every principal will make the claim that the students are well behaved. Usually that's true, but when the claim breaks down is when things get difficult. Teenagers, and this school's students are teenagers, behave as teenagers do. Mostly that's good, but often they do certain things that are not good, even the best of them. Raging hormones can bring out the worst in kids that age, things that are impossible to stop. So, if you are around a high school, you'll see plenty of kissy-face and physical displays of affection. Then there's the language that is used by very, very many teens, and it's not the sort of thing you want first graders to hear.

Could Escobedo have been in on it from the get-go? Or convinced to go along to get along? (That is the old Sweetwater way, supposedly...)

Curiously, there are several individuals who have jumped from positions in the South Bay Elementary School District board (basically the Imperial Beach area) to Chula Vista Elementary. South Bay is also working on some charter schools that have brought up some questions among those in the neighborhoods. I worry there could be a 'creeping taint' among our school districts whereby opportunists see dollar signs where they are supposed to see students.

According to CVESD's Dr. Esquivel, "... the charter school will be responsible for the payments for the loan." That might be true, however, charter schools get their funding from their Average Daily Attendance (ADA), meaning--from the TAXPAYERS. The district might want the public to think that these charter schools fend for themselves, but at the end of the day it is the taxpayers who are footing the bill. To limit a kid's chances of attending their neighborhood school by winning a lottery, is totally unacceptable. So much for no taxation without representation! Every child must have the right to attend the school by where they live, period.

So who cast the votes for the high school?

Glad to see the disclosure that the author has a daughter on the teachers union team fighting against charter schools. What about spouse and son in law? This clan has been fighting charter schools for decades.

Sjtorres, this situation has nothing to do with Unions or not liking Charter Schools. This is about a group of men in power(CVESD & CVLCC) overstepping their authority. Silver Wing has an overflow of students, have 407 students this school year, turning away children to go to other near by schools with no available space in the future. The reason given by CVESD, why it was decided to choose this school, was supposedly due to low enrollment and unused space. This is a false statement, there has been an overflow of students since CVLCC took 5 classrooms from them. Not to mentions, the YMCA has 2 additional classrooms as well, due to CVLCC also removing their portable classroom.
It is quite obvious the CVESD & CVLCC had this plan way before they decided to "Occupy" Silver Wing and manipulated the system to their advantage. The fact that the Executive Director of Tech, Mr. Tessier"s wife works for CVLCC and his children attend this school as well, shows him being bias for this project. Unethical!! *If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck!!

Reader2 , All five of the elementary school board members voted for the construction bids.

And Susan, thank your whole family and community of educated intelligent people for working to give plain old public school children a chance to grow and learn rather than be passed over.

SJ Torres,

Speaking of disclosure, it's time for you to at least disclose your name.

I do wish in the future you would read before you comment. Neither this article nor the previous one attacks charters; rather the articles give the specifics about a specific problem with one charter wishing to occupy an elementary school campus.

And whoever is feeding you this misinformation about my family members, has an agenda, just like you do.

Sj is anti-labor, anti-family and paints himself as a scoundrel. Annoying like a tick. Sorry Ms. Luzzaro, guess you have to expect one at times.

I seem to recall that the 'charter school' concept was born in response to the increasing demands for a voucher system, proposed to give frustrated parents more choice in public school selection when their local neighborhood schools were failing them and their children.

It now seems that the charter school concept is vulnerable to corruption by those who see profit for themselves instead of a viable and responsible alternative to the failures of the public schools, which in many cases were the result of corruption such as we have seen at Sweetwater.

Perhaps it is now time for a thorough evaluation of the charter school concept and corrective measures to remedy what has gone wrong there. Perhaps the voucher concept is cleaner and less vulnerable, certainly less cumbersome.

Bingo! The concept had been around for a long time, and might have been going on in other states. But when California made them possible with some (probably) hasty legislation in the mid-90's, it was done in large part to stop the movement to vouchers in its tracks. At least the frustrated folks had an alternative. But the concept was that schools, freed from the mind-numbing dictates of the state education code, would soar. That has rarely happened. What has been far more prevalent is that they get into trouble, often financial, and end up failing.

