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Submitted by on 1, November 26, 2008 – 8:30 amNo Comment

The school board on Tuesday night approved a charter application for Nea Community Learning Center. The vote was 3-1, with Trustee Janet Gibson casting the sole vote against the charter and Board President Bill Schaff absent.

The charter will move forward pending an agreement with the district that must be signed by January 31, 2009. Separately, the charter’s proponents have asked the district for space at Longfellow Education Center, and their request for space is pending.

Gibson questioned whether the new school would reflect the district’s diversity, and she said she’s not convinced the school’s plan will accommodate the district’s neediest students. Gibson said she would like to see the district create magnets and other “schools of choice” that offer a broader palette of options to Alameda’s students.

She estimated the charter’s approval could cost the district about $2.5 million as it loses students that would have attended Alameda public schools to the charter. But the school board is not allowed to consider that as a factor when it makes its decision.

The district’s charter school consultant, Charles Cadman, said the board lacked a legal reason to deny the charter. “Basically, everything is in order,” Cadman said. “I can find no statutory basis for denial of this charter.”

A separate consultant’s report concluded that the charter application had minor problems, including budget and bookkeeping issues. In a memo, Superintendent Ardella Dailey said those issues would likely be resolved and weren’t enough to deny the application.

One major detail the district and Nea will have to work out is how the charter will provide special education services, since the charter intends to join a different special education local plan area than the district’s. In response to detailed questions from Trustee David Forbes, Cadman, and Nea’s attorney, Paul Minney, said they could work out a figure detailing what special education costs the charter would be responsible for.

The school board denied Nea’s first charter application in January of this year, saying they feared the school population would not reflect the district’s racial diversity and that its plan relied too much on the district to supplement its offerings. The county Board of Education, which heard a subsequent appeal of that decision, “reluctantly” followed suit.

The K-12 school is slated to open in the fall of 2009. It is expected to have around 300 students when it opens and 400 students by its third year of operation. The school will be run separately from Alameda Community Learning Center, whose leaders proposed it.

In other school news, the board welcomed incoming superintendent Kirsten Vital, who will take over for the retiring Dailey in January. Community members who were involved in the search said their Oakland counterparts who have worked with Vital since she joined that district in January 2006 spoke highly of her, calling her a strong listener and a problem solver.

Trustee Tracy Lynn Jensen said she was swayed by the fact that Vital had dealt with the some of the same major issues in Oakland – declining enrollment and charter schools – that Alameda is facing.

Members of two unions serving teachers and school employees complained that they didn’t have the input in the selection process they were promised, but said they too are looking forward to working with Vital.

Vital, who attended the meeting with her husband, said she’s looking forward to getting started and that she plans to reach out to the community to get a handle on the district’s strengths and challenges.

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