The law was designed to insure that a school district, when it chartered a school, would be responsible for overseeing the charter school. I can't think of a single time that has really happened. Too often the charter is designed by a group of parents or citizens with a definite agenda, and those who subscribe to the agenda dominate the little governing board of the charter school. Usually those boards have no real notion of what it takes to run a school. Then, when many of them got into trouble, they fell for a spiel from a private company that offered to come in and take it over. All the company wants is the state ADA money, and the board gets rid of a headache. But those private operators pay the teachers poorly, and usually pay the administrators princely mid-six-figure salaries. Do they deliver education? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

This is not to say that all charters are scams and flops. A few really soar. But that so many fail to deliver and are mired in scandals means that the system is broken. The safeguards that public funds would be used properly have not worked many times. And let's remember that charters are PUBLIC schools. As public schools they cannot legally discriminate or set parameters for students who attend. Some are doing that right now, and it looks as if they may get away with that for a long time to come.

We as a society cannot cure failure with failure or corruption with more corruption. This entire charter school system needs to be redesigned with real safeguards to prevent abuse, misuse of tax money, and tomfoolery instead of education. A much tighter system of accountability will be required before charter schools rise to the potential that exists.

Yes, exactly!

These are the words the County Board of Education needs to hear, and all politicians as well.

We simply cannot have all these people/groups/agendas carving out little empires from our public educational funds!

Thanks for putting in words what I have been thinking for some time.

Correction: thanks for saying what needs to be said, and in a way that makes it all very clear.

I do keep hoping that as these "cases" are built, item after item, situation after situation, travesty upon travesty, the cumulative weight will at some point cause the miserable status quo to tumble. And then we can rebuild, without the ones who are in it only for themselves.

As long as politicians who build careers on bashing the public sector are around, you will have them being pro-charter schools. It is ironic that while many of such pols claim conservative credentials, their willingness to put up with the frequent squandering of always-scarce tax dollars is hard to grasp. I am a self-proclaimed conservative, and I think that if tax dollars are paying for something, the system needs to have the tools and clout to control how the funds are spent. The inherent weaknesses of the current system are obvious, in that school districts have their plates very full with just running their own schools. There's no tradition in those operations for having an audit group looking at the books and practices of quasi-independent charter schools, and as a result, few if any districts actually can provide the oversight that the law mandates. (So much for "mandates", huh?) Remember what happened to the Bond Oversight Committee in Sweetwater? That was there to insure that bond issue monies were not misused, and it was rendered utterly powerless. Another mandate that was evaded.

I don't know what it might take to get the state to seriously reform the charter school system. There have been many, many scandals already, and you can bet there are more going on right now that just haven't been widely reported. Yet just a couple years ago, the LA mayor at the time, Villaraigosa, wanted to convert all of LA Unified's "under-performing" schools to charters, as a means of making them better. Hey, you can't make this stuff up!

Yes, politicians have been able to get a lot of mileage out of bashing public schools--but I am hoping politicians are starting to learn some lessons. Some of them sold out to "big education", some of them sold out to various charter school factions/plans/corporations, some of them just wanted to jump on a convenient bandwagon that looked like it was heading in a good direction.

But--while good charter schools do exist, as you say, Visduh, there are quite a few operators out there who are not in it to benefit future generations (unless you perhaps count their own descendants).

I guess some of the people who came up with the charter school idea were too idealistic to see what could go wrong?

But--about the Sweetwater Bond Oversight Committee--I am not an expert, but I have paid relatively good attention at several school board meetings, and there are some very strong and honest people on that committee. While there have been attempts to stifle, disarm, stonewall and use disinformation to keep the BOC off the scent, they have kept at it. The situation is still not absolutely ideal, as for some reason it is still a struggle to get all the information the BOC is legally entitled to....(no names need be mentioned, but more than likely a good 75% of readers can fill in the blank). Thank goodness Sweetwater's BOC is diligent. They do not, however, have jurisdiction (if that term can be borrowed) over the Mello-Roos funding. Believe it or not, that plan was developed without a thought to any kind of oversight or management, which is a real problem, and why Sweetwater is now, finally, supposedly, attempting to reconcile 27 years of Mello-Roos funds. Can you say bad management? Can you say hopelessly inept admnistrations? Can you say criminally negligent operations? I'd sort of like to say that.

Well folks we brought about change at Southwestern, San Ysidro and Sweetwater - might as well make it a clean sweep and focus our efforts on Chula Vista Elementary. Their 20% reserves lulled many into thinking all was well with the management -

I have a couple of issues I am more than concerned with.

Recalling that Ed Brand and Company of thieves were so very eager to make Castle Park Middle School into a charter makes me think that there must have been a very great incentive in it for themselves.

Wonder what that might have been?

Very high salaries for principals? Some sort of "deal" from the parent company/organization/organizers of the charter school?

It is as if there is a school somewhere for these admin types to learn the ropes of pulling one over on the neighborhoods of these schools. A sweet story is told, but is it factual? And then public funds are used in such a way that funding is no longer available for the teachers in the public schools--but the charter schools get everything? Loans that supposedly will be repaid, but--what if the school goes bust first? I'm guessing there can be no claw-back from that.

Part of it might be the direct funnel of State money to the school, bypassing the District's general fund. And there have been funds available targeting Charter Schools. Not every Charter school is a bad one, sometimes they have been established to get away from corrupt School Boards and poor policies and spending habits.

Part of it might be the direct funnel of State money to the school, bypassing the District's general fund. And there have been funds available targeting Charter Schools. Not every Charter school is a bad one, sometimes they have been established to get away from corrupt School Boards and poor policies and spending habits.

It's all on the public's dime, that's for sure.

If there are to be alternatives to 'regular' public schools, let's try the voucher system that lets parents vote with their feet and find the best schools for their kids with the voucher.

It seems to me that vouchers avoid the need for charter schools' duplicative administrative structures and investment of public funds in 'buildings' while achieving the goal of 'choice' for parents and their students.

Parents will validate outstanding schools by wanting to use vouchers there. What a concept....recognize excellent educational leadership and teaching by choosing exemplary schools for their children to attend.

oski, be careful of what you wish for. In 1993 when vouchers were on a statewide ballot, the proposition had little control in it. Anything calling itself a school could accept and redeem the vouchers, under that proposal. The whole idea was that the parents would be the bulwark against fraud, because they would insure that the kids were getting educated. So, while as you put it that vouchers would "let parents vote with their feet and find the best schools", and that they would be "choosing exemplary schools for their children", that would not guarantee strong outcomes. After some years as a high school teacher I realized that while most parents were pretty good judges of their kids and the education they were getting, many were not anything like that. And sadly, the kids needing the most attention and watching were not getting it from their parents. So, the idea that parents would make sure the voucher system was not abused was a good one for many families, but not for all. Slick hucksters could get easily-duped parents to enroll their kids, and then could keep telling them the kids were doing well when, in fact, just the opposite was true. Some charter schools made lavish claims about their offerings, and utterly failed to deliver. But it wasn't parents, generally, who blew the whistle. It was outsiders and spectators, or the teachers who did it. The same sort of abuse that occurs in charters would/could have happened with vouchers.

Oh, and some of the better private or parochial schools had no plans to accept vouchers. They didn't want the taint of taking tax money that way, even it it would have meant more students. There are no easy answers today in public education, or publicly-funded education. Charlatans lurk around every corner, ready to stuff their pockets with tax money, and deliver as little as possible.


You bring up the point of overflow. I did quote one parent in the article above and I spoke with another teacher at the first meeting who told me that Silver Wing is not underenrolled, in fact, they are overenrolled. So it doesn't make sense why they should have to give up classroom space; how will they grow?

Someone also pointed out, I believe it was at the board meeting, that Montgomery High School is within walking distance of Silver Wing. As taxpayers' money is paying for CVLCC high school--through the COP (loan for construction) and ADA, taxpayers are also paying through bond construction money to refurbish Montgomery High school only recently.

If as one blog comment says is correct, parents have moved into the Silver Wing area to go to CVLCC high...well then we start a new cycle of over/under enrollment with Montgomery High. It would be helpful to the taxpayers if the two districts could co-ordinate.

Susan, the two districts have little or no incentive to cooperate because ADA funding per pupil is at stake. Stands to reason that without understanding or commitment to their respective greater missions (educate their stakeholder students) that they would scheme to poach each other's students. Here is a case where unification would eliminate the competition between these two districts for the same students.

Ms. Luzzaro: regarding Montgomery High - in the past 4 years our campus has been given as close to a total overhaul as possible. It now looks like a college campus. The teachers there are committed to their students and I have found Principal and Admin to be the best of the best. Why anyone would want to send their child to a high school that shares its campus with an elementary school is beyond me.

Visduh: You make excellent points regarding vouchers. Isn't there also a problem with publicly funded vouchers being used to send kids to religious schools?

Thank you for reminding me that that was an unsettled issue in 1993. I can't be totally certain, but I think that the proposal left the door wide open for vouchers being accepted at parochial schools. Of course, that would have meant that lawsuits about church vs. state would have bogged that down for years.

Visduh - I think that the possibility of sending kids to religious schools with vouchers was a problem in the early days of the voucher discussion. However, in today's world. I think that vouchers could be used within the public school network with some positive results.

If the County Board of Education had any intelligence, skills, power or desire to accomplish anything, we would not have the problems of the rampant charter schools that we do.

Shouldn't they address the Julian School District, as they sponsor charter schools all over the county, for a fee, as long as they aren't within the Julian School District (thereby decreasing Julian School Districts funding)?

All this undermining of public schools, and the County Board of Education does nothing?

Gee, you'd think they didn't care!!!

That COE may have no legal authority over the operations of the school districts. The legal counsel employed by COE will claim that to the end. But, even if there is no legal authority, the board members could use their positions to be examples and leaders. In other words, they could use their offices as a bully pulpit for encouraging district boards to run schools well, and avoid gimmicky ideas and to avoid chartering schools that cannot be controlled. Your example of Julian is a good one, although I don't know if you refer to their elementary district or their high school district. Yes, unbelievable as it sounds, they have both!

That COE board showed its colors and/or inabilities when four of them were interim board members at Sweetwater. Coming into a scandalous mess like that could and should have brought out the best in them. But Ms. "Nylon" was AWOL much of the time, and the rest were totally OK with rubber stamping recommendations from the administration. What should have happened was just the opposite, and an appropriate step might have been to place all the top administrators on administrative leave--and then keep them there. It was not as though that role was thrust upon them unexpectedly. The criminal cases had been in the courts for about two years, and if that board had just read the newspaper, the members would have seen it coming, and should have been well prepared. Sadly, those board members are mostly interested in the nice stipends and medical insurance they get for their "service." Too bad they don't know what it is to serve.

But the County Office of Education DOES have responsibility and authority over the school districts in its jurisdiction. The passage below is copied from the Alameda County Office of Ed (CA) website. Seems the folks in Alameda are more savvy than those here in San Diego.

"Oversight Responsibilities

In 1855, the County Superintendent of Schools was officially established in California. A primary responsibility of the new office was to provide services to, and oversight of, schools districts within the county. The County Superintendent’s office is the intermediary between the State and local school districts and charter schools. Since that time, the Legislature has continued to expand the role of the County Superintendent and to strengthen the oversight role of County Offices of Education.

Significant emphasis was placed on the oversight responsibilities with the codification of AB 1200 in the early 1990s. This legislation charged County Superintendents with the fiscal oversight of school districts including the approval of their annual budget and the monitoring of the school district’s fiscal stability. AB 1200 has been expanded over time and has added additional responsibilities to the County Office’s fiscal oversight of school districts.

Since AB 1200, the Legislature has continued to legislate additional oversight responsibilities to County Superintendent’s office. Recent legislation has codified the agreements from the Williams lawsuit, giving the County Superintendent the responsibility to oversee the Williams legal settlement relative to facilities, textbooks, and teacher assignments.

County Superintendents will continue to provide leadership and support of school districts and charters schools as a key mission of their offices. Some of the oversight responsibilities of ACOE include: • Budget Review - AB 1200 • Credentials • Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA) • Williams Legislation "

By the way, the Williams Legislation has to do with ensuring that all students have an equal opportunity to receive educational services. Seems that Sweetwater schools that are 'improvement needed' status might be a problem. Where is the San Diego County Office of Education on that one?

oski, having done some homework that I never attempted, you have brought much to our attention. Yes, the COE does have legal standing to oversee and alter much of what goes on in the local districts. Yet, here in San Diego County, have we ever been made aware of any such things having been done by the COE? Ans: heck no! You point out that the county board has not only the authority to make corrections, but also that it has the DUTY to do such things. Your revelations are more damning of the lack of response of the county board when the scandals erupted in So County and the county office did nothing at all. There are other situations in other parts of the county. Lawyers can split hairs about the legal standing of the COE and the precise authority it holds, and those can go on for years. But, once again, the COE did have the legal standing to take some sort of action and just didn't do anything. The lack of willingness to even speak out tells us that all of that miserable board need to be replaced at the next election cycle. What do you want to bet that nothing will change?

Visduh: The extent that anything changes at the CBOE will depend largely on the expectations the voters have for change, and the expectations they have that the CBOE will actually exercise its responsibility for oversight of the schools in its jurisdiction. I say the place to begin is with peppering the current board with questions about why it is AWOL in that responsibility and going on the record, over and over, so that the general public becomes aware of that issue and shares such an expectation. Otherwise, the glib response 'it's not OUR job' will override the fact that it IS their job.

Also, I say that the former CBOE member, who supposedly represented South County, is certainly NOT the person to serve as Interim Superintendent at SUHSD! If he couldn't figure out his job there, why would anyone expect him to figure it out while sitting in the SUHSD superintendent's office?

This really smells of Ed; a brutish idea of free land use for private profit.

shirleyberan--It does almost look like Ed was doing some tutoring on the side in a couple of instances, doesn't it?

But maybe there is an additional common denominator?

